Whilst you may not assume that fishing and board games have much in common, both are generally relaxing pastimes that demand complete immersion into the situation. Coldwater Crown and its recent expansion, The Sea, combine these hobbies by creating a worker placement game around the sport of competitive fishing.
Coldwater Crown is a game about catching different kinds of fish in each of the three locations on the main board. With The Sea introduced, a fourth location comes into play. The basic premise of Coldwater Crown is to compete for the biggest fish in each area, as well as a number of additional prizes that add to the overall score.
The setup for Coldwater Crown is simple and fairly fast, with each player taking a tackle box and a couple of tokens. Fish are then placed into their respective spaces in each of the fishing spots. The Master Angler cards are laid out beside the board (as are some for The Sea location, if the expansion is being used.)
The fiddliest bit is the individual challenge tokens, which need a bit of sorting and should be placed in the right locations. These tokens also include the “First to Twelve Fish” award, which signals the end of the game when taken. Once a player claims this award, each player has one more turn before the end of the game.
Bait, which is Coldwater Crown’s only resource, comes in the form of crystals in various different colours. The bait is placed into a black bag and drawn randomly (both at the beginning of the game and when drawn later on) then placed into the players bait box. Each piece of bait is placed into one of the four numbered spaces on the bait box, which will later dictate what fish are caught — but more on that in a while.
On a normal turn, the players will place a token on an empty space on the board. Once this is done, the player will take one or two actions depending on what number is shown on the token. If the token is placed on a fishing space and shows a one, then the player removes a single piece of bait (of the colour matching the space) from each space in the tackle box. If the token shows a two, then the player removes all bait of a specific colour from all boxes.
If the space used is the port space, then the player will instead fill one of their bait spaces with bait or take a master angler card by using a one strength token. Players can sometimes do both of these (or the same twice) when using the two strength token. If the removal of bait from the bait box on a fishing space results in that box being empty, then a fish is caught. The fish caught will be one that matches the colour of the fishing spot and the same number as the bait box space that was emptied.
Master Angler cards add an interesting new twist because each one has its own bait requirement. When bait is removed from the bait box, it is normally discarded to a common pool, but in the event that the player has a matching requirement for bait on a Master Angler card, it can be placed there instead. Players can hold three Master Angler cards at once, increasing their options as the game progresses.
Whilst the mechanics for collecting and expending bait to catch fish are immediately thematic and straightforward, Coldwater Crown also adds an interesting twist in that tokens will be flipped each time they are used. This means that a one strength token becomes a two and vice versa on each turn.
The players also take two actions each turn — one by placing the disk they have in hand and one by retrieving (and flipping) a disk on the board. As a note for anyone teaching the game, it’s worth bearing in mind that players seem naturally inclined not to flip over their tokens and need to be reminded.
Coldwater Crown has a simplicity to it that feels very appropriate for the subject matter. Turns are fast and can be planned ahead, but they are rarely made off the cuff. Sequencing and efficiency are the keys to victory in Coldwater Crown and deciding when to invest in a Master Angler card, when to fill a bait box and when to dive in to catch a fish by emptying your bait box are all key decisions.
The simplicity flows into the scoring as well, which is made tense because there are so many small awards — even some that are kind of unknown. Ultimately, the player who wins will be the one with the most cumulative points value, but how that actually looks on the board will be the sum total of loads of cool awards, elusive fish (including sharks in The Sea) and other exciting, tangible things.
In general, Coldwater Crown has no rounds and no messy or annoying clean up to perform, which makes it fast. A whole game will usually be over in little over an hour (if that) and yet it’s not an unfulfilling game. The decisions are tense and important, the victories are real. Whilst there is little interaction, blocking players and manipulating the board remain as important here as in any heavier eurogame.
Coldwater Crown is therefore a great entry to mid-level worker placement game with a unique theme that will appeal to some more than others. Regardless of whether you are an angler or not though, the components themselves look great and Coldwater Crown always draws attention. Add the little boat models and additional creatures in The Sea and you have a very attractive prospect. Well worth a nibble!