#911 – Kekko Desu!

Base price: $25.
3 – 5 players.
Play time: 15 – 20 minutes.
BGG Link
Buy directly!
Logged plays: 2

Full disclosure: A review copy of Kekko Desu! was provided by Big Cat Games.

Alright, more doujin games! I’ve been really impressed by Big Cat Games’s commitment to bringing cool games from Japan over to a larger US audience, and while I haven’t played everything they’ve brought over (not for a lack of trying), I’ve been really enjoying what I’ve gotten a chance to check out! A few weeks ago, you got to see my thoughts on Cursed Tricks, and now I’m back with another look at a new game: Kekko Desu! Let’s see how it plays.

In Kekko Desu!, players are the absolute worst people at a gift exchange. You see, they don’t want every gift out there. They’ve already decided what they do want, and they’re going to connive and scheme as much as possible to make sure they get their ideal gifts and their opponents get nothing. You need to get into that mindset and know when to accept a gift, when to steal what you want, and when to say, “I’m good.” Are you up to the challenge?

Contents

Setup

Not too bad. Remove the 11s if playing with fewer than five players. Otherwise, shuffle the cards, leaving the “End” card out (for now):

After doing that, make two piles of five cards each. Shuffle the “End” Card into one of them, making a pile of six cards. Place the six-card pile on top of the five-card pile, and then place the rest of the deck on top of the now-eleven-card pile. Deal each player five cards, and you should be ready to start!

Gameplay

In Kekko Desu!, your goal is to only get the presents you want in your Present Area. For power? Prestige? Only you know. To that end, you’ll need to scheme, connive, deny, steal, and occasionally, give if you want to get exactly what you want.

Before the game starts, from your five-card hand, choose the three cards you’d like to give away to other players, and give them to the player on your left. They add them to their Present Area without resolving their effects, and you begin your turn with two cards in hand.

On your turn, you play a card, resolve its effect, and then draw a card from the Market. Certain cards (3 / 4 / 7 / 8) have effects that occur when they’re played. Other cards (5 / 6 / 8 / 9 / 10 / 11) have end-of-game scoring effects. When you play a card with an instant effect, resolve it before drawing a card from the Market:

  • 3: Draw a random card from the deck and add it to your Present Area. Do not resolve its effect.
  • 4: You may give any card in your Present Area (including this card!) to another player, who will place it in their Present Area.
  • 7: You may swap any card in your Present Area (including this card!) with a card in any other player’s Present Area.
  • 8: You may swap a card from any two player’s Present Areas with each other.

Once the “End” card is revealed, remove it from the game and refill the Market. The game ends as soon as all players have taken an equal number of turns. If the last player to take their turn in a round reveals the “End” card, the game ends immediately after their turn.

After the game ends, each player may keep one of the two cards still in their hand. The other card is “gifted” to the player on their left’s Present Area. So charitable!

Before scoring, resolve the effects of the 5 and 6:

  • 5: If any player has at least three 5s in their Present Area, they immediately draw the top card of the deck and add it to their Present Area (without resolving its effect).
  • 6: All players with the most 6s, in turn order, may choose a card from the Market and add it to their Present Area (without resolving its effect).

Then, score majorities. The players with the most cards of one number gain points equal to that card’s value. 3 points for the 3s, 7 points for the 7s, and so on. There are a few exceptions to this rule:

  • 8: If you have five or more 8s and you won the majority, you score points equal to the number of 8s you have (rather than 8 points). If you have fewer than five 8s and you won the majority, you score 8 points.
  • 9: If you have an even number of 9s and you won the majority, you score points equal to the number of 9s you have (rather than 9 points). If you have an odd number of 9s and you won the majority, you score 9 points.
  • 10: If you have an odd number of 10s and you won the majority, you score points equal to the number of 10s you have (rather than 10 points). If you have an even number of 10s and you won the majority, you score 10 points.
  • 11: If you have three or fewer 11s and you won the majority, you score points equal to the number of 11s you have (rather than 11 points). If you have more than three 11s and you won the majority, you score 11 points.

Finally, every number that you have at least one card of and you didn’t win the majority costs you a point. Just 1 point per number, not 1 point per card. Subtract that from your total points, and the player with the most points wins!

Player Count Differences

The major difference I noticed was a bit of an accident, since I didn’t realize that the lower player counts required you to remove the 11s, which meant I needed to reshuffle the entire deck. Fun times. But beyond that, I wouldn’t say there’s any particular difference. It’s a bit easier to split majorities at higher player counts, but there’s also another nightmare player throwing in additional chaos, so it’s hard to say exactly where the scores shake out. I’ve seen 30-point ranges in player scores, before; that’s just how this one goes. I’d say that I find the four- and five-player range a bit thrilling, as a result of that; you’re never entirely sure what will happen, and it’s a bit easier for players to try and maliciously fly under the radar, as a result. That said, I wouldn’t say I have a particular preference; it’s just fun to see the sparks fly with a lot of people.

Strategy

  • Honestly, a lot of this game is about flying under the collective radar. The less other players notice you, the better, to be honest. This means they won’t be stealing from your Present Area, they won’t be swapping your stuff around, and they won’t be giving you stuff to mess with your majority. Try to stay relatively unnoticed (which may include avoiding messing with other players, as well).
  • Playing 8s can help you mess with two opponents at the same time, but it also can put a target on your back. When you play an 8, you get to swap a card between two opponents’ Present Areas. The problem with that is that now, you have two people who are irritated with you for messing up their plan, and they both get to go and take their turn. You don’t necessarily want to cultivate that kind of heat.
  • Don’t go wide! Going wide is always bad. You don’t want to have one of everything; it’s unlikely that you’ll hit a majority, and if you don’t win a majority in a number, you lose a point. Not one point per card, just a point, but it’s still not great. Try to focus on a few numbers that you’re confident you can win, rather than going for a few of everything and winning nothing.
  • Keep in mind how each majority scores, and try to make sure you mess up your opponents’ ability to score. There are a few cards (8 / 9 / 10 / 11) that have different effects if they have too many / too few / an odd number / an even number of cards in their majorities. Messing with your opponents’ Present Area can be useful, but in the case of the 8s, them getting 5 points instead of 8 points (because you gave them too many 8s) may not be that useful of a distinction.
  • An early-game 3 is a lot better than a late-game one. A late-game 3 might help you take the majority, but it will also put a random card from the deck in your Present Area, which may cause you to mess up a majority or get the wrong number of cards for a different effect. Having a bit more time in the game to deal with the effect of a random card can be useful.
  • More often than not, having three 5s is not great. But sometimes, it pays off. Essentially, you draw a random card at the end of the game and add it to your Present Area, which sounds like a bad idea, but it once got me 10 points, so I have to at least note that it’s possible that it can end up working out in your favor. It’s just extremely unlikely.
  • Sometimes the best thing you can do is to interact with an opponent so that other players start paying attention to them, as well. I try to subscribe to a policy of never telling other players what to do on their turn. I think it’s polite. That said, if a player is winning, sometimes it’s best to strategically point that out by swapping some of their cards with another player’s cards or playing a 4 to give them a card that will earn them more points, to try and attract the watchful eyes of your opponents to their Present Area. Will it work? Maybe.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • The theme is very funny. I just enjoy the idea of being the Local Jerk at the present exchange who just won’t rest until he gets his way. Not, like, as a kind of person I would be in real life, but as a hyperspecific caricature of a person that can really exist and thrive inside of the world of a board game. It’s amusing.
  • The art style of the game is very pleasant, from the tricolor cards to the card backs. For such an aggressively-themed game, it’s got a very nice color scheme. The colors on the card fronts themselves almost look like ice cream, they’re so pleasant and pastel. I appreciate when a card game’s coloring and art disguise more nefarious intent.
  • The game plays very quickly. Super fast, once everyone learns the cards! Sometimes you’ll be surprised by how abruptly the game can end, which means it went pretty fast.
  • The final “gifting” round is a pretty fun interaction. I like having to try and decide whether I should keep some card for myself or give a card to my opponent to try and mess them up. It’s a fun tension, and it can lead to some pretty aggressive and surprising outcomes at the end of the game!
  • The game is definitely meaner than I expected, but I think it helps that it’s mean the entire time for everyone. I think it’s similar to a few other very aggressive games I’ve played recently (like Berried Treasure) where the game works partially because everyone understands that they’re here to mess with each other and steal their points and try to thwart their hard-earned plans. If the game were nicer, some of the meanness would come off as aggressive, I think.
  • Extremely portable. It’s essentially just a stack of cards; it’ll fit in just about any travel game thing. I would recommend a rubber band around the top so that the cards don’t come out, though.
  • This game belongs to that “No Thanks” group of modern board games that I think you could still pretty easily teach to folks who like more traditional card games. It’s a nice step up from standard card games because the cards have associated abilities, but I wouldn’t say it’s so complicated that folks would necessarily brush it off. It helps that it really is just a deck of cards.
  • I really appreciate that a lot of the card majorities are things that are very easy for an enterprising opponent to just completely mess up. It’s very difficult to take all the cards you want to take and to hold on to them. Even one card getting swapped around can make the difference between a +8 and a -1, so it’s worth being cognizant of that.
  • For a mean game, it’s nice that ties are friendly. I like friendly ties! They incentivize players to fight a little less, since they can both (or all) benefit from a tie going their way

Mehs

  • I always get grouchy about games where I need to insert a card into the bottom X cards. Not because it’s a bad idea, but because I tend to forget. It’s the process of having to reshuffle the cards I’ve dealt and then recreate the bottom of the deck and then insert the card where it needs to go and then reshuffle that part of the deck and so on. It’s a mildly irritating cycle.

Cons

  • The biggest issue I have with the game is, ironically, that while I prefer text to iconography, since I cannot read the text here, I have to use a reference every game (as do the other players). Having a quick player reference card for all the players would help a bunch. This is very much a “folks who can’t read Japanese” problem, but having some quick player reference cards would definitely make this game a lot faster to pick up. In the games I played of it, everyone had to take pictures of the rules page explaining each card’s ability on their phones, and then had to check every few turns to make sure they knew what cards were in front of them, in their hands, and in the market. It slows the game down a bunch, so having an easier way to help players check card abilities would be useful.

Overall: 7.5 / 10

Overall, I think Kekko Desu! is a lot of fun. What I like most about it is that at its core, it’s a simple card game reminiscent of some of the games I played growing up, where each card has an interesting, straightforward effect. You can really teach this to most people pretty quickly, especially since the core game is just “play a card; you want to have majorities of each number”, with some extra steps. The major challenge for folks who can’t read Japanese is just that the card abilities are pretty specifically laid out on each card, which means that you have to explain every card to all players during the game (and there’s now a lot of checking of card abilities every turn). Thankfully, it’s not too hard to pick up what you need to pick up to get a functional lay of the land. I do wish there were icons on the cards to explain their abilities, rather than text, but that really is just because I can’t read any Japanese. Beyond that, the game is pretty fun, both artistically and thematically! It’s a very bright, engaging, and colorful game, and we’ve all been that jerk at a gift exchange who only wants a very specific gift, right? … Probably. Either way, if you’re looking for a quick little game that’s mean, hectic, and plenty of fun, you might enjoy Kekko Desu! Or maybe it’ll find its way into your gift exchanges?


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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