A beautiful game can often wield a Siren’s call, seductively drawing you to the table and forcing you to engage. Kodama utilizes bubbly little tree spirits and some of the most gorgeous cards I’ve ever seen to make its voice heard. It certainly helps that the design has you utilizing these attractive components to create and build with panache.
This competitive card laying games has players selecting a branch from the offer of four and adding it to their germinating trunk. You physically place the card atop a previous branch end point to continue the growth, sprouting the limb in a new direction or extending its grasp towards the horizon. It’s a simple yet exceedingly clever action process that gives visual feedback to the creator and leaves you with a smirk.
The scoring system provides incentive to select branches that possess a chain of symbols to extend in a contiguous line from your base trunk. You score each element on the card in addition to a repeated path of the same symbol extending backwards down the branch. If an icon chain is broken then your scoring path stops and you don’t receive maximum reward. The Kodama value consistency and appeal–be mindful of their whims.
While complicated to explain, the system is simple and easily ingested after a single turn. It’s about building strings of like symbols and being careful to plan for future routes. The decision tree (yeah, I went there) gains nuance when taking into consideration a secret hand of Kodama cards that award bonus scoring at the end of each season. Players select which of their remaining options to play when concluding the three seasons. It’s all about timing.
This scoring system is the bulk of the game from the strategy perspective yet it quickly fades into the background during play. It works to brilliantly inform your decisions rather to overtake them. In this way the surging growth of your tree feels very organic and almost as if it has a life of its own. This is juxtaposed with your decisions on which of the four available branches to select and where to place it. Lurking in the undergrowth is a subtle nature versus nurture aspect that places an imprint on the identity of the design and how it can affect the player.
At times there is certainly a fatherly or maternal quality that peeks through as you’re watching this lively creature grow from a humble beginning. You’re guiding it on its journey and it occasionally fights back, providing a weak choice in available cards or not allowing you to properly synergize with your selection of Kodama goals. You have to hike up your mom jeans and dole out some discipline to get things back on track and recover.
After 20 minutes of guiding this little sprout through puberty, you sit back and take a breath. With a bit of empty nest syndrome, all you can do is contort your head and look approvingly—or perhaps not—at what your offspring has become. It’s worth taking a moment to survey the table as each player’s sapling will have a unique look at personality. Some will feature wide-armed branches jutting out both sides, while others will scrape at the moon like a gangly teen. It’s impressive and satisfying.
At the end of the day this is a quirky design that is easy to play yet can leave an indelible mark. It sticks its twisted branches and leafy arms into your face and pulls at your hair. It wants your attention and it will get it, for pleasing the Tree Spirits is not only mandatory, but it’s delightfully fun.
What’s your favorite game with a quirky theme? Or what about your favorite game where you build something out of nothing? Let us know in the comments below!
All images courtesy of BGG