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Coda

Designer: Eiji Wakasugi
Publisher: Winning Moves
Players: 3-4
Time: 15 minutes
Reviewer: Greg Aleknevicus

I am impressed. My initial reaction to Coda was that its high luck-factor was tolerable only due to its short playing-time. Now that I've played several more times, I'm happy to report that while it remains fast-playing and prone to luck, there's more depth than I first imagined. My enjoyment has increased with every play.

Coda is a deduction game and a relatively simple one. There are 24 plastic panels; twelve black and twelve white, each numbered from 0 to 11. You start with three or four of these as your "code" and place them in strict numeric order, but visible only to yourself. The object is to guess the other players' codes while keeping yours a secret. Your turn is simple: guess one of your opponents' unrevealed panels and add another panel to your own code. If you correctly guess your opponents' panel, it is revealed and the panel you add to your own code is kept secret. However, if you guess incorrectly, the panel you add to your code is revealed for all to see. Furthermore, if your first guess is correct, you may make additional guesses but this comes with a risk: as soon as you make an incorrect guess, your turn ends and the panel you add to your code is revealed. Once your entire code is revealed, you're eliminated from the game. The last player standing wins.

Sound simple? Well, it is but there's a surprising number of tricks and subtleties to the game that did not occur to me at first. For example, it's not always advisable to guess panels even when you're positive of their identity since you may give vital information to others. Another, less-obvious, decision is in choosing whether to pick a black or white panel to add to your code. It may be tempting to pick the colour about which you know the most, but sometimes this can backfire. For example, imagine that you have three unrevealed black panels, Tom has one unrevealed black panel, there's one left in the pool and all others have been revealed. So, if you choose the final black panel, you'll know the one in Tom's code clever move, right? Well, probably not because now Tom knows all of your black numbers. Furthermore, if you (or anyone else) guesses Tom's number then everyone knows all of your black numbers. There are many similar discoveries I made while playing Coda, a rather happy surprise.

One feature that's absent in many deduction games is true player interaction and strategy. Often, you're playing your own game and simply racing with your opponents to arrive at a finish line. Not so with Coda as it's vital that you pay attention to what your opponents are doing and asking. (And often, what they're not asking). When Bob guesses that one of Fred's panels is the white 7, it may reveal more about Bob's code than Fred's. As such, it's important that you formulate your questions carefully. Again, there's more to the game than I first imagined.

This praise should not blind one to the fact that there's a very healthy dose of luck in Coda. Sometimes a lucky guess (or an unfortunate draw) will reveal your entire code and knock you out of the game. In a longer game this would be inexcusable but at 15 minutes or so, it's much less irritating.

Coda also comes with an optional variant in which you include two additional panels (one black, one white) each featuring a dash. These are wildcards and may be placed anywhere within your code. They make the deductions more difficult (which is a good thing) but I have concerns that they give too great an advantage to the player who draws them. I'll have to play a few more times to convince myself one way or the other. I also think that the game has some potential for other variants; one that springs to mind concerns the ordering of identical numbers. Normally, if you have both the black and white 7 (for example), you place the black panel to the right of the white one. A simple variant would instead allow the player to order them as she sees fit.

Coda is officially listed as being for two to four players but I don't see how it could work with only two. All my playings were with three or four and it worked equally well with either number. In any case, Coda is an excellent game and better than my first impressions lead me to believe. The panels are high-quality plastic and the rules are clear. Overall, it's very accessible for both the casual player and deduction game aficionado.

- Greg Aleknevicus

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