I unabashedly love the COIN Series from GMT Games! I don’t think that is a secret. I own all 10 released volumes and have played them all multiple times, some solo, some 2-player but more recently as we have started attending more gaming conventions we have been playing them the way they were designed and intended…multiplayer!
Recently we attended 3 1/2 days of gaming at Buckeye Game Fest in beautiful Columbus, Ohio and were invited as special guests to the War Room. We were asked to host events that attendees could sign up for to play games with us and learn new systems. When we began discussing our plans earlier this year, both Alexander and I just knew that we were going to teach COIN. Over the 3 1/2 days we hosted 4 different events where we hosted and taught the COIN Series. On Friday, April 8th we did a 4 hour event from 5:00pm to 9:00pm where I taught Liberty or Death and Alexander taught Cuba Libre (with his Cubra Libre game ending early with a 2nd Propaganda card victory so they started with a short game of Fire in the Lake). In this session, we both played as the 4th player but had 3 new or less experienced players at each of our tables. Then on Saturday, April 9th we did another 4 hour event from 1:00pm to 5:00pm where once again I taught Liberty or Death and Alexander taught Cuba Libre. In this session, neither of us played as we each had 4 players. Amongst the players over the 4 events, we had 5 players who had never played a COIN, one who had played Andean Abyss once like 8 years ago and then 8 players who had played a couple different volumes just a few times.
The experience was amazing as I was able to see the general confusion that existed at the beginning but saw their progression as they were able to pick up the rules and begin to formulate strategy in their minds about what they wanted to do, but sometimes still being unable to get that done. And to me, that is the COIN experience. I always feel overwhelmed with a new volume and the new Commands and Special Activities but as we play, and I begin to see how it all works together, things get easier and more comfortable. I think that part of the reason that we had a good experience teaching the system, and that players enjoyed it and caught on, was due to some experience and our general understanding about what is the most important to teach with the system and with each of the different volumes.
With this post, I wanted to simply give you some suggestions for teaching this great series, particularly to new and less experienced players.
Review the Victory Conditions First
When we play any game, it is important to know how to win. This helps us to develop our strategy and keep in mind those things that we need to do in order to get there. The same is the case with the COIN Series. The challenge here is that the game is an asymmetric design, which means not only do each of the factions play differently, having access to different Commands and Special Activities, but each of the factions also win the game in a different way. Sound confusing? Well, it can be, especially for new players as they will struggle to understand their victory conditions but also to do well at the game must be aware of their opponent’s conditions and monitor them so they can counteract a victory.
I always start the game out by reviewing those Victory Conditions and helping new players to understand what they mean. This can be the most in-depth part of the teach but is very important. If they don’t get a good understanding of that element from the get go, they will find themselves lost and frustrated due to their inability to get where they need to be. I have also found that with new players you will need to remind them that they can find those Victory Conditions on their faction’s play aid. Encourage them to review those regularly, even before they start each of their turns. It is that important! I also remind them that they will become more comfortable with the system and with these Victory Conditions as the game progresses and as they see how pushing this button leads to that lever moving on the board.
Discuss the Interdependency of Factions
One of the best parts of the COIN Series is that in a four faction game, typically two factions are “friendly” and share at least one victory condition while their second is related but different. This is an interdependency that players must understand to do well and to have a hope of winning with their faction. As mentioned earlier, I always make sure to review those Victory Conditions with them and remind them that they have to work together, at least, they have to work together somewhat. This means that they should combine their actions and efforts to reaching their shared Victory Condition but once reached then all bets are off. At that point the gloves should come off and it can be every man for themselves!
I like to share with them that open table talk is welcome, not only in strategizing or coordinating efforts but also in asking questions about what the other faction is trying to do that turn. This is a great way to learn but also to see how things work together. I also encourage more in-depth private negotiations away from the table and during our plays saw at least a few instances of this that resulted in some good teamwork. In my experience, new players don’t necessarily make that jump in their first few games. It takes some time and practice but also some level of comfort with the game and system to understand how they can better interact and work together. But once it comes together, there can be some really great interactions that create a real interactive experience…and that is my favorite part about a multiplayer COIN game. Players should also be reminded that they don’t always have to be agreeable in these games. Hard negotiating in order to get what you really need while not giving away the farm is an art!
Overview of the Command Menu
One of the most overwhelming aspects of the COIN Series can be the menu of available Commands and Special Activities. There just seems to be so many things that players can do that they get confused about where to start and what to do. I always try to give them a crash course on this aspect as it is critical. There are three things that I recommend to make this process easier.
1. Read each Command and Special Activity fully before deciding what you want to do. Many of these have pre-requisites, such as flipping an underground Warband or Militia, control of a province or colony or the presence of different pieces from factions, and they cannot be used without these. Each of these Commands and Special Activates also have several parts that can all be taken, or can be split up to do what you want. The famous and/or is a big part of these instructions. You can do this or that….or you can do this and that.
2. Pay attention to what Special Activities are paired with what Commands. These can be real guides as to how you can use these together to accomplish something that your faction really needs done to win. An example of this is the March and Warpath combination in Liberty or Death for the Indian Faction. Move your Underground Warbands into an adjacent space and then take out Colonial Pieces or Forts. This helps you to protect your village and also to destroy your opponents forts which you have to have more than to win.
3. I remind them that there are basically four types of these Commands, resource gathering, movement, fighting and then destabilizing. Each has their role and are equally important. Resource Gathering gets you new units or funds to spend on actions. Movement simply conveys your units from one location to another to get into position to attack, to take control or to uncover your enemy’s hidden units. Fighting removes your opposition’s units from the board, and sometimes you can lose one of your precious units to remove an additional enemy unit. Destabilizing is changing control, reducing opposition or support, increasing opposition or support or blocking your opponent from doing something (such as in the case of the French Special Activity Naval Pressure to place a blockade on a British controlled city).
Discuss the Card Assisted Aspect
The COIN Series uses cards not to drive the action, such as in a Card Driven Game like Washington’s War, Twilight Struggle or Labyrinth, but these cards determine the turn order and will provide some really cool and sometimes game rule breaking events that can be used to great advantage. Helping players to understand and then anticipate the upcoming card is key to playing the game well.
In the picture below, you can see the Faction icons at the top of the card with this card (Morgan’s Rifles) having the Patriots first, French second, Indians third and British last. This is the turn order for this round and is based on which factions are eligible. One of the things that I really enjoy about Liberty or Death is that there is always the current active card that players can play from but you also see into the future with the next up card and can plan to take a pass this round to ensure you can take the first action in the next round. Players understanding this is key and I found that my players caught onto that very quickly and were expertly taking passes to gain their resource but then unload with a full Command and Special Activity on their next turn.
Encourage Them to Not Just Take Every Event
Along the same lines of the cards, it is very common for new players to take too many of the events. I think they do this because they don’t understand that the COIN Series is about planning and then making progress toward your objective, sometimes over a 3-4 turn period. They see an event that has a big effect and get all excited and simply cannot help themselves and take events every chance that they can. I remind players that you only get a certain amount of turns in an entire game, depending on the number of periods you are playing, and have to maximize and plan for those turns to makes sure you get the most return. In a normal period, with the eligibility and Sequence of Pay, a faction might get to act every other card. Most periods have 6-11 cards so in between Winter Quarters/Propaganda/Coups you will act 3-4 times. That is it! You must make each of your actions count. Events are nice but they can be fool’s gold and not provide you with the results that are needed.
Review the Sequence of Play and Eligibility Matters
One of the best parts about the COIN Series is the Sequence of Play area of the main board. This is where the factions decide what actions they will be taking on their turn. You simply move the faction’s piece onto the 1st Faction space that you choose (either Command Only, Command and Special Activity or Event) followed by your opponent, or you again depending on who is eligible, placing in turn. Understanding this aspect of the game takes some practice and experience as you must exercise restraint sometimes to deny your opponent and very powerful event by taking the Command Only portion when you really wanted to go full guns blazing and take the Command and Special Activity. You can explain this process but they will just have to experience it in order to learn it. And it will be learned, one way of the other.
There is some real gamesmanship with this part of the design. This becomes a real game of cat and mouse and can be truly frustrating for one side or the other who has great plans but simply cannot make those plans happen due to skillful negotiation of the minefield of the track by your opponent.
Discuss the Particulars of the Winter Quarters/Propaganda/Coup Rounds at the Start
The most important aspect to the COIN Series seems to be the amount of resources that you receive during the interim period referred to as the Winter Quarters/Propaganda/Coup. Most of the Commands and Special Activities cost your currency and can be performed in multiple spaces if you pay 1 for each of the spaces where you take these actions. But, if you don’t have resources to spend, you cannot take the actions you need to. Some are free but those are the less effective ones and the really powerful ones always cost. Resources are generated during these interim periods and each faction gains those resources in a different manner. In Liberty or Death, the British earn resources by calculating the number of British Forts plus population of non-Blockaded British Controlled Cities with a bonus of +5 if they Control the West Indies. The Indians on the other hand earn resources by taking half the number of their Villages found on the map rounding down.
Understanding where you pay day is coming from is very key to new players particularly. I always remind that we are X cards away from a possible interim period and you might want to review how you get resources so you can add a Village, Fort or Control one more territory to get as many resources as you can…or to effect your opponent by taking one of those things away.
When I play a new game, I sometimes get frustrated when I forget a rule that may or may not have been explained to me during the setup that is now affecting me greatly. Just remember as you teach you will mess rules up, or forget to emphasize something properly or simply skip over rules that were important. Your players will get frustrated and may be a bit grumpy about it. Just remember they are playing one of the greatest systems ever created and that your response to their frustration can make all the difference in their experience and how they feel about the game when it is over. Be patient. Give them a good experience by responding well and explaining things more fully. Heck, I even might allow them to take a turn back, as long as it wasn’t last round, and change something up because they misunderstood something. There is no harm in this as winning is not the only thing that matters but instilling a good understanding of the system is. We want to them to like the game that we love so much and want to play again in the future.
Sit Back and Have Fun
Most importantly remember that the COIN Series is a game. It is meant to be enjoyed and should be the focus of each player at the table. I have played COIN Series games dozens of times and probably only won about 25% of the time. But you know what, I have the fondest memories of games that came down to the wire and were decided late even though I might have lost. It is an experience and we should have a good time. I also garnered a lot of satisfaction from teaching new players the system as I saw them struggle at first, being confused about the many choices available. But once the light came on for them, you can see that they are starting to put it together and are not doing half bad.
I hope that you found some good tips and guidance on how to best teach new players the COIN Series. I am not an expert on this system. Not by a long shot. But I have played a lot and experienced all of the games in the series and have seen some good explanations and some that were not as good. Please let me know any thoughts you have on how best to teach this great system.
If you are interested, here are some links to resources for the COIN Series on our blog and YouTube Channel:
Review of Liberty or Death – https://theplayersaid.com/2017/03/01/turning-the-wargaming-world-upside-down-a-review-of-liberty-or-death-the-american-insurrection-by-gmt-games/
COIN Series Game Ranking Video – https://theplayersaid.com/2019/06/29/coin-games-ranking-be-mad-in-the-comments-edition/
Review of Cuba Libre – https://theplayersaid.com/2016/05/25/history-will-absolve-me-cuba-libres-unique-take-on-the-coin-system-and-why-it-feels-so-great-to-play/
Why I find the COIN Series of Games by GMT Games so Fantastic! – https://theplayersaid.com/2016/04/28/why-i-find-the-coin-series-of-games-by-gmt-games-so-fantastic/amp/
Some excellent advice for teaching COIN here, will for sure implement these next time.
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Thanks for describing your teaching process. I have been bombarding you about this when you ask for topics for the monthly debrief. I appreciate your response.
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Excellent advice on teaching the COIN system. I have only been playing this for about three years now and am fully engulfed in the gameplay and always loking for ways to teach new players thar are interested in playing. Thanks so much for posting this and you guys keep up the outstanding work you do on your channel!
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I have started to learn the COIN system having bought Colonial Twilight. Read the rules, watched some play throughs and started to play a short scenario. Like what you said in the article it is a bit overwhelming with all of the choices and how they impact the victory conditions. If I had been aware of it I might have driven over to Ohio to play and learn from others. I made some mistakes in rules and will start the scenario over. Idjester, on his You Tube channel, was doing a tutorial on Colonial Twilight (recorded a year ago) that has been helpful. You guys should do that too! Good article.
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Revisiting what might now be an old question: What is *the* definitive game to introduce newcomers to COIN? I think in the past the answer was often Cuba Libre, due to its compactness of play. Has anything come along since to change perceptions on this?
Personally I own Cuba Libre and Liberty or Death, but also have played Andean Abyss a number of times before buying my own COIN games. Always an interesting topic for discussion with so many games in the series. Deciding if I’m going to twist my own arm into buying maybe one more in the series.
I’d say it’s still Cuba Libre. Smaller map. Less spaces lead to a bit more manageable. Others like Liberty or Death or Fire in the Lake are more complex.
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I came close to pulling th trigger on coming. Next year for sure.
Good article Grant. I e only ever played FitL but would like to try Pendragon, Libert or Deatg, or the new China War.
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Hope to see you next year then!
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I’ve known of COIN games for a while, but never really knew what they were about. I recently watched an interview of Rodney Smith by Fred Serval and became intrigued. Because of that video I discovered you guys! I’m hooked. Because of watching your videos, my long dormant love of wargames has been rekindled. Thank you!
(I just bought all the available COIN games and ordered all the P500 COIN games. My wallet doesn’t thank you. 😀 )
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Well while I’m sorry for your lite wallet but I am glad that you have found the COIN Series. Let me know your thoughts after playing!
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Finally got Cuba Libre to the table last weekend with three friends. What an amazing game! I do have a question for you:
What do you think of the “Sudden Propaganda Option” (2.3.8)? Do you use it? Have you ever used it? To me (and my friends) it makes a lot of sense. It avoids the “I know a Prop card is coming up, so I will throw everything into this turn even if it doesn’t really make sense” type of thinking. Instead, it forces you to be prepared for it at anytime.
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We have used it quite often in Cuba Libre. I like the unknown and having to be ready but the only drawback is that it can lead to an early game win as some of the factions start at or near victory conditions. The COIN Series is somewhat about building and working toward your goals while tearing down your opponents. The sudden propaganda somewhat changes that design focus a bit but as long as all are aware and agree it can add some fun.
Thank you for this excellent article.
Concerning teaching COIN, I must also suggest the amazing videos of Jean-Michel grosjeux on you tube about « a distant plain ».
It’s in French but with automatic translation you will have a perfect methodology to explain the game but also the strategies, the economical system… it’s amazing!!! And if you ask him, I’m sure he will be ready to make an English translation of these videos
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