Review by: Jillian Schmett
Hey everyone! This week I wanted to talk about two games that, although they don’t share a designer, they are set in the same universe, have illustrations by the same artist, and are both published by Indie Boards & Cards. Kodama: The Tree Spirits and Kokoro: Avenue of the Kodama have been seeing a lot of play at my table lately. I received Kokoro from my husband for Christmas and after the first play I knew it was going to be one of my favorites. When I realized that there was actually another game with the same art and characters I was intrigued. I just finally picked up a copy of Kodama a couple weeks ago and we have already played it a bunch of times.
I’ll start with Kodama: The Tree Spirits, since it was released first. Designed by Daniel Solis and published in 2016, Kodama is a 2-5 player game that plays in about 30 minutes in which players assume the role of caretakers for the Kodama. (If you haven’t gathered as much by now, the Kodama are the little tree spirits who live in the forest. They have a very Lorax-y vibe about them to me.) At the beginning of the game each player is given a starting trunk card. Branch cards are laid out face up on the table for players to take turns picking up. Cards have different features on them, such as clouds, fireflies, caterpillars, flowers, etc. Each turn, players will be growing their tree by selecting and placing branch cards to fit onto their trees. Cards must follow certain placement rules in order to be legal and score points. Every time a card is placed, points are awarded for each instance of the features in that contiguous line of cards leading back to the trunk. There are also decree cards(which change each round and will introduce a special rule for players to follow during that round) and Kodama cards which are dealt to each player and are played at the end of each round and allow for special individual secret scoring objectives.
Kokoro: Avenue of the Kodama was designed by Eilif Svensson and Kristian Amundsen Østby and released in 2017. It is for 1-8 players and plays fairly quickly, usually taking about 15 minutes. It is actually a reskin of the game Avenue. There were a few changes from the original but for the most part the game play is the same. Each player is given a gridded play mat and a dry erase marker. The game is played over 5 rounds. Each round, a Sanctuary will be revealed that will be scored at the end of that round. Each turn in the round, a path card will be revealed and all players will add that path to their mats. Points are awarded for connecting caterpillar and flower icons that appear on the play mat to the sanctuaries by drawing in the paths. Some cards in the deck are golden path cards, and the round ends after the 4th golden path card is revealed, and the sanctuary is scored. Players must score higher than they did on the previous round, or else they will receive 0 points (for instance, if a player scores 5 points the first round, but only 3 points the second round, they will write a 0 in the score box for the second round). Bonus points are awarded for connecting caterpillars to the Caterpillar Guardian in the top left corner and for connecting flowers to the Flower Guardian in the bottom right corner at the end of the game.
The first thing I need to talk about is the artwork in both of these games. Kwanchai Moriya did the illustrations for both, and they are absolutely adorable and gorgeous! Kodama especially stands out to me in this aspect, since you are really looking at the art throughout the game while growing your tree. Branches are set against a night sky with fireflies and mushrooms and all kinds of things that feel whimsical without feeling too silly. This art paired with the laid-back mechanics make for an extremely relaxing gaming experience. I’ve really enjoyed playing this on weeknights when the kids are in bed, a baseball game is on the TV, and we don’t really feel up to setting up and playing a long game. Set up and break down are very quick and easy so it’s easy to take out and play quickly whenever we want. It’s a light game but the Kodama special scoring cards that allow you to gain bonus points give you an indivual objective to work for and really increases the amount of choices you have. There is also a score marker card that has an image of a Kodama sitting in a swing on the front that you can place in your tree branches at the end and it is so cute. At the end of each game I find myself wishing I could have a little pet Kodama. The game is simple enough for kids and non-gamers to pick up fairly quickly and I am happy to have finally added it to my collection.
Kokoro also has the adorable little Kodama characters featured although not as prominently. They are on the front of the box and the path cards but do not appear on the player mat, which is what you’ll be looking at most of the time while trying to decide where to place your paths. This doesn’t take away from the game in any way and I still enjoy it very much. I consider this a roll-and-write game, even though there aren’t any dice. Flipping the cards and deciding where to fill in the paths has the same exact feel as a roll-and-write and I’m sticking to my guns on this one. I have never played Avenue, but I did watch Rahdo play a game once.
The major changes in this reskin, apart from the theme, seem to be in components. Pads of paper and pencils have been replaced with dry erase boards and markers, which is an improvement. There is also another grid on the back side of the play mats with an alternate layout for the sanctuaries which provides some increased variability, although the game is already very different every time you play it since it changes with which sanctuaries and paths are drawn, in which order, and where you choose to play them. Roll-and-write is one of my favorite genres recently. I am not generally a solo gamer, but I don’t mind playing these style games by myself and trying to beat my score since it feels like I’m trying to solve a puzzle each time. Kokoro is no exception and I enjoy every time I play. I foresee this game getting a lot of plays for a very long time and I’m glad to have it in my collection.
Have you played either or both of these games? What do you think of them? Leave me a comment and let me know!
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