So I’m a sucker for games with off-the-beaten-path themes. It’s part of why you see me reviewing games like Wolf & Hound, Ice Cool, Sagrada, or Blend Off!. This isn’t to say I don’t like your Dominions or your Kingdom Builders, just that I have a soft spot for more unconventional themes in games.
As you can imagine, Coldwater Crown caught my eye for that exact reason. I happened upon it at Gen Con via a chance encounter, sat down to play it while the designer sat with us and made fish puns, and liked it enough to Kickstart it (minor review spoilers: I did and still do enjoy it). In Coldwater Crown, you’re a competitive fisherperson whose sole goal is to catch some fish. There are many different prizes to be won, but the true competition is an all-around showdown across three different locations. Are you the reel deal? Or will you prove to be a fish out of water?
There are a lot of little pieces to this game, so bear with me on this.
First and easiest thing to set out is the board:
Just … do that. Now, you’ll want to add all the trophies and such to the table. There should be a few kinds:
- Mystery Weight: Put these face-down in the center and then flip one over, face-up.
- River / Shores / Lake Competition: Use player count to determine how many to set out (see below).
- Master Angler Competition Trophies: Put out one for each player of each.
- Small Species Trophies: Use player count. (See below)
- First to 8 Species: Use player count. (See below)
- Fastest to 12 Fish: Set out that trophy on its space.
As far as player count goes, here’s how you set out those trophies:
- 2 players: Use 5 and 3.
- 3 players: Use 5, 3, and 2.
- 4 players: Use all trophies.
Also set out one of the 5 Tags randomly on its space on the board; these will give a bonus point if you submit certain fish to the competitions:
The others can go in the box. Next, you’ll want to give each player one of the player markers:
Set them on the “1” side. Put the remaining markers on the red, green, and yellow (or is it orange???) spaces on the board, also on the “1” side.
You’ll find a lot of fish cards:
Shuffle them up and put the red/blue fish in the red/blue zone, the green/purple fish in the green/purple zone, and the yellow/black fish in the yellow/black zone.
Now, flip over four of the Master Angler cards:
Set them by the board. Now, give every player a player board:
Once they have that, everyone can now take bait from the bait bag:
Remove the clear piece and have each player take 3 bait, putting it in Zone 3 on their player board, and then have each player take 4 bait, putting it in Zone 4 on their player board.
Lastly, give each player a Tackle:
Once you’ve done all that, you should be ready to start!
For solo games, you’re going to do everything mostly the same as a two-player game, with some differences:
- Don’t use all the bait. Instead, use 9 of each color and discard 7 once you’ve shuffled the bag.
- Small boost to the “Silent Player”. They start the game having won the “Small Species Challenge” trophy, so they get the 5 point trophy immediately.
The gameplay itself doesn’t take that long. Most of the game is taken as a series of turns until any one player has caught 12 fish, at which point every other player gets one more turn before the final competition. But how do turns work? Simple:
- Place a token on any available space without a token on it. Take the action corresponding to that space, depending on which side is up on the player marker.
- Remove a token from any other space with a token on it. Take the action corresponding to that space as well, depending on which side is up on the player marker you just took.
- Flip the token you just took over. If it was a “1”, flip it to the “2” side, and vice-versa.
Now, let’s talk about each of the spaces:
- Port Space (White): This is where you refill bait and take Master Angler cards, allowing you to potentially work towards Master Angler Challenges.
- 1 Action: Refill one zone from the bait bag (3 bait in Zone 3, 4 bait in Zone 4, etc.) or take one Master Angler card, adding it to the left side of your player area.
- 2 Action: Take the Port Action’s “1” Action twice. (Fill 2 zones, take 2 Master Angler cards, or do one of each in any order.)
- Fishing Spaces (Red / Blue / Green / Purple / Black / Orange): These are how you cast bait and catch fish.
- 1 Action: Remove one bait of the space’s color from each Zone on your player board, discarding it to the side of the board (or an available matching Master Angler card, if you have one). If this would cause a Zone to become empty, catch a fish of that color and Zone number.
- 2 Action: Remove all bait of the space’s color from each Zone on your player board, discarding it to the side of the board (or an available matching Master Angler card, if you have one). If this would cause a Zone to become empty, catch a fish of that color and Zone number.
So, as you saw, you might catch a fish if you successfully clear one or more Zones on your turn. (This does mean that you can catch more than one fish, if you clear multiple zones simultaneously, which would be a very e-fish-ent strategy. [And yes, I’m going to make that pun several times.]) When you catch one, remove it from the Location you just played an action for and the Zone you just cleared. On the back, you’ll see:
The tag may match the tag on the board, meaning if you submit this fish in the final competition you get an extra point, but also check the weight! If you match the Mystery Weight on the board then you can immediately take that tile for a bonus point. If you do, flip over the next tile.
You also may complete Master Angler cards when you cast sufficient bait to fill up all of their spots. If this happens, move them to the right side of your player board to signify that you completed them. If you complete 3 of the same species and / or 4 different species, take the corresponding Master Angler Challenge trophy
Certain Zones (5 and 6) also give you a bonus for emptying them:
- If you clear Zone 5, take a bonus Tackle from the Tackle stack. If by some miracle you’ve run out of Tackle, shuffle the discarded Tackle to form a new Tackle stack.
- If you clear Zone 6, you may take the top Fish card from the Fish card stack rather than the fish in Zone 6. Options!
Tackle might also help you catch fish:
- Rods let you catch a fish from a different Location, but the same Zone number (meaning if you were going to catch a River Zone 3, you could play the Rod to instead catch a Lake or Shore Zone 3).
- Lines let you catch a fish from a different (adjacent) zone at the same Location (meaning if you were going to catch a Lake Zone 4, you could play the Line to catch a Lake Zone 3 or Lake Zone 5).
- Lures let you cast (up to) two bait of the same color from your player board. This may result in you catching one or two fish, which might be useful.
- Reels let you swap two bait on your player board with each other, potentially allowing you to change up where you catch a fish this turn. It’s the reel deel (heh).
Note that you cannot use the Tackle in conjunction with the Zone 5 or 6 bonuses (no using the Rod to catch the top card of a different location’s deck or taking a tackle because you used a Line to catch a fish in Zone 5).
If you end up with 8 different species of fish, take the 8 Species Challenge trophy. If you end up with a Roach, Perch, and Flounder, take the Small Species Challenge trophy. And, as you might guess, if you are the first player to get 12 fish, take the First to 12 Fish trophy. Once that happens, every player gets one more turn until you hit the Final Competitions!
So, there are three locations, each with their own trophy. Players must submit fish such that the total weight of the fish they’ve submitted is the highest. The catch is that players may only submit one fish of each species for a given location. If you have caught no fish at a location, you cannot participate. Otherwise, everyone submits face-down and then reveals and compares. First place gets the 5-point trophy, but each location has a winner. If you submit a fish with a tag matching the tag on the board, you get an additional point per matching fish. So whether you want to submit that fish or a heavier one is up to you.
Once all players have settled the Final Competitions, tally up the points between players. The player with the most points is the Coldwater Crown champion!
So the major difference here is that you have a “Silent Player” who does similar stuff to you, but in a spooky, mysterious, easily-predictable way. It’s like playing yourself, but the other you doesn’t have a mouth. Yes. That seems accurate. Let’s go with that.
On the Silent Player’s turn, you do this entire sequence:
- Draw a bait from the bait bag.
- Move a player marker. Generally, you look at the bait you drew and that determines what you do. You either move a player marker to the spot of that color or move the player marker on that spot somewhere else, following this pattern:Port -> Purple -> Green -> Blue -> Red -> Yellow -> BlackIf this seems clockwise, it is!
- Fish. Discard the bait you drew to the discard pile. If there are 3, 4, 5, or 6 of that color in the discard pile, now, the Silent Player catches a fish in that numbered zone at that color’s location. Nice!
Do this twice each Silent Player turn unless the Silent Player has more fish than you. If that’s the case, do this sequence only once.
Also, when the clear-white bait is drawn, you immediately place the top card of the Master Angler deck into the Silent Player’s score pile (as though they completed it) and then do one of the following:
- Give the Silent Player another Master Angler card.
- Discard 7 bait from the now-refilled bait bag.
At the end of the game, the Silent Player is eligible for all contests, and always submits their heaviest fish. If you can beat the Silent Player, you win!
Player Count Differences
Well, there’s the obvious solo mode (which is pretty good! I just tried it for the first time the other day.), but I generally have a minor thing against games that sorta take the same amount of time per player no matter how many players you have (so they take longer with more players). I would have liked it a bit if maybe the number of fish required to end the game was reduced or something, but here we are. As it stands, I probably prefer it 2 > 3 > 4, player-count-wise.
Well, if you reel-y want to win Coldwater Crown, you’re going to need to plan some e-fish-ent strategies to get you over the fin-ish line. Heh.
- You need to catch at least one fish in every Location. If not, instead of getting at-worst-2-points you get 0. Don’t be like that.
- Use your Tackle. You can get more, it’s generally good, and the abilities are situationally pretty useful. Don’t hold on to it for too long, and generally you don’t want to have extras at the end of the game.
- Reel is a great way to swap around which fish you grab on a turn. If you only have one bait left in a zone, swapping it around with the Reel can potentially let you grab a fish from almost any zone, provided you have a bait of that color somewhere. It’s also a great way to get around other players blocking you!
- If you’re using a Port 2 Action, I generally recommend taking a Master Angler card and filling a Zone unless you have no Zones with bait. This way, you will usually get a point / a shot at one of the Master Angler Challenge trophies and a zone, rather than two zones. I think this is a bit more efficient. Note that if you have no zones with bait in them, you might as well fill two.
- My general preference in order of zones to fill is 5 -> 3 -> 6 -> 4. I think you get the most from a 5 with the free tackle, and then the 3 is the cheapest fish, and then 6 gives you the most options. The 4 is just kind of … there. Oh well.
- Maybe kind of try to get the Mystery Weight Challenge? Don’t exclusively go for it, but try to get catch fish within that range, if you need them. Note that generally all fish are different weights, from my experience, so you probably shouldn’t try to catch a fish you already have, if you already have a fish matching the Mystery Weight.
- Generally, don’t try to catch fish you already have, unless you have one of the lower-weight fish. Especially for the Pike, which can range from 3 – 21 pounds, I wouldn’t bother going for the 21-pounder when you have the 17 – 20 pounder. It seems like a bad investment. Generally, though, I’d shoot for breadth over depth, as it makes you more eligible for prizes in more places and pushes you more quickly towards the “First to 8 Species” Challenge prize.
- Blocking is … pretty useful. It essentially renders another player’s turn “half-useful”, since you can always do at least one thing. Special moves here are blocking the port when the next player has an empty board (this means that they have to take a worthless “put” action), or placing / removing from a spot that the next player needs to get a fish. Rude, but useful.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Love the theme. It’s not like anything I’ve played before! Super fun. I think it’s also nice that there’s all sorts of tiny random elements, like fish weight or tag color, which make you feel like you’re actually trying to catch fish. It’s also a very calm theme, which makes for a nice game.
- Awesome art. It’s Beth Sobel, though, so, obviously.
- Finally taught me what worker placement games are. I think.
- Pretty easy to learn. There are only a couple things you can do each game, which is nice.
- Seems expandable. I could see this working with some spin-off games or new locations / game types / expansions. There’s already a promo pack with the ability to potentially catch a Boot (which is delightful), so I feel like with enough demand this could become even more things, which I would be down for.
- Lots to do. Do you focus on the Master Angler Challenges? Work towards those Mystery Weights? Try to win one specific Location? Or do you go full Skyrim and just try to be the best in everything? It’s all possible, which is nice.
- I like the clear bait shuffling solution. It’s not something that I’ve seen in games and it keeps it random enough that you don’t have people quoting probabilities to you every turn (which is a thing that happens in some groups that I run with, unfortunately).
- I really think the yellow in the game is orange. Or at least an orangey-yellow. It’s driving me crazy.
- The insert / bag situation is not great. I have a lot of extra bags (which I actually really appreciate), but the insert is super flimsy and doesn’t really fit the game. I would have loved a plastic insert with grooves and such.
- I always whine a bit about small cards. The fish cards are small, and the Master Angler cards are big. I just prefer big cards. Easier to shuffle.
- Can feel random. I’ve heard complaints from a few people I’ve played with that the random elements of the game make them feel like their choices don’t always matter. I generally disagree, but this might be a complaint you hear. There are many random elements, yes, but I think there is still a considerable strategic component.
- At higher player counts, the game can feel a bit long. There’s a certain point in the game where I’m kind of done, but it generally still has a tiny bit to go. I think this is probably worst at higher player counts, but it happens.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I think Coldwater Crown is great. I love the theme and I always feel like there’s a lot to do in the game, even if my turn got a bit blocked so there’s not as much to do on my turn in particular. While that’s a bummer, eventually I’ll get over it, so it’s fine. Sure, it’s long with more people, but if anything that means it’s a solid two-player game, and it’s certainly easy to get people hooked on it. I’d say it’s a very satisfying gameplay experience, and I feel fortunate that I was lucky enough to get to play it at Gen Con, and am super enthusiastic about playing it now. If you know someone that likes fishing and wants to get into board games, this might be a good fit for them. If you know someone who likes off-the-beaten-path themes for board games, this is a solid entry in that group. For everyone else, I mean, it’s a solid fishing game, why not give it a whirl?