Reviewing board games that shed a tear.

Coimbra - Board Game Review | The Tabletop Crier

Coimbra boardgame box

COIMBRA

a review of the board game Designed by Flaminia Brasini and Virginio Gigli

Players: 2-4, Time Investment: 60-90 mins

Rating:

I'm silently crying!



Game Aesthetic

Components:

Not only is the insert fabulous but the components are absolutely pleasing. I'll go ahead and start with the Rampant Lions: while relatively useless other than for determining turn order, I still find it enjoyable to look at these turn order meeples. Downside is the damn thing always tilts off to the side and it becomes easily part of the game experience to know how to rearrange them without it becoming a dexterity game. You're evaluating turn order every round so it's not like this won't continue to be a part of your life during gameplay. 

You know what I do appreciate as a permanent part of my life journey through Coimbra? These linen-finish cards! Mind you there isn't a lot of card holding in this game because it's a tableau builder but when you pick them up, it's just... so nice for that brief moment. I'm always a fan of orange and purple in a game, and this game has both in the dice set, tracks, and cards! I've found that if the game doesn't have red and blue, orange and purple tend to be the substitutes. Pop-color fans unite!

Monasteries, which is where your person-shaped meeple wanders about on the board, can be visited by several folks. Instead of having an annoying time lifting the disks off the monasteries to see the benefits they provide, your little discs can be pushed off to the side. They're etched modular cardboard bits, and are always fun to me mainly because it keeps the game fresh and provides a certain level of frustration that is so delectable and yummy. Plus they function and for weirdos like me who like ensuring that everything is in its place, it quells that anxiety as well.
When drafting the die and placing them in the sections of town you want to visit, you need to nestle it into this fortress-looking plastic... thing. It's fun to put together, and provides a fresh take on Place A Thing* mechanics.
But... really? Monasteries? I'm unfamiliar with the geographical significance of these but the cardboard bits don't really look like monasteries to me?

*I don't really regard this as a worker placement but you are placing things but... they're dice so... Place a Thing!


Insert and components for Coimbra boardgame
Dice, Cards, and more Bits!



Artwork by Chris Quilliams:

I believe the one other complaint -- other than the rampant lion dexterity mini game -- is I'm not even paying attention to city locations or tracks. I mean, I had to look at the book to even know that something was more than just "this color track" but I guarantee you none of the players I have played with now or in the future will refer to them by their thematic names because this game is dry AF to begin with.
Despite its dryness, did I mention this game is SO colorful?! I wanna just stare at it forever, from the geometric, edgy faces reminding me of indie cartoon films to its entertaining and also deceptive depth.
I haven't actually bothered to see if there was any connection between the powers or benefit of the cards and whether the art matched thematically in some way. Honestly considering there being distinctly women and men in the game I'm worried that I won't be too happy about discovering the enforced stereotypes.
The peninsula where the monasteries live is also very pretty though I can't really understand how it decides to converge, diverge, lengthen, or stop paths.
I really like the laurels for some reason for points but I don't know enough about the culture to comment on whether the choice was accurate.
Disappointing that the market areas are not more visible, looks like it must have taken some amount of effort to design yet all we are doing in the game is covering it with it with action dice!

Market cards for Coimbra boardgame
Cards in the Market


The First Turn

Options:

It's very clear that you put a die down to get a thing and what the resources are.
The starting cards give you some direction and the hardest thing here is balancing the increases on the tracks from the cards and the activation of those tracks with the die.
You'll need to use different parts of your brain to evaluate the cards, their effects, their symbologies, and their consequences as well as the resources you have available and the track you want to benefit from -- and its consequences. At minimum you can simply pick things that give you resources and figure out what to do with them later. And, of course, you won't be able to get what you want if you don't have resources to spend so that limitation in and of itself is a guide.

Monasteries and Tracks for Coimbra boardgame
Monasteries or Tracks? It's your life!

Rewards and Objectives:

Voyage Cards are end game scores you can buy into but you can only fund one per round unless you get the special favor tiles. 
Game End Bonus cards marked with (!) provide some direction, cross-pollinate with other cards, and boost your track standing. 
Level III Monasteries and good timing provides instant points, and can even double-up on stuff you've been working on for a while. Another reward for visiting some monasteries early enough is the ability to perpetually provide points when you perform certain actions in the future. Crowns determine turn order and some monasteries care about crowns to translate into points but they aren’t terribly crucial unless you’re in a race with other folks.
Diplomas become a set collection mini game but I'm not familiar with whether the game balances on scarcity or not. 
Track Rankings become a race to the top but if you've been maximizing in those areas through your drafts and purchases, then this is more of a side effect rather than a goal. The return on points for being ahead is great so this can arguably influence your decisions for reasons of too much competition (there is one fewer place than there are actual players). The moment you start focusing on your own thing it’ll be too late for everyone else to catch up with you. 

The fun and funny thing about this game is the resource limit. I really appreciate when euros provide constraints because a truly talented gamer will know how to work with what little they have rather than hoard something for days. I’ve had some games where I felt very rewarded for acquiring goods.



Voyage cards for Coimbra boardgame
Go on a Voyage!


Pilgrims and Turn Order for Coimbra boardgame
Or, perhaps you'd rather explore the Peninsula?

Ability to Pivot:

There is a possibility to catch up slightly by using green track (i.e. buying green cards, drafting green die) if you need to buy some time to close in the gap because it is straight up points income. Sadly, some attack cards will make it hard to recover but can be mitigated (e.g. I've had games where I was attacked constantly and still won anyway). Not to worry: I was still able to win even with giving up points instead of resources to other players every single time! However if you finally have resources to buy a voyage but you missed out on the round prior, there is a clear lead from the opponents assuming they did find something.


Game End

The game ends after four rounds and it feels very fast, but it's one of those games I could easily just play over again after the first session ends. The only issue is because there is a sense of urgency, one can overthink their actions and slow down the rest of the group. 
But this game is meant to be played quickly, otherwise the cards would arguably be more complicated and intensive as far as options are concerned. I feel as though that is not the intention considering how streamlined the iconography is for this game. Easily can play this for several sessions!

Brass: Birmingham - Board Game Review | The Tabletop Crier

Brass Birmingham boardgame cover

BRASS: BIRMINGHAM

a review of the board game Designed by Martin Wallace

Players: 2-4,  Time Investment: 60-120 mins
Rating:

I'm Sobbing!


Game Aesthetic


Components:


Brass Birmingham clay money for boardgame
Money Money Money!

Other than the really nice clay money, the components are your standard cardboard, cards, and cubes. I normally have more to say here but this isn't one of those games that has a tactile experience to note. If anything, the only fun bit here is the beer barrel but mine aren't painted or stained in any meaningful way so it really just looks like a thimble to me.


Brass Birmingham beer barrels for boardgame
Why must all my sales include beer?

Artwork by Lina CossetteDavid Forest, and Damien Mammoliti:

This is where the game is definitely pleasing. First off, the main board and the player boards have a night side and a day side. It's functional and is pretty! I can read other side just fine so it mostly depends on whether I want the feeling to be dark or bright. I have gaming friends that find one side easier to read than the other so this helps folks with those preferences. 

The art for each of the player order tokens has that antique feeling, and pays attention to the clothing of that period. Mind you, I'm not an expert of the fashion from that era so I couldn't tell you about the historical accuracy of those choices (but the rulebook does note that they had someone to consult on historical aspects so yay?) but I like it nonetheless. I could easily imagine buying large printouts of the art for each player color to post in a boardgaming room, especially since their faces look like faces (I've seen too many games that have horrible excuses for human faces and they're the stuff of nightmares). 

The map on the main board has a nice aerial view, with attention to buildings, trees and other topographical details. Metals are shaded well in this game -- which makes sense considering the time period -- but the rest of the art falls flat, especially the crates. Of course there's only so much you can do to make wood look good but it wasn't anything special. 

My main gripe is the income and score tracker, as I had a difficult time distinguishing the tracks and planning accordingly (e.g. I kept asking what my income was the first time I played because I couldn't read it for shit). For a little while during my first play of the game, I was also mixing up interpreting income vs points on the industry tiles. So make sure you get in your brain what those are because they give you VERY different things in your life during the course of the game.


The First Turn


Options:

Building out a canal seems to be an okay start especially considering you can afford it but note that these will disappear at the beginning of the Rail Era because no one cares about boats anymore. You could piggyback depending on player order and get right into building resources like coal or iron for later and get the market advantage, though.

Money is tight in this game so you can always take an action to acquire a loan but keep in mind loans have interest so spend it now and spend it wisely. Don't do what I did and hoard all your money for no damn reason. Of course, also don't fret: the pains of paying interest are only applicable if you suck at building industry tiles that flip to provide income.

Pay close attention to your player mat and the main board, because Canal Era buildings die at the end of the canal period so better flip them and feed into your plans for the final Rail Era.


Brass Birmingham player mat for day and for night in boardgame
Do you choose Daytime or Nighttime?


All in all, the first turn is relatively simple and really is just the preparation for Rail Era. It's okay to feel like you're bumbling through this time period. At minimum, your hand will tell you what your options are; since everything in this game is related to playing a card just make something with the hand you've literally been dealt.

Rewards and Objectives:

So back to money: THOSE FUCKING INCOME SPOTS ARE SO GODDAMN FRUSTRATING. There are brackets between one level (yes, ONE MONEY) and the next level (yes, THE ADDITIONAL ONE MONEY) so even if you're like, "Yay, two income!", you could still be on the edge of one level but not quite making it to the other. This will likely make you flip the table (by the way, I did *not* but I really wanted to). 

Money funds networks that will fuel your industries and to even afford setting up industries to begin with. Taking loans is not a bad thing, but ensuring that you aren't eaten alive by interest is important. You can manage this by balancing opening industries with acquiring new loans. It's not necessary to have high income to win this game. I've had plenty of games where I've lost miserably with a ton of money because money doesn't buy you success in this world unless you're using it properly. Do not spend your money for the sake of spending money because this also determines turn order, and for some segments of this game once the map starts to become crowded it's important to ensure that your plans do not fail.

Building industry tiles that are compatible in the Canal Era and the Rail Era is a solid first objective to aim for, since at minimum the math roughly comes out to you scoring it twice.

When assessing industries, there are two kinds of timing that may benefit you or destroy your hopes and dreams: 
1) meeting market demand in exchange for money 
and 
2) exceeding market demand to prepare for the future. 


Brass Birmingham iron and coal market for boardgame
If the market looks like this, you're going to get money whether you like it or not.


For the first situation, if the economic state of the game favors you building a specific industry and you're in need of a cash boost for your next action, it's perfectly reasonable to build it, flip it, and get money right away.  But if the market doesn't want your lovely coal mine your coal will sit there until you or your opponents need it. You can end up unintentionally or intentionally play chicken against the market to flood it for money.

You'll notice that a majority of industry tiles require beer consumption so there is also a clear need for that. Same principles of industry assessment apply, and even worse so because beer markets only carry one or two barrels.

Then, here's the kicker: even if you understand market timing, being able to sell and buy goods depends solely on your access to the outer edges of the map because that is where the markets are. Whether you are the one providing access to all, or if you are piggybacking on someone else's access, in times of desperation you may need to close gaps with this.

It's very clear that the most straightforward points come from crowding around booming cities with your canals and rails. From experience, this can give you the edge on a win all other things being equal. This helps with promoting your future industries as well, so it's a good first part of the map to influence.


Brass Birmingham partial game map for boardgame
Everyone wants a piece of Birmingham.


DO NOT MAKE RESOURCE OR POINT DENIAL AN OBJECTIVE. If you can net ahead of someone, it's entirely okay to use their resources such that their industry tiles flip. Just like in any real life economy, there's a certain amount of push and pull on the market that you do together, and then when the timing is right the best industry mogul pulls ahead of the pack.

This, to me, is the real brain melting part of the game. Notice that in this blog post, the options are clear but the rewards and objectives are not? Yep. The struggle is real.

Ability to Pivot:

You can only place one of your buildings in each city during the first era, which pivots focus on building a network to prepare for the future. The reason? You are restricted in the Rail Era to building off what you already started in the Canal Era, so if you didn't make your plans early, it's possible to come back but it's a long railroad ahead.

Location cards trump any restrictions on building specific industries but they are hard to give up for lame actions. You sometimes have no choice since you must take an action in this game with what you have in your hand.

You can at least piggyback on others' networks when trying to accomplish some objectives that require resources, so there is consequently an element of area influence but not in a war way -- more of a cornering the market type of way.

Blank markets suck and can happen (i.e. they are put out randomly so some markets are just lost to us and the beer that comes with them is also lost to us) so be aware of a changing need for beer when this is not a possible fallback.


Brass Birmingham empty market for boardgame
This is what dead dreams look like.


One of the main issues in this game is resource timing. If you do not plan to use your own resources, you can be sure that opponents will be using them, and you'll need to start your industry plans from scratch.

Paying careful attention to industries that can only be built in the canal era is important because you'll be spending precious iron to develop those tiles away otherwise.

Finally, be mindful of player count with this game as it doesn't seem to scale for Pottery when there are just two players on the map. Anticipating needs and market timing is the hardest thing and keeps me coming back for more plays. Never a boring day in this environment.

Game End

The end of the Canal (first) Era comes as soon as everyone has played their entire hand. Remember that everything you do, including passing, requires a card. This is how the timer in the game is held accountable, and so you can track how many actions remain. It's a blessing and a curse, depending on if you're doing well. On one hand, you can think "Oh good, I still have more to do" and on the other hand, you can think "WHAT I HAVE TO DO ANOTHER THING? I JUST THOUGHT ABOUT THE FIRST THING".

The end of the Rail (second, and final) Era comes in the same way. Then it's just most points wins.


Brass Birmingham multiplayer railroad connections for boardgame
Railroads themselves provide lots of points if connected to bustling towns.


Considering the deck is the game timer it should not be a surprise to you of when you should start feeling a sense of desperation to make power moves. This is also not one of those games that you can tell who is winning during your first play. After a few more plays, you'll start to see patterns of who is leading and how sad you should be about it.

A personal thought: I have often considered that maybe there should be more aggression on my part for overbuilding instead of developing away the "chump" tiles since this can mitigate against network losses in the Rail Era. I haven't tested this yet but it's something to consider toying with.

I've played both Brass: Lancashire and this one; by far this is my favorite so do not try and look for or ask for a Lancashire post because you will not get one. *arms crossed*

Lisboa - Board Game Review | The Tabletop Crier

Lisboa Boardgame Player Aid Title

LISBOA

a review of the board game Designed by Vital Lacerda

Players: 1-4, Time Investment: 60-120 mins

Rating: 





Game Aesthetic


Components

With the exception of the Officials meeples and the player mat, the physical components in this game are pretty standard. Though I do have to say, having a big chunk of cardboard coins to represent higher denominations is a fun touch.


Lisboa Boardgame Stores and Officials
Stores and Officials: Ready to Deploy!

Artwork by Ian O'Toole:

This is where I start gushing. The use of shadowing in the art of this game gives it the depth and ornamentation often seen in palaces or buildings of importance -- which is a good fit considering the activities undertaken in the game. Unsure if this was intentional, but the colors associated to each of the Nobles is appropriate: Pink, for the hoity toity king; Blue, for the serious minister; and Green, for the economically-oriented builder. Having the Cardinal pass through the cathedral round and round is fitting. The background of the main game board ties in with the aftermath of the earthquake as well. Overall, the art is classic and dives headfirst into the period.


Lisboa Boardgame Royal Court
Welcome to The Royal Court!
Lisboa Boardgame Cardinal
Trade with the King and Meet the Cardinal























The First Turn


Options:

Now for the part that earned this game a Blubbering rating. 

Although the rules summary says you just do one of four things... that's a LOADED statement right there. It says,

Choose One:
1. Play Any Card into your Portfolio, and Sell Goods or Trade with the Nobles then Take a new card.
2. Play a Noble Card to the Royal Court, Spend Influence, Visit a Noble, then Take a new card.
3. Play a Treasury Card to the Royal Court, Pay Treasury value, Sponsor an Event, then Take a new card.
4. Discard any card, Take a Gold, then Take a new card.

Simple right? WRONG, there are absolutely benefits to doing a little of everything.

Starting goods are given to all players to help aid the first turn but that benefit goes away quickly. So you could gain goods from stores, which are used -- among other things -- for trading with Nobles to do 1-2 actions. Note that circular dependencies occur left and right for goods and encouraging diversity. Even more so, Sold Goods are required to be exported on all existing ships with room, not just your own. So if you're producing without giving yourself a way to benefit off your own goods, you're handing points to your opponents!

Just when you thought you had it all, resource limits in your portfolio force you to teeter totter and monitor your own personal wealth since accumulating for the sake of accumulating is discouraged in this game. Consequently, you must spend wisely! Limits exist on cards to play to your personal mat as well, so order and timing is everything.

Then there's crowd control. It makes visiting the nobles hard to predict with regards to influence costs. Area influence tension occurs between stores in the streets.

Lisboa Boardgame Player Mat
Welcome to your Portfolio!


All in all, lots of give and take, balancing and sensitivity to synergy exists but hard to see on your first turn.

My favorite page in the player aid -- yes, PAGE as in THERE IS MORE THAN ONE PAGE -- is the "How To" to solve in game issues instead of constantly checking the rule book or the person teaching the game on "How do you get [insert resource here] again?"

The first turn, with your starting resources, you can say "I have money!" then "I built a store!" and then... "Oh. Now what."
Selling goods offers in game points but do you want to sell what you have? Fun fact: Production of goods crash the market. So good luck selling for cash at a premium over time.


Lisboa Boardgame Shops and Market
Sell Goods based on the Market Track


Bogging down your Portfolio (the name for your personal mat area) with treasury cards can give some momentary relief but over time the return isn't that great as this takes up space for other things like ships. 

Noticing things as you go, like "Oh I should have seen that. Ooops" often happens, especially when reviewing the points from situating your stores on specific streets.


Lisboa Boardgame Streets and Shops
On which street will you set up your store?


There are very few ways to gain influence when it is required for payment at the Royal Court. If you're not influential enough, you'll pay with points. Ouch.

So you think, hey, I'll just build a ship. 


Lisboa Boardgame Ship
Trade with the Minister to Build or Upgrade a Ship


Do you have goods? Uh. No. Cool story, bro.
Okay fine, I'll go ahead and grab some benefits from the church. Have you visited the King? No, I can't right now. Cool story, bro.
Well dammit fine, I'll just tuck some things into my portfolio. What's your capacity? Not enough. COOL. STORY.
Okay okay, how do I get more space in my portfolio? Well, you need rubble. 


Lisboa Boardgame Rubble
Rubble, Rubble, toil and trouble!


How do I get rubble? Public building or store. Oh! Really? Sure, do you have money and officials in court? Uh. No. COOL STORY BRO OMG


Lisboa Boardgame Public Buildings
Trade with the Builder for a Plan or Visit the King to Open a Public Building

After the first period ends, you finally feel like things are happening for you. No worries, you only have one more period to wrap up your master plan. That's all the time in the world! #sarcasm



Lisboa Boardgame Noble and Treasury Cards
Your turn is over! But will you take a Noble card or a Treasury card next?


Rewards and Objectives:

Take a Decree is a prediction on how you will do at the end of the game for some varied amount of points. Some are harder than others and almost always require planning ahead. This being said, it is entirely likely that someone can deny you if they feel you are in the lead.


Lisboa Boardgame Decree
Visit the Minister and Take a Decree
After that, you are at the mercy of planning towards the standard Endgame Scoring, which entails:

how big the Ships in your portfolio are, 
        which were acquired with goods which were typically acquired from building a Store, 
                 which required réis...

completed sets of Rubble,
        which were acquired with building stores,
                 which required réis...

having more stores of a specific type than your opponents

cashing out your influence,
       which you may have been spending on Visiting a Noble or Following an opponent's Visit...

a 1:5 ratio of wigs to réis,
       which you may have been spending on building already

having more officials involved in Public Buildings than your opponents

then finally
a 2:1 ratio of wigs to Royal Favor tiles,
      which you may have been spending on following visits already

ARGH!!

Ability to Pivot:

There are not many ways to pivot in this game. Sure, if you see your opponents doing things you may want to not do those things because there is a degree of scarcity here. Other than that, pivoting of your own accord and free will isn't clear. Everything you do is interconnected, and everything your opponents do also add that element of lack of control when evaluating your options for setting up stores or visiting the court.


Game End

As if you didn't have enough to worry about, there are only two periods in this game, with periods marked as either 2 sets of rubble completed or 3 decks from the Noble and Treasury card display are empty. So the game can go as fast or as slow as the players collectively push or pull. There's a relatively good chance you'll know how many turns you have left but since the stress is more on the immediate future, you may feel taken aback and wish you had done things differently. This is the beauty of the game and will keep you coming back for more.