Discovering Dice Drafting

Set in the age of discovery, Coimbra is a dice drafting game that tasks players with trying to gain influence by forming relationships with different nobles and citizens in the titular city. Coimbra has been on my must play list ever since its release at Gen Con 2018. Dice drafting has become one of my favorite genres in recent years. With all the buzz surrounding this game combined with its unique art style I knew I had to give it a try. The question is: does Coimbra discover greatness or does it get lost on the way?

Set an Open Course

The goal in Coimbra is to be the highest on the score track at the end of four rounds.  At the beginning of the game each player receives the following items: a player board with two markers to track different currencies, three die, holders, a pilgrim meeple, many discs of their player color, and a lion figure. Once the first player is determined a small drafting phase takes place before play begins. One set of two starting cards per player is placed face-up on the table. These cards give each player different bonuses and effects for the rest of the game. Starting in reverse player order, players have a choice of taking a set of cards or deciding where they want their pilgrim to start on the map. Once each play has a set of cards and has placed their pilgrim then the game begins.

The first player rolls all dice in the available dice pool then players take turns drafting dice. There are two things to consider when drafting, the pip value on the die and the color itself. I’ll cover the meaning of each color later in this review. The pip value determines both the turn order for the purchasing phase and the cost you need to pay. For example, taking a 6 valued die almost guarantees you’ll pick first during the purchase phase, but you’re going to have to pay 6 resources for that purchase.

Once a player selects the die they want, they place it into one of their die holders to denote ownership, then they place it into one of the four different city spaces on the edge of the mainboard. These spaces offer cards or powers than can be acquired in the next phase of the game. After all the dice have been drafted the dice retrieval phase begins. Starting with the highest city space, players remove their dice in order according to the dice value (usually highest to lowest) and performs an action based on the location they are in. In the castle district, there are favor tiles that give various benefits as soon as they are claimed, such as gaining currency. The other three spaces feature character cards that may be purchased for the amount listed on the players’ dice; for example, if a card shows the “guards” symbol on it and the player has placed a six value die, they can purchase that card for six guards.

These character cards are the crux of your strategy for the game. Some give instantaneous one time benefits, and others give you special powers for different phases of the game. For example, one may give you extra currency every time you draft a card of a certain type, or another may give you end game victory points. Some cards have diplomas symbols on them; you can collect sets of different colored diplomas to score extra points at the end of the game. Lastly, some cards may have crowns that are gained when the card is purchased. The player with the most crowns at the end of the purchase phase becomes the new first player.

Each time a player purchases a card they move their marker up on one of the four influence tracks as indicated by the card. These tracks show how much power each player has with the different influencers in the city, and this is where the colors of the dice you drafted come into effect. Once the purchasing phase is done, one by one the players remove their dice from the holders and activates the influence track or that die’s color. The higher a player is on a track the better the benefits are. The tracks let you do one of the flowing actions: gain coins, gain guards, gain guards, victory points, or moving your pilgrim meeple on the map.

What does moving your pilgrim meeple do? In the middle of the board is a large map that contains everyone’s meeples, which is seeded with random monasteries at the beginning of the game. These monasteries give bonuses to the players who manage to reach them with their meeple. This map has many branching paths, and it’s impossible to visit every location on it, so planning out a route beforehand of the locations you need to reach is immensely beneficial.

Finally, players have the opportunity to invest in one of the voyages at the bottom of the board. These voyages act as end game scoring bonuses and these are random from game to game. Some voyages may just be straight victory points, where others have a variable, such as scoring 2 points for every voyage you’ve invested in. It’s a good idea early on to look at these voyages and try to hash out a strategy to score as many points as you can using them, as it’s unlikely you’ll be able to invest in all of them during the course of the game.

After this, the round ends. Any remaining cards in the city are swept away and replaced and play continues until the end of the fourth round, at which point the card deck will be empty. Players then gain end game victory points for each of the following items:

• Voyages invested in.

• 1st and 2nd place on each influence track.

• Sets of diplomas from their character cards.

• End game character cards.

• Lastly adding up guards, coins, and crowns divided by 2.

                                  Total all of these up and the player with the most victory points is the winner of the game.

A Whole New World

It’s not an understatement when I say I love this game. It’s been my go-to dice drafting game as of late. My first play of it I enjoyed, but I wasn’t quite swept off my feet. It’s from the second game that it really starts to shine. There are only four rounds in the game, and in those four rounds, you will see every character card in the deck. As you play more and more you start to remember all of these cards, and you can begin to formulate a strategy much further on than just what’s available to purchase at the given moment.

The multi-use dice is the main hook of the game as the lead to interesting and tough choices almost every time you pick one. Taking a six will almost guarantee you an early pick during the purchasing phase for the card you really need, but do you have the money to pay for it? Taking a lower-valued die would be easier on your wallet, but who’s to say the card you want is going to still be there when it comes to your turn. On top of all that, the color matters too, so maybe there’s a die out there that is the value you want, but is it worth taking it if you’re at the bottom of the track it activates?  I’ve had so much fun with this system, no matter what strategy I try to unleash during the game.

The pilgrimage map is fun to try and strategize around. Like I said before, you can’t hit every spot on the map if you don’t focus on a pilgrimage strategy you’re going to be even more limited in what you can reach. Pick a good route to take can be much more impactful than you might think and I’ve seen games where a player could have won if they had just reached one crucial spot on the map.

The character cards use symbology to explain what they do. They’re not the worst I’ve ever seen, but it can take a little while to understand and maybe the biggest hurdle for a lot of new players to get over when trying to learn it. Just seeing 12 cards laid out, all with different symbols right at the start of the game can be a little daunting. Fortunately, there is a breakdown and full description of every card in the back of the rule book, which extremely helpful, and I usually give this to new players so they can look up any card they’re not understanding.

The Verdict

The overall production wraps the game in a nice package. The artwork is a beautiful Mediterranean style that is pleasing to look at and elevates the game over its dry theme. Despite the description I’ve given in this review so far, the game feels rather theme-less. I never feel like I’m spreading influence, or anything the rules describe, I’m just trying to move up higher on tracks and trying to gain cards that will help me do that. While the mechanics may not carry out the intended theme, Coimbra has such a handsome table presence that it makes up for this shortcoming.

The pieces are really good quality. I especially enjoy the lion meeples that show turn order and the dice holders. The dice slip in and out easily and don’t ever feel loose, plus it seems like they’ll hold up well over time. The board looks great on the table and I’m impressed that it never feels cramped or messy even though there are so many parts to it. They even went above and beyond with the box’s insert. Every piece has a designated spot inside the box and they’re all clearly labeled on the insert itself. It’s so nice, it makes me wonder why every game can’t come with something like it.

 If you’re in the market for a great dice drafting game I’d highly recommend seeking this one out. Beautiful production, great turn-by-turn decision making, and it does have enough meat on the bone to return to many, many times. Coimbra is a game worth discovering.

Final Score: 9/10

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AKA “The Board Game Mole”

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