Feb 27, 2018

[Games] Kodama: The Tree Spirits Review

As much as we love the big strategy games that play for about an hour at a time, our game collection still includes various shorter games with creative game mechanics as bridge games between the big boys. Plus games like these are essential when regularly try to introduce the hobby to new players.

Kodama:  The Tree Spirits is a deceptively simple game with some clever mechanics that make every game interesting. But it also makes sure that it remains accessible to a wider "family" audience. And we do found ourselves playing this game over and over again.

The card mechanic isn't entirely new as we also encountered it in the card game Building an Elder God. But there players built a strange horrific creature while here we're all growing happy little trees. Similar game mechanic but a totally diferent game experience on the whole.

This is why tabletop gaming is crazy amazing when you take time to appreciate it.

Kodama: The Tree Spirits is a more abstract card game to some degree as designed by Daniel Solis. The game supports 2-5 players and can be finished in a little over 30 minutes.

Players act as the caretakers of the Kodama or the tree spirits and we're trying to make the forest inviting and comfortable to these spirits. To do these players take turns selecting one of the available cards representing segments of your tree. You need to place the card such that it only touches one other card and it doesn't cover any features on it.

And that's where the game really lies - in creating chains of features as you grow your trees. Every card added to your tree is scored based on the features that can be found on the card you just played going down to the trunk in an uninterrupted line. But you also can't score more than 10 points in a turn given the placement rules, otherwise everyone would end up with beanstalk. The game is played across seasons that are each modified by a special season rule and at the end of the season we play a Kodama card from our had to see how that tree spirit would score your creation.

What I Like: The card-laying, tree-growing mechanic can seem simple but then in practice it gets wonderfully complex. The limitations on card placement and possible scoring all make for tricky conditions for playing cards - and that's not even factoring the Kodama cards that you have in your hand that you hope to score. You need to plan out your tree to give you as many points in a single turn but also sets up possible scoring across the seasons until you get to the end. And that's such a great feature.

Plus at times you end up just wanting to challenge yourself to make the most of a card, like when you try to have 3 cards branching out of a prior one apart from your trunk. You have all these efforts to make the most points based on your 10 point ceiling but also be prepared to capitalize on quirky opportunities that come along with the next season. It's all quite well done.

What Could Have Been Better: The card art is relatively cute but I sort of wish for more. The tree cards themselves are okay enough and support the card mechanic, but I also sort of wish the features stood out more. This is especially true when you get down to the scoring board and how the tokens can get a little confusing due to their relative similarity.

And then there are some silly season cards that don't really have that big impact on things. And given it sort of looms over the whole round, then you kind of expect these season cards to have a lot more impact. And then there was the weird aspect of the starter Kodama, which is just silly. We always skip them even with new players and just focus on the regular Kodama cards.

TL;DR: Kodama: The Tree Spirits is a clever game that will force you to exercise your spatial reasoning skills along with your mathematical ability given the need to score every time. Play it just because you like making pretty trees or because you like the challenge of scoring no matter what cards come along. Thus the game gets a good 3.5 playful Kodama spirits out of a possible 5.

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