|Components & Design
It’s a quiet summer afternoon. You watch placidly as your award-winning pigeons zip in and out of the dovecote. It took you a long time to rear the beautiful birds flying around you now, but it was a very rewarding. Suddenly a high screech disturbs the peaceful air and you stand in a rain of feathers while a falcon makes of with one of your prize birds. Can you picture that scene? Good, because it has a lot in common with how it feels to play Columba: you think you’re playing a peaceful and pretty tile-laying game, and then people start doing bad things to each other and the tranquil atmosphere you were expecting just vanishes. But in good way.Listening to the explanation, Columba really sounds like a peaceful game. On your turn, you draw a tile and place it in the landscape in the middle of the table. Each square tile has four fields, showing one of four different terrains. You can either place the new card next to the cards already there and nothing interesting will happen. Or you can cover one to four fields already on the table and, as the story goes, capture the wild pigeons on the covered fields. The small catch is that you may only cover fields that you have on your goal card, which is drawn from the same pile as the tiles you place in the landscape. For every covered pigeon you take a domesticated pigeon tile and place it on your goal card, further restricting your options of which fields you may cover until your goal card is full and you may draw a new one.
So far, that all sounds very peaceful. The manual even mentions that “the players will build a territory together”. But there was no mention yet of how to win the game, either. Capturing wild pigeons is a great pastime and does have its uses, but it’s not how you win the game. That you do by building your estates. To build your estates, you place one of your dovecotes on a field in the shared landscape and thus declare all connected fields of the same type your estate. No other player may capture pigeons from your estate and you’ll score points for your estates in the end. That’s where things stop being nice now. You are not allowed to capture pigeons from opponents’ estates, so you cannot actively shrink them, but you can interfere with them and prevent opponents from expanding. Actually, you should interfere as scores are based on estate sizes. You can build your own estate around theirs to box them in, or since everyone’s goal cards are visible, put tiles in their way which they may not cover. It’s easier than you think to have your estate boxed in and completely unable to expand. You can’t get your dovecotes back once placed, so losing one of them on an almost worthless estate is a Bad Thing™.
You still have all those domesticated pigeons, flapping around lazily, not doing anything useful. But pigeon keeping doesn’t allow slackers, it’s time to put them to work. When you complete a goal card, the four domesticated pigeons from it go to your supply and you may use them on the same turn. A domesticated pigeon can, quite straightforwardly, be used to extend your estate. Unlike their wild counterparts, a domesticated pigeon may cover a wild pigeon that is not on your goal card and is thus very useful to connect your estate to an unclaimed population of the same kind of pigeons. Or you go over to the dark side of bird rearing and feed your domesticated pigeons to your falcons. It takes two pigeon tiles to acquire a fledgling falcon and two more to raise it to adulthood. Quite expensive, but falcons are nasty creatures when used right. A falcon tile is the only thing in Columba that may cover a field belonging to an opponent’s estate. The way estates develop, this often gives you the opportunity to split an estate in two and then quietly add the lost part to your own estate.
The explanation doesn’t sound all that mean, a tile-laying game where you claim territories to win. But Columba has much more potential for screwing with people than other games with that mechanic, Carcassone for instance. Blocking other players is easier than it is in similar games by placing tiles they cannot cover. Using the pigeon tiles and falcons for good effect is satisfying and opens advanced strategies. Columba is a lot of fun in two and three players, although three player games can sometimes drag a bit when no one wants to attack for fear of giving the third player an opening to exploit. We had games in three that went either way, fun and vicious or defensive and slow. But Columba really shines with four players, played as a 2 vs. 2 team game. Theoretically, it’s almost indistinguishable from a two-player game: the team members’ scores are added up to the total score at the end, team members sit opposite each other so teams take turns, even the total number of dovecotes is the same. But the joint strategy planning of how to box in your opponents, where to strike with a falcon, when best to take advantage of it and so on is wicked fun and tends to lead to more cut-throat behaviour than Columba already has.
This was one of the games we knew virtually nothing about until we tried it in Essen last year, and we’ve all been in love with it ever since. Like most tile-laying games there is a certain amount of luck involved in drawing the right tile at the right time, but Columba never feels like you win or lose because of luck. While keeping the easy, quick to learn rules of most tile-laying games, Columba offers more options to play offensively, more strategy and especially more player interaction than other tile-laying games and is currently the absolute favourite from that genre here at the Meeple Cave.