First Impressions - Coimbra
Based on four plays (two plays with two players and two plays with three-players).
Artists: Chris Quilliams
Publishers: Eggert Spiele
Player Count: 2-4
Coimbra is a dice drafting auction game set in Portugal on the cusp of the age of discovery. As the head of a noble family in the city of Coimbra you try to recruit local politicians, merchants, clerics and scholars to gain victory points. The game is played over four rounds. Each round, players draft 3 dice of different colours and place them on an auction in either the castle, upper city, middle city or lower city. Once all dice have been drafted, the players can claim people (in the auctions for the upper city, middle city or lower city) or claim a favour (in the auction for the castle). The player with the highest dice (in the upper city, middle city or lower city but not the castle auctions) chooses first and pays a cost of the value on the dice. The owner of the next highest dice claims another person and play continues in this way. The cards boost players positions on four influence tracks and also give either an immediate effect, ongoing effect, or an end game scoring condition. Players can also score points by sending their pilgrim out from Coimbra to surrounding monasteries (depicted on a map with a variable set up) and by funding voyages to various colonies.
This is a rather brief gameplay overview. A full how to play video can be found here.
The first thing that is noticeable about Coimbra is that it is visually stunning and has high production quality. This is particularly noticeable because the previous game from Virginio Gigli was Grand Austria Hotel which could be described charitably as looking like every other euro game (largely due to the artist, Klemens Franz, doing the art for a lot of euro games) and having quite low production quality (and a low price point). The art of Coimbra is beautiful and even manages to distract from the fact that Coimbra is a dry euro game without much theme.
Gameplaywise Coimbra is great. Despite being relatively simple, once the game has been taught, it gives you a lot to think about. There are several paths to victory without feeling like as much of a points salad as other euros, like Grand Austria Hotel. The use of dice is clever as the trade-off between a high value dice for auction position and cost means that no dice is objectively better. Furthermore, the colour of the dice you draft decides what income you receive (based on what influence track matches the dice colour) for the next turn, adding a further strategic wrinkle to consider.
While this complexity suits the game and acts to mask some of the back-end victory point calculation, it does seem like this game could be unpleasant with players prone to analysis paralysis, particularly at higher player counts. This was the case in my plays of the game, even with players not prone to analysis paralysis. There we some moments where we took an uncomfortably long time to take our turns. Repeated plays seemed to mitigate this somewhat but it was still present. I believe that this is largely because, even if players plan their turns out in advance, the actions of other players can require you to re-examine the entire board state and other player’s intentions every turn.
On the topic of player counts, two of my plays were two-player and Coimbra comes with dice tokens which are placed on the auction spaces and act as AI dice. This is a welcome addition that keeps the auctions tight while requiring very little upkeep. A testament to these AI dice is that the game did not feel drastically different with three players, and some of the AI dice removed. I am however eager to try it with a full complement of four players to see how the auctions play out without the AI dice tokens which seem to set an initial price consistent with an anchoring heuristic.
Finally, it is worth noting that one strategy seemed very strong in two of the games I played. By focusing on the purple (cleric) influence track and moving my pilgrim around a lot I won easily and with a significant score. This was only two games and may not reflect an unbalanced game but a quick look at board game geek’s forums found several other people suggesting this strategy was over powered. However, it may just be an obviously strategy that many people employ in early plays. It could likely be disrupted by experienced players who look to counter it.
Overall, Coimbra was very enjoyable and I look forward to playing it again.