JANUARY 2021: COIMBRA has suddenly popped up on the games radar again. Two mentions of it to me in one day has convinced me to repost the GGO review of this excellent game.
Published 2018 by EGGERTSPIELE www.eggertspiele.com / firstname.lastname@example.org £35.00-£40.00
Designed by: Virginio Gigli & Flaminia Brasini Illustrations: Chris Quilliams
Booklet: 1 page game explanation. 11 pages of Rules. 4 pages of Card and Tile explanation.
This a game for players who can hold their concentration, understand the situations and make the better choices. Thus it is aimed at those of 14 years upwards. It plays exceptionally well for 2,3 or 4 players and takes a good 75 minutes to play once all players are au fait with the rules, though even after a few games we still found ourselves occasionally referring to the last 4 pages of the booklet - those describing and explaining the tiles and cards; knowledge of the text on the cards, especially, is pertinent to the choosing of the cards/tiles available.
The game pieces are both basic counters and wooden pieces, as well as thoughtfully moulded plastic. There is no actual need for the plastic fortresses that are used to show who currently owns the dice in them, a simple identification counter would have sufficed. However I applaud the creators for coming up with these die-holders though, even if it adds a few extra cents to the overall game price, because they give Coimbra just an extra touch of class/classic.
COIMBRA has several mechanics running through it and, like a well designed machine, all of the pieces fit together smoothly to complete a whole, well oiled mechanism that works without glitches.
There are many types of component; game board and player boards, dice and tiles, cards, disks, meeples, lion-shaped meeples, markers and tokens, as well as the aforementioned dice fortresses.
The main board has four major parts. On its left side are the four City locations; Castle, Upper, Central and Lower city areas. The lower portion of the board has six Sea Voyage spaces, specific for gaining players bonuses at the end scoring. The central area of the board is known as the Pilgrim Map and houses the 14 City spaces where each game randomly chosen city tiles are placed, each of these connect to a centred town by roads lined with dots (movement spaces) and direction arrows - once your Pilgrim (meeple) has left the central town they cannot return to it as the arrows only point away.
The third portion of the board are the four columns of the Influence Tracks; Council (Grey with Key icon) Merchant (Orange with Cashbag icon) Clerics (Purple with Religious Cross icon) and Scholars (Green with Book icon). These determine bonuses players gain during play; it is important to try to dominate at least one of these whilst keeping up on the others, letting one slide to press on with another is not a particularly good option.
Finally there is a score track that runs round the outer edge of the board. Victory Points that are scored during play are noted on here by player's ID markers and then it is used at the EndGame to determine the overall winner.
COIMBRA is a dice-sharing game in as much as all the dice (how many dice is determined by the number of players) are rolled, and in turn order players each select 3 dice, one at a time, placing their choices into the holders. If there are less than four players then three of the four City locations (the exception being the Castle) have die-tokens allocated to them. The numbers on these dice count as a sort of nuisance when players want to put their own dice in these locations. In the Castle, where there are four 'instant' Favour tiles up for grabs, it is the lowest die value that wins first choice. In the other three locations it is the highest die (in cases of ties the first placed die counts) that wins first choice from the rows of cards laid as a display alongside them (these change every Turn - the game lasting 4 Turns). The Die-Token values count as the first number of their value wherever they are placed. Thus to be able to choose before the Die-Token (valued 5) in the Lower city a 6 is required, a 5 would place the player behind the token. If the die-token gets a selection it removes the highest card in the row.
The cards in the display are made up of the four types of (already mentioned) cards. Each of these has a cost to buy, either in Coin or Guards (Shields), plus immediate Influence value as well as additional bonuses that are marked to show which phase of a turn they can be used in. Usage of these to their best ability is another decision players have to make correctly, though there isn't one correct decision to make because each player may, probably will, have different objectives.
Character cards are always collected by players and stored around their Player-boards at the specifically noted spaces. Immediate-Action cards are placed to the side of the PB after use because they may be worth VPs at the final scoring. Cards with the 'Phase C' icon may give bonuses that are gained when specific acquisitions are made - all card actions are shown by pictograms. Cards with the 'Phase E' icon give different Bonuses during the 'E' Phase - note that it is easy to forget to use these Bonuses in your first game or so (we did) because after 'E' comes the end of the Round and you are already thinking of what you have accomplished and getting ready for the next Round; before 'E' you have already determined the player order for the next Round (Phase D) which seems to be out of line with most games where the phases flow in a perceived logical manner.
COIMBRA is also a strategic resource management game, but it's not just another of the many resource gathering games available in your local game store, this is indeed a clever multi-tasking exercise and to win you need to be good at all/most parts, though it's not a 'Jack of all trades, Master of none' situation, you do need to be 'Master of Some'.
I have played a fair number of games that have taken and used a mixture of different game mechanics, many of them doing so quite reasonably and a bare few actually being capable of melding the varying systems and actions into workable, fluent games. COIMBRA is one such game. It melds a rarely used way of dice actions, allows all parts of the cards to be of value, either immediately, at game end or continually throughout play when they fit the necessities of the situation, all the while ensuring that all players have reasonable options each turn no matter whether they are first or last in the order.
Suffice it to say that this is an enjoyable game that has enough in it to make each game similar but with no actual win-pattern that can be pursued each time you play. All the Character cards become available and to a point they are eased into play in specific groups rather than completely randomly, though there is no reason why you cannot shuffle the IIs and IIIs together and have a totally random deck.
The Sea Voyages are spaces where you pay the necessary Guards or Coins and place your marker on the selected Sea Voyage card. This stays there until the end of the game when each effect is activated. Just how good they are depends on how well you have done collecting the requirements. In most games these would be Events or Missions except here all players can be on each Voyage (one marker per player). Working towards doing well on a Sea Voyage may be detrimental to you unless you can tie up other cards with the same or similar bonus.
I very much like the way the dice are used to gain Favour Tiles (from the Castle) and Character cards that give players possibilities to use in the phase in which they are obtained. Once all players have played their three Dice into same or different City Locations then each location, starting from the Castle, are activated. So, for example, taking the Favour tile that gives an immediate 7 Guards or 7 Coins (all such gains are marked on the Player's Boards) you choose the 7 resources that suit your needs and then have them to spend in the next three locations as required.
The Rules Booklet in a game of this magnitude has to be exact, concise and using easy to understand and execute criteria. You need to have an idea of what the game is about, a solid list of components with visual aids, and then, after showing in text and pictures, how the game should be set up, it needs to have succinct rules in either (or both) clear paragraphs or phases and each with articulate and coherent examples and illustrations, as well as fully summarised descriptions of every icon and pictogram on every card and tile. The COIMBRA rules booklet is just the ticket, exactly as required.
The last game I played (before writing this review) was with my wife and she beat me all ends up (a spread of 84 points between her token and mine on the score track). This was because I tried a different tactic, a strategy I wouldn't normally do, but when playing for review purpose is necessary. I tried to control the Influence Track and not gain as many places on the inner City Pilgrim's Map. I thought this could work but I didn't have a strong end-scoring game from the cards and tiles I held, and I wasn't top of all 4 of the Influence columns, in fact I failed miserably to control more than two of them. I clearly misread the possibilities and value of the Pilgrim cities for the endgame bonus points and the usefulness of collecting the best Character cards. I let myself believe that the Bonuses I had collected for the endgame would be sufficient, but Fran had chosen her Character cards cleverly and the ones she had not only gave regular VP bonuses but also allowed her to spend less for every resource she required. I got it as wrong as I possibly could. What I got out of it was the knowledge that this isn't a game that has a softside for the inefficient player.
So for you, dear reader, take this as a warning. I (like to think) sacrificed my game so that you don't have to. Even so, a defeat by 84 points was considerably more than I had expected.