Full disclosure: A review copy of Kintsugi was provided by Button Shy Games.
So I’ve been a fan of Death Cab for Cutie for a while (don’t @ me) and their latest album, Kintsugi, surprised me because I had no idea what … that was. Looked it up, got interested in it (it’s a neat art form), and then later on saw that Button Shy had this wallet game available about it, as well. It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed anything from them (not since previewing Ahead in the Clouds + Turbo Drift), so here we are.
In Kintsugi, you’ll play the part of both artist and critic trying to put your fragments together while highlighting that they are better for having been broken. There’s something … kind of peaceful about that, even if you’re still competing to be the best. Will you be able to create something more than the sum of its parts? Or will you go to pieces?
Setup is pretty light, as with most Button Shy games, which is always nice. You’ve got some Fragment Cards:
There are also four Pottery Color Cards:
Shuffle both sets. Deal one Pottery Color card to each player. Flip one of the Fragment cards face-up and you’re ready to start!
So, Kintsugi is a Japanese art form where you take a broken piece of pottery and fix it with gold lacquer / gold in the epoxy to highlight the breakage. In Kintsugi, the game, you are repairing pottery on your own, but also working as an art critic for your opponent.
On your turn, flip a card from the top of the deck and place it so that it completely covers one section of the last card that was played. You may not cover another section of the last card played, but you may cover sections of the other cards below the last card played, if that happens.
The important thing to think about is how many sections of color you’re creating. A section is considered to be a contiguous block of one color that has no colors in between them other than the gold (since you’re repairing the pottery, it’s fine to have gold between the sections).
Once every card is played, you turn your eye to criticism! Now, look carefully at the cards played and try to guess what color your opponent has. If you’re playing the three-player game, you should guess the player on your left. Do this One Night Ultimate Werewolf-style and have all players say their guess simultaneously, then reveal.
Once you’ve revealed, each player scores their section, as mentioned (count groups, not each fragment). Then, if you guessed your opponent’s color correctly, subtract their score from yours. The player with the lowest score wins!
Player Count Differences
At two, it’s a lot easier to figure out what your opponent is playing at, in my opinion, and it’s also a bit easier to control the outcome of the game (since it has a lower likelihood of getting away from you). At three, you may get distracted by the player on your right when you’re trying to figure out what the player on your left has, or worse the other players may conspire to spread out your fragments further spatially in the play area. Honestly, though, I like playing with both player counts — three is more chaotic and two is a bit more strategic. You’ve just gotta be mindful of what you’re looking for when you play the game.
- Try not to split your fragments. As you might surmise, keeping your fragments connected means you’ll score fewer points, which is good. To that end, it’s usually a good idea to try to connect your fragments, rather than split them up, which is … kind of the entire game.
- Try to keep your Pottery Color Card secret. The above advice is good, but you can’t just make exclusively optimal plays for your color. Even if you do, you’ll likely end up with at least a point or two, and letting your opponent guess that correctly might put their score below yours. Generally it’s most useful if you make plays that are useful for multiple colors so it’s harder to tell which one you’re holding, in the hopes that you throw them off.
- A decent play is to create a large fragment of another color by covering a fragment of your color with another fragment of your color. This reduces the number of your fragments that are face-up on the table (meaning there’s fewer to split) while vaguely masking what your color is. Most people notice the large connected fragment being connected; they don’t pay attention to the one-for-one fragment swap you just did. Just … make sure that you don’t suspect the large fragment being created belongs to an opponent. It’s much easier to figure out which color a person has if they’re working on your color and their color. Process of elimination and all that.
- Steer the other players in the direction you want them to go. Letting the game progress too far in one direction means that splits made earlier in the game are harder to fix (and will generally lead toward higher-scoring games). If you double back you increase all players’ chances of being able to correct any earlier misplays, which may be helpful (or not).
- Watch for what people play late. The last turn is often somewhat critical as players try to make a late-game power grab or a split. An inexperienced player may make a mistake and try to minimize their score drastically since it’s their last play. Not only does that give you a lot of information, but it also sets you up for a late-game split, which, well…
- Late-game splits are a killer. Your opponents often can’t respond very well to them and they create at least two (sometimes more, if you’re really trying to take out an opponent) fragments, significantly increasing your opponent’s score. If you can do that on the last turn, you can really give them some additional points, which I’m sure they appreciate.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is pretty great. It’s so bright and vibrant — it looks great on the table and it’s super attractive to play.
- Cool concept for a game. I really like the idea of kintsugi symbolizing that an object is better for having been broken, and I think pulling that into a game is a really neat concept. One of my closest friends got me a piece for my birthday (hence its presence in the photo) and I’ve been pretty into it since then. I was excited to see that there was a game about it and that Daniel Solis was part of the design team (I’ve played a number of his games and they’re all unlike games I’ve played before — new themes, concepts, playstyles; I’ve enjoyed lots of them).
- Easy to learn. It’s just about flipping a card and covering a sector on the board. That’s about it.
- Light and fast. I appreciate having more small filler games I can use during game night between games and this is a great one for two or three people.
- The deduction element is pretty interesting. I like the idea of needing to make your plays subtle and try to trick your opponent into believing that you’re pursuing a different goal. It’s sneaky and tricky and kind of fun, but still light.
- Incredibly portable. I understand that this is a staple of the Button Shy line, but I still appreciate it. The whole game is < 20 cards and instructions and can fit pretty easily in your back pocket. Nice case to boot and you’ve got yourself a super travel game for low player counts, especially since it doesn’t take up that much space.
- I’d love to be able to play this at a higher player count. It’d be a total mess but it sounds super interesting. It’s not really a bad thing about the game, just something I wish it had.
- Vulnerable to some … questionable calls. There are some orientations of cards that will result in super tiny fragments of various colors. In low light or if you’re not paying attention those may be difficult to see. In one of the pictures above there are at least three fragments that I’d call “questionable”. This might end up frustrating some players, though I find it an amusing consequence.
- Real-space games are very difficult for some players. Some players agonize over the spatial elements of the game (as is common in games of like, space manipulation and other such things where rotating helps), so you might be in for a longer game if you’re not careful. I think this is mitigated pretty heavily by the game offering only four real choices of plays on your turn, as opposed to a ballooning set of options like Einstein or Carcassonne.
Overall: 9 / 10
Overall, I kind of adore Kintsugi! I like the theme a lot, obviously, but the vibrant art and quick (for a game of its type) gameplay and the neat mini-deduction element all come together in a remarkably small package for a game that I think is pretty cool. A close friend of mine got me that piece (in the featured photo) for my birthday, and so the game naturally caught my eye, as well. Thematically, I suppose, the game is a bunch of cool individual things put together into something great, so if you’re looking for a thoughtful (yet quick) little card-laying game that’s bright and colorful, I’d highly recommend checking out Kintsugi! I’ve really enjoyed it, and it’ll definitely make its way into my travel games collection!