Raymond Gallardo
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Montreal
Quebec
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The four games designed around the components of Copa are clever yet almost forgettable fillers. The mancala variant is unique yet less strategic than traditional versions like Awale. The dexterity game, as with many dexterity games, is great fun in small amounts. The memory game is still a memory game, a genre I prefer to avoid. The bluffing game is a no-frills blind auction game. However, it's such a joy to play with all-natural components: solid wood bowls and dried white kidney beans. This, in tandem with the unique twists that each of the four games introduce, make Copa stand out.

I think Copa is an excellent candidate to be mass marketed.

I discovered Copa almost by accident. A friend of mine was planning an order to http://www.boardgamebliss.com and asked me if there was anything I wanted to add to it. Although I know I own too many games for my small apartment, I can't resist reduced shipping charges. I have a weakness for abstracts, so I discovered Copa while browsing through that category.

Components

It's this image that attracted me to this game:



Copa comes with 18 wooden bowls, two of which are stained white and black, and a box of about 80 dried white kidney beans. The diameter of the wooden bowls is about 5.5 cm. When I first saw this picture, I immediately thought that this game could be used as a generic mancala game. However, when we played the mancala variant (Kala), we found that the bowls were a bit too small. We found some difficulty picking up all the beans from a bowl; sometimes the bowl would tip, which would move neighbouring bowls. Also, the white kidney beans are quite large for these bowls. In many traditional mancala games, one strategy is to accumulate a lot of stones in a particular pit; in Copa, bowls start to get quite full once there are about six beans in them. So the components don't seem promising for a generic mancala kit.

Reviews of the games

Kala



Sixteen bowls are arranged in a 4x4 square. In addition, each player has a unique bowl (either white or black); these are placed in one of the sixteen bows.

Players start with a set number of beans in their pool. On your turn, you take four beans from your pool and sow them in a straight line or an L-shaped path. The path must start in your personal bowl. If the last bean ends up in a bowl with three or more beans, you take all those beans from that bowl and add them to your pool. At the end of your turn, you move your personal bowl onto the bowl in which you sowed your last bean. You gain an extra turn whenever your personal bowl has four or more beans; when this happens, you sow the beans in your personal bowl.

You win if your opponent has less than four beans in his or her pool.

Note that the rules in the rulebook packaged in the game are different than the ones posted online.

I found this game more complicated yet less strategic than traditional mancala games. As mentioned previously, one strategy of mancala is to accumulate a lot of stones in a pit, then capture a lot of stones in one turn. In this game, the most beans one could sow is six (with a bonus turn). To me, Kala felt more tactical as the focus is finding the path that will enable you to score. There are some subtle tactics, such as putting your personal bowl in the way of your opponent so that he or she is obliged to put a bean in it, which brings you faster to a coveted bonus turn.

I only played this once; we'll see if there any more tactics or strategies emerge. Because of the emphasis of tactics over strategies, and the limited choices of movements, it's a very accessible abstract strategy game, possibly more accessible than traditional forms of mancala.

Hopper



You could probably guess what the dexterity game entails: tossing beans into the bowls.

Sixteen bowls are put in a 4x4 square in a tray (the tray is a nice touch as it helps contain beans that miss their intended target). On your turn, you launch a bean into the air, hoping to get it into one of the bowls. If you get the fourth bean in a bowl, you capture it. First player to capture four bowls wins.

What makes this unique is how beans are launched. You place a bean in the open palm of your hand, and then you hit the bottom edge of the table with your fingertips, launching the bean into the air. There's something oddly satisfying about launching beans this way; it's much easier than expected to launch objects in the air with this mechanism. It's also very satisfying when a bean lands in a bowl, spiraling its way down to the bottom with a pleasant muted thud that can't be emulated with synthetic materials.

Ronda



It's your standard memory game where you have to find pairs, in this case, you're trying to locate bowls that hide the same number of beans. The twist here is that the contents of the bowls are always changing.

Ten upturned bowls are arranged in a circle. The black-stained bowl is empty and placed in the centre. Each players starts with 10 beans. You win if you get rid of your beans first. Each bowl hides between 0 to 4 beans. On your turn, you reveal the contents of two bowls. If the contents don't match, your turn ends. If the contents do match, you add one of your beans to one of the bowls. You may take another turn: You hide one of the bowls, then try to find a match for the other.

If you find two bowls that contain five beans, you do as you do before, add one bean to one of those bowls. However, if the black bowl is empty, you take the contents of the bowl that now holds six beans, empty it, and add it to the black bowl. Now, if you make a mistake (i.e. reveal two bowls with differing contents), you must take a bean from the black bowl as a penalty.

Still, it's a memory game. Even there are only ten objects to remember, I still have a very hard time remembering what bowl is hiding what.

Da Capo



The simplest and probably least original of the four games, but the quickest and most accessible. It's a simple blind auction game similar to Beat the Buzzard, Quo Vadis (no, not Reiner Knizia's negotiation game) or Quaak!.

The black-stained bowl is placed in the middle of the table. Each player constructs a path of bowls that lead to this bowl, either three or four bowls long (depending on the number of players). Each player starts with 16 beans.

Simultaneously, each player secretly bids between 1 to 5 beans. Players then reveal their bids. If you have bid the highest, you place all those beans in the closest unoccupied bowl on your path. Tied bids cancel each other. All losing bids are lost. If you place beans in the black-stained bowl (by winning an auction) you win. If everyone runs out of beans before the black-stained bowl is filled, then the player who advanced the furthest along his or her path wins; among tied players, it's the player who used the least beans to advance down his or her path.

Again, it's the components that make this game a pleasure to play. It's clever that the beans used to bid are also used to keep track of scores. Dumping a winning bid into a bowl, especially if you won an auction with only one bean, is particularly satisfying!
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Ralf Gering
Germany
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"There are some subtle tactics, such as putting your personal bowl in the way of your opponent so that he or she is obliged to put a bean in it, which brings you faster to a coveted bonus turn."

There is always at least one alternative path (even if your opponent's personal bowl is in the corner), therefore he will never be obliged (forced) to put a bean into your own personal bowl. In fact, it appears that crossing your opponent's personal bowl is almost always a bad move. Letting your opponent capture the contents of your own personal bowl is, on the other side, the worst you can do.

"Because of the emphasis of tactics over strategies, and the limited choices of movements, it's a very accessible abstract strategy game, possibly more accessible than traditional forms of mancala."

I agree that tactics are emphasized over strategy, but the number of choices is not more limited than in many other mancala games. The average branching factor of Kala is >6 (it is always at least 6, but can be higher in some special positions), wheras Oware has an average branching factor of 3.5, Kalah (known as "mancala" in the US) has 4.75, Bao la Kiswahili 4.2, Toguz Kumalak 5.0.





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