Dale Yu: First Impressions of Kodachi


  • Designer: A.B. West
  • Publisher: Wizkids
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 14+
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Amazon Affiliate link: https://amzn.to/2XXcSxA

Kodachi is a new reimplementation of Ninjato, a game which was initially released in 2011.  The game itself appears quite similar though there is no longer a board involved with the game.  As the story goes: “In 12th century Japan, you rested after the Gempei War, retiring your ninjato sword, desiring a life of peace. But, once again, the ruling families call for your special skills to establish their honor. You will need stealth and strength, cunning and intrigue, and the swiftness of a Kodachi sword! In Kodachi, you seek to steal treasures by facing guards in one of two ways — with strength, which requires you to play cards with higher numbers than the guards, or with stealth, playing cards with lower numbers than the guards. Successfully acquired treasures can be used to generate rumors, bribe envoys, and strengthen your skills.”

This version of the game has a large deck of cards and a few tokens as the components.  Each player gets a starting deck of 12 cards, shuffles them and makes a starting hand of 6 cards.  The starting player is given the cardboard throwing star and all other players get a card face up in front of them.  The Guard cards are shuffled together to form a Guard deck and the House deck is made up of the Envoy, Rumor and Skill cards.  Each of these cards has a different colored face. The 9 clan tokens are arranged by type and in ascending order and placed next to the draw piles.  The game will play until a player has collected four tokens or the final token in the game is collected.

On a turn, there are two phases: 1) Invade the house; 2) Draw cards.

To Invade the house, you flip up the top card of both the house and the guard deck, placing them next to their respective deck.  The player examines the cards and then declares whether he is going to invade by Stealth (and play a card of lower value than the guard) or Strength (and play a card of higher value than the guard).  Once you have made your choice, your decision continues for the duration of your turn. Turn the throwing star (which is also the active player marker) to the appropriate side to show Stealth or Strength.  Once the decision has been made, the player must play one Dojo card from their hand and optionally add skill cards to defeat the guard.   

Some skill cards are rumor cards, these will score extra points at the end of the game, while others are envoy cards, and they have one of the three clan icons on them.  When you play an envoy card as a Dojo card, you collect the top clan token that matches the type shown on the envoy card. There is also some variation in the guard cards.  Elite guards have a red back on them, and they tend to be stronger. Some elite guards shows to guards on them, and the player must play multiple dojo cards to defeat all the guards shown.

If you cannot defeat the guard, your turn ends immediately.  If you are successful, you can decide to keep going or to stop.  If you stop or did not win, you move onto the Take Cards phase. If you continue on, you flip up one more card from both the House and the Guard decks, and then you must defeat the newly revealed guard using only the cards remaining in your deck (and keeping to whichever choice of Strength or Stealth that you made at the start of the turn). 

In the Take Cards phase, you can take your spoils from the defeated cards (if you successfully invaded).  First, you calculate how many cards you are allowed to take (essentially one card less than the number of guard cards that you defeated, minimum of 1) – the more guard cards which were defeated, the more cards you can take from the display.  You can take guard cards freely – they will be worth the treasure seen at the upper left. There are four different types of treasure (scroll, vase, fan, jade, as well as gold which is wild). Keep your treasure face up in front of you. The House cards all have a cost at the bottom which must be paid with treasure.  It can even be paid for with treasure gained in this same turn. House cards which are bought are placed immediately into your hand.

Once the active player has taken all the cards that they can, play goes around the table with each other player able to take one card from the display if they choose.  It can be either a free treasure card or they can buy a house card. This continues until either all players have had a chance to take a card or the final card is taken.   If you failed in the invasion, you do not get to choose any cards, but all your opponents still get a chance to take one card from the display.

Once cards have been chosen, there is a short upkeep phase.  You discard any unchosen Guard and House cards on the table. You discard all of your played cards.  You look at your hand and you can choose to discard any cards currently in your hand as well. If you have more than 6 cards, you must discard down to that number.  Then, draw cards from your deck to bring your hand back up to 6 cards. Finally, check your treasure cards in front of you, you may not have more than 4 of these; discard to bring your count down to 4.

Pass the active player throwing star to the next player, and play continues.  The game ends at the end of a round when a player has four Clan tokens or all of the Clan tokens have been collected.  Players now tally up their points. Each card in their deck score the points shown on the card. Any unspent treasure cards (i.e. still face up on the table) are worth 1 point each.  Finally, the clan tokens are worth the value printed on them (5, 4, or 2 points). The player with the most points wins. Ties go to the player with the most points from clan tokens.

My thoughts on the game

Well, I remember playing Ninjato, but frankly, I don’t remember much about the game.  Though the Opinionated Gamers was already writing reviews at that time, it does not appear that I reviewed it.  Google tells me that I looked for it at Gencon 2011 – https://opinionatedgamers.com/2011/08/07/dale-yu-quick-pictorial-gencon-2011-report/ – but, it apparently sold out before I made it to Indy!  As I can’t really remember the original, I won’t try to make much comparison between versions…

Gameplay is a clever balance of risk and reward.  The decision of Stealth versus Strength for a turn can be crucial.  You have to take a good look at the cards in your hand to figure out which will be the best choice for you.  While it’s fairly easy to defeat one or two guard cards with your hand of six cards; a great turn happens when you’re able to beat 3 or 4 Guard cards (thus meaning you can draw 2 or 3 cards from the display).  But, the big risk here is that if you push your luck too far, you’ll end up with nothing – as well as leaving a larger display of cards for your opponents to cherry pick from.

The different types of cards give you plenty of options as far as strategy goes.  Taking Envoy cards seems like a good idea early on because successful use of them can pay off well with the Clan tokens.  However, some of the other cards give you the ability to draw a card after playing it or have multiple possible values which grant you a lot of flexibility on your turn.  Again, the best turns are ones where you can draw multiple cards from the table.

Players also have a pretty interesting choice at the end of their turn as they can choose which cards they want to discard from their hand.  You might play the probabilities based on what you remember being left in your deck to try to set up a hand that has mostly high cards (or mostly low cards).  You may be trying to draw a specific skill or Envoy card to let you collect tokens.

The game plays fairly quickly, and while there isn’t much to do when it’s not your turn, the ability to choose cards from the display at the end of each turn helps keep you engaged in that down time.  The box lists 45 minutes as the play time, but we’re really seeing games closer to 30.

Kodachi comes in a nice small sized box, holding two decks of cards and a small compartment for the tokens.  Component quality is fine – there is nothing good nor bad to say in that regard. I remember really liking the wooden throwing star from the board game, and certainly the cardboard token here isn’t as nice.  But it’s smaller, keeping the game compact, and it’s also less expensive; and that’s a trait not to be ignored either. The artwork on the cards is quite nice, and it really brings out the Feudal Japanese theme through the nice illustrations.  Iconography is easy to understand, and just in case there are issues, the double sided player aid card answers just about every question that could come up.

Kodachi packs a lot of game in its small box, and I think there are plenty of interesting decisions to be made in this 30-45 minute game.  It almost makes me want to look up the original game to see how that plays, but almost is the key word there… I like this enough, that I’m not sure I need to find a bigger version. I like what I’ve got here (and, as a bonus, I’ve already got this one!)

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it.  Dale Y
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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