07th Aug2019

‘Copenhagen’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

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The simplest concepts in gaming are often the most enduring. In video gaming, there are few games that are as recognisable as Tetris, whilst in board gaming, Ticket to Ride remains the cornerstone upon which most collections are carefully stacked. Imagine if a game were to combine the mechanics of two such iconic games into a cohesive experience; that game is Copenhagen.

Designed by Asger Granerud (of Flamme Rouge fame) and Daniel Pedersen, Copenhagen does more or less exactly what I’ve hinted at. It takes the card drafting and set collection mechanics of Ticket to Ride and combines it with a Tetris style spatial puzzle. Players simply take turns to draw cards from a face up market, or spend cards to take pieces in various shapes and colours to add to their personal building.

Of course, there’s more to it than that, but the basic concept is incredibly straightforward and very simple to explain. Each player has their own coloured board, which represents one of Copenhagen’s iconic canal front townhouses. The players need to place pieces of various shapes and sizes onto the board to complete rows and columns for points.

A row made up entirely of windows is worth two points, whilst a column of windows would be worth four. Should a row or column be completed with any breaks in the line of windows, then the points value is halved. Since every single piece has at least one section that has no window, this puzzle becomes more about prioritising which rows or columns to focus on, whilst still ensuring that your house is built at a steady pace.

There are several coats of arms on each board (as well as several off to the side of some of the rows) and when covered (or wheat the respective row is completed) these symbols will allow the player to take a bonus tile. There are five of these, one of which the players begin the game with, and they provide abilities such as being able to draw an extra card or to spend one less card when taking a tile. Single space tiles can also be taken to plug any rogue gaps.

Each upgrade will be flipped when used, but covering a coat of arms can allow the player to flip all of their existing upgrades, rather than take a new one, should that be the preferred option. There’s little else by way of complexity to consider, and on a turn a player simply chooses to take two adjacent cards or to spend the cards she has on a tile – the spent cards must match the colour of tile taken, and the size of the tile (two to five squares) must match the number of cards spent.

Copenhagen is clearly intended to be a simple, elegant experience and the influence of both Tetris and Ticket to Ride is unquestionable. When played, the game offers plenty of choice, but the subtleties of one strategy over another will not immediately be apparent. For example, each set of coloured pieces is made up of a different shape at each size, so if you need a specific shape to complete part of your building, you will need to prioritise cards of that colour.

At the beginning of each game, this matters less. Simply choosing cards that allow you to take larger pieces as rapidly as possible can work, but as things progress and gaps in your structure begin to appear, you’ll need to fill them. The winner of the game is the first person to reach twelve points, which comes around fairly quickly once players begin to complete columns with their higher scoring potential.

This gives Copenhagen an interesting target audience, in that it allows players of basically any skill level to be competitive, but allowing those who carefully plan and understand some of the nuances of the game to win out on most occasions. The victory margin between a brand new player and an experience one seems to be a couple of points, which keeps everyone engaged throughout the game and generates a desire to play again.

On the slight downside, little changes from one game of Copenhagen to the next besides the order in which cards are drawn. Even the coats of arms are in the same position on every board and since each one is single sided, there’s really nothing to differentiate one game from the next. I think that’s OK for now, but I’m not sure of Copenhagen’s staying power over a longer period.

With great looking but simple components and a couple of core mechanics that anyone can get to grips with, Copenhagen is certainly an interesting addition to any collection. I can’t actually think of many games that have taken the Tetris concept and made a compelling board game of it, but by using the card drafting mechanic from Ticket to RideCopenhagen offers a good balance of luck and judgement that can satisfy any fan of light to mid weight games. A fairly unique and enjoyable addition to any collection.

***½  3.5/5

Copenhagen is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator

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