#515 – Kōhaku [Preview]

Box

2 – 4 players.
Play time: 30 – 45 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter! (Will update link when Kickstarter is live.)
Logged plays: 3 

Full disclosure: A preview copy of Kōhaku was provided by Gold Seal Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. 

More Kickstarters! Kōhaku is our next title, coming from Gold Seal Games, who did the very interesting Tricky Tides as well, recently. Working on that review along with all the others; it’ll happen At Some Point In The Future. In the meantime, let’s dig right into this one!

In Kōhaku, players are competing to develop a beautiful koi pond (rather than just being koi themselves). In order to do that, you’re going to need two things: koi, naturally, and features. Players will compete, drafting tiles to try and earn points and end up with the greatest habitat of all. Will you be able to build a breathtaking home for your fish friends, or will you just end up des-pond-ent?

Contents

Setup

Setup is decently straightforward. You’re going to shuffle up the Koi tiles:

Koi Tiles

Make sets based on player count:

  • 2 players: Remove all the 3P / 4P tiles, shuffle them, and remove 7 more.
  • 3 players: Remove all the 4P tiles, shuffle them, and remove 5 more.
  • 4 players: Shuffle all the tiles and remove 5.

Then, shuffle the Features:

Feature Tiles

Fill up the Pond Board:

Lake Board

You can use the Scoreboard side later:

Scoreboard

Either way, you’re ready to start!

Setup

Gameplay

Gameplay 1

A game of Kōhaku isn’t terribly complicated. You are competing with other players to build the most beautiful koi pond, and that’s about it. Add Koi and Features to really spruce it up and earn points, and the player with the most points wins!

Gameplay 2

On your turn, you really only do one thing: take an adjacent pair of Koi and Feature tiles and add them to your play area. On your first turn, they must be adjacent to each other, but on subsequent turns, there’s no such restriction as long as Koi are next to Features and vice-versa.

Gameplay 5

If there are now two tiles in the center two spaces of the Pond Board, migrate them to fill in the outer emptied spaces. Then refill the center from the tile supply stacks.

Gameplay 4

Once there aren’t any Koi tiles to refill the center board, the game ends. Clear the remaining unused tiles and flip the board over to its scoring side. Score each Feature, add in the bonus point for each solid color Koi, and the player with the most points wins! If there’s a tie, the tie breaks in favor of the player with the most solid color Koi in their pond.

Player Count Differences

Not many, honestly. At higher player counts, you add more Koi to the supply, but either way you still remove a few at random before the game starts. I suppose at lower player counts you have a lower risk of someone taking part or all of the pair you need, but it’s not a significantly higher percentage at higher player counts; players tend to specialize in certain colors of Koi, so you’ll find a lot of players just generally keeping to themselves. No real preference on player count,.

Strategy

  • Try to maximize your value. I think the best you can do is about 3 points per adjacent Koi tile, but you can improve that bit more if you take a bunch of single color KOI so that you can get the extra point. It can also be helpful to double- (or triple-+) dip so that you can get multiple Features scoring off of one Koi tile. If you keep using the generic Statues, for instance, you’re going to find that other players who committed a bit harder are going to end up doing better (since it never peaks at 3 points and barely hits 2 points before it maxes out its value). I haven’t seen someone pull off a win with the Butterflies yet, but I bet it’s possible to do so if you make the right shape.
  • Taking single color Koi is good, but make sure you don’t back yourself into a corner. Committing to single color flowers means that you benefit a lot more from dual-color Koi. Single color Koi are nice, but they may make it difficult or impossible for you to complete flowers. That would be a huge bummer; this isn’t a game that’s particularly forgiving of low-scoring plays and there’s not really a catch-up mechanism.
  • Always have a backup plan. This is just generally useful if the board isn’t in a state that you want. If that’s going to happen, I use a Turtle and put it on the very outer edge of my board. It’s a free 5 points, so I just try to make sure I don’t attach other Koi to that tile in the future (since it is explicitly very much a diminishing returns tile).
  • It benefits you slightly to take Koi that other players don’t want. It mostly benefits you in the sense that you’re limiting competition for those players, which is nice. If you’re not competing for the same Koi, it allows you to better plan out which Koi you want to take when.
  • Conversely, try to make sure you’re not splitting a color with another player and cannibalizing each other. Yeah, like I said, if you’re fighting over getting the same Koi, you’re going to be constantly stealing from each other which will only hurt you two. Me, collecting a completely different color Koi? I’m absolutely fine, but I haven’t seen that end well.
  • If you’re going after many Koi of the same color, the single color flowers are a great way to earn points. They earn 12 points if every adjacent Koi is the correct color, which is a very cheap, fun, and simple enough strategy that it’s kind of become my go-to.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Gameplay 3

Pros

  • Setup isn’t too bad. It’s mostly just shuffling tiles, and if you’re good at that then it takes no time at all.
  • The art is nice. If you’re into Koi ponds at all, it’s very pretty. I think I’ve gotta give the edge to KOI, in terms of Koi-themed art, but this one definitely wins out on gameplay, so, that’s fine.
  • I like the lack of space / boundary restrictions. It makes the game feel like it grows very organically, and I’m a big fan of that. Maybe I’ve just been playing too many fixed-boundary games lately, but it’s nice to be able to expand in whatever direction you want.
  • Plays generally pretty quickly. It’s a slightly upleveled filler game, in my opinion, so this isn’t terribly surprising, but it’s nice.
  • It’s interesting how little benefit you get from messing with another player. This prevents the game becoming annoying. You could hate draft, but, honestly, if you do you’re just going to end up costing yourself a massive point-scoring opportunity unless you’re pursuing a similar strategy to the player you’re trying to undermine.
  • Having to pull a pair of adjacent tiles is interesting. I particularly like that they don’t have to be placed adjacently to each other. I wonder if Kingdomino is listening? I feel like that could be a neat variant if it were done correctly (which I don’t think Duel did).

Mehs

  • Can be a bit vulnerable to AP. The adjacency thing really messes with some players, even if it does speed up the decision-making by limiting the space. I think it’s partially that and also partially placing in real space means that you have a lot more places you could put that tile, which can stress players out a bit. It’s not the worst, but it’s there.
  • It’s also a bit odd that everything kinda maxes out at “3 points per adjacent tile”. There are a few exceptions (butterflies and turtles), but that seems to be the upper limit. It makes the game feel like it was playtested and balanced, but it kind of just strikes me as odd; it would be interesting to have some tiles that are higher risk and higher reward.

Cons

  • Scoring can be a pain. This is just because the board’s not regular and it can be hard to remember which features you’ve hit (and the order in which you’re doing features). The game recommends flipping them over, but it’s also hard to get into the play area and grab tiles that are surrounded on all sides and flip them over. Makes me wish I still had the plunger from The Rise of Queensdale handy, if I’m being honest.
  • Yeah, this is one of the games that makes doing previews kinda tough. A lot of really good Kickstarter previews have very few differences between the preview copy and the final product; that’s always nice, because it makes it easy to connect them as games. When there’s going to be a significant aesthetic change (or component quality change), it can make the preview copy seem a bit pedestrian. It happens, it’s just unfortunate. I think that the final version is going to be a bit more elevated than the preview copy, so I’m excited about that, but beyond that I wasn’t over the moon with the preview copy’s aesthetic.

Overall: 7.25 / 10

In Progress

Overall, I think Kōhaku is a solid little filler game! For me, what I’m really looking for here is something that’s going to change the game or aggressively innovate, and I’ll be honest; beyond taking two tiles, I’m not sure I feel like Kōhaku does that 100%. For most games, that would put me off a bit, but I think that’s actually okay, here, because it instead focuses on refining a solid mechanic and executing on it well. That’s not a terrible surprise coming from Danny Devine, but still, it’s nice to see, here. The art is particularly nice, but as with all previews, the tiles leave a little something to be desired. Thankfully, I’ve got it on pretty good authority that this is going to be a a really impressive-looking game once all’s said and done, so I’m really excited to see how it turns out. I worry a bit about how tight it is, in that I feel like there’s almost no benefit to trying to block another player since it hurts you so badly to not score a lot on your turn, but maybe that just incentivizes more relaxing play (which would certainly be consistent with the theme). I don’t really have a huge problem with that, though I would be interested in seeing if there were other features that play with the form of your pond beyond just the butterflies. Since everything else prioritizes adjacency, it seems like it doesn’t really make sense to me to grab the butterflies when I could instead just grab more flowers. But that’s me. What we do end up with is a very pretty game that’s quick, easy to play, and straightforward to learn, which means it’s the kind of game that’s going to be pretty easy to get to the table for a lot of people. Even if you’re not getting the scoring, it’s super easy to just put things that are roughly the same color close together and adhere to a checkerboard pattern, which will actually get you a decent amount of progress in the game. Either way, I enjoyed Kōhaku, and I’m excited to see how the final version turns out!

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