Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Thursday 14 February 2019

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Kodama Duo

Game: Kodama Duo

Publisher: Action Phase Games, Indie Boards & Cards

Designer:  Nick Little (I), Daniel Solis

Year: 2018

Kodama Duo is a two-player only version of Kodama: The Tree Spirits - a very charming card drafting and tile-laying game. Kodama Duo funded on Kickstarter during 2018, perhaps connecting with a new audience after the success of the roll and write spin-off, Kokoro, or maybe because it has the potential to expand Kodama to 6 players.

Kodama: The Tree Spirits played 2-5 players and we were very happy to play it as a two-player game, so what does the new Kodama Duo have to offer and should you replace your copy of the original game if your gaming situation is always two-player?

Kodama Duo has many similarities with the original game, however I'll briefly explain the premise for new players. Each player is building their own personal tree, starting with a trunk and then drafting branch cards that can be laid in as many different branches as you can fit around the trunk. Each card will have a number of different features and every time you place a new branch card you'll score points based upon tracing back each feature along the branch card. For example, f you place a card with a caterpillar and a mushroom then you'll look back along the branch you chose and count all of the caterpillar and mushrooms, that you can connect. If a card without the feature breaks the chain then it's not connected. In each round you'll place four new branch cards and then have a scoring of your Kodama cards, which give you a larger scoring opportunity based on the current overall state of your tree, for example 3 points per card with a firefly. At the end of 3 rounds, the player with the most points wins.

Kodama Duo does not change the basic formula of the game - it just changes two things. Firstly, the way that you draft cards has been modified for two players, to be more of an 'I split, you choose' mechanism. Three cards are dealt and one player creates a pair and a single card. the other player then gets first pick of one card from one pile or the other. There is a negative if you pick from the pair rather than the single card. The second change is that the player who takes the single, also gets the chance to pick a cardboard feature token and place it over another feature on their tree. This could be used to create a longer chain of matching features of one type. These two changes are complimented by a new set of Kodama cards and Season cards, which both feed off the new drafting mechanisms and the existence of the feature tokens.

Kodama Duo really tickles my brain and gives me far more interesting decisions than its predecessor. I love how the new card decks have really focused on mechanics that are new to the game, which makes it feel like a really fresh design. It changes something that you could consider to be a tweak, into something revolutionary. So far we've identified some great combos and fun wacky strategies that arise from combinations of certain season cards with certain Kodama cards, and I'm hoping we find more. The feature tokens also give the game a chance to be a little more high scoring, and much like with my love of 'big money' expansions, a new big money version always makes me happy by comparison. The feature tokens also encourage a little more player interaction, since you can steal them from your opponent's tree. You might not really understand which tokens they want, or why they've hoarded 4 tokens on one card, but if you think something is up then you can try to take an action that might upset their plans.

More and more recently I've found myself getting frustrated by drafting games with an open draft where you flip over a card/tile from the top of the stack at the end of your turn. I spend time agonising over whether to take something because it's really good for the other player, only to flip over something even better for them. I'm really glad that this is part of Kodama that was changed for Kodama Duo. Now the draft is full of agonising decisions where you try and manipulate and out-think your opponent. It steps up another notch when you draw the season cards that mean you put one card face down for the draft. If it's the one where the splitter can peak, then you have to decide if they're bluffing or double bluffing and it's so much more fun! The rules also note that you can now introduce drafting to the multi-player game, but the draft still has you picking up a card from the top of the pile each turn, so for me, it still doesn't sound like a good closed draft with high potential for player interaction.

Kodama Duo is not better because it's a better two player game than the original. Kodama Duo is simply a better game, period. It seems like the game has been refined and perhaps focused slightly more on appealing to gamers. Much like the relationship of Honshu and Hokkaido, another pair of games where one updated the other, it seems that designers are realising that closed drafting gives players far more control and satisfaction than the randomness of even an open draft.

We're definitely keeping Kodama Duo and will always choose it for two-players. We'll probably also keep Kodama because it is the kind of cute, accessible game that we use to introduce new players. Fortunately, we'll be able to keep both in the same box. If you play with two and don't need another gateway card game, then I would definitely recommend getting Kodama Duo - I don't think most people need to spend £35+ to have both.

For the Yellow Meeple, Kodama Duo is one of my new favourite two player games and it's an 8/10.

Kodama Duo was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £18.99 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk/.

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