Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Coin Age

Plays: 2Px4.

The Game

Coin Age is a microgame that can be played using just one card and some pocket change. It is a two player wargame. Seriously. My copy was a gift from Allen. It comes with cardboard coins which are silver on one side and gold on the other. Silver and gold are the player colours. If you play using normal coins, you play heads vs tails instead of gold vs silver.

A game starts with the board (i.e. the card) completely unoccupied. There are ten territories, and they are grouped into four regions of different sizes. Each player starts with four size #1 coins (the smallest, but also the most powerful), three #2 coins, two #3 coins and one #4 coin. On your turn, you take one coin of each size from whatever you still have before you, shake them in your cupped hands, and then slam them down onto the table to see how many land with your colour face-up. The number of coins in your colour determine what action(s) you can do that turn. There are only three types of actions. Firstly, placing a coin means putting one (of your colour) in an empty territory or on top of another coin of a larger size. Secondly, moving a stack means moving one stack of coins (which can be a stack of just one coin) to an empty adjacent territory. Thirdly, capturing a coin means removing one coin from the top of a stack and taking it into your hand.

The rulebook is tiny. This table in the rulebook shows what you can do depending on how many coins match your colour.

The objective of the game is to score the most points, and you do this mainly by controlling territories. You stake your claim using coins, and the coin size is your point value. If you have majority in a region, your coins double in value. The game ends when the board is full, or when one player uses up all his coins. Leftover coins in hand are 1VP each.

Silver has 12VP - The two 2's at the top right are doubled because silver has majority. The two 1's in the centre are doubled too because silver also has majority in this central three-territory region. Gold has 21VP. All coins are doubled, except for the 1 at the bottom right.

The Play

I have played two games against Michelle, and later on two against Han. The games were quick, so quick that I felt the end was rather abrupt. Probably I was poorly prepared for it. When I read the rules, I felt there were some tricky bits to this game. You need to think about how many different coin types you will have for your next turn, because they determine your possible action types. You need to think about end-game scoring. You need to think about the number of different coins your opponent has and the possible outcomes of his next turn. The rules may be simple, but there seem to be some nuances. The problem I have is I can't quite grasp the nuances. The game is over before I can see the strategy. I wonder whether the game is mostly tactical, and there is not much long-term strategy. Well, "long-term" is a strange term to use given that this is a five-minute-or-so game.

In the fourth game I played, which was against Han, I started to see some variety. Previous games all ended quite suddenly, at least to me, probably because I was ill-prepared for the end. In the fourth game the capture action came into play more, because at the late stage we had few different coin types, and we had zero matches more frequently. Which coin to capture is not always straightforward. Naturally the first tendency is to capture an opponent coin which would reveal your own higher valued coin. However the value of the captured coin can be a consideration too if you want to plan for the number of different coins on your next turn. Also even if you reveal one of your own higher valued coin, will it be vulnerable and be easily covered up again?

Despite the small ruleset, there are many such little tactical considerations in Coin Age. Another example is when do you place those valuable #3 and #4 coins. They tend to be easily neutered, so ideally you want to plop them down as the last action of the game to fill up the board, but that's easier said than done. I try to think of the various tactics to apply when playing, but somehow they don't quite work out. I've lost every game I've played, and often by wide margins. I'm not sure what I did wrong. The game was over very quickly and I didn't really have much time to reflect. Or maybe I am overthinking this game? Maybe it's just a simple and very short-term, tactical contest?

Silver has lost terribly.

The Thoughts

I am not sure what I think of Coin Age. It is tantalising in that the strategy seems to be just beyond reach. I am still confused and feeling lost. I can often grasp the strategy of 1 to 2 hour games after one play, but somehow this 5-minute game got me puzzled. Perhaps I need to play it 12 times to make up 1 hour before I fully understand it.

Alternative maps.

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