Grab your pole and tackle box because it's time for the annual Coldwater Crown fishing tournament. Set on the Irish coast, this 45-90 minute game about trying net the catch of the day has just about the most interesting theme I've seen this year. Will it be the next thing to get you "hooked" or will it sink to the bottom of the lake? Let's find out!
For in depth rules of play see the BGG entry.
1. Components and Package
This is the first thing I've seen from Bellwether Games but I must say they are now on my radar. The box is a nice matte finish and feels more than sturdy enough to hold the game's components.
There are MANY components in this box including player boards, a sturdy gameboard, cardboard chips and tokens, plastic jewels, medium and standard cards, and round wooden discs. The game comes with about 20 plastic baggies to separate everything but this is a game that could really benefit from an insert to aid in setup and tear down.
Components themselves are actually quite nice from the multicoloured jewels to the chunky wooden discs. Player boards are a bit thin but also sturdy.
2. Art and Graphic Design
The game's artwork is skillfully drawn by Beth Sobel (World's Fair 1893, Viticulture, Lanterns, Herbaceous, and the upcoming Path of Light and Shadow) who has become a personal favourite of mine. Her illustrations look like comfortable, lived-in places and her style is very well suited to this game. The tackle box player boards in particular feel like looking into grandpa's old box of lures and bait. Everything from the card art to the lush, green game board is right en pointe.
Graphic design gets solid points here too. It follows the "a place for everything and everything in its place" approach to layout and this works well. Shapes and colours all match and symbols make sense. Little touches like the info keys in the corners are appreciated. There is not too much board text which is nice but enough to give you what you need without looking at the rulebook.
Incidentally, I found this game to have an excellent rulebook. After one brief read I knew the game and felt confident teaching it to others. Kudos, Beth and Bellwether Games!
Coldwater Crown feels like a hybrid worker placement/action selection game in terms of turn mechanics. There are a handful of generic "workers/actions" represented by wooden discs and each turn a player places a disc (taking one action) and picks up a different disc (taking one action). It's precisely this turn-by-turn simplicity that makes the game easy to teach and play. A minor bugbear is the discs themselves which have two sides (labeled 1 and 2) and must be flipped each time they are retrieved. As the game teacher I had to remind many players to flip the disc over throughout the game (a 2 is a more powerful action so it's important).
Personally, I love games that do not have rounds and turns in the game are quick. The actions themselves involve fishing in one of the three zones on the board or going to the dock to pick up more bait or special "Master Angler" cards which act like storage for cast away bait. To catch a fish you must exhaust one or more bait zones by placing a worker on a fish zone (represented by 1 of 6 colours) then take the fish matching the bait colour you last cast. Since you can take actions by both placing and removing workers there isn't really any way to block opponents (at best you can change the order of their work and make their turns less efficient) the game is fairly solitary which I suppose simulates the actual fishing process: you, your gear, and a quiet patch of water.
Point scoring comes largely from set collection and trophies. There are points for catching more species, for catching the smallest species, for catching "Master Angler" fish, "Mystery Weight" fish, and for winning at the weigh-in for each zone.
4. Final Thoughts
As a fisherman and outdoor enthusiast I fell in love with the game based on theme alone and I have to say that it scratched the fishing itch for me. It is thematic enough (place a disc to cast bait and catch a fish) to hold interest and pretty enough to immerse you. That said, the game is a bit dry the same way that fishing is dry to people who don't have patience. It's a slow burn game where things only come together turn by turn and not all in one swoop. It's also not going to present any deep strategic choices to players over multiple plays and I would say, with confidence, this is just barely above gateway in terms of depth and ease of play.
There is also some luck involved in the game as you don't know how big each fish you catch will be until after the catch, and the "Mystery Weight" trophy in particular awards points to a randomly and arbitrarily derived weight of fish which changes through the game. Finally, bait for fishing is drawn blindly from a bag which means if you want a fish in a yellow zone but draw only green bait you're out of luck until you can get more bait.
Nevertheless, scores in games remained tight in all of my plays with only 10 points separating first from last. The game has a racing element to it and I for one enjoy the race.
Is Coldwater Crown an award winner? Probably not. Is it a clever introductory Euro with a great underused theme, solid artwork, and great production values? Absolutely. Sometimes you need to ditch the zombies, fantasy, and Vikings and just go fishing.
Thanks for the review. I personally love the game. It resembles fishing a lot as you don't always catch the fish you want and not always the big ones. Plays well as a 2 player game too. This is one game I have been able to get the wife to play. I like the idea of gaining different tackle pieces to be able to manipulate your strategy. Components are very good.