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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Back This! Mint Works, Justin Blaske

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Meet Justin Blaske, a designer from Nebraska, USA. I originally spied Justin’s latest game Mint Works on Instagram and I was really drawn to its quaint low key design and quirky name. I thought it looked super cool and wanted to find out more. Mr Blaske kindly allowed me the PnP, which I did indeed print and play. I’m happy to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did the other players. For me this is an absolutely lovely and beautifully designed little gem. A cute filler and perfect travel game, easy to teach for new gamers but enough strategic decision making and minty rewards for more experienced players to get their teeth into. Yes I loved Mint Works, and hope very much to get a finished copy arriving on my door step in the near future. It went live on Kickstarter today, it’s a great campaign (I love the promo video, it’s perfect) and you can find the link at the bottom of the page. 

I’ll leave it to Justin to tell you more…

What was the inspiration for Mint Works and can you tell us what it’s all about?

Well, this game came about very differently than my typical game ideas. Mint works ended up being created in response to a design contest on BGG. The contest, run by R4D6, was to create a game that, with all of it’s components, would fit within a mint tin. When I saw the competition, I thought it was really neat, but had no ideas what I could do for that. So I subscribed to the thread to see what came of it, and moved on. A few days later while I was relaxing around the house the idea came to me. Why not make game that used the mints themselves as components! From there, worker placement seemed like a good direction to go. That’s when I locked the name “Mint Works” down, since your mints were doing your work for you, ha! From that point, I started throwing together ideas, realized I could make it simple enough that it could be a gateway style game, and being pocket sized in a little metal tin made it even better for that idea. People could carry this around in their pocket and the game wouldn’t get damaged!

Is this the first game you’ve designed and what lead you up to this point as a games designer? 

Nope, My first game was Area 1851, and I was lucky enough to get that published! It’s had pretty mixed reviews so far. Some people love it, some people think it’s ok, and some people hate that it exists.  If I look at my projects listing Mint Works is my 7th design. Which now that I look at this list, kind of blows my mind how many different projects I have going.

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How did you find creating the campaign? 

Well I had created one campaign before this, for Area 1851, and that was a bit of a mess. I had no idea what I was doing, both in term of Kickstarer design, or the game design industry as a whole. So it’s a good thing that it failed initially, I think – it gave me time to get a better context for Kickstarter and game design as a whole. The Mint Works campaign I think will be much better, and I dare say successfully fund. My abilities as a graphic designer have improved over the years and I’ve done a lot more research into creating a campaign. Not to mention actually being a part of the gaming ecosystem now for several years. When all is said and done, When you buy a copy of Mint Works from your FLGS store you’ll find a ton of fun, in a tiny little tin. The final graphics haven’t been submitted to the manufacturer yet, so it’s possible for things to change a slight amount, but what you see in the campaign page, and in review videos will be pretty close to what you get at the end.

Have you got anything else in the pipeline for Mint Works such as expansions or any future games you’re working on?

Mint Works is so small and compact, I’m not sure what would be a good expansion or addition to it. I struggled to come up with meaningful stretch goals for the campaign, that would still fit in the tin!

I’m not opposed to expanding on it, introducing more advanced concepts and leading new player deeper into this wonderful hobby we all enjoy. However, I don’t think it would work well in the mint tin form factor, an expansion for Mint Works would likely be a little bigger box, that accepts all of the original mint works components. As for other games, yes there are lots in the pipeline, and having my buddy Mel join up with me has brought even more creative engergy to the mix. We are pitching a game we initially called “Dungeon Town” during the publisher speed dating event at GenCon this year. I’m also working on a few other projects to potentially release from Five24 Labs, as well as projects directly with other publishers.

 

I love the simple but attractive illustration and design, was this all created by you?

I wish it was! The game’s initial layout was my idea, and a friendly BGG user by the name of Felix (BGG user ID skoll) offered to do some layout/design for a small project for a geek gold donation. I messaged him and he came up with what became the final design/layout. After that, I’ve made a few tweaks here and there. All of the central images on the cards are from the amazing artists over at Game-Icons.netI’ve attached an image to show you the evolution of the cards from initial PnP to near final design.

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Lastly I’d love some advice as an aspiring designer myself, any hints, tips, and ways not to go mad in the process? 

I guess, my best advice is, make things you love playing, or wish you could play. If you aren’t enjoying the game, it becomes much more difficult to finish the project. Also, don’t be afraid to collaborate and worth with other people. Participate on design forums, both on BGG and Facebook – there’s a lot of people out there doing a lot of neat things. Do a competition or two as well, the constraints can really bring out neat ideas.

Most of all though, just stick with it – and if you find yourself in a rut, shelf it for a bit, maybe it isn’t as amazing as you thought it was, maybe it is. Coming back a few weeks/months later will really shed fresh light on on it. Also, if you plan on going to Kickstarter, read Jamey Stegmaier’s book and blogs, and James Mathe’s blogs as well. Really crucial stuff in there to at least see, even if you don’t want to follow it to the letter.

Thanks to Justin for talking to me, and take a look at the finished product here!