Full disclosure: A review copy of Kombo Klash was provided by Hub Games.
More games! This one comes to us from our friends at Hub Games, who published MegaCity Oceania and also Digisprite’s Adventure Mart. They’ve really been hitting the ground running with bright, colorful games, so naturally Kombo Klash caught my eye, so I’ve been excited to try it. I’ve actually been fortunate, lately, in that I got a ton of games played and photographed, so I’m trying to get through the corresponding reviews at a similar pace so that I don’t start to forget how they played. To that end, let’s get to Kombo Klash!
In Kombo Klash, players attempt to combine and remix the various abilities of various animals for their own ends, Klashing them to try and make Kombos and score points. Each animal type has a unique ability, from the Raven’s ability to draw more cards to the Kangaroo’s ability to move tiles around, and you’ll need them all if you want to win big and make a huge Kombo. Are you up to the challenge?
Not a whole lot, here. Set out the playmat:
Place a scoring token for each player on the 100 / 0 space:
Shuffle the tiles:
Deal each player 5, place the rest of the stack face-down in the center, and place one tile from the top of the stack face-up on each of the corners. Once you’ve done that, you should be good to start!
In Kombo Klash, you play as animals who have only one method of sorting out their differences: a big animal fight! As you form Kombos of animals of the same type, you score points, and the player with the most points after someone clears the points threshold wins!
To start, choose if you’re going to play a Short Game (50 points), a Regular Game (75 points), or a Long Game (100 points). After doing that, the first player goes!
On a turn, a player may play any number of tiles from their hand, one at a time. As soon as a player plays a tile, they may optionally choose to activate that tile’s effect. If they choose not to, they cannot choose to activate it later. The tile effects can let you move tiles, flip tiles face-down or face-up, pull tiles into your hand, discard your hand, draw new tiles, that sort of thing. Since you’re occasionally drawing more tiles, you choose when your turn ends.
That said, if at any point in your turn you create a group of three or more contiguous tiles of the same type (diagonally-connected tiles don’t count), you’ve created a Kombo! First, score each tile based on the number in the top-right corner, and then flip each of the tiles in that Kombo face-down.
If you ever run out of spaces on the board, remove all the face-down tiles, and discard them. If, somehow, all the tiles are face-up, remove all but the four corner spaces and discard them. Your turn doesn’t end; that just has to happen before you can place any more tiles.
Play until one player has cleared the threshold set at the beginning of the game. Once that happens, finish the round so that every player gets an equal number of turns. After you’ve done that, the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I think Kombo Klash works best for me at two players. At higher player counts, you have to worry a bit more about what board state your opponent is going to leave for the next player, which makes your attempts to control the board a bit less effective. It also feels odd, a bit, because you’d kind of want your opponent to be able to affect you and vice-versa, since you’re acting on the board directly. Kombo Klash, mechanically, doesn’t suffer from additional players, though it can take a bit longer (even more so if you’re playing a longer game, of course). Other players have other turns, and more players are taking turns between your turns without a firm bound on the length of the turn. As a result, longer game. I don’t particularly mind it, but I think Kombo Klash is at its best when it’s at its fastest, and more players can gently negatively impact that flow. Plus, it makes the board state increasingly unreliable; at higher player counts, because more players are affecting the board and flipping tiles. If you’ve been reading these reviews for a while, you might notice that I value planning and consistency, both of which kind of go out the window at four players. The board state could be entirely different each turn, and there’s not always a point actually planning more than one turn ahead. Again, these aren’t big problems, but for this particular game, I find the head-to-head play element most satisfying, so I’d lean towards Kombo Klash at two players.
- Figuring out how to loop and chain some actions can be really useful. There’s a great one that I like, which is essentially combining Snakes and Ravens to keep playing the same Raven tile somewhat continuously and drawing a bunch of cards. You can even activate it with a Vulture to flip it up! Similarly, you can use a few Kangaroos to reorganize tiles and end up with spots for a high-value Kombo! It’s hard to chain Wolves and Gorillas, but the right tiles in the right spots can lead to big points!
- Knowing the specifics of what each animal is useful for can be also pretty helpful. Similarly to what I said earlier, figuring out how to use combinations of animals to get more tiles into your hand (while continually scoring them, if you can) can be ways to make sure you have a super long turn, which usually leads to a lot of points. The longer the turn, the better?
- As you continue to lay tiles, you’ll also continually limit your options for useful Kombos. Keep an eye out on where you’re playing tiles. You have to play your tiles adjacent to another tile, so don’t place such that you can’t make the Kombo you’re going for. Similarly, don’t remove tiles from the board if that will block you from placing what you want to place. The last (and most important) part is that if you place enough tiles, you’ll wipe all the face-down tiles from the board. This might mean that you’ll lose a tile you intended to revive via the Vulture, so keep in mind there’s an ordering that you have to come up with if you want to score the most points possible.
- Ultimately, keep an eye out for high-value Kombos. Vultures or Gorillas are 3 points each, so getting 5 of them in a weird T-shape should be enough to get you a quick 15, if you can pull it off. It’s harder than it sounds, though!
- Especially look for places where you can make 4- or 5-tile Kombos. There are corner or cross shapes that will work for a 5; for a 4, there’s kind of the Tetris options, right? T, L, S, the Z one that looks like an S but nobody likes, a square, stuff like that. Get creative with your shape construction so you can score the big Kombos.
- Leaving the board in a terrible state for the next player is an important skill to cultivate. It’s cruel, but you do what you gotta in order to win. My personal favorite is leaving every tile on the board face-down, since it sucks, but there’s also the crueler move where you leave tiles on the board face-down, but there are three open spots left, so in order for the next player to actually do anything useful, they essentially have to spend a chunk of their hand tiles clearing the board for you. A lot of these moves work best in two-player games, since forcing your opponent to do this at higher player counts will just reward the player who goes after them. If that’s not you, why bother helping them out, right?
- Not really a strategy point as much as a grace point, but you’ll likely have a good sense of whether you can win or not on your last move. If you can’t win, don’t drag out the game. There’s also a potential for kingmaking, if you’re looking for it, as you can leave your tiles on the board for the next player to take advantage of. Don’t be like that. The game is quick enough that if your pride is that wounded, you can just do what I do and demand subsequent rematches until you win. You know, like an adult.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is very fun! I think it’s tough to make super-serious games, especially if they’re meant for quick play and to appeal to new players. Going the route of fun animals fighting it out is a great move. It’s simple, engaging, and it means that players aren’t going to really question the thematic implications that much. Animals fight, some colors, fun abilities, etc. Even vultures being able to revive exhausted animals just prompted a “probably” shrug from me, when I played.
- Combo-heavy gameplay is a lot of fun, too, I think. It can be really satisfying to link up a massive turn in a game. Giving players the opportunity to do so is nice, and it seems easier to link up a big combo than in some other combo-focused games, since you don’t have to also account for gradual buildup of player abilities. I actually prefer that, a bit? It means there’s less overall gameplay complexity to track, even if it comes at the expense of there being a bit more luck involved in getting the right hand for a given turn.
- It is nice to have games with configurable lengths. Sometimes you do just want to play a longer game or a quick game, so allowing players to set the victory threshold to what they want it to be lets them have a bit of additional control over the game they want to play. Granted, I’m not looking to play this for an hour or two, but I think varying between 20 – 40 minutes is a perfectly reasonable set of potential lengths.
- The game can play very quickly, if you want. You can definitely have some 30+ point super-turns, if you play your pieces right. Even if you play with the longest setting, the game maybe takes a bit more than 30 minutes with experienced players? I think given the potential challenge of learning how the various tiles interact, having a quick learning game isn’t a bad move.
- The playmat is also a nice touch. I’m pro-playmats in general, even though they’re kind of single-use bonus items for games. It just helpfully indicates where things should go during setup and gives you a well-defined space for the game. Plus, it color matches the game, which is also nice. I think the thing I appreciate most about it is that it fits inside the standard game box, which solves my usual playmat problem.
- Decently portable. It’s definitely not the smallest box, but it’s small enough to be easy to throw into a game bag and take with you.
- Seems somewhat expandable, too. I’d imagine you can add a few extra tiles based on different animals for an expansion, if that sorta thing was within your bounds. Even a few more special tiles could be a lot of fun as an interesting way to mix things up.
- There’s not always a particularly easy way to clean up flipped-over tiles. You just kinda have to clop-clop-clop the tiles, but since you’re not clearing out the whole playmat, you can’t even dump them all at once. In a longer game (and especially at higher player counts), you’re going to be doing this a fair amount of the time.
- Unless you really spent time learning to riffle-shuffle square tiles (a useless skill I developed), you may have trouble shuffling, as well. I played Burgle Bros enough times to get good at shuffling square tiles, but you should be prepared that it will take a nontrivial amount of time to shuffle these “well”, if that’s what you’re going for. It’s one of the reasons I don’t love square cards or square tiles, but that’s also because I generally like everything to be facing the same way. That’s more of a “me” problem than a game problem. Working on it.
- Maybe let new players take the first turn? Just so that they get a sense of how to play and how certain tiles intersect. As I said earlier, it can be really challenging for new players to get a sense of how the various tiles interact and affect each other. It may not be a bad idea to have a couple practice rounds to let players get a sense of like, using a Snake-Raven combo to continually draw a bunch of additional tiles into a big Kombo. Having a few turns to kick off the game can be nice because then players won’t feel like some less-useful early turns are going to cost them the game.
- Either way, as with combo-heavy games, be mindful that there’s the potential for big player disparities, which can lead to disappointed players. It’s kind of a problem I have with all “big combo” games, and it’s mostly that players can get wrecked by experienced players or bad luck.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I think Kombo Klash is a cute little game! It’s fast and relatively inoffensive, though you should watch out for some of the initial hiccups when playing with new players. That’s how combo-heavy games tend to go, though, yeah? They benefit players who already have a good sense of the combinations and how they work together, especially if they chain up and react off of each other. Thankfully, Kombo Klash isn’t as intense of a combo game as some other titles. There’s no persistent buildup of skills or techniques. You just kind of play tiles every turn and see where that gets you, score-wise. That … actually is preferable to the longer-form combo games, for me. It’s simple to get into and easy to get out of. With the longer ones, if you get stuck behind the eight ball early enough, there’s no recovery, but the game is still long. That doesn’t really happen in Kombo Klash, but you do need to make sure you’re keeping on top of scoring every turn. If you’re not paying attention to that, you might end up missing out and having an opponent outscore you in a way that’s difficult to overcome. You don’t particularly want that, even in a short game. That said, I really like having to try and make the best of the tiles in my hand every turn; it’s exciting! Add in portability and a playmat and you’ve got yourself a game. The last thing working to Kombo Klash’s advantage is, largely, that the art is bright, colorful, and inviting. That all works pretty well for me, so if you’re looking for a fun and quick entry point into the combo-heavy gaming space, you might enjoy Kombo Klash!