Important in any game are of course the physical components and the rules that govern actual play. As far as components are concerned, Coerceo is really easy to describe: High quality and beautiful. The injection moulded playing pieces (regular tetrahedrons) have a very appealing marble-like look to them.
Their tactile qualities are good too; moving them on the board and fiddling around with captured pieces is good fun in itself.
It feels natural to pick them up using 3 digits (your thumb, index and middle fingers), each finger being on one of the sides of the piece. Not all moves require you to pick pieces up though. Often you can simply slide them across the board using just your thumb and index finger.
The Coerceo board is made up of 19 similar cardboard tiles. Despite each tile having exactly the same graphic on it, you don’t notice the repetition at all. The marble textures perfectly suit their purpose and the fact that the orientation of a tile can be neglected (besides having to stick to the alternating light/dark pattern of the fields) results in a board that’s very natural looking. The cardboard itself is high quality and sturdy, complete with a white backing.
Then the rulebook. It’s a good quality booklet that explains how to play the game in 5 languages (English, German, French, Dutch and Spanish) and also uses the universal language of pictures. The saying ‘a picture is worth a 1000 words’ definitely applies to the Coerceo rules booklet. Seldom, if ever, have I seen pictures been put to such good use as in the Coerceo rules booklet. The accompanying texts further enhance the excellent way in which you are informed of how to play the game. If this rules booklet can’t make you understand how to play the game, nothing will.
What’s noteworthy is that they decided to name the starting position (the one starting position described in the rules booklet is called the ‘Laurentius’ starting position). This lead me to ask the Coerceo Company whether they were planning on ‘releasing’ other starting positions. They said that there are other layouts possible (using only the components that come in the ‘base’ game) but that for now their main focus is on the game as it is. Being a game designer myself (mainly of abstract games like Coerceo) I think I understand why they did it this way.
You pretty much always want there to be a single ‘variant’ that constitutes The Game. Other variants are okay too, but there’s got to be ‘one ring to rule them all’… It wouldn’t surprise me if we’ll be seeing other starting positions being made public by the Coerceo Company in the future. They’ll probably name those too!
All in all, the quality of the components is truly excellent. The playing pieces and board tiles are the same for the standard and the deluxe versions of the game. The only difference between the two is the box. The standard version comes in a cardboard box whereas the deluxe version comes in a stylish black wooden box that has golden Coerceo logos on both the outside and inside of the lid.
The rules to the game are really quite few and also very straightforward. They flow naturally from the components that make up the game. The (tetrahedron-shaped) playing pieces go well with the triangular fields that are on the board tiles. It’s also quite easy to imagine the light pieces being allowed to be on only the light fields of the board. And dark pieces to be on only the dark fields of the board.
The way pieces are allowed to move is also really simple; a piece can only move to a similarly coloured triangle that is connected to one of the corners of the triangle that it currently sits on. Of course, there can only be a single piece on any single triangle also; more pieces simply wouldn’t fit.
Next is capturing. As the title implies (Coerceo means ‘to enclose’ in Latin) you need to enclose pieces with your own pieces in order to capture them. Enclosing a piece that’s in ‘the middle’ of the board takes 3 of your own pieces (there’s 3 sides to a triangle…). Capturing a piece that’s at the edge of the board only takes 2 pieces since you don’t need to cover the side that’s on the outer edge of the board. You can even capture 2 opponent pieces with a single move if the situation allows.
If it’s your turn to move, your own pieces can never get captured. This means that you can move your own piece to a field that’s enclosed by opponent pieces, and not get captured.
Besides capturing your opponents pieces, you can also capture board tiles. Board tiles are captured in a different way from pieces.
If you MOVE your piece off a board tile while there aren’t any other pieces left on it, AND the board tile is connected to the board with 3 or less adjacent sides, then you get to collect the empty board tile. You can even collect multiple board tiles in a single move; if collecting a board tile leads to other empty board tiles becoming connected to the board with only 3 or less adjacent sides, then you get to collect these too, and so on and so on…
But what to do with all the pieces and board tiles you’ve captured or collected? Well, captured pieces don’t do anything once they’re off the board. Collected board tiles do though. On your turn, instead of moving a piece, you could also trade 2 collected board tiles for a single opponent piece.
Discard 2 board tiles, and remove any one opponent piece from the board. Simple as that. Isn’t that a good way to regain balance should you be down in material? Or to get ahead even further if you’re already ahead? If the opponent piece you remove from the board happens to be last piece on a board tile, then the board tile is removed from the game (if it’s connected to the board with 3 or less adjacent sides, that is).
You, as a player, don’t get to collect board tiles that are removed from the game in this fashion.
As far as board tiles are concerned, the ’3 or less adjacent sides’ rule is a pretty important one. Another important rule is that the board can’t get broken up into multiple parts. Even though you might be entitled to collect a specific board tile, you can’t take it if it would mean it’d break up the board.
This rules is somewhat similar to the ‘one hive rule’ in Hive.
And that’s it really. Well, maybe knowing the win condition would be nice too: The player that manages to capture or remove (as part of an exchange) the opponents last piece wins the game. So that’s what the game is really all about!
There are two additional rules that players can choose to play by. The first one being the ‘Cura’ rule. This states that if, after a move, one of your pieces threatens to capture an opponents piece, you must say ‘Cura’ (which means ‘attention’ in Latin). The other additional rule states that instead of trading 2 collected board tile for an opponent piece, you can trade a single collected board tile for an opponent piece. I’ve not played the game with any of the additional rules in effect.
I guess the ‘Cura’ rule is good if you want to play in way that’s a bit less ‘serious’. Giving your opponent a heads up on the threat of a capture alleviates some of the concentration that needs to be put into the game. The ‘trade 1 for 1′ rule seems to be quite a powerful move ability. It certainly will lead to the board becoming emptier and smaller sooner, so perhaps it’s good for reducing the overall duration of games. Now onto what I think of the actual gameplay itself. Thus far I’ve only played games by the basic rules (without using any of the additional rules) so the remainder of this review applies only to such games.
A game ‘begins’ with setting up the board and pieces. With Coerceo this is a bit of work because you not only have to place the pieces, but also the board tiles. It’s really not that bad though, especially if both players go about setting up the game. What most influences the time needed is probably how neatly you want to do it.
You can set it up quickly (and still have a ‘tidy’ enough board to play) or you can be really meticulous about it and spend a lot more time on setup. With components this good-looking, I often found myself wanting to spend some extra time on doing a spotless setup! As did the various people I played with. It sort of comes naturally to want it to look as good as can be.
Threats of capture will often come about after just a few moves have been made. So you have to be on your toes from the get-go.
You shouldn’t only focus on trying to do captures. Early on in a game it’s often better to bring one of your pieces to safety rather than to capture an opponent piece. Captures are inevitable though. The ever decreasing size of the board means that the pieces in play will always be relatively close to one another. This ensures a good constant tension throughout the entire game.
The challenge is in finding a good balance in attacking and defending. If you can chain attacking moves together, repeatedly forcing your opponent to perform defensive moves, you stand a good chance of gaining an empty board tile. It’s always good to have those (given that you can trade 2 collected board tiles for ANY ONE opponent piece).
Trading off board tiles at the right time can really thwart a carefully planned attack! So use trades wisely and also always keep and eye on the number of board tiles your opponents has collected and stands to collect.
Don’t underestimate the power of removing board tiles as a means of attack either. Tactically reshaping the board can greatly help you prolong an ‘attack streak’, which is pretty much always a good thing. Pieces that were previously centralized and thus relatively safe can become real pains to defend the moment one or more tiles are taken away.
In general, you will always want to be on the lookout for weak spots. Both in the position of your opponent but also in that of your own. Then try to exploit your opponent’s weaknesses and at the same time strengthen your own position.
Coerceo is very easy and intuitive to play and has enough depth to make you want to play several games in a row. The game is also pretty forgiving; losing a single piece doesn’t mean instant death because all pieces are equal. So blundering moves like the ones that are possible in chess (those that cause you to loose a high-value piece) aren’t really possible here. But it is possible to make multiple smaller blunders of course, and that will costs you dearly against more experienced players.
Forking moves are possible, so if you don’t start defensive manoeuvres soon enough you will be losing material. If you get too far behind in material (3 of 4 pieces), you will have a hard time trying to not get beat.
I’m personally a fan of abstract games, so Coerceo does go nicely with my taste in games. However, I truly believe that Coerceo appeals to a much broader audience. I find Coerceo to be light and accessible enough even for people that don’t necessarily like abstract games in general. This is a result of everything about Coerceo feeling natural.
You’re not so much playing by some set of ‘abstract rules’ as you are looking at a board with pieces on it that practically show you how to play. The game has plenty of depth and the learning curve is gentle enough for everybody to easily come to appreciate the many nifty ways in which you can get at your opponent.
Players of equal strength stand a good chance of having a game end in a draw. You need quite some advantage in material in order to be able to deliver the final blow to your opponent. I don’t think this is a problem for casual players though. Probably not even for more avid players. But two players at ‘expert level’ are likely to have lots of draws. The rest of us can simply enjoy this as the engaging game that it is!
I give it an 8.5 (out of 10). Which in BGG terms means it’s smack in the middle of ‘Very good game. I like to play. Probably I’ll suggest it and will never turn down a game.‘ and ‘Excellent game. Always want to play it.‘.