18 November 2019
So good we just can't cope
There’s a never-ending discussion about the best games to introduce new players to the tabletop, and favourites like Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and Alhambra almost always feature in the conversation. These ‘gateway games’ pull off a delicate balancing act, presenting players with meaningful choices while keeping complexity low. The handful of games that do it well have become some of the most treasured titles in the hobby. Now there’s a new addition to the bunch.
Copenhagen is ostensibly about building brightly-coloured houses along the Danish capital’s waterfront. But beyond some cheerful artwork and half a paragraph of flavour text in its rulebook, it doesn’t do much to carry its theme. In reality, it’s an abstract, Tetris-style puzzle. What makes it shine, though, is the tight, elegant and fast-flowing experience it squeezes out of an absolutely minimal set of rules.
You and your opponents start the game with square-grid player boards representing houses under construction. On your turn you’ll choose one of two actions: take some cards from a communal pool arranged around the city’s harbour, or play cards from your hand to claim building tiles to add to your board. As you play you’ll aim to fill in as much of your grid as possible, earning points for every row and column you complete.
What makes things interesting are the rules for gaining and spending cards. To grab a tile, you’ll need to discard a set of cards matching its size and colour – so, for example, a red tile made up of four squares would cost four red cards. While you’ll be able to pick up two cards on your turn, they have to be adjacent to one another in the available row. With the selection drawn from a randomly shuffled deck,
you’ll often be unable to take cards of matching colours, forcing you to think about the most useful combinations to add to your hand. Should you spend a few turns amassing a handful of green cards to buy a big, potentially game-changing tile? Or should you try to pick up smaller ones in multiple colours – less lucrative, but much easier to acquire? You’ll always have to think a few rounds ahead and, when the luck of the draw scuppers your plans, you’ll need to be able to change your tactics on the fly. It’s a simple but satisfying process, but it’s only the foundation of Copenhagen. You’ll also score bonus points for building arrangements of windows, and as you play you’ll earn a variety of special abilities. Used judiciously they can swing the game in your favour, and add a sense of progression and increasing power.
Ultimately, Copenhagen boils down to a simple choice repeated on every turn: take some resources, or do something with the ones you already have. It’s a formula that’s worked brilliantly in games like Splendor and Ticket to Ride, but Copenhagen never feels samey or derivative. It takes the family-weight Eurogame blueprint and makes it its own – the result is magnificent.
PLAY IT? MUST-PLAY
Designer: Asger Harding Granerud, Daniel Skjold Pedersen
Artist: Markus Erdt
Time: 25-40 minutes
This review originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.