Full disclosure: A review copy of Kami Nine was provided by Big Cat Games.
Alright, I think this is the last of Wave 1 of the doujin games that Big Cat Games graciously provided for review. Wave 2 is coming / already here, depending on how excited I got about BLOCK.BLOCK, 7th Night, Hiktorune, and more, so we’ll be getting into those over the next few weeks as well; get hyped. There’s a lot of exciting stuff in these games, so let’s dive right in!
In Kami Nine, you play as worshippers of the Kami, various deities who experience lengthy periods of favor and decline. As you worship them, you can gain favor with the chief of that time, provided you’re wise about which ones you choose to support with your offerings. Naturally, opponents’ clans are seeking that kind of favor as well, so you need to choose which Kami you support carefully. Which clan will receive the favor of the gods?
So, for a given round, you set up the same way, but you’ll do this section three times over the course of a game.
Shuffle the Kami Cards to form a deck:
Then, shuffle the Offering Cards and reveal 5 in a line:
Deal the remaining cards to each player to form their hand (each player should have 10 cards).
- 3 players: Deal cards as though there were four players, instead. That fourth player will be a dummy player for the draft.
- 5 players: Deal each player 9 cards.
Now, each player chooses two cards from their hand and passes them to the player on their left, and then from the 10 cards now in their hand they discard one, face down.
- 3 players: Skip the dummy player when drafting, but discard a card at random from their hand.
- 5 players: Draft normally, but do not discard any cards.
Last step of a round’s setup, flip three of the Kami Cards!
- 5 players: If any of the Kami are Cthulhu (the black card), all players simultaneously reveal one card from their hand.
Once you’ve done all that, you’re ready to start!
So, Kami Nine is fundamentally a trick-taking game, sort of, but you’re allowed to play any of three suits at once. I’ll talk more about that for players who haven’t tried trick-taking games in a second. The quirk is that you want to have the most support for a Kami so that your offering gains favor; otherwise, it’s worthless. Earn favor to score points to win the game!
How it works is like this. On a turn, you must play one card from your hand. If you can, you must play a card that’s the same color as one of the three face-up Kami in the center. If you cannot, you may play any card. Note that the Black Card (Cthulhu) is considered no Kami, but it takes up a slot. Once everyone’s played a card, do the following:
- Remove any non-matching Offerings. They are returned to the players who played them, face-down.
- Total each matching color.
- Award Favor. The color with the highest total earns Favor, which means that each player who played a card of that color takes the card that they played and puts it face-up in front of them. All other cards are, like the non-matching Offerings, returned to the players who played them, face-down.
- 3 players: Reveal (and discard) cards from the dummy player’s hand until you’ve either revealed a card matching one of the Kami or revealed three cards. In the former case, play that card; in the latter case, play nothing. If they play a card successfully, set it aside after the round, and if they run out of cards at any point, shuffle their discard cards (not the set aside ones) and start again.
Once you’ve done that, discard the Kami cards and reveal three new ones, and then have everyone play a new card following the same rules, starting with the player to the left of the previous hand’s start player. After the third cycle of cards, you’ll need to reshuffle the Kami Cards.
After every player has played all the cards from their hand, check each player’s current Favor Value, and then gather all the cards and set up again, following the instructions in Setup. As a fun optional rule, if a player scored 0 in a round (meaning all of their Offerings were returned face-down), award them 20 points for doing such an awesomely terrible job.
Once you’ve done 3 cycles of this, the player with the highest total Favor wins!
Eric Didn’t Read The Rules Thoroughly: A Variant
If you, like me, are an aspiring clown, you can try my variant that we also enjoyed. Instead of cycling the Kami after everyone has played a card, try cycling after everyone has played 3 cards. This changes a few of the things that you adjust for (and may help you get that “all Offerings face-down” bonus).
Player Count Differences
I’ve outlined most of the structural ones, but it is interesting if a Dummy Player is added for three players because it really makes you feel bad if you lose to them. So that’s funny. I think it’s most readily designed for four, so that’s where it tends to sing, but I don’t really have a strong preference around any other player count. I appreciate that there’s a bit of scheming and conniving and bandwagoning to this game; it’s definitely an interesting spin on trick-taking games in that it’s kinda a trick-majority-seeking game? It’s odd. Either way, like I said, not a huge preference for any particular player count; fine with 3, 4, or 5.
- Bandwagon! That’s pretty much the name of the game, isn’t it? You want to make sure that you’re always scoring, if you can, mostly by playing the right card at the right time. Sometimes you can just bandwagon yourself and play a 5 to win a hand, much to the misfortune of your opponents who attempted to collude around a different Kami. That’s the break, sometimes.
- But bandwagon carefully? If you’re consistently boosting the player who’s already in the lead, you’re bandwagoning poorly. Try to distribute who gets the benefit from each play so that it’s always you and a different person. That way, everyone else gains points slowly and you gain points very fast. This is, of course, riotously difficult to do.
- The perfect time to bandwagon is if you go last and you can slide a 1 in for maximum points. That’s the most points you can get on a single card play, so, naturally, you should do it as much as possible. It’s totally possible you have no 1s, and while that sucks, that’s not the worst thing in the world! Just make sure the player with all the 1s never gets to use them for anything, even if that might cost you some points in the short term. They’re very valuable cards; too valuable for that opponent, I’d say.
- The worst thing you can do is lead with a 1. Nobody wants to help you when you behave like that. It’s disrespectful. Slide that in at the end; play high cards at the beginning so everyone supports you. Just make sure you’re not helping someone else win.
- If you’re having trouble, you could try to shoot the moon. This is, like most games where you can shoot the moon (go for 0 points), not a great idea, but it is a viable one. You just need to play as poorly as possible and invert all the good strategies. Try to give away your high-value cards; try to lead with 1s so that nobody supports you, and most importantly, give off the impression that you’re playing poorly. If people realize you’re going for that 20 points, they’re going to be a lot nicer to you than they normally would be, and if they’re nice to you, you might risk scoring some points.
- Keep track of the cards you’ve seen. You will need that information to figure out if you can make certain plays work.
- Additionally, remember what cards you gave your opponent. You can occasionally bully them into bandwagoning with you if you pass them something that you can also play. It’s fun! It’s also kind of cruel, if you think about it at all. So don’t!
- Remember that the five cards in the center are there for a reason. They’re to give you extra information; make sure you’re considering that before you pass cards, play cards, or strategize for the round.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Interesting spin on trick-taking games. I appreciate that it’s not about the highest card (or even the lowest), but rather about the highest sum of cards. It means you can’t normally succeed on your own, which makes this an interesting almost semi-cooperative trick-taking game. The closest I’ve seen has been Rebel Nox, though I also gotta say that Oboro Ninja Star Trick did some interesting stuff in the trick-taking space.
- I really appreciate how colorful it is! I really like bright, colorful games, and this one uses bold colors and outlines to its advantage quite well. It’s a very pretty game and it’s got a rad table presence.
- The Dummy Player is interesting. As I mentioned elsewhere, it becomes a very nice personal challenge to make sure that it doesn’t beat you, otherwise you take a pretty aggressive hit to your self-esteem.
- Not a particularly long game. It can be played pretty quickly, even if you play all three rounds.
- Very portable. It’s in one of those standard small boxes, which I appreciate. Will easily fit in a backpack, small bag, Quiver, or equivalent small-box gaming storage solution.
- Flipping the Kami every round results in a decent bit of shuffling. It’s not a deckbuilder-level of shuffling, but one of the reasons we made the mistake I mentioned in my variant is that we assumed you didn’t need to shuffle the Kami until between rounds. We were mistaken, which isn’t a huge surprise; I mess up rules all the time.
- It can feel fairly random. Sometimes the cards just don’t come up right for you or you discarded a card that would have been fairly useful now in the last round because you weren’t sure if the Kami you could play would come up (or the exact opposite and you kept a card for a Kami that didn’t come up, so it’s useless, now). Players may occasionally find that pretty frustrating.
- Hard to catch up to the leader unless players agree to try and dogpile them. What ends up happening more often than not is one player ends up helping the leader so that they can get points and essentially Prisoner’s Dilemma’s the other players out of the game. You can try to ask them not to, but then you’re actively encouraging dogpiling on the winner, which isn’t exactly fun, either. This is generally why we play these kinds of games as single-round games rather than multi-round games, even if it makes them kind of short. Then, if one player has a really good round, you’re not incentivized to dogpile them (and it doesn’t matter if they ran away with the round because it won’t affect subsequent ones).
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I think Kami Nine is a solid little game! It’s an interesting spin on trick-taking, for sure, but I do think it’s a neat one. I’m mostly organizing a lot of these in my brain to eventually go through how they do different things, between this, Skull King, Oboro Ninja Star Trick, Trickster; all of those games. I like it a lot when a game comes in and adds something new to the genre, and games that are a hybrid of two genres are really neat. Now, that isn’t to say that this is my favorite trick-taking game; I think it’s a bit hard to catch up to a player in the lead, and I think that often players fall into a Prisoner’s Dilemma where they either need to help the player in the lead or fall even farther behind the other players. Neither option is good, unfortunately, and that can make the game feel like it’s a bit hard to control. I do appreciate that you have the opportunity to try and score 0 in order to get a (frankly preposterous) 20 points; shooting the moon is always my favorite part of a trick-taking game (Skull King has a similar benefit, if you’re bold enough to attempt it). Either way, in the family of trick-taking games, I think Kami Nine is an interesting title, and if you’re as big of a fan of the genre as I am, I think you’ll probably enjoy it!