Kanagawa, Bruno Cathala & Charles Chevallier

Published: Iello 

Illustration: Jade Mosch

Plays: 2-4

Duration: 30-45 mins

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Let me start by saying that Kanagawa is now firmly placed in my ‘chill AF’ game category, which previously didn’t have enough games to be construed as a category, but at this point I think there are just enough, and Kanagawa fits into it quite nicely. If there were ever a game to give you enough to concentrate on but also the headspace to sit back and just enjoy playing then this is it.

Having read a few glowing reviews and watched the promo video I pretty much knew I was going to like it from the get-go and thankfully it didn’t disappoint. I unboxed it to find a traditional Japanese style play mat, chunky ‘diploma tiles’, little paint pots and square ‘lesson’ cards depicting various pretty images that really set my heart a-fluttering. And amongst all this cute stuff is a very good little game, and attractive components aside, that’s what it’s really all about isn’t it?

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Kanagawa is a worker placement & set collection combination with a bit of card drafting and press your luck thrown in, that works beautifully and plays super smoothly. The rules are fairly simple, but the choices are tough without making your head come off and therein lay the chill factor. You find yourself enrolled in painting school on a mission to prove your art-worthiness to old Master Hokusai. You achieve this by making prints and claiming diploma tiles. You begin with a starting tile; on the top side is your canvas, on the bottom your skill board. The start player (or Grand Master) draws cards from the deck and lays them in a face up/face down arrangement as shown on the mat (your art school). You draw two at a time and the start player decides if they want to stay in school i.e. wait to see what cards are drawn next or to take what’s already there (say you desperately want a lesson card with the landscape painting skill) and the next player will take what’s left. Which isn’t always a bad thing.

You choose to place your cards in two ways: 1/ With your skills; this will acquire you more painting abilities, points, further paint pots, ability to move your pots a number of times or to gain the start playing marker. 2/ With your canvas; prints mean points just by being placed, but you cannot paint them without having the skills and the paint pots to do so.  (The bottom of the lesson card symbolises the skill you need, e.g. two blue ocean painting skills). You increase your Harmony Points by collecting sets and pinching your desired diploma tile before your opponent. Valid sets include people and buildings of different types, combinations of animals and identical landscapes. It’s very much a game of deciding what to do for the best in the moment. Are you aiming to collect tree or people prints? Maybe you want to try your hand at all of them. Should you go for a diploma tile now or wait until next turn to get the better one? What if your opponent nabs it before you? Maybe you want the lesson card with multiple painting abilities, but it will lose you two Harmony Points. Perhaps you can gain them elsewhere…but how? Have you paid attention to what seasons (top right of the lesson card) you are painting? An identical sequence of seasons will score you bonus Harmony Points (although if you gain a skill awarding you a storm token you can use it to substitute any season for a greater sequence.) For a seemingly simple game the options to explore are so varied that you want to play again immediately after you’ve finished to see what else you can do. And that is the mark of a really great game.

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In a two-player game the end is triggered when the lesson deck is empty or a player reaches eleven cards on their canvas. Scoring is based on number of prints, Harmony Points on skills and prints, diplomas, longest sequential run of seasons and a bonus two points for the last player with the Grand Master pawn.

In case you hadn’t already guessed I highly recommend Kanagawa. I love having lots of options, I adore satisfying end scoring and I enjoy games that play like fillers that are a bit fuller…and when it’s over you’re like ‘well that was lovely wasn’t it?’ which is exactly what I’ve said after every game of Kanagawa so far.

Thanks for reading!

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Sandcastles, Andrew Harman

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I spotted Sandcastles  by YAY Games on Twitter and really fancied it, and for a mere £13, I thought why the hell not?  It’s amazing how much fun can be packed into a small box with cards.
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If you saw my unboxing video then you may have seen that these cards are more like square tiles and have various graphics depicting buckets, crabs and seagulls. They have different patterns around the outside that are the ‘walls’ and you use these to build and connect your sandcastles. In a two player game you randomly choose ‘objective’ cards that will score you points e.g-  ‘largest’ sandcastle, the ‘tallest’ sandcastle, a sandcastle featuring 4 bucket cards etc. You play by selecting a card each turn, either by drafting from three central cards, or from the draw deck in order to build your castle. Some of these cards are attack cards and these can be used to mess with your opponent, steal their cards and ruin their glorious sandcastle. When an opponent attacks you can play a card back on them to deflect their attempt, e.g – they play a crab to poke your castle, but you reveal a seagull to eat their crab, but they happen to have a bucket to throw at your seagull, so it’s like rock/paper/scissors and really fun!
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 You can build several sandcastles at once, but you can only set aside your sandcastle for scoring when it’s been completed and all of your sandcastle walls are joined up and closed off. A two player game finishes when the wave card appears. It took about half an hour to play and I never got bored or found it repetitive. It was really genuinely good fun!
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There’s a variant for 3-7 players and for solo play. I’m really looking forward to playing solo, in fact it was the main reason I bought this game as it has a solo option.  Unfortunately spare moments are few and far between, because my current life situation just doesn’t include alone/down time really. I remind myself that it’s not going to last forever and it’s nice to have games with solo play for when the time is right.
Sandcastles is a very good and worthwhile purchase in my opinion, and you can buy directly from the YAY website or from Square Orange. More info on the game here.

Bear Valley, Carl Chudyk

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After a bit of faffing with missing cards (having been told it was virtually impossible for any cards to be missing, well trust me to be the unlucky one!) I finally got to play Bear Valley, the Carl Chudyk exploration card laying game. I’m pleased to say that it was worth the wait. It isn’t a game that I’d say is a ‘must have’ as in if you don’t get this you’re missing something huge. But I didn’t expect it to be when I bought it. It’s fairly light, a filler, fun, frustrating in a good way and isn’t as complex as the (not so well written in my opinion) rule book makes it sound. That’s why I think I’ll do a mini run through video because it’s really quite simple but is explained in a way that left me slightly baffled a couple of times. With rule books I honestly think they should be written assuming the reader knows nothing, that’s not to say they don’t have to have complex rules, just write them like they make perfect sense. Anyway, back to the game!

What’s the aim? Well you’re trying to make your way to the destination camp, avoiding bears and getting lost on the way. The winner is the person who makes it back to camp first.

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How do you play? You have a start camp card and end of camp card and lay down valley cards in between. In order to move you draw the wilderness cards which represent different landscape and include 2-6 pathways on each. On your turn you lay one card at a time counting out loud as you go until you decide to stop or cannot carry on, then you move your back-packing meeple to the last card you placed if you’re able. Cards can only be laid in a ‘brick wall style’ layout (Chudyk refers to it as a hexagonal layout, however bricks make more sense in my mind, but whatever floats your boat) Sounds fairly simple right? Only there are a ton of conditions (these take some time to remember, a little reference card per play would of been a handy addition to this game) and I won’t tell you all of you them but here’s some straightforward examples: if you lay down a card that cannot be attached to a pathway you are considered lost and cannot move from your current position until next turn. You cannot move across a card with another player on. If you decide to lay down four cards and the fourth card has four path ways you cannot go any further until next turn, and so on. If you lay down a mountain you have to stop after the next card you lay. If a bear card is the first you draw on your turn you can sneak past him, but if one is drawn on a second turn and so on you have to stop and go around him next time (unless you’re playing with the equipment and character cards). And that is the base game of Bear Valley!

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The add ons: For more experienced gamers, playing with the add ons is essential. You can choose to use the equipment tokens so you can do more fun stuff as you explore like pick up gold so you can bribe another player to hop on their spot, pick up a picnic basket to evade the bear cards (a bear won’t eat you if sandwiches are provided!) and things like that. And when you add the character bonuses and drawbacks things get even more interesting e.g- Forrest is allergic to trees, so he can’t cross forests and refuses to pick up a machete  *eye roll* but as a bonus he can take an extra turn if he lands on a fox card. So playing these add ons just makes the game play and decision making process more fun.

I enjoyed the press your luck element, I do love pushing my luck (both in games and real life!) so if you keep on laying cards to get closer to the destination camp you run the risk of drawing a card you can’t lay and getting lost (i.e stuck in the same place until the next  turn) or running into a bear. I also lost more than I won because I kept taking the long way around (again very similar to real life!) it was a good laugh.

All in all Bear Valley was a most enjoyable game, plays in 20-30 minutes, and is just fun, and not to be taken too seriously. Like I said it’s not a ‘must have’ per se but it’s a most welcome addition to my collection and I shall really look forward to future plays.

The box art and the landscapes are really nicely illustrated. The images on the cards and the characters I wasn’t too keen on, they have this sort of video game animation circa 2001 feel, I’m not sure if that was intentional but it didn’t make too much sense to me. But as I said in my unboxing video it’s not the defining factor if a game is good.

It’s a 7/10 for me, I would recommend Bear Valley! More info here.

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Bear Valley, Carl Chudyk, Unboxing

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I made a video last night. It’s a bit rubbish, but maybe not a complete embarrassment so I thought i’d be brave and upload it onto my You Tube Channel (which is brand new). It’s just me waffling on and unboxing a game that arrived yesterday called Bear Valley. I’ve not played it, hardly know anything about it, I keep referring to it as a tile laying game, but I mean you lay the cards like tiles. I’m practically whispering and I am getting over a cold/hay fever so I’m a sniffly mess. Maybe if I get more confident I’ll try to do more clever stuff and editing.Now i’ve given you such low expectations, here’s the video! Subscribe to my You Tube Channel here so I don’t feel like a total loser sob sob. More info on Bear Valley.