Board Game Review – Kodama: The Tree Spirits

Overview

Quick Facts

Designer: Daniel Solis
Genre: Card Drafting, Set Collection
Players: 2-5
Time: 20-40 minutes

As a masterful gardener, you’ve tended to all types of trees – big and small, exotic and commonplace… but you never expected to find yourself taking care of the Kodama, the tiny, plushy tree spirits that watch over the forest.  The Kodama can be shy or they can be finicky, often preferring trees that are home to certain flora or fauna, or those from which they can get a good view of the night sky.  You, along with several other gardeners of similar caliber, will have to grow trees that can best support your new tree-dwelling friends and keep them happy so that they in turn will keep the forest healthy.

Kodama: The Tree Spirits is a spiritual (ha!) successor to Kigi, from the same designer, Daniel Solis.  In Kodama, players are each trying to grow a tree that will best house the Kodama, the small tree spirits who live in this forest.  To do this, they’ll need to play branches to their trees with elements matching those already existing on the tree, along with well-timed use of the Kodama’s special abilities.  Will you be the best caretaker of the Kodama?

Gameplay

Kodama: The Tree Spirits is a family-weight game of card drafting and building.  In fact, there are even special Kodama cards that can be used when playing with children, so it can be accessible for the whole family!

IMG_1334To begin, each player is randomly dealt a Trunk card, depicting their tree trunk as well as one of the six features of the game — caterpillars, clouds, fireflies, flowers, mushrooms, and stars.  The trunk card is placed at the edge of the table, and branches added to the tree can’t extend past the table edge (they can’t grow underground, after all!).  Players are also dealt four Kodama cards which can be used to score extra points during the game.  To set up the board, the Season token is placed next to the Spring track, and the player tokens matching each player’s trunk feature are placed at the bottom of each of the score columns  (the left side is for tens and the right side is for ones).  The first player token goes to the player wearing the most green, four Branch cards are revealed and placed face up on the table, and the game is ready to begin!

Kodama is played over three seasons (Spring, Summer, and Fall), and each season has three phases.  The Decree phase begins each season.  At this time, a Decree card from the respective season deck is revealed, which gives extra scoring conditions or other special rules for that season.  For instance, each branch card played directly on your trunk gives an extra point, or clouds can be scored as mushrooms for this season.  Once the Decree phase is over, the game moves into the Growing phase.

During the Growing phase, players take turns choosing one of the four revealed Branch cards and add it to their tree, scoring points in the process.  IMG_1345Branches are added to the trunk or a previously played branch, making it look like a growing tree, and ensuring that the newly placed Branch only touches one other card to let the tree grow upwards and outward.  The way scoring works is that you trace a path from the newly-placed branch to the trunk of the tree and score points for each feature that can be chained between one or more cards in the process.  For example, if you play a card with a caterpillar and two fireflies, the next branch has a firefly, a caterpillar, and a mushroom, and the trunk has a caterpillar, you would score 3 points for caterpillars and 3 points for fireflies, for a total of 6 points.  The total points scored for adding a branch is very important, because you can never play a branch card that would lead to scoring more than 10 points.  This helps prevent trees from just being a single branch focusing on one or two features for maximum scoring potential.  After all players have placed four new branches on their tree, the Growing phase for the current season ends.

IMG_1344The last phase of the season is the Kodama phase.  During this phase, players can play one of the Kodama cards from their hand to score points.  Some Kodama cards give points for branches that have certain features, or that match the feature on your trunk, or that are adjacent to other branches with certain features, and so forth.  Since you have all four of your Kodama cards from the beginning of the game, you can plan on which to work towards, since only three of them will ultimately get used.  After all players have played a Kodama card, the first player token passes to the player with the lowest score, and then the next season begins, going through the Decree, Growing, and Kodama phases once more.  At the end of the third season, the game is over and the player with the highest score wins!

Amber’s Review

Gameplay/Mechanics: 7
Theme & Integration: 8
Components & Artwork: 8
Scalability: 7
Fun Factor:7

Overall: 7.4

Kodama is an adorable game that has a lot of visual appeal.  The card art is very whimsical and the Kodama spirits sprinkled throughout the art is quite nice.  The gameplay is pretty simple and could be good for the entire family.  While there is a bit of strategy involved in the game, there is a lot of luck in the flip of the cards, which can make or break some of your branches.  The Kodama cards usually sway your strategy as well, so there is some variability to the way that the game is played.  Overall, this is a light, simple game that can be taught quite easily and appeal to many ages of gamers.

  • Pros:
    • Whimsical art
    • Easy to teach
    • Good for many ages
  • Cons
    • Some luck based
    • Fairly simple game (which may turn off some gamers)

Ethan’s Review

Gameplay/Mechanics: 7
Theme & Integration: 9
Components & Artwork: 8
Scalability: 8
Fun Factor: 7

Overall: 7.8

Kodama is certainly a visually appealing game, and I can see why Action Phase encourages people to post or tweet their final tree-ations — just looking at this game in progress is enough to intrigue people or make them wonder what you’re playing.  And for the most part, the game plays out just like it looks.  It really does feel like you’re building and creating a tree that’s home to fireflies, flowers, caterpillars… and most importantly, the Kodama.  Unfortunately, one of the issues I have with this game are the titular Kodama cards, which provide opportunities for extra scoring and most likely dictate your strategy for the game.  They do offer varying amounts of points for things, and feel like they could be a bit off-balanced if you ended up with a really bad hand of them.  For instance, there’s a card that gives 2 points for each different feature on cards touching your trunk, which would be a maximum of 12 points (6 different features), but another card gives 4 points for each card with your trunk feature within two cards of the trunk, which could potentially give 20 points or more.  However, In the games I’ve played scores seemed fairly close, so this may be a non-issue.  I also do like the decree cards that change things up from season to season and game to game — I always like things that add variability between games.  This is also probably good as a family friendly game with the children’s Kodama cards and peaceful artwork.  Altogether, Kodama is a beautiful game that can be enjoyed by all!

  • Pros:
    • Very visually appealing
    • Family friendly
  • Cons
    • Kodama cards can be slightly unbalanced
    • Some luck of the draw with branch cards

Kodama: The Tree Spirits on BGG

Buy Kodama on CoolStuffInc for $12.99

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