Coming from the designers of Grand Austria Hotel and Lorenzo Il Magnifico, Coimbra had me unreasonably excited. It's fair to say I didn't have a lot of gameplay information, other than I knew it involved dice drafting and these little plastic holders for your dice, dice homes as I like to call them.
I also noted the vibrant colours of the cover art and game board which is somewhat, um, rare for a Euro game. Does this mean that Coimbra will be a theme embracing game?
No it does not. Let's get this out of the way now - Coimbra's theme is as weak as a Paul Daniels punchline. Thankfully, Coimbra shines in the gameplay department and I got so in to drafting the best dice for my plans that I forgot why I was moving a meeple around a map at all!
You start the game with a player board and some markers to track the two currencies (guards and coins), and keep your 'dice homes' on. Happily, it also has a icon driven guide to the game phases too. It will be a game or so before you can totally rely on it without checking the rules/icons, but it's nice to have. You will also get to draft two cards to start with. These may include a 'C' card. The letter is reference to the phase that this card can be activated in. I expect to see some more of these cards in a future expansion as the only time you get these cards are from the starting draft.
Cards come in one of four colours which relate to four influence tracks on the right hand side of the board. Buying a card of that colour moves you up between one and four spaces on that track, and at the end of the round you may earn rewards depending on your level. Cards will either be an 'E' card which are similar to 'C' cards activating in the 'E' phase, instant use cards or end game scoring bonuses.
There are four boxes in a column down the left hand side of the Coimbra board for placing dice you have drafted in them. The top one lets you take a favour tile for free and the person with the lowest die chooses first. The other three resolve from the highest dice to lowest and let you buy a card for the value of the pips in the currency displayed on the card.
Cards trigger off all sorts of actions like gaining currency, moving on the map and triggering move actions at monasteries, moving up on a influence track and so on. If you cannot afford a card or do not want what is left you can instead gain two of each currency.
So you draft your dice by choosing number and colour. The number is how much you might pay for a card and determines your order in choosing one, but the colour comes in at the end of the round. The colour of the dice matches one of the four influence tracks, and so you gain the reward dictated by the level you are on that track. This might be currency, movement on the map or victory points.
There are a scattering of additional rules like a neat player order system and more ways to score at the end of the game.
All of this does make Coimbra a bit more of a 'teach' than some other games. Although the game flows reasonably well there is a lot to remember and work out. The bonus of this is that there does genuinely feel like there are a lot of routes to victory. The joint decision on a dice's colour and number is both exquisite and excruciating, especially when you are after the same card or favour tile as someone else. Movement around the map feels important as the map takes up quite a large percentage of the board, yet my friend romped home with a victory by ignoring it in favour of the influence tracks.
Coimbra is a game of choice, specialise or spread yourself out, number or colour, and so on. It plays out in only four rounds, although can be prone to analysis paralysis, particularly when the next group of cards are set-up at the start of a round. Yes, the theme is thinner than Harry Hill's hairline but the art and vibrancy of the graphic design are wonderful.
Player interaction comes through battling for order in the drafting phase but there are also some nasty cards in the late game too! Topped off with great production values and you have a game that is worthy of a place in any euro gamer's collection.