It took me quite some time to get around to playing Coimbra and I regret every missed day. It's telling that this is a common reaction amongst first time players. On multiple forums, facebook, boardgamegeek, etc, I've frequently seen these reactions. "Coimbra! Where has this gem been?!", "I can't believe I haven't played this yet, why didn't everyone tell me it was so great?!", you get the idea. The game looks dry, it looks like a million other games, and the name is Coimbra, which hardly inspires an urge to play. Yet it's worth it. The only reason I stuck through the icon heavy rules and dry looking gameplay was because of these reactions, and I'm here now adding my reaction to the mix hoping you'll give it a shot as well.
The game is dice selection followed by dice placement, but it's the interweaving impacts of your choices that make the game fascinating. All players are juggling multiple goals, and trying to min max their return as well as managing the risk involved in trying to get what they want. There's the Monastery track, and trying to move your guy around to gather all the benefits and goals there. There's the influence track, which as you pick noble's your influence will grow, and at the end of the round you'll get bonuses based on the dice you picked and how well you're doing on those tracks. Then there's the voyages, you can invest in a voyage at the end of each of the four rounds, and while that will grant you powerful rewards, it eats up your in game currency making each round a bit harder to navigate.
The four influence tracks are key here, the first two heavily reward you with guards and coins, which are the two in game currencies. The third lets you move more actively around the map, collecting a variety of useful bonuses. And the last track focuses on points. It's the least interesting because of all the fun things you want to do in game, but neglect it at your peril. Rising on these tracks means getting the right nobles, which means placing the right dice. Do you guarantee your selection, but pay heavily for the privilege? Or do you save some money but run a much more economical game?
In Coimbra, choices abound. I heavily recommend this with 3 over 4 players, as the downtime and pressure of a 4th player seems to hurt more than it helps. Don't play this with your AP prone friends either, that's a recipe for disaster. But those disclaimers aside, I can easily see Coimbra rising to my top 10 if things continue like this.