Dale Yu: First Impressions of Kyoto

Kyoto

  • Designers: Sabine Harrer and Johannes Krenner
  • Publisher: Pegasus Spiele / Deep Print Games
  • Players: 3-6
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: ~45 minutes
  • Review copy provided by Pegasus Spiele

Kyoto

Kyoto is a “Climate Game” – In this game, players are meeting at a climate conference and each player represents a country, trying to both look out for the best for the environment as well as the best for their country.   This is based on the real life Kyoto Protocol: “In short, the Kyoto Protocol operationalizes the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change by committing industrialized countries and economies in transition to limit and reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions in accordance with agreed individual targets”

The summary of the game from the publisher: As delegates from different countries, players face a few quick rounds of negotiation at a climate conference. Together, they try to hit reduction targets and provide the needed funding, knowing that each round they fail to do so they inflict severe damage on the planet. But bent on preserving their own country’s wealth and following their secret agendas, none of them may be eager to give more than absolutely necessary. After all, the winner will be whoever best preserves their wealth…unless the impending damage to earth becomes too severe, in which case the conference fails immediately and the greediest player can’t win.

The board shows three types of possible environmental damage – animal extinction, global warming and air pollution.  There is a deck of 48 affluence cards (golf courses, factory farming, smartphones, etc) which show what sort of climate damage is done by this card and how much CO2 emissions are associated with it. 

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There are also agenda cards which are distributed to each player to give them secret and personal goals (you will get 3 and discard one in setup).

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The game is played over 12 rounds, each following the same 4 phases.  First, the speaker (starting player for the round) gets $2M from the environmental fund and then takes back any affluence cards that are under his flag (having been put there from previous negotiations).

Then, in the study phase, the speaker draws two study cards, discards one secretly and places the other in the lectern.  The other players can see the top 2/3 of the card which outline the goals of the round – what sort of reduction is needed and how much funding is required as well as some visible impacts which will happen if the goals are not met.  The hidden impacts on the bottom of the card cannot be seen as they are hidden by the lectern – only the current speaker will know this information.  

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Now, in the contribution/negotiation stage, someone sets a 90 second timer on their phone, and in this time, all players have a chance to discuss, negotiate, and play cards in order to meet the shared goals for the round (as noted on the study card on the lectern).  Players can play up to 2 affluence cards from their hand – giving up either co2 value or type of damage as seen on the card.  Once played, the card can only be removed if someone else bribes you to remove it.  Players can also contribute their money towards the group funding goal.  Finally, you can bribe another country to either play a specific card or retract a card that has been already played. Why would you bribe someone?  Well your agenda card may require certain cards to be played or NOT played – and 

Of course, no one really wants to play cards or give up money because you will need them at the end of the game for scoring.

Once the timer is complete, then see if the group has met the goals from the study card.  Look at the cards and money on the table and see if enough has been played.  The speaker then takes the needed cards (can choose any he wants from those played) and the needed money.  Any unchosen cards are placed facedown under the owner’s lectern and any unchosen money is taken back into that player’s personal supply.  The study card is discarded facedown (and no one but the speaker will ever know the hidden effects).

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However, if the demands are not met, bad things happen.  First, all played cards are put under the owner’s flag and all money is taken back. Then, the study card is revealed and the visible and hidden effects are all resolved.  This might mean flipping an animal token over (something went extinct), flipping a blue themometer piece over to red (global warming), or flipping a cloud over (for air pollution).  If the thermometer piece or cloud has another impact icon on its bad side, that must also be done now.  The game ends prematurely if any of the three environmental issues are all on their bad side.  Otherwise, another round is played until the study deck is exhausted (12 rounds total).

When the game ends, there is a final scoring.  You first score one point for each affluence card you have remaining in your hand or under your flag card.  Then, you score points for each of your two agenda cards that you kept at the beginning of the game.  Finally, the country with the most money left over gets 4 points, the country with the next most gets 2 points, and the country with the next most gets 1 point. 

owever, unlike most games, the winner is not necessarily the one with the most points.  If the climate conference has succeeded – that is, the group was able to successfully play through the entire deck of study cards; then the highest score is the winner.  However, if the climate conference fails (as one of the three climate issues has reached a critical tipping point), then the “greediest” country; i.e. the one(s) with the highest point totals are excluded from winning.  The winner is then the highest score amongst the non-excluded countries.

My thoughts on the game

Kyoto is an interesting game with a topic that is timely and important for our world.  I’m generally not a fan of semi-cooperative games, and this game is not going to change my overall view of the genre – but it is both interesting and thought provoking – the issues depicted on the cards in the game represent real-life problems, and it was enlightening to see how many different angles there were.  The agenda cards also help to represent real life, showing players that external demands (lobbies, politics, money, etc) can shape how a country will behave.

It is surprising how quickly 90 seconds can go in the negotiation rounds.  I personally like to have the timer be set to the side so no one can see it – so that the end of the round is only known when the timer sounds.  This adds to the suspense of the round and makes people have to make big decisions without being able to use the timer to wait out their opponents.  Sure, a good part of the game is playing chicken – you’d obviously prefer that someone else play a card or use their money – because after all, these things are what generate victory points for you at the end of the game.

The scoring system cleverly prevents players from outright sandbagging though because there is no benefit to holding on to everything if the study demands are not met.  Additionally, the fact that some of the thermometer and cloud pieces can cause additional climate changes when they are flipped over causes a fair bit of tension as the game moves towards the final third – at that point, the game might be able to end on any particular turn

Also, there is a bit of strategy to be used when you are the Speaker.  As you get to choose which cards and money are actually used (if the round is a success), you can sometimes put people in situations they do not want to be in.  Also, knowing the hidden effects for the round can perhaps give you a bit of insider knowledge to help you decide how much (if any) to contribute to that round.

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The art and information on the cards is good, and I found a surprising amount of education to be had while reading through the cards.  I also love the fact that the game keeps to modern expectations by providing storage solutions for the bits.  Normally, I’d expect a set of plastic bags; but here, Kyoto provides you with an environmentally friendly cardboard box that you must construct yourself!  The game is still shrinkwrapped in plastic, but every little bit helps!

For those that like negotiation or semi-cooperative games, this would be a great fit.  Also for those looking for a bit of politics and/or education in their games – this would also be good to try.  Like participating in a Model UN as a high schooler, playing this game shows you that it is not always a simple decision for a country when trying to decide how to work on improving the environment; there are many other factors that contribute to the decision.  For me, I’m glad to have had a chance to play it, though this is one I’ll likely try to donate to a school or library when it’s all said and done.

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

 

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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