I’ve been meaning to get around to this for a while but have had a mental block on it and couldn’t figure out why, but here we are. Again, going for novel themes, we have mastering the art of painting with Kanagawa.
In Kanagawa, you are attempting to prove yourself worthy of an artistic master by painting a masterpiece of your own. However, you have to make sure that your studio can handle the volume of your work, your preferred subjects, and the changing seasons in order to be successful. Will you be able to triumph?
So, you’re going to need to pull out the board:
And lay it out within reach of all players. Next, shuffle the Lesson Cards:
Put them into a stack near the board. Now, set out the diplomas:
These are ways you can score. I usually break them up like this because it’s “stuff in your painting” on top and “stuff in your studio” on the bottom, but you do you.
You can set the Storm tokens aside, for now, or you can put them on top of the diplomas that have a picture of them:
Give each player a Starting tile:
Also give each player two of the Brush tokens:
Now, choose a player to go first and give them the Grand Master and Assistant pawns:
Once you’ve done all that, you should be ready to start!
Kanagawa takes place over a sequence of rounds, as you either add cards to the studio or take cards from the studio and add them to your print, similar to Coloretto. The game ends after a full round in which either of the following occurs:
- Any player has 11 or more cards in their print (the painting).
- The Lesson Card deck is depleted.
So, if you want to win, you better set yourself up for success! Each round is made up of the following actions, which I’ll explain in order:
- Follow the Master’s Teachings
- Player Turns
- Next Lesson
Follow The Master’s Teachings
For this, the first player (the player with the Grand Master pawn) draws as many cards as there are players and adds them to the first row. Some of the spaces on the board are red, indicating that the card on that space should be played face-down, like so:
Don’t mess that up.
So, for these, starting with the first player, each player has the option to Broaden Their Knowledge or Put It Into Practice.
For Broadening Knowledge, you just pass. That’s it. You’re waiting to learn more.
If you don’t Broaden Knowledge (or if you’re the only player still in the school when this step happens), you put your knowledge into practice. You do so by doing the following steps:
- Take a column of Lesson cards. You pick an available column and take all the Lesson cards in that column.
- Improve your Studio or Expand your Print: You must immediately add all cards taken to your Studio or your Print. If you have some hand-holding-a-card symbols in your Studio, you may hold on to one Lesson card per symbol rather than playing it.
- Expand your Print: You can add cards to your print, expanding the scope of your work. However, each brush can only paint one type of landscape, and each print card has a cost in terms of landscapes (symbols on the bottom). You must have (or place) a brush on each symbol required in order to add a Lesson card to your print. Adding brushes is a free action, but moving a brush requires you to use a <-> symbol. Furthermore, every brush can only paint one landscape per round (but it can paint before or after it’s moved). Also, as you might guess, each landscape can only have one brush, since more than one just won’t fit.
- Improve your Studio: Not every card you take can be painted. Some, for instance, might require a landscape that you can’t paint. Thankfully, you can always add a card to your Studio by turning it around (so that the studio part is face-up instead) and sliding it to the right of your rightmost card. If you do, you may immediately use the effect on it, if it has one. This means you can add a brush to the landscape on the studio card to allow you to add a card to your print, for instance.There are a variety of symbols available on studio cards, but if you see a brush symbol, you may immediately take another brush token from the supply, and if you see a symbol that looks like a smaller version of the Grand Master pawn, you immediately take the Assistant pawn.As you might guess, you cannot move any cards once they’re placed on your print or studio.
- Take Diplomas: At some point, you’ll notice that the Diploma tiles in the center of the play area have requirements like “three different people” or “two <-> symbols” or “five trees”, and your print might also have those symbols. Once your print meets the requirement of a specific Diploma that still has not been claimed, you must immediately choose if you want to take it or if you want to abandon it forever.
- If you take the Diploma, add it next to your print. You can only take one Diploma of each color. This means you cannot take any more Diplomas of that type.
- If you leave the Diploma, you can attempt to potentially grab a more valuable diploma, but you can never take the Diploma you left. That’s a bummer, sometimes.
If there are players who are still in school (they passed instead of taking a column of cards), then the first player draws as many lesson cards as there are players still in the school and places them in a row, on the board, below the cards that are still left from the previous set of turns (as you might guess, still following the face-up / face-down rules).
Go back to Player Turns and repeat until the board is completely taken. Note that once the board is completely full of cards, each player must take a column of cards on their turn.
When all players have taken cards, the round ends. Give the player with the Assistant pawn the Grand Master pawn — they’ll be the first player next round.
As previously mentioned, if you draw the last card from the Lesson deck, this is the last round. Each player immediately chooses (in turn order) a column of cards from the board and adds them to their studio or print (even if there are more cards in one column than another!).
You also end the game if any number of players has 11 or more cards in their print after a round is completed.
Then, you do final scoring!
- 1 point per lesson card in your print (including your start tile)
- 1 point per lesson card in your longest sequence of identical seasons (including your start tile)
- 1 point for each point symbol on your lesson cards in your print / studio
- -1 point for each crossed-out point symbol on your lesson cards in your print / studio
- Diploma tiles earn the displayed number of points
- 2 points if you have the Grand Master pawn
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I find this most interesting at three players, surprisingly. At two, I feel like the card selection is a bit less interesting and at four if you go last you can often get really screwed by the leftover cards. It’s nice having a game that’s fun to play at three people, though, so that’s where I’d recommend it. I think there’s no real increase / decrease in play time with player count, though.
- Remember that the cards only might have that type of thing on them. Don’t always count on blue giving you animals or green giving you trees; they might just be blank.
- I wouldn’t really recommend focusing on any one thing in particular; just choose a few things to specialize in and go for them. It feels pretty well-balanced (within some realm of “only certain cards get drawn”), so I wouldn’t say that any particular route of scoring is better or worse (focusing on seasons, getting a long print, diplomas), but you should try to score in a few areas.
- Keep an eye on your opponents. If you see that someone’s about to snipe your coveted diploma from you on their turn, it might be worth taking one round early to guarantee you get those points.
- Don’t underestimate storm tokens. Using them to connect two long chains of a season might be the difference between winning and losing.
- Wait for your opponents to finish their turns. There’s some incentive to just placing your cards as soon as you get your hands on them, but you might be able to optimize a bit if you’re keeping an eye on what the players who played before you did. Did they go for an Assistant grab? If not, you might be able to play to your print rather than needing to get the Assistant back.
- Don’t forget that the Grand Master token is worth 2 points at the end of the game. I’ve seen games lost by smaller margins. Every point counts.
- I would recommend going for the brush and move symbol diplomas as soon as you can get them. Those icons are relatively scarce, so just take the free couple points when you can.
- Getting three of the same person is very hard. Harder still when your opponents can effectively conspire to keep you from getting them by taking before you if they see it, preventing you from gaining a huge 9 points.
- It’s usually worth betting on trees. You might get lucky and get a 3-tree card, meaning you can instantly take a diploma if it’s still available, which is great.
- Try to get a third brush. There are a fair number of two-landscape prints, which often means you don’t have the ability to paint anything else, so cards just end up uselessly sitting in your Studio. That’s … not as good. Extra brushes give you more flexibility.
- Keep an eye on the size of your Studio. You don’t get more points at the end of the game for the size of your Studio, so towards the end of the game try to only put cards there if they give you beneficial abilities or points. You don’t want to have 5 ocean la
- Try to get at least one Wild. They’re useful, even if they do cost a lot of points.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art’s really nice. It reminds me a lot of Tokaido, but it’s absolutely beautiful in its own right. It’s a nice game to play as well as a beautiful game to photograph, which is great.
- The pieces are really cool, as well. The brush tokens are nice, the pawns are nice, and the tiles are a good size.
- The card variety is really nice. I like that some of the cards are just blank with wild landscape tokens or that there might be a card that’s really good for your studio or really good for your print, but you can’t have it in both places. It’s a nice tension to support.
- The diploma rule is very interesting. I like that you can’t go back to ones you’ve turned down under any circumstances a lot. It, again, creates a nice bit of tension for players in the game and makes it compelling.
- Lots of different ways to be successful. You can focus on most anything and still come out pretty well, be it certain diploma types, length of your print, or any other variety of things.
- I really don’t like square cards. They’re not particularly bad in this game, but they’re still a bit difficult to shuffle.
- It would be nice to know how many of each type of thing were present in the game. Something like Kingdomino‘s rulebook would be nice, in that it tells you how many of each tile type exists without showing you every tile in the game. This way you’d know that there are X Summers and Y Farmers, but you wouldn’t know how many Summer Farmers there were. I think that would be nice.
- Has some weird space constraints. It’s a similar problem to Burger Up in that you’re building long stretches of cards, so you need to make sure you have plenty of space for it. It frustrates me a bit more because there’s a big empty space in the middle of the play area, usually, and there’s not a whole lot to do with it.
- A lot of players will just fall into the “wait until the board is full and then take a column” trap. Playing that way tends to be kind of unexciting. It’s very common for your first few plays to be a tiny bit underwhelming because players tend to just let the lead player fill the board with cards. This means that there are just a lot of cards in play (not all of them useful) and some of the strategy of the game gets a bit muddled. I’d recommend choosing to take cards early, especially if doing so means that you can get storm tokens. It makes the game a bit more dynamic. Coloretto is vulnerable to a similar issue, but, strangely enough, I don’t see this happen all that often (or at least not with the silver / violet scoring rules).
Overall: 6.75 / 10
Overall, I like Kanagawa. It’s a nice game with a pleasant theme, and the card mechanics are interesting to me. I’m not as big of a fan of the somewhat-necessary hate-drafting that has to happen, but that’s the only real way to prevent an opponent from getting something that would give them a significant advantage. Even then, I think the game does a good job creating tension for the players but giving them multiple potentially successful pathways through the game. I think the primary reason for the score is that it’s not quite as portable as Coloretto, which has some similarities, and I like Coloretto quite a lot. That doesn’t mean there’s not room for both in a collection, by any means; if anything, I think Kanagawa has more going on than Coloretto, which is a simpler version of the same concept. If you want to dig a bit deeper into it (and appreciate the fantastic art) I’d recommend giving Kanagawa a look!