I tried to think of some clever pun involving “Kodama and Chill”, but none of my attempts seemed to take root. But I promise, there aren’t any nature puns throughout the rest of this review.
We’re going to nip those in the bud.
Kodama Duo acts as both a 2-player version, and 6-player expansion, to Kodama: The Tree Spirits. I won’t really cover the expansion use here, as I no longer own Kodama. Since I normally list the “best at” number next, I’ll say that the game is best at 2.
You will be growing trees one branch at a time, laying cards on top of other branch cards and extending their reach. But don’t go off the table! Or overlap other cards. Or score more than 10 points. Or…
There are a lot of specifics to how your tree can grow, but the weight of the game is fairly low. The most important rule is to not score more than 10 per round. This rule forces you to diversify your tree, rather than have one very long single branch.
After laying a card you score for every symbol in that branch’s line that matches the symbols on the card played. However, those symbols must be in a chain from your new card toward the trunk. The moment a branch card doesn’t have the symbol, you stop counting it.
There are also some bonus points from Kodama spirits you’ll gain three times per game based on set collection and patterns. Also, each season changes the rules in some small way. When you’re finished, you’ll have a beautiful tree, pruned and grown by the boundaries of the game like a bonsai.
Cards are gained through a split-and-choose mechanic. One player draws three cards and divides them 2:1; then the other player chooses one of the two options. If they pick the two cards, they choose one to place and discard the other. The player that gets the single card option also gets a symbol token matching one of the symbols on the discarded branch, adding it overtop a symbol on their tree.
As the only interaction of the game, this mechanic works “fine”. I’d have loved to see something more engaging, but this game is meant to be a chill experience of growing your tree. The symbol tokens can be very important, forcing you to analyze your opponent’s tree and get them to ignore the card you want to take.
There isn’t a lot to say about the play in the form of glowing praise or sharp criticism. All the mechanics blend well together and the calm serenity of pruning your tree is deeply felt. Kodama Duo is akin to a stroll through the forest with a partner, picking up wild flowers and leaves, trying to find the best, but mostly just enjoying the journey.
Kodama is such a mellow experience. There is a game here, but the play and competition are second to the art you build. You breathe life into your tree and shape it each turn. At game end you have a bonsai, a display worthy of Instagram.
Don’t play Kodama Duo for its engaging player interaction and deep strategy, because it has neither of these things. Play it for the relaxing experience shared with a friend.
Oh, and brew some tea. This game requires tea.
Review copy provided by publisher. Thank you Indie Boards and Cards.