Reviewed by Herb Levy
KANAGAWA (Iello Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, 45 minutes; $29.99)
One of the beauties of Asian culture is the art. Classic Asian art filled with landscapes, animals, buildings and people can be delicate, serene and exquisite. Such is the world of Master Hokusai who, in 1840, has decided to open a school of painting to teach his disciples the skills of his art. In Kanagawa, the new game from Bruno Cathala and Charles Chevallier (with artwork by Jade Mosch), players are these disciples seeking – and competing – to develop and sharpen their own skills and create artwork worthy of the master.
All players begin with an initial tile which represents (at the top) the first panel of their mural they will create. The bottom (which serves as their “studio”) shows symbols for 2 brushes (each player’s initial supply of solid, three-dimensional brush pawns), a movement icon (which allows a brush to be moved) and type of landscape a player may paint (represented by different colors: black, blue, yellow and green). Cards, like the initial tile, show part of a mural as well as a paint color (and, possibly, a few icons) and these cards will be available for choosing each round as they are placed on a bamboo play mat. There are also bonus tiles available (aka “diplomas”) which will be awarded to the artist who completes certain objectives.
On a turn, the active player (randomly chosen) receives the first player marker and will place cards onto the mat, one card per player. As specified on the mat, cards will be placed face up (on the light spaces) and face down (on the dark). The backs of the cards are color coded so you will have an idea what scene will appear on the card (green, for example, indicates trees, yellow buildings etc.) but the specifics for the cards played face down remain unknown for the present. Up to three rows may be available. After each row is filled, a player may, if he or she wishes, claim an entire COLUMN of cards. If unclaimed, more cards are placed. If all three rows of the mat are filled, then players MUST choose a column. Collected cards must now be placed.
All cards have two parts: the right side available to be added to the mural, the left that may be added to a player’s “studio” as “lessons”.
The mural side will show a season (winter, spring, summer or fall and sometimes a “storm” which can be very valuable in end game scoring) and often an item (building, tree, person or animal) and/or “harmony points” (i.e. Victory Points). There will also be an indication of what type of landscape (color) is needed to “paint” that section so as to add it to the artwork. Most often one but sometimes two of a color is needed. A player must have and/or be able to place his brush (or brushes) on matching colors in his studio to add that card to his mural. If unable or unwilling to do so, that card gets turned and placed in that player’s studio instead.
The “lesson” part of the card shows a landscape (color) that a player may use immediately once placed. There may also be an icon (or two) that will give the player “harmony points” or another brush or the ability to hold a card in hand without having to immediately play it or control of the first person marker.
As the murals and studios of the players grow, they will become more accomplished in their artistic skills and be able to claim “diplomas”. In game terms, this means players will be able to claim bonus Victory Point tokens for accumulating additional brushes, painting certain numbers of trees, buildings, people etc., having multiples of the same color in their studios and more. There are at least two diplomas in each category with ascending point totals for more of a particular “skill”. If a player has met a goal set by a diploma, that diploma may be claimed immediately. Should a player decide to “hold out” for a higher scoring tile in that category (possibly because it will reward the claiming player with more harmony or that first player token or a “storm cloud” token), that player may not later decide to go back and take the lesser diploma. There is no limit to how many cards may be placed in a player’s studio but once someone’s artwork has reached or exceeded 11 tiles (including the first tile), the game ends and scores are calculated.
Players receive 1 point for every tile in their mural. They will also receive 1 point for each CONSECUTIVE tile that shows the same season. Storms on cards are considered “wild” and will match ANY season. Storm tiles in a player’s possession (because of a claimed diploma) are placed NOW to fill in any gap between seasons. To this total is added all of the harmony points shown on all cards (art or studio) AND points on diploma tiles held. Finally, the player left with the first player marker gets an additional 2 points. High scorer has proven him (or her) self worthy of the Grand Master and wins the game!
Winning Kanagawa depends heavily on choosing the right cards for your mural but these choices are not as easy as they seem. Many cards are face up but the ones, face down, only give you a glimpse of what the card may hold. The backs of the cards are color coded (and design coded) to indicate what you MAY find on the front (trees, buildings, people etc.) but nothing is a sure thing. Cards with a wild storm (season) will show NOTHING else on the card, for example. Sometimes, you are better off choosing cards to build up your studio to get more colors to use, more brushes and more movement points to shift those brushes around. There are “wilds” which can be used as ANY color in placing tiles but each one of these will COST you 2 harmony points in final scoring! You could take a less than optimum column of cards to prevent your opponent from completing a mural section that will reward him with a diploma (and its “harmony points”) or a large scoring season run. But at what cost? Perhaps it is better to concentrate on your own scoring opportunities instead. A little zen can go a long way here. It is these choices that make the game continually interesting.
From the “bamboo play mat” to the paint brush tokens to the lovely artwork, Kanagawa artfully crafts a certain Asian ambiance. Kanagawa is pleasing to the eye and manages to make elegant artwork compliment an elegant game design, a winning combination. – – – – Herb Levy
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