Kohaku (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  • Designers: Danny Devine
  • Artists: Danny Devine
  • Publisher: 25th Century Games & Gold Seal Games
  • Players: 1-4
  • Time: 30-45 Minutes
  • Times Played: 3

Koi ponds are relaxing and can be quite beautiful. Unless of course you don’t like the smell of a fish pond, but we’ll pretend that it doesn’t bother you. Lilly pads with koi swimming around in a clear water pond, dragon flies buzzing the surface, frogs and turtles enjoying the water life as well. I’d write a Haiku, but alas, I don’t have a poetic bone in my body, at least that I have found yet. 

What better way to enjoy that thematic trip through the mind than by creating a competitive koi pond building game. Is it relaxing? Or will it drown you in tension and unwanted pests brought by the water? 

In Kohaku, players are competing to build the best koi pond around. Kohaku plays one to four players, but I won’t be touching on the solo mode, if I ever decide to play that, I’ll be sure to add on to the review here, or write it up as something separate, but as it is, no solo play for me. On a turn, players will be selecting two tiles, one koi tile and one feature tile from the offering in the middle of the table. 

The offering very specifically is alternating one koi and one feature. When selecting you must select one of each and the tiles must be adjacent to each other. When you select tiles on the outside, the tiles from the interior rotate out, filling the appropriate spots, and a new koi tile and a new feature tile are placed on the board for the next player to select from. 

WIth those two tiles, you are going to be building your koi pond. The first two tiles that you place will have to be adjacent to each other, but from your next turn on, you only have to place according to the alternating tiles rule, no two koi, nor two features may be side by side in your pond. 

The Feature tiles are what you will be scoring at the end of the game. For the most part they tell you what you want to be surrounding them with. Flowers want fish of the same color (multi-colored fish count as both colors) on the four adjacent spots, no diagonals here. Butterflies want fish of the same color in the row and column. Frogs want dragonflies, rocks want baby fish, statues just want to be surrounded and turtles don’t care, they just love to float around and gain points. 

Kohaku will end when there are no more koi tiles to add to the offering mat. In a two player game this will be after fourteen rounds, in a three or four player game that will be after twelve rounds. At this point, all there is left to do is add up points and see who built the best koi pond, and that person would be the one who scored the most points. 

I first discovered the designs of Danny Devine when I played Topiary three years or so ago, and I really enjoyed it. It was a bit different than Kohaku in that it was very confrontational, with lots of messing with opposing players. Ultimately though it was as simple to play and learn as Kohaku. Which seems to be a good spot for Danny, Sprawlopolis, Circle the Wagons and Harvest Dice are also fantastic games that are easy to jump into and make for some great family game play. 

While Topiary was intentionally confrontational, Kohaku seems to be intentionally non-confrontational. There can be some moments where you draft something that others want, or draft in a way that breaks up some tiles that folks would rather get together but for the most part, Kohaku is a solitaire puzzle. In this instance, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I know, I am always the person railing against games that actively push folks away from interaction, but Kohaku manages to make it work. Maybe it is the theme this time around, maybe I am buying into that peaceful setting and building the koi pond. 

I don’t know if Danny is a mathematician by trade or if they just managed to find a developer to help out that is, but Kohaku seems to be super balanced. Our first game first and third place was separated by one point, second play by five and the third game by fourteen. The third game was probably an outlier as our third place finisher was trying to build things a bit differently and just build what he wanted it to look like. Even then, staying within fourteen points may seem like you can’t do any wrong, but I think that you can, and I think that careful drafting and planning will always win out over just building a pleasing aesthetic, as it always should. 

Production is out of the park, and maybe even a bit over produced thanks to Kickstarter. All the tiles are a clear acrylic with the artwork painted inside, giving everything that look of clear water. My only complaint about it was that I had to peel protective plastic off of each of the one hundred and twenty tiles, front and back. It’s most definitely a first world complaint, and one that I give firmly with tongue planted in cheek. The addition of the neoprene offering pond is also really nice, no cardboard here. Although I do question the need for a score track on it, as we all did our scoring on our phones at the end of the game. Maybe it’s there for solo play, I don’t know. 

All in all, I am wonderfully happy that I jumped in and picked up the “Deluxe” version of Kohaku as soon as I saw it available in stores. It touches on so many things that I really like, tile placement games where you are building your own personal boards, unique ways of scoring that change each game and simple easy to teach rules that make this a wonderful way to spend thirty to forty five minutes on a  family game night, or even a game group night as I think that it has a lot to offer. Honestly, it’s also really, really pretty on the table while you are playing and that’s just the icing on the cake. 

Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it. Brandon Kempf, Steph Hodge

I like it. 

Neutral. 

Not for me…  

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