Coldwater Crown is a board game that brings you to the Irish coast for a competitive fishing tournament. The game plays 1-4 players in 40 to 90 minutes. The box states the game is suited for ages 14 plus, but for reasons I’ll explain, Coldwater Crown can be enjoyed by those of a much younger age. This strategic fishing adventure is designed by Brian Suhre (Paradox).
The game board consists of three fishing locations and the port. Individual player boards represent your tackle box with four zones corresponding to the zones in each location. Each fishing location is represented by two different colors of bait. When an action removes the last piece of bait from a zone in your tackle box, you’ve caught a fish from that zone in the location of the bait color. For example, removing a piece of red bait to empty zone 3 in your tackle box would earn you the fish card in zone 3 of the lake (represented by blue and red bait).
Two actions are selected each turn, the first by placing your angler token and the second by removing an angler token from the board. Placing or removing an angler token from a fishing location removes bait from your tackle box. If you place or remove an angler token from the port, you can choose to refill a zone in your tackle box with bait or take a master angler card to begin completing. Points are scored for catching fish of a specific weight, completing master angler challenges, catching fish the fastest, and having the most total weight of fish from each location. I don’t want to bore you with specifics, this is just a quick overview and you can learn all the details in this video.
The game is very easy to teach and learn because there are really only three different actions and only a limited number of actions to choose from at any one time. So if you want to play with children or introduce new gamers to the hobby, Coldwater Crown makes for an excellent introductory game. However, if you are thinking multiple turns ahead and predicting what your opponents will choose, gameplay can become very strategic. Determining what order to remove bait to catch specific fish or when it can also be utilized for master angler cards gives this game an interesting puzzle feel. Coldwater Crown is highly competitive without direct attacks, intentionally messing with opponents, or ganging up on one player. The wide variety of scoring possibilities and sheer enjoyment the game provides makes it something you want to play over again.
Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of gaming solo, but there is always a time and place when you want to game and no one is around. Coldwater Crown has a solo variant where you play as normal and follow some extra steps to determine the actions of a silent player. The interesting thing about the solo mode was how it changed up the strategy of the game. Since the bait in the discard pile determines whether the silent player catches a fish, you must pay more attention to the discard (which was mostly irrelevant in the regular game). Hold off discarding bait by using them for master angler cards or refilling half empty zones until you can discard enough of one color to prevent the silent player from catching fish. With two to five bait of one color in the discard, the silent player has a chance of drawing a fish from the matching location if you draw that color from the bag for them. This isn’t something you’d care about in a two-player game. Playing solo keeps the puzzle aspect of how to best remove all your bait, but changes it enough to make it at least worth trying solo. The big thing missing from a solo game is the “dang it” feeling you get when your opponents removes a token that was part of your plan. This is not a solo game to rave about, but is a feature that add some extra value.
There weren’t any purely negative aspects of the game, only a few things that kept it from being perfection or just not a good fit for some players. There is some luck within the game, such as catching a fish with the color tag that gives a bonus or has the weight to earn the current mystery weight trophy token. The designer understands this is a downside for some and offered provisions to reduce luck in the rulebook. I didn’t find the suggestion very useful, which was to remove the tag bonus. I liked playing with this bonus because it forced players to make risky choices at the end of the game. When submitting fish for the overall weight contest at each location, players would have to choose between submitting a lower weight fish with a tag bonus or a heavier one that might earn them a better trophy.
Without the tag bonus in the game, everyone just submits their heavier fish and whoever was lucky enough to draw the heavier fish will win. The other negative stems from the limited choices in the game. As previously described, I found the simplicity of the game to be a positive feature. The flip side of this is that occasionally players may encounter a turn where all the available actions they can select will do nothing for them. It obviously sucks to waste a turn, but this may be more indicative of a flaw in player strategy rather than a flaw in the game.
Coldwater Crown is a good step up for fans of set collection games like Lanterns looking for something a bit more challenging. Coincidentally both games feature artwork from Beth Sobel. The game plays exceptionally well with two players, so it is an excellent option for couples who like to game together. Thematically Coldwater Crown is a great game for bringing to the cottage for a rainy day. Ultimately, this will be a solid addition to your shelf. Find Coldwater Crown available for order on the Bellwether Games website or ask at your local game store. If you are in the Texas area, Coldwater Crown will be demoing at Comicpalooza Houston on May 12-14th. Stay informed with the Bellwether Games newsletter, or follow them on Twitter and Facebook.