Last week two lovely games were kindly sent to me courtesy of the guys at Backspindle, a designer/publisher group from Northern Ireland. Those games were Codinca, an abstract puzzle game for 2-4 players and Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice, a 2-6 player family dice game. Interestingly they also publish two other games based on the works Terry Pratchett, so if that floats your boat and you want to check it out, i’ve linked to their website above.
I unboxed the games for my You Tube channel; I couldn’t possibly resist, because I love ‘unboxings’ and they looked full of delicious components for me to marvel at. I’m pleased to say I was genuinely happy and surprised at the excellent quality of both games. Codinca has a smooth matte finish box that opens up like a little treasure trove (very in-keeping with the theme of the game) and has thick coloured tiles with various patterns etched into the surface. Luchador! is all heavy cardboard, large-scale character cards and chunky fat dice in an array of pretty colours. We also have an actual wrestling ring with springy rope and stand up figures with plastic bases, which I found quite novel and fun.
However, this short review will focus on Codinca. It’s straightforward to play, the rules are dead simple, and like other abstract games I’ve played it’s a little bit mind bending, but in a pleasant way and if you want to win a fair amount of strategy is required. In a two-player game you start with four ‘key’ cards that detail the formations you need to make with your tiles in order to ‘unlock’ the treasure and score the card. You also have three ‘spirit’ cards, which will allow you to rotate and shift the tiles around, but these are one use only- so play them carefully! The tiles are laid out as shown on the inside of the box, you pick a colour that represents an element (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) and those are your player tiles to manipulate during the game. Then you’re all set.
What commences is a game of back-and-forth turns between players, where you can flip and switch two tiles each turn. You can do this on any two tiles except the last one that was flipped or switched by another player. It’s difficult. I started by thinking ‘oh this is going to be easy’… but I was wrong. Never underestimate your opponent’s power to mess up your treasure hunting plans; one excellent move for them could spell disaster for you. Also never underestimate a certain kind of opponents power to be an ass just for the sake of it. Because you both have the same kind of formations to make, once it becomes clear what you’re trying to achieve then you leave yourself open to be messed with. I learnt this the hard way on my first game, so on the second I made sure to bluff a little bit and take my opponent by surprise at the last minute. I was also pleased with the clever use of my spirit card, which really saved the game for me at one point when I used it to shift one row along to pop the last tile into the next row and score my key card. I gave myself a pat on the back for that one. Once you ‘win’ one of your treasure cards you have to end your turn, and the player who scores all four of their key cards first is the winner.
Like many puzzle games I always think how clever they are, such simple rules, so little to set up, not much to the game in a psychical sense, yet so clever. I also found that Codinca (much like the other two abstract games in my collection) was so chilled to play. There’s no need for too much interaction, (except for the occasional eye roll from me) you don’t have to verbalise too much (but I won’t repeat what I did say at a couple of points) and you just kind of switch off, focus on the pieces and play. It’s a really nice feeling. Despite what I’ve said (that’s just gaming banter in my house) it wasn’t particularly vicious, but I guess it depends on your personal playing style.
I always love how games like this (along with certain card games, and other puzzle games) are very compact and transportable. When I play them I always think of going on holiday, going for a drink somewhere, playing it on a lounge floor by the warm glow of a fire…in my dreams, of course, not in reality.
Codinca, like my other abstracts, may not be a game I’d play every night, it may not be one I’d overplay just in case it got stale, and y’know sometimes I have to be in the mood for a puzzle game. But as abstract puzzle games go, it’s a damn good one and i’m just a little bit chuffed to have it in my collection.
More info here