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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Tuesday 7 April 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Ka Pai

Game: Ka Pai

Publisher: White Goblin Games

Designer: Mads Fløe

Year: 2019

Ka Pai is a roll and write game which released with it's first expansion, Ranu, at Essen 2019. In this roll and write, you'll roll dice, but they'll offer you geometric shapes rather than numbers. Perhaps slightly unfortunately, the game has been given the unnecessary theme of Maori tribes, which is enough to drive some people away. The game is completely abstract though, so the theme could be anything.

This roll and write is mainly about making routes between the different totems of the board and creating groups of the different shapes (tribes). It's simple, but different enough from a lot of other numerical roll and write games and with expansions to dig into straight away, as well as more to come, there's lots to try in Ka Pai.

As well as whole host of expansions for Ka Pai coming in 2020 (according to BGG), the designer has also re-themed one of his games and made it free to play during the current Covid-19 crisis. Vaccine is available to download with links on BGG.


Each player will be handed a pencil and a pad to draw on. Every turn one player will roll the two unique dice, this dictates what can be drawn. If the two dice are different shapes then each player gets to decide which shape to draw. If a pair of the same shape is rolled then all players must draw two of that shape. And, not only that, but if at all possible the two identical shapes must be placed in adjacent spaces on the pad. The rules for drawing shapes are simple: Each shape must be drawn next to an already drawn shape on your pad. The first shape can be drawn anywhere. There are some spaces on the pads which are blocked, these are represented by grey squares or the 5 coloured totems.

Whenever you successfully draw 3 of the same symbol in a row you must immediately circle them, like you would in a word search. At the end of the game, each encircled triplet rewards you points, with more points being rewarded for the rarer symbols. The slash symbols are an exception to this rule, they are worth no points, but every time you complete a triplet of slashes you get to fill in a bonus box of your choice. These bonuses essentially increase the value of one of the symbols by one, with up to four bonuses per symbol. You could essentially make the originally pointless slashes worth four points per triplet!

The final thing you can earn points from are the totems. These totems award points based on the number of them that are connected at the end of the game. But you can't just connect them willy-nilly. Each totem must connect to the next totem by a path of only one symbol. You can connect red to green with triangles and then green to blue with squares, so long as you don't have to change symbol between totems. The game will end when all players have filled their pads, which should be simultaneous, at which point scores are added up and the winner revealed.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Ka Pai is a game which takes some time to ramp up. You start the game with no plan, little threat of making mistakes and all the choice in the world. As the dice fall and your pad fills your choices start to run dry, certain faces are needed and risks must be taken. Sometimes they pay off, sometimes they don't, but everyone got the same luck so there's no use complaining! This is due to the playing area being extremely open, which means once you have spread out just a little you should be able to make use of almost any roll in the perfect position for you. There is very little challenge mid game as you can do pretty much anything you want and so long as you are capable of planning out your lines of triplets then you should be fine. This does, unfortunately, make the middle section of the game rather dull.

Fortunately this is not a mistake that went unnoticed. Enter the Ranu expansion: a set of 2 fresh pads for Ka Pai which drastically altar the game. Gameplay wise these pads both have specially marked boxes in which you must place specific symbols to get bonus points. On one, all 4 spaces need a unique symbol, while in the other you have to create 2 pairs. While these mechanics and the associated point rewards are enough to get you to alter your play style and consider placement a little more, the true joy comes from the maps themselves. They have less room in general, tighter corridors between totems forcing you to make commitments early and big empty spaces that you can't use in the middle of the map. Choices become much more critical all throughout the game. I'd go so far to say the Ranu expansion is essential, it makes the original game look like a 'first steps' tutorial for the real experience which you are now faced with.

Even with its essential expansion is Ka Pai a must-have roll and write? Well unfortunately not. It's
better, certainly, but there are so many roll and writes on the market these days and Ka Pai fails to stand out. The complete lack of theme does nothing to help it here, circles, triangles and squares aren't the most exciting thing in the world of tabletop games, the inclusion of a backslash does little to spice things up. Overall Ka Pai is a perfectly competent roll and write once suitable expanded but I'm faced with the reality that there are better roll and writes out there that don't force you to buy expansions to have a good time. With the Ranu expansion it's good, certainly above average, but the lack of theme drags it down.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Ka Pai is an interesting little roll and write. The playing area is small and you need to plan out your strategy quite carefully. There are certainly optimal routes available, but you've also got to be able to adapt to the dice rolls, keeping yourself flexible. The last thing you want is for a double to be rolled and you are forced to place it in an extremely sub-optimal location. The interest is really in puzzling out how you can create the most sets of three and in pushing your luck to take higher scoring symbols, even though they're less frequent on the dice faces.

There is one player sheet design in the base game and it is basically a fully square grid. Something about this makes the game really boring. It's so easy to decide where to place your symbols, there's no tricky corners to navigate and the scores end up pretty close at the end. It feels like the choices almost make themselves. Fortunately, the Ranu expansion adds two new maps - both of which are heads above the base game for interest level. Making the maps have a more intricate shape really limits how you can best lay out the optimal game. Hiding a totem right in a dead end means you have to make two totem-to-totem routes use the same symbol.

I like what Ka Pai does. It feels quite unique and there's lots of choices to make along the way that will lead players down diverging paths very early in the game. If you really put your mind to solving the puzzle to the best of your ability then some selections can be impressively excruciating. The base game is a bit of a snooze, but I really do love both Ranu boards and am looking forward to seeing more board to come.

You Might Like...
  • Ka Pai definitely has a new twist to it, with a good route building and set collection elements.
  • The bonus scoring makes for some interesting decisions.
  • The Ranu expansion...
You Might Not Like...
  • The chosen theme certainly caused a bit of controversy and could easily have been avoided.
  • The base game doesn't have the interest of the expansion and people who by the base game might miss out if they walk away.

The Verdict
6/10 Ka Pai is one of the more unique roll and writes in our collection. When you play with the Ranu maps, every decision feels really important and planning out your route to give yourself options is key. It's just such a shame that you need an expansion to unlock the potential of this game!

Ka Pai was a review copy kindly provided to us by Mads Fløe.

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