Kodama and Kigi: Reviews

This week Fairway takes a look at two great, related games from Daniel Solis and Action Phase Games: Kigi and Kigi’s spiritual successor and Kickstarted game, Kodama. Find out if Fairway is in line with tree spirits or if he demonstrates, again, he should not work with plants.

In this review, I look at Kigi, a game available as a Print on Demand, and its apparent spiritual successor, Kodama, which was a recent Kickstarter delivery. Kigi and Kodama are both a form of set collection and hand management card game in which players arrange cards to form the branches of trees. These games are so similar, I’m reviewing them together.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. Both games use a very innovative card-playing mechanism: poker-sized cards are played in any orientation so that the branches on the cards form the tree
  2. The games are a bit of a point salad, but in a very rewarding and incremental way
  3. The art of both games is very engaging and thematic
  4. Kigi uses so few cards it can go anywhere

Game Play ^

Both Kigi and Kodama play in much the same way.  The basic premise that players play cards from the trunk of a tree outward in sprawling branches.

Players select branch cards from a draft of available branch cards. Each branch card contains a number of different features (bugs, flowers, etc.). Players score points for each feature present on consecutive cards from the most recently played down toward the trunk.

In both games, the rules for playing cards are basically the same: you can play a card anywhere (in Kigi including on your opponent’s trees) so long as the card forms a branch and so long as it only overlaps a single card when played.  Branch cards might eventually have multiple branches off of it (that’s fine), but not when it is first played.

There are some differences ^

In Kodama, the game limits branches by saying that you can play a card such that you score more than ten points on a single card. While in Kigi, you can score more than ten points, but then you have to prune your tree branch.

In Kodama, there are a very limited number of turns per season: five. At the end of a season, players select a Kodama (tree spirit) card to play to earn points at the end of that season.  In Kigi, there are special contracts that players can acquire instead and entitle the player to bonuses at the end of the game in lieu of adding a new branch on a turn.

In Kodama, the game is played over the course of three seasons. Each season brings with it one of a set of randomizing factors that change how the game is played. For example, rewarding certain types of growth patterns.

On the Green ^

Both games are excellent, and I’d highly recommend anyone looking for something different to pick up either game. There are some noteworthy features of both games.

Kigi’s art is amazingly thematic. I may end up in the minority, but I really prefer the simple, Japanese-style art of Kigi. The brushed, black ink tree branches and the resulting trees look like they belong on a Japanese mural. All of the features are simple, unadorned.

Kodama certainly has it’s own appeal. The night sky and the cute Kodama are certainly dramatic. There’s a lot more detail in the branches and the “features.” The Kodamas themselves are also adorable.

Kodama’s bits.  I really enjoy all of the bits and components that come with Kodama. The wooden Kodama first player token is too cute. The scoring tracking and wooden scoring markers are nice.  While this makes Kodama nicer, it makes a little less portable than its predecessor, Kigi. I’ve brought Kigi on vacation and played it while waiting for a flight to take off.

The Game Play.  Kigi and Kodama share the same neat card playing mechanism. This makes for an interesting use of table space as well as creating a unique visual effect.

The rules are a bit more confusing when read than they are when demonstrated. Once someone gets the hang of placing cards on their tree, the game moves along nicely.

The use of a card draft in both games also makes for some interesting strategic decisions: do I take what’s best for my tree or do I deprive another player of the one that will score the most points.

Where the games come up short ^

I think both games are examples of innovative game designs in their own right. But, they’re not flawless.

Point Salad.  It is worth noting that both games have a tendency to generate really big scores and lots of counting. For Kodama, the game conveniently comes with a score track that readily acknowledges that scores can go over 100. During play, this means players spend a lot of time trying to optimize their own play and avoid leaving huge opportunities for others.  This fact can be good from a strategy perspective, a bit annoying from a downtime perspective.

And in some cases, victory in points can come out of seemingly nowhere.  This seems to be especially true in Kodama where the little Kodama’s played at the end of a season can dramatically add points.

Over-simplification of strategies.  Kodama is certainly the simplified version of Kigi. By limiting the number of turns and branch length, making the bonuses granted by Kodama hidden information, the game seems to err on the side of more simplified strategies. This fact works out really well if when introducing new gamers to the games, but takes away opportunities for more sophisticated games.

Kodama as Multiplayer solitaire? There isn’t a ton of player interaction. In Kodama, there’s basically no way to stop another player from stringing together long chains of cards — the game does put an upper limit though. In Kigi, there was the token ability to interfere with another player’s tree, if you wanted to use an action to do so.

In the hole ^

Kodama and Kigi are great. They’re family-friendly and fun to play for all kinds of gamers. The theme and art and game play are interesting an beautiful, which means they’ll appeal to a wide range of game players. The games masterfully weave unique mechanics into the theme and provide players an immense number of strategies to pursue.

Kigi and Kodama are in the hole for a Birdie! ^

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