Coimbra is a game that I took an interest for a while now, since Tom Vasel did a preview of it. The combination of dice drafting and card drafting captured me. It became one of the most anticipated games I had this year. The beautiful art style has given me great joy – Yes! Euro games can be beautiful and colourful too!
It’s a dice-drafting card-drafting game. You roll dice and draft them a la Sagrada. The dice will then be used both as your turn order on the card drafting and the price you pay for the card. Meaning, if you selected a ‘6’ die, you definitely go first, but you are pay premium. That’s right! The game ask you the question on how much do you want that card, and how much you’re willing to pay for it. The card you pick is then yours; the cards give you a variety of bonus.
The cards and the dice have different colours, corresponding to the 4 factions you can curry influence to, and receive bonus from. These bonus you gain as your income depending on what dice you drafted. Green dice scores you point, grey gives you guards, yellow gives you gold, and violet gives you movement.
They are only 2 resources in this game: guards and coins. The cards you draft shows what resource you have to pay to get them. Movement allows you to travel all of Portugal. You visit these places and they giving you bonuses, like a less exciting Portuguese trick-or-tricking event. You don’t dress up (because you’re a meeple), but the perks are equally tasty. Like any dry point-salad European-style game, there are other mechanisms involved, which allows players to score points on various ways, but that’s the gist of it.
First of: the art is simply warm and striking. The colourful art acted as a beating heart to a Euro-style game that could have looked drab, lifeless, and uninspiring. And you know what, this game is also a good example of graphic design, in which art becomes functional. With a glance, you can see the information you needed as you scan across the board, with contrasting colours bounce against each other, making themselves distinct. A marriage of function and aesthetics. A triumph for the artist, Chris Quilliams. The only issue I have is the tiny paper icon on some cards. They are slightly hidden amongst the clutter of the cards, if one doesn’t pay attention.
The puzzle in this game is interesting. The combination of dice and card drafting is intriguing and mind-sparking. The price set by the chosen die is something I really like. You pay high and get first dibs, or you pay low but get last pick. You can hear the crunching turn of the gears in your head as you try to sort out priorities – which one is important to you and how much? How important are the cards to your opponents, and how much do you think they’ll bid? And it is with this system that can give funny moments where someone picked a ‘6’, only to have no one else competing on that space. Mistakes that doesn’t result on a player sulking, but creates funny inefficiencies.
But that’s as far as I could go praising this game. As I trudge on, I see things that makes me struggle with this game. There’s not much player interaction in Coimbra other than “Yoink! I took the die that you want” or “Hah! I took the card that you want!”. The game has some “take-that” elements in it, where a card can force you to choose between giving someone your victory points or your resources. The fact that the card gives you this kind of choice is interesting, but it just reminds me Terraforming Mars’ take-that cards. It doesn’t make me feel clever when I play it, nor do I feel to say “Hah! Nice one” when someone imposes it to me. There are economic games out there that gives me better satisfaction when interacting with my friends like Keyflower or Power Grid.
Despite the pleasing art and the twin engine of dice-drafting and card-drafting, Coimbra feels lacking. I am in the wonderful, carefree, and breezy Coimbra, basking at the sunny illustrations, and pondering at delicious choices I could have, but I have never found love in this city – not even great joy. After repeated plays, Coimbra never manage to grab my heart and make me yearn to play it again. It feels dry for a game with lots of smiles. I made interesting choices with the dice and cards; however, thinking back now, I ask the question – “but for what?” To amass the most cards? To fund the most voyages? To be the most influential among the 4 factions? To be the most travelled trick-or-treater Portugal has ever known? In the end, it’s just points. Every game, we end with someone winning; and every time, I receive the same feeling. A game that last for 4 rounds, spanning 1.5 to 2 hours, resulting with a feeling of “That’s it?”.
As for other games, Sagrada is the dice-drafting game I would prefer to play. The tightness of the game where your choice of die highly matters. A choice you make at the start of the game affects your play at the end. The board and your freedom, you slowly witness, getting smaller and smaller. Pain or triumph depends on so few choices. In Coimbra, if someone steals the one you want, you feel frustration. But the frustration is short and you just move on. Sagrada is also a game where you thought “Look what I’ve done” at the end of every game – not so, with Coimbra.
I guess Coimbra is just not for me. Definitely. Writing this now, I feel a bit of sorrow that it’s a game that I never love back.
[All images are from Boardgamegeek.com]