The night before opening day of Dice Tower Con, I had the unique opportunity to play a game called, Coldwater Crown. James Hudson, designer of Barnyard Roundup (now on Kickstarter), had gotten a copy to review and invited me to play. Now, this was a game I already had my eye on. From the minute I saw the post in the Boardgame Reviewer Facebook group, I knew I wanted to try it. Unfortunately, at the time they were looking for reviewers, my blog was just getting started, so my reach wasn’t quite what the designer was looking for. Which was totally cool, because I was able to remind him of the list of lists for reviewers, so it all worked out. Anyway… There I was, poised with the opportunity to get in an early play– it was a “HELL YEAH” kind of moment.
So, normally, for me, one playthrough isn’t enough to make a solid opinion, so keep that in mind. This is kind of like a mini* preview– a taste, if you will. I will discuss how to play and then throw in what I thought of the game.
How To Play
In the game you are basically collecting bait and using it to catch fish. These fish can get you different bonuses depending on their weight and type. The weights of the fish also matter for end of game scoring. You want to have caught the biggest fish, for each location, at the end of the game. On your turn, you will cast (place) an Angler Token out and then reel (pick up and flip) one back in (each player will start with a token, but after that tokens are shared– meaning if I place a token down, another player can pick it up during the reel in phase on their turn).
What these tokens do, is dependent on what number they are when you place or pick them up, and where they are located. Where they are located affects the colour bait you have in your tackle box, and the number indicates how much bait to remove from your tackle box. Each player has their own tackle box that they orient to match the way the fishing zones are facing. There are four different spots in your tackle box, each corresponding to a different zone. On the board there are three different fishing locations: The River, Shore, and Lake. At each of these spots there are four zones, numbered 3, 4, 5, and 6. These numbers go along with the divisions on your tackle box..
On the Angler Tokens, there is a 2 on one side and a 1 on the other. If you place out a 1, you remove 1 bait of a single colour from all zones in your tackle box. If it is a 2, you remove all of that colour from all zones. This number action is the same whether you are placing or removing a token. The colour bait you remove is, as I said earlier, dependent on where you place/remove the Angler Token. Clearing bait from a zone in your tackle box is how you catch your fish. The last piece of bait that you clear from a zone in your tackle box, will determine where you catch your fish. If, for example, the last piece of bait I cleared from zone 3 in my tackle box, was a purple, I would catch whatever fish was in zone 3 at the Shore location. When bait is removed, it goes to a shared discard pile until someone has pulled the white, bait token from the bag; at that point, all bait in the discard pile is placed back in the draw bag and shuffled around.
All of the Angler Tokens can be placed on one of the two available spots at each fishing location or, if the space is open, you may place it at the Port. The Port is a very important space. What number token you place there determines how many actions you will be able to take. It is where you can refill your bait (you choose which zone in your tackle box to refill and it gets the same amount as its zone number), and/or grab some extra possible points by taking a Master Angler Fish. These are cards that sit off to the side and they have 3 coloured squares on them. As you remove bait from your tackle box, instead of putting them in the discard, you can place any bait, that matches the colours on your Master Angler Fish, onto the card until you have one bait that matches each of the colour squares. Once you complete that, the Master Angler Fish is now caught, and is now worth a point at the end of the game. This fish does not count towards weight or bonuses at final scoring, but there is a Master Angler Challenge where you can earn bonuses for catching them.
Game end is triggered when a player catches 12 fish (not counting the Master Angler Fish). The player who triggers this will also receive a bonus token for being the first to catch 12. When the game end is triggered the other players will then have one final turn. I’ve included a gameplay video done by Chalkboard Game Reviews, so you can see what I’m talking about.
We played a four player game and it, maybe, took an hour and a half with teaching (and slight interruptions from having to run room keys to my suitemates). The game didn’t take long at all, however, I did feel like I wanted more when the game was done. Not necessarily because it was lacking, but it was just a feeling I had. I did want to play again after that first game, and I am sad that I didn’t get another opportunity to do so. As far as game time goes, this hit a really nice sweet spot– it wasn’t too long and it wasn’t too short.
I didn’t win the game, which was fine, but I did feel like my strategy was cut short. I was just starting to get my stride, or at least it felt that way (I could just be delusional). Early game, I focused too much on just catching fish, as opposed to trying to catch fish that would provide me with trophies (bonus points). A good part of why I lost, was that completing things to get the little bonuses wasn’t something I focused on until too late in the game. I also didn’t utilize the Port space as much as I should have. The Port space is essential for getting the most out of the game. The extra points you can earn from getting the Master Angler Fish can really put you over the top at the end, especially if you were able to get the trophies associated with them.
One caution I have, is that there is some luck to the game. When you get bait from the Port action, you will draw from a bag. You may get a handful of bait where the colours are not what you need to continue with your strategy. This isn’t a game killer, by any means, but it can sometimes be inconvenient. Thematically, you could equate it to having bait that the fish won’t bite. The other sort of luck aspect is the weight of the fish you are catching. On the front of every fish card there is a little bluish bar with white writing. This tells you that the type of fish you are catching will be in that particular range of weight. So sometimes, even if the range goes up to 21 lbs, you may only ever see 5 lb fish. But, again, this is thematically accurate. Generally, you won’t know the weight of the fish you are catching until it’s been caught and weighed. In fishing there are no guarantees. There is one more luck based thing in the game. Fish that you catch will also have a tag symbol on the back of the card along with their weight. This tag will be one of a few different colours. At the beginning of the game a tag colour will be randomly chosen. At the end of the game, any fish you keep to win each location challenge (final scoring) that has that tag colour, will earn you an extra point. This is a kind of “congrats on being lucky” thing. It doesn’t really hurt the game, but it could be the one point someone needed to beat an opponent, which might not sit well with a more serious gamer.
Although there is some luck, Coldwater Crown is a solid game with well designed mechanics and a fun, immersive theme. I’m not that big into fishing, but thematically this game works really well, especially with the Angler Token mechanic. You cast out to do an action and then reel in to do another. This is a really clever mechanic, and as someone who likes games to have a solid theme, this really makes the theme and play cohesive. Someone who isn’t into fishing at all, could easily find this game enjoyable. It is relatively easy to teach, and feels like a finished game, even though it doesn’t take long to play. I would say after reflecting on it, that feeling of wanting more after the game was over, was just me wanting to play again. I could definitely see myself pulling this out more than once at my local game meetup.
If you are interested in getting yourself a copy of Coldwater Crown, here is the link to the Kickstarter campaign: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1839615594/coldwater-crown-a-strategic-fishing-game
*This was supposed to be a mini review–as in, short. I went overboard. Please forgive me.
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