Illustration: Jade Mosch
Duration: 30-45 mins
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?
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.
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!