Full disclosure: A preview copy of Coldwater Crown: The Sea was provided by Bellwether Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
I had thought that May was really the Kickstarter month, and then I agreed to do some previews through, like, July, so, whatever, here we are. That said, I really enjoyed Coldwater Crown‘s base game, so I kind of jumped at the chance to check out the expansion.
In Coldwater Crown: The Sea, you’ve decided that these freshwater areas have grown too pedestrian for your superior fishing skill, so you want to take on more aggressive game. Your friend tells you of something called “an ocean” that’s also apparently filled with fish? And it’s right nearby? You admonish your friend for not telling you sooner and you set out straightaway by pointing your boat towards more water and heading in that direction. Will you be able to coast your way to victory? Or are you, unfortunately, headed towards a shore failure?
So, the setup is actually effectively identical to the base game. The major changes are as follows.
You’ll want to attach The Sea Board to the base board:
Also, before distributing Tackle, add in the new Anchor tackle:
Shuffle the Sea fish and put them on their respective zones, just like the base game:
Also shuffle the Squid into the Master Angler deck before revealing some:
Assemble each of the boats and give each player one:
Once you’ve done that, continue setting up for the base game as normal, and you’re ready to start!
So, the nice thing about the expansion is that the base gameplay doesn’t super change either. Instead, consider this an additional module that adds on to the base game. Here are the changes:
The Anchor tackle is a new type of Tackle, allowing you to take any Port action for free, once, when you use it. This includes refilling a zone, taking a Master Angler card, or … going to the Sea!
So, the Port Action has been slightly augmented. Now, in addition to the normal two actions, you may go to (or return from) the Sea. When you do, place your boat on the Sea Board (or remove it, if you’re leaving). While at Sea, a few rules change:
- You may only catch fish from the Sea Board. To help with that, all bait can be used to catch a fish from the Sea. Whenever you empty a zone on your player board of bait, you immediately catch the fish on the Sea Board of that zone (or from the deck, if you cleared Zone 6). Sea Fish can still be used towards the Mystery Weight Challenge, and they count as unique species for both the First to 8 Species and First to 12 Fish Challenges.
- You may only place bait on Squid Master Angler cards. Any other ones you have are uncatchable until you return from the Sea. On the plus side, Squid are easier to catch! They work similarly to the fish on the Sea Board — any bait you catch counts towards its requirement. That said, you can still take Squid cards via a Port Action even if you’re not at Sea.
- You may not use the Rod tackle. You’re at the Sea now; you’re only going to get fish from here.
Again, you can only return from the Sea via a Port Action.
At the end of the game, rather than competing for a trophy, you’re attempting to fulfill The Sea Challenge! This is purely weight-based, and is not a zero-sum game! You’re simply trying to beat these thresholds:
- 48+ pounds: 8 points
- 36+ pounds: 5 points
- 24+ pounds: 3 points
- 12+ pounds: 1 point
Other than that, the game plays the same as the base game! Once a Location (including the Sea) cannot replenish fish or once a player has caught 12 fish, every other player gets a turn, and the game ends! For The Sea Challenge, you may still only submit one of each species of fish, and they still count for Tagged Fish bonuses, if they have the correct tag.
Player Count Differences
So, not really a big difference at two or three. At four, the game is a bit odd, because it’s very easy to catch Sea Fish. Normally, not a huge deal; keeps the game relatively quick even with the extra module. However, if players buy too many fish, they can deplete The Sea and cause the game to end prematurely (especially if players congregate on The Sea). Guess there weren’t as many fish in the sea as people always said. It remains a bit difficult to plan ahead at four given how aggressively the board’s state can change between your two turns, as well. If you’re looking for a more chaotic game, then four players is probably for you. You’ll find two or three to be more predictable. Two and three, to that end, are probably my favorite player counts.
- Take to the Sea! Barry Zuckerkorn may not have been the best attorney, but his advice rings true in this case. You’ll really want some of those Sea Fish. They’re varied, easier to get something, and 8 points on The Sea Challenge is pretty great, if you can swing it. The diversity they provide for some of the challenges are also great. I also haven’t seen a player win in a game if they ignored the Sea completely, and I’ve seen it happen many times. That said…
- Do not get lost in the ocean. If you spend all your time in The Sea, you’ll likely miss out on scoring some entire areas, making it very easy for your opponents to pick up a fish from The River, Lake, and Shore and score a lot of points. Also, you’ll have trouble picking up many Master Angler cards if you spend all your time in the ocean.
- The Anchor Tackle is just generally good to have around. There are many times you really wish you could use a Port Action, and having a concealed Anchor token that you can use to get to (or from) the Sea or refill a Zone is extremely helpful in the long-term.
- Generally, I shoot for the Small Species if I can, and then I go to the Sea. If I get another fish along the way, I can fill out my 8 Species and hopefully hit that 48+ pound threshold.
- Remember the Sunk Cost Fallacy. If you get bad draws on the Sea, it’s … not totally worth getting multiple of the same fish, from a pure opportunity cost perspective. You might as well cut and run. Additionally, if you get too many of the Sea’s fish, you risk enabling an opponent who can end the game prematurely and snatch a win from you.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- More excellent art. I love the Squid, in particular, but the fish are beautiful and the Sea Board is excellent. It also matches up with the board, perfectly! That’s very nice. Even the boxes match up (though they’re not the same depth, so there’s a bit of a vertical offset).
- Reasonably easy to teach this expansion with the base game. I appreciate that from a reviewing perspective, as many players I try this with have never played the base game, so having to get them through the base game and the expansion would guarantee I’d never get this game previewed in time. As you can see, that’s not the case.
- The components all fit in the base game box. I think that’s a boon (even though the expansion box is very large, because I only have to carry the one box. And, since it’s easy to teach the expansion, I’m really just kind of carrying around one game. That’s helpful.
- The boats are a lot. They’re very large constructed pieces solely used to tell you if another player is at sea. I … don’t think they’re strictly necessary. They’re nice; just occasionally a pain to assemble, disassemble, and move. Not a huge deal, just something noted.
- Similar to the base game, there are just a lot of things happening, mechanically. There are fish, special fish, special tackle, a new board, a modified fish-catching method, a new challenge; it’s sort of a disparate group of mechanics that all somewhat fit together. That fit doesn’t happen for everyone, though. For me, I think it works more often than not; for others, it can feel a bit messy when you play it.
- More tiny cards. I am generally not a huge fan of games with tiny cards, and this adds even more tiny cards for me to have to shuffle. Alas.
- At four players, it’s much easier to run out The Sea, fish-wise, which may lead to more abrupt and unpredictable endings. At other locations, the likelihood of all four players collectively all coming to the same location and overfishing it is relatively low, just from a pure probability standpoint. However, at the sea, since any bait can catch a fish, you have a real risk that all four players each want to take four fish to try and get that 8 points. If they do, that’s 16 out of the 20 fish. If anyone wants a do-over on those fish, that ends the game. That just struck me as a bit odd since it’s so unlikely on the other locations. That said, it’s a handy way to end the game early if you think you’re winning, so it might be worth keeping in mind?
- The Master Angler cards have basically never been used in games I’ve played with the expansion. It’s kind of odd, but I think that’s because the “I have nothing to do” Port Action is now going to Sea, in my experience. That said, players usually only go to the Sea once (so they can get the fish and get gone), so it’s not impossible that they may free up some personal time to attempt those cards. It’s just weird that the mechanic feels kind of invalidated by the Sea Board giving you something else to do on Port Actions.
- Setup takes a fairly long time. With the extra board, you now have more things to set up and tear down, as the entire board is itself a mini-board, effectively adding another 20% of setup work (since you don’t have any trophies) to the setup process. It’s a bit annoying, but not terrible. Just worth mentioning if you’re looking for games that can be set up quickly; I would not say that this fits in that category, unfortunately.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, The Sea is a solid expansion! I think it’s good, and I like the variety it adds, but it does add some confusing things, or at least I feel it slightly disincentivizes parts of the base game (like the Master Angler cards) by offering more compelling or novel uses of the same action. I love the new art, and I love the new fish, so that’s always nice, and I think as an extra module it does improve the gameplay. It also, unfortunately, adds another chunk to setup and increases the game’s footprint by a nontrivial amount. None of these are dealbreakers, obviously, but it’s worth mentioning since the game’s theme is a fairly simple, maybe a little intense fishing trip. Either way, if you like worker placement, the occasional block, fishing, or you were a huge fan of the base game, this will probably be a solid addition for you. If you end up trying it out, hopefully you’ll … sea what I mean! Heh.