I always found it interesting that re-branding actually managed to change people’s views on a product. Take Boudica for instance…I grew up with people referring to her as Bo-da-see-ah….then she re-invents herself as Boo-dih-cah (or perhaps the history buffs did) and suddenly she is a major tribal insurgent force in ancient Britton.
Press play for that certain Roman ambiance while you read
I doubt she needs my assistance, old Boudica, in thwarting Roman rule, but nevertheless I have made a tentative step back into ancient British history to lend a hand. So, with a diet of mud and sticks, a set of dirty knees and a boar-skin mankini, I wield my newly whittled stabbing spear (astounding, my knowledge of weapons of antiquity, isn’t it?) in what I perceive to be a threatening manner as I jump in with both size 10’s into The COIN Tribes’s Revolt
So What’s All The Fuss About?
This title, an entry to the 2018 BGG nano card game competition by genius designer Laurie Phillips has, to my knowledge, slipped pretty much under the radar…until now. I chanced upon it by accident as a mention in an unconnected thread somewhere in the digital unreal-world of the internet and was immediately intrigued by the rather bold statement that used the word COIN. Although not an aficionado of the GMT COIN series, I have a number of titles weighing down my fragile game shelf so I was more than interested to see what this preposterous claim was about. A coin experience in a nine card nano game. This I had to see.
…off I trotted to the BGG link and immediately downloaded the files. A quick print and chop saw a small game set in ancient Britton, a theme that was particularly appealing, but how could this give me that COIN experience. My COIN games have a board the size of Wales, a billion wooden counters, even more card chits and an action deck of nearly three gazillion cards…yet here I stare at NINE cards, a small rule book and two double-sided action aid sheets.
*warning…it may become obvious from the off what I think of this remarkable discovery…ooops, spoiler right there!*
Immersion or Subversion?
Oddly enough, plonking a few dice on four map cards in concept form doesn’t strike me as a riveting play…but as always I am promptly proven wrong because as soon as one becomes drawn into the political/physical struggles of appeasing the mass British populace (a callus and ungrateful bunch) striving for supremacy in an area to establish control, it is very easy to forget that it is just a few dice and four cards. There are no flashy miniature thank goodness, no lavish faction boards…just simple counter-insurgency gameplay. As for theme, the asymmetric abilities are cleverly allocated making each faction act as would be expected from their historical needs. Using the abilities during gameplay, for me, creates the true immersive quality in this game. There is no need for flashy veneers.
Although I will touch upon some very cunning aspects of this game, I don’t want to delve too deeply on the hows and wherefores. Needless to say, the clever use of card space for some even more clever mechanics really make this game.
The way each faction applies themselves per turn (assuming they are eligible to take actions) relies on unique faction actions/abilities but where I think the game has use cards to their most effective potential is with the two Will cards. An arrow on each region matches up to an arrow on the Will card…this can be manipulated throughout the game to alter a region’s Sympathy or Opposition to Roman rule. The picture above illustrates this point. If Sympathy is increased in region 2 a better multiplier can be achieved (this number multiplied by the regions populace give a potential win condition victory point score). The same card can be influenced to create an Opposition multiplayer to achieve similar end goals. Interestingly the Northern regions have a higher likelihood to be in Opposition which one would expect as Roman control was less effective the further North one travels and is why some chappie built a great homping wall…but that’s a topic for another COIN game.
The central nervous system of all COIN games is the action track. Determining which faction is eligible to take advantage of events, actions etc and this little chap is no different. A turn track broken into five periods of four turns marks game progression. There is also a nice way of determining when the Reckoning (scoring) phase begins. The white marker die starts at six and reduces one every turn. Every turn a spare die is rolled and if it matches or exceeds the turn die a Reckoning phase begins…ither wise play continues until the white die lands on a red number and a compulsory Reckoning phase begins for that period.
Again good use of space as the location cards are also double-sided. One side displays settlements that are in tact, the reverse has them raised to the ground. This can have an impact on endgame scoring and area control.
As a small game it is tricky to cram the extensive volume of event cards one would expect to find in a regular COIN game but even a nano game can sport a goodly number of events. Cunning use of double ended, double-sided cards allows for eight events which provides a good amount of variability for a game of this size. Random shuffling is an unusual experience though, as you need to blindly shuffle two cards, alter rotation and facing to ensure complete randomness but once selected they are displayed one atop the other indicating availability. This permits two possible Events to be played during each turn.
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
As a print & play affair, the components are only as good as my print job. That said, the nine cards have a distinct graphic feel and all information is laid out well. The area control/placement of units is nicely limited to a die. As there is a maximum of six units per faction in a region a lone d6 acts as a great space-saving counter. I would imagine if this was to see publication the same use of factionio coloured die would be continued…but custom imaged die for each faction would look great on the table.
I only had a fist-full of red dice handy, rather than coloured dice for each faction so I coloured the pips accordingly which can be seen if you look closely at the photos.
Meeples and Standees:
Game Designer: Laurie Phillips
Game Illustration/Cover Art: Karin McClure
This, like its inspirational GMT titles, is a four player game and, as some of you might think, doesn’t deserve to be discussed on a solo gaming platform….but…and here I will defend that, even as an impartial reviewer, it is designed as an asymmetric four faction game that (as it states in the rules) can be playable by fewer than four and even by one. Now one player playing all four factions is not, as I would see it, a true solo game. However I would hope that a short way down the line a series of Bot action flow charts hit the scene not unlike those found in, let’s say, Liberty or Death. The game lends itself to this possibility and, if they do come to fruition, this will be a superb solo game with three AI opponents. The scope/potential here is immense. We shall see what develops.
*Foot Note: Since writing this article I have been exchanging e-mailes & messages with Laurie and am happy to say that there are, in fact, plans already set in motion to develop a system to govern the BOT factions to make this a fully functioning SOLO COIN-like game experience. Further details will be added here after Laurie has finished with the Nano Card Game comp entry on BGG and, if that wasn’t enough for us budding soloists, he has also very kindly offered to contribute to the BSoMT A Guest Knows Best section in the near future, which I feel will be an absolute ‘must read’.
The Real Nitty Gritty:
- Winners and Losers: This is a tricky customer. There is a very quick to and fro of area control, changing of opposition and sympathy for the various factions involved. Obviously I have been playing all four factions but have never felt there was a runaway leader…in fact, as scoring only occurs during the Reckoning phase (which itself can be a random event) there is no telling at which point everyone needs to check their personal win conditions for a final tally. As such, it really is a tense experience as each faction plots and plans for high scoring but can quite easily be taken by surprise by an early Reckoning phase. What I am trying to say is at no point can one really know who will be the eventual victor so it is a very level playing field.
- Rules is Rules is Rules: Four pages! There are only four pages but they are clear, concise and (although I have experience with COIN games so understand the concepts employed here) well explained. There is very little room for ambiguity and Laurie has included many game situation examples to clarify any difficult concepts. For a COIN-like experience this is a breeze compared to the rather biblical GMT rule books.
- Lucky Buggers: For the most part the game relies on tactical strategy…the manipulation of the opposition/Sympathy will cards and the use of the action card. Unlike the larger COIN games that generate their equivalent scoring phase through the drawing of certain cards, this game has a subtle round countdown system that also uses a random dice roll. Here there is an element of uncontrolled luck but, just as a random card draw, it works in exactly the same manner. This is not a dice fest extravaganza so those for whom dice hate with a passion, this game will not offend you.
- Highs and Lows: From my experience there are no low points. The theme has historical reference to a turbulent and probably bloody section in British history but the brutality of war does not show through. The look of the game is great and somewhat reminiscent of a Todd Sanders project. The game plays quickly, is tense but throughout is a positive experience. Win or lose you will not leave with a dark cloud of despair hanging above your curly haired bonce and no doubt want to come back for more.
- Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table: As a micro-game this really does have a tichy set of feet. If you can fit six cards by four cards (regular playing card size) plus a space for the turn track card, you can accommodate COIN Tribes.
- Build It Up Just To Knock It Down: As one would imagine with only nine cards and a small fist full of dice, this game really has little time wasted in set up. The cards lay out quickly and the dice are the counters so ‘job’s a good ‘un’ Equally packing away should take but a couple of minutes, if that so fo a COIN experience that would normally take about eight weeks, this is a triumph.
Me, Myself and I:
I was not disappointed. What a game. A landscape of only four cards/four regions but by ‘eck it is a tight struggle for supremacy. Such cleaver use of the limited cards that any action one player faction takes for their own benefit can quite easily produce similar positive bonuses for an opponent. Similar to the COIN games, the action card that determines turn order plays just as crucial a part in strategy as its larger counterparts…although it would be nice to see a few more Event cards, understandably for the nine card nano it is imperative to keep specific card counts. The double ended, double-sided Event cards cram eight different COIN-like circumstances into the game so there is plenty of variety even as it stands now. If, when Laurie is finished with the competition, I hope he is able to consider Bot action flow charts to make this a full solo game.
Foot note* I have been chatting with Laurie and there are already plans ahead to introduce Bots to the game which will, I am sure you are pleased to hear, make it fully soloable!
Yay or Nay?
First of I must say this is not a paid review. I stumbled across the project and have in essence been a blind play-tester for the game. That said I really have been impressed by the game experience. I will say upfront that this will not suit all gamers and as it is, is not a true solo game but it is playable by a single player and I am holding out for some Bots further down the line. If you like COIN games, area control or historical games but want that experience without hours of set up and decades of game play then this is definitely worth you looking at in more detail. I think it works fine for solo players as is and will definitely hit the mark for multiplayer.
The COIN Tribes’ Revolt has, through methods of subterfuge, insurgence and cunning rebelled its way into a BSoMT 1d8 die roll of (6)… gameplay is easily a (7) but as it stands it is not a true solo game but get that AI Bot flowchart added and this will advance beyond (8) as an easy access COIN experience solo game for sure.
(photo curtesy of Laurie Phillips)
…well all this standing around drinking grated bark tea wont get these pesky Roman types swanning about the shop like they own the place…which I suppose as an invading force that has tried to “civilise” us, they do.
…onwards and upwards…well, I think I might just visit the communal baths for a soak before I set to bashing heads and insurging like crazy….
The Player’s Aid have an excellent interview with Laurie
Laurie Phillips on Twitter:
Video gameplay explanation by Laurie:
BGG link to the 2018 nano card game competition entry: