Coldwater Crown – 1-4 players, 40-90 minutes, from Bellwether Games.
Looking for a light to medium Euro with a fairly unique theme? Coldwater Crown is just what you’re looking for! In this game players are taking part in a fishing tournament where they compete to get the highest weight fish of various species from three geographical locations: the river, lake and ocean shore.
To get things started, players will place the main play board on the table and each grab a tackle box – which is a player board that looks remarkably like a tackle box. The main board has three fishing zones, the Lake, River and Shore. Each zone has a spot for four Fish cards and the appropriate deck – they’re also color coded. The decks are shuffled and the sixteen cards are placed on the board. Each card has a picture of the fish, and the potential weight (3-10 lbs. for example). Each of these four spots is also divided into one of four zones, 3,4,5 and 6.
There are also a series of spots on the board for various trophies. The Small Species Challenge trophy, Master Angler challenges, Mystery Weight challenge, trophies for each zone, first to 8 species and first to 12 fish. These spots are filled with the appropriate trophies (based on player count). You’ll also take four double sided Angler tokens and place them with the 1 side up on three of the six fishing zone spots. Last, take at random one of the colored Tags and place that on the Tag space on the board.
Along side the main board, the Master Angler cards will be shuffled and then placed. 4 face up cards next to the face down deck. There are also a series of Bonus tokens placed face down, with each player taking a random token to start out with.
Once the board is set up, players will take the bag full of bait – colorful plastic crystals that correspond to the six colors of the fishing zones, and fill up two zones on their Tackle Box player boards. Zones 3 and 4 each get 3 or 4 tokens. When filling your zones, you’ll always add Bait tokens up to the zone number (so zones 5 and 6 will get 5 and 6 tokens, respectively).
There is one clear Bait Token, which will go into the bag once all of the players have filled up their zone 3 and 4 spaces.
How to Play
At it’s core, Coldwater Crown is a fairly simple take on worker placement. You place a ‘worker’ and you take a ‘worker’, which for this game is your Angler Token. It’s where you do this and the actions that you get from doing this that give this game all of it’s interesting decisions and complexity. Each Angler Token has two sides, like a coin. A 1 and a 2 side. This will determine what kind of an action you can take, with the 2 generally being more powerful (but not always more strategically appropriate) side.
Next to each of the three zones, are two color coded spots where you can place or remove an Angler Token. There’s also the Harbor spot where you can do the same. On your turn you’ll take two actions. First, you’ll take your Angler Token and place it on the board with it’s current side face up. At the start of the game, this is the 1 side. Second, you’ll remove one of the Angler Tokens already placed on the board (not the one you just placed) and flip it over. That then becomes your Angler Token. Each time you place or remove the token, you’ll take the appropriate action.
If you place this on one of the six colored spots next to the Lake, River or Shore zones, you’ll be able to do one of two things. If the token is on the 1 side, you’ll remove 1 Bait Token of that color (red, blue, yellow, black, green or purple) from each of your Tackle Box (the player board) zones. If the token is on the 2 side, you’ll remove all of the Bait Tokens of that color from any one zone on your Tackle Box.
If you remove the last Bait Token from that zone, you catch the fish from that same zone on the game board. How do you determine which zone? The Lake is red and blue, the River is yellow and black and the Shore is green and purple. If you removed the last Bait Token from your Tackle Box in zone 3, and it’s a purple Bait Token, you’d catch the Shore fish card in the zone 3 spot. Bait tokens are placed in a discard pile. The first person to draw the clear bait token will trigger the bag to refill with all of the tokens from the discard pile (including the clear token).
There’s also the Harbor spot. If you place or remove an Angler Token there on the 1 side, you can either refill any one zone on your Tackle Box, or take one Master Angler card. If your token’s on the 2 side, you can take two of those actions.
Each of the fish cards has, on it’s back, it’s actual weight and a tag with a color and time. These are important for breaking ties and in the case of the tag color, could be worth extra points at the end of the game.
In addition to the fish you can catch from the three zones, there are Master Angler Challenge fish you can catch. One of the actions you can take from the Harbor space is to claim a Master Angler Challenge card. Once you’ve claimed a card, rather than discarding your bait into a discard pile, you can place it in the appropriately colored spot on your Angler card. Once the card is full, you’ve caught that fish and the card is yours to score. If you clear out the bait from zone 6 on your Tackle Box, you can either catch the fish in that zone, or take the top fish off of the deck.
The bonus tokens (there are 4 different types) can also be played during the game to change around your bait or help decide which specific fish is caught. Each time you clear out all of your Bait Tokens from zone 5 of your player board, you claim a new bonus token.
The first player to 12 fish caught from the Lake, River or Shore triggers the end of the game. From there points are totaled up and the player with the most points wins.
How to Win
There are several challenges going in during the game which will award players trophies, which are worth points. There’s the Mystery Weight challenge, where if you catch a fish that is the same weight as the face up trophy, you can claim that trophy. The Master Angler challenges awards trophies for 3 of a kind or 4 different species caught. The Small species challenge awards trophies to the first players to catch one each of the three small fish species. The first players to catch eight different species of fish from the 3 main board zones gain a trophy and the player to trigger the end of the game by catching 12 fish also gets a trophy.
In addition to this, each Master Angler Challenge fish that you successfully catch is worth one point at the end of the game.
Finally, each player will take one of each species of the heaviest fish from each zone and add them up. The player with the most total weight from each zone claims the top trophy for that zone, with other players getting trophies worth less. Also, each fish submitted at the end of the game with the same colored tag that was placed on the board during setup will score an additional point for that fish. It’s possible to get the smallest trophy from a zone but still score more points if you happen to have all the right tags.
The player with the most points after all trophies, tagged fish and Master Angler cards have been added up wins!
Why You Should Play
If you’re looking to a light/medium Euro style worker placement game, with some interesting strategic choices, Coldwater Crown is a great choice. If you happen to like games that feature really interesting themes, a fishing tournament is, as far as I know, unique to this style of game. Add to that a fun time, with fairly quick turns and a solo mode and it’s hard for me to say no to this.
I am not a sports fisher by any means but I find this game to be very unique and more importantly, fun! The real challenge lies in taking your randomly distributed Bait Tokens and making them work in a way you want them to. You’ve got to plan where you’re placing and taking your Angler Tokens to maximize your chances of getting the fish you want by discarding that specific color of bait from each zone. It’s more challenging than it looks but in all the right ways.
The game itself is beautiful to look at – the illustrations are great, the tokens, boards and trophies are nice and chunky and fun to handle I do with the cards had been a bit thicker but that’s really my only complaint when it comes to components.
That being said, there is a bit of randomness involved and you’ll find that the main board changes a lot between turns as each player manipulates their Angler Tokens. If you prefer straight up, zero luck games this may not be the best choice for you. Personally, I enjoy this one quite a bit though – the luck element is interesting enough that no two games play the same, and can be mitigated fairly well by bonus tokens. You’ve got to be able to adapt your play to the lot you’ve been given though.
I think Coldwater Crown is a great way to introduce players new to Euro-style games and/or worker placement and set collection. There are a lot of folks I know for who this will appeal to them a lot more than say Lords of Waterdeep. The mechanics are if anything a bit simpler and this game can be taught in 10 minutes or less. It has the added bonus of attracting lots of attention wherever I’ve played it. Look at all those fish!
All in all I can very much recommend this game. It’s been a joy to play and has quickly climbed the ranks of my games for both gateway Euros and games I just enjoy playing at any time. Also of note, my 11 year old Luca thoroughly enjoys this one as well – it’s on of the few euros she requests on a regular basis. With it’s quick turns, it’s a fast game to pick up and is great with very little downtime while other players are taking their turns.
As of today, Coldwater Crown is available to purchase directly from Bellwether Games and should be arriving at your FLGS as well. It will be available on Amazon in July (according to Amazon).