I’ll tell you what… we never get enough credit for what we do around here. Do these people really think their hard work and toil brings prosperity and allows their nets to be filled with fish and their land to be full of crops? I’ve spent thousands of years orchestrating the happenings of this world. From the emotions of humans to the forces of nature, we Kami see everything. I appreciate a shrine or two, but you would think we would probably get a few more around here. Maybe this century will be one with a bit more recognition.
Kami-Sama is one of the newest Kickstarter releases from Kolossal Games on the heels of their successful release of Western Legends. In this game, players take on the roles of Kami in 13th Century Edo Japan. You work tirelessly over the span of three years (12 rounds) to influence four different villages, gaining favor and working through nature. Each Kami begins the game with three action points to spend to do their bidding. Players can add and remove shrines, or use one of their asymmetrical Kami powers to manipulate shrines around the game board. As time passes throughout the year, so does the board. Following the end of each season, the circular board moves 90 degrees, passing your current village to the player on your left. Shrines can be built to obtain village tokens by completing goal cards. They can be built in forests and fields to gain both favor and nature. Finally, Kami may choose to control the temple, allowing you to decide who breaks ties for control of each village at the end of each round. At its heart, Kami-Sama is an intricate puzzle of constantly moving parts that force players to adapt over the course of three years.
Note: I fought back and forth with this game and wanted to just come out and share things I loved and things I did not love. I did this because so many of the things I loved and did not love might be completely different for you and your gaming crew. Rather than calling something a Pro and a Con, I felt it was more honest to give a purely personal review of the things I thought were great, and things I thought were not so great.
I LOVE IT
Asymmetry: I have now played this game four different times and every single time the game played out in a different way. Having both mini-expansions gave us 20 different Kami, who each have a unique set of powers to use when manipulating your shrines. I was not sold on the amount of Kami to choose from, however, after 4 different plays with 4 different Kami, I wanted to keep playing to try them all. There are also 19 different goal cards, three of which you choose from for each game. Some games it was a battle between players to achieve the goals, other games we were completing goals left and right. Because of this, each game played out differently. I want to keep playing Kami-Sama because every time I play it’s different.
Adaptation: Some games let you develop a strategy and you roll with that strategy for the duration of your game. Other games force you to constantly be changing your plans, waiting to see what the board is going to offer until every other player has taken their turn. Kami-Sama offers players the experience of constantly adapting from season to season and from year to year. With a board that rotates around the table, players need to be aware at all times of what is happening in other villages to know what is headed their way. Players must also realize the strategies they have lined up in their current village will most likely be destroyed by the time this village returns back to them. The constant adding, replacing, and moving of shrines appears to be a “take that” mechanic, however, I never once felt that way when playing. This sounds like the most high school peer pressure comment you could possibly write, but, everyone is doing it. Because everyone is doing it, it is not so much a take that, but more of a, how can I work around what is happening all over the board. Even though what you are doing each turn seems repetitive, you are always having to reevaluate your strategy.
Simple: Players need to be aware of quite a bit happening around them at all times, but the actions you choose to take are simple to grasp. The simplicity of this game allows for players of all skill types to work towards completing goals and feel good about what is happening in their current village. I actually played this game with my nephews (who were 8 and 15) over the holiday break and was surprised at how quickly they grasped the gameplay. The 8-year-old was able to use some of his Kami powers without much thinking or strategy and still wreaked enough havoc to hold his own. I also played this game with a group who delves into heavy euros and it became a strategically heavy battle of wits. Do not let the theme and art fool you into thinking this is a light-hearted game. Some plays will lean to a lighter, middleweight game, while others will lean to the heavier side. It is the simplicity that allows the game to adapt to those playing.
Low Player Count: Because of the nature of the board and the shrines filling up spaces in the villages, the lower player counts exceeded my expectations. I absolutely loved playing this game with two players and genuinely loved playing with three. Three players allow for more space to be open on the board, allowing players to quickly identify the best actions for the specific round. The wide open spaces (what’s up Dixie Chicks) in the village help the game run smoothly and allow players to see their strategies come to fruition (more on this later). The two-player version of the game introduces Kitsune, an AI fox who wreaks havoc on the shrines in villages. I do not think I have actually found a game I enjoyed with an AI “third player” until I played Kami-Sama. The AI kept both players on our toes and actually disrupted many of our plans. Normally I am not a fan of randomness, but for some reason, this cute little three-eyed fox could do whatever he wanted in the villages and I loved it!
Art & Shrines: Thanks to Gong Studios, the artist behind this game, every Kami, card and the board itself is beautifully illustrated. The theme oozes out of this game solely because of the artwork. Normally art in a game doesn’t get me going, but sometimes it is the perfect touch for a game. This is true of Kami-Sama. Player pieces are also individual and unique wooden shrines that have aesthetically pleasing colors. It’s a small touch, but in a game that 100% revolves around these shrines, I love they took the extra step to make them quality.
Card Drafting: One of the aspects of the game I love is the card drafting mechanic present at the end of each year. At the end of the year, players check villages to see who has “control”, i.e. the most continuous shrines in a village. If there are ties, the tie is broken by the player who controls the temple in this village. Starting with the player who has control, as many villager cards as players, are drawn. A card is chosen by the first player, then passed on to other players in order of control. These villager cards offer endgame victory points as well as actions to manipulate shrines after the year has finished. Drafting these cards gives players another avenue to victory and provides another strategy when placing shrines.
I DON’T LOVE IT
High Player Count: Every time I played this game with four players I walked away with a bitter taste in my mouth. With no space on the board, the beauty of the game was ground down to point pinching turns that turned the game into the length of a heavy euro. The problem was that you really are not doing too many different things on each turn. You have unique powers, but at the end of the day, you are still just moving shrines around. I loved this when I played the game in an hour and had space to use my powers, I don’t love it when I’m two hours in and each person is staring at the board trying to figure out how to maximize their points. I have too many other games that offer a richer experience for the time it took to play.
Which Village Is It?: This is small, but without a magnifying glass, it is incredibly difficult to see whether the villages are the Farming, Fishing, Wealthy, or Holy villages respectively. The farming and fishing villages have artwork below the huts and stilt houses that make it obvious, but it would have been really nice if they slapped the symbol of each village on the roof of the temple. Yes, this seems trivial, but we spent so much time making sure we were taking actions in the right villages. Naturally, this will become less of an issue the more you play, but be prepared to take some time deciphering between the villages.
Favor & Nature: The scoring of victory points through gaining favor and nature is a nice mechanic. The lower of the two numbers is how many points you score at the end of each year. I don’t love how vital this is to winning the game, in relation to attaining those points. What I am trying to say is that every player has to do it, so oftentimes it makes your move trivial and kind of boring. I need to bump my favor, so I need to find a field for my shrine.
Doesn’t Build to Anything: Each year players unlock another action cube to use for the rest of the game. This simply allows you to take more actions of the same actions. I don’t love that the game does not build towards anything. There really isn’t an engine or anything you are building towards. By the end of the game, you are still doing the same thing as you were in the beginning.
SO, SHOULD I PICK THIS ONE UP?
The majority of things I did not love about this game all stemmed from my experiences of playing with four players. The game did not offer enough meat for me for the time we invested. We all found ourselves sort of wanting to be done. However, and a massive however it is, I really enjoyed playing this game with both two and three players. There are not many games that I have that excel in the three person range, often leaving me wishing we would have found one more player. I kept playing and playing this game before writing this review because I wanted it to be so good. The things I loved, I really loved, and I am so glad I played a few more times. I look forward to bringing it out again and seeing how it plays differently with each and every new Kami. I look forward to a meatier game that I can play in a little over an hour. I love that I can play this with younger, non-gamer, kids and enjoy my time, yet pull it out with my euro gamers and play a quick two-player game to start the evening. There’s enough good here to pick it up.
*I was provided a free copy of Kami-Sama from Master of the Boards with the sole purpose of playing and to write an honest review. These were my thoughts after playing the game. Please let me know if you have any questions about the game!
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