Dale Yu: Review of Kodama Forest

Kodama Forest

  • Designers: Jenny Iglasias and Kevin Riley
  • Publisher: Indie Boards & Cards
  • Players: 3-6
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Indie Boards & Cards

In Kodama Forest, Springtime has come again, and your forest is blooming! However, the magical kodama spirits will only grace the lushest and most beautiful of landscapes. Plant bamboo and flowers to attract friendly pandas and butterflies to beautify your plot of land. Plan carefully to ensure that your two forests can be filled with as many plants and animals as possible in order to please the colorful kodama.  This game requires both cooperation and competition in order to succeed.

A player board is placed between each player and their neighbor to either side.  The table will have the same number of player boards as players, and each individual player will have one board to their left and one to their right.   The forest tiles are placed in the bag, and the other tiles (butterfly, frog, panda) are placed in the center of the table where all players can reach it.  Each player then draws three forest tiles from the bag to start the game. 

The game is played in rounds, each with two phases with the players playing simultaneously in each phase.  

In this first phase, players place forest tiles on their board.  Each player has a hand of three tiles, and one will be placed on the board to their left, one will be placed on the board to their right and one remains in the hand.   Players can discuss with each other about which tiles to play and where to place them.  Tiles must be placed within the grid on the board, with nothing hanging over the edge, and may not lie over other tiles or blue kodama squares.  Once placed, a tile may never be moved.  The features on the tiles do not have to match their neighboring tiles, but it is likely to your advantage to have matches.   A final option is to skip placing a tile from your hand and instead place a butterfly tile.

The forest tiles have four different possible features on them (half flowers, half bamboo patch, half pond, and trees).  If tiles are placed to make a full feature, a corresponding bonus tile is allowed to be placed on that board.  A full flower field gains a butterfly tile, a full bamboo patch gains a panda tile, a full pond gets a frog tile.  Sadly, there is no bonus for matching tree features. The gained bonus tile does not have to be placed adjacent to the completed feature which begat it.

Once all the tiles have been placed, each player then draws two more tiles from the bag to bring their hand up to three.  Now, check to see if the game is over – if any player board no longer has any “5” or “10” spaces visible, the game ends. Otherwise, play another round.

When the game end is triggered, the players now calculate their scores – which are based upon the state of the two boards next to that player.   Essentially, you score every square of the board that you can see, that is, any space not covered by a tile.

  • Kodama spaces (blue) are worth 0 points.
  • Plain dirt spaces (brown) are worth 1 point.
  • “5” spaces are worth 5 points.
  • “10” spaces are unsurprisingly worth 10 points.

Players add together the scores of their two boards to get their final score.  The player with the lowest score wins. There is no tiebreaker; all tied players win the game.

My thoughts on the game

Kodama Forest is an interesting game that requires players to compete with the opponents while working in conjunction with at least their neighbors.  It is super easy to learn, and though the box says 14+ for player age (likely for safety reasons), this is the sort of game that you could play with a younger gamer.

The artwork (excellently done by Kwanchai Moriya) matches that of the other games in the family (Kodama, Kodama Forest, Kodama 3D, Kodama Duo) with happy cartoonish Kodama figures on the box and boards.  Rules are clearly laid out, and while the rulebook is 8 pages long, the text of the rules could have easily fit on 3 – that’s how few rules there are!  The rest of the space is filled with helpful illustrations and examples.

The forest tiles are of different sizes, and this does bring up an interesting quandary when drawing tiles – how much time do you let people dig their hands around the bag to get the required shape/size tile that they need?  As one of the goals of the game is to cover up as much board space as possible, there is certainly some incentive to get a larger 5 square tile when you need to fill up space.  Or, if you have a particularly crowded board, you might need a specific shape to snake your way thru a convoluted open path.  In any event, we have just decided to grab the first two tiles we grasp, without spending any time thinking or feeling around in the bag. 

Some of the different shaped tiles

I have had some experience with similar games, and overall, my thoughts on those games are echoed here.  In general, the game works if all players are of equal ability.  If there is a large disparity in ability, OR if one player just doesn’t do well working with others, the game will be quite frustrating as that player and each of his/her neighbors have a huge handicap in the game.  Due to the specifics of the scoring system, this game doesn’t fail completely for me (unlike Between Two Cities) as your score is determined by both of your boards.  So, if you were paired with a player of lesser ability on your left, you wouldn’t be completely eliminated, though it would still be quite difficult to win.  Additionally, this game provides both beginner and expert player boards – this is at least one other way that the game could be handicapped to make things even.

The beginner board seems to be challenging enough (all 6 of these are identical), but the other board layouts are nice as they can be used to change things up a bit.  While the overall strategy would likely stay the same, it can be an interesting puzzle to learn how to deal with the different sized nooks and crannies of each layout.

Two of the advanced layouts

I have enjoyed my first few plays of the game, but the push-pull of the cooperation-competition doesn’t really suit me – though that is not specifically this game, but the mechanism in general.  Further, the strict left-right binding presents problems in many situations – this could limit how often I would be able to play the game outside of my usual group.  But, for less serious gaming, or perhaps family gaming, this would be a nice fit.  Again, don’t let the age range on the box sway you from this one – I think this would be a great fit for kids, families and casual game nights.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it.
  • Neutral. Dale Y
  • 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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