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Subject: From Kigi to Kodama rss

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Daniel Solis
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Hello! I'm Daniel Solis, the designer of Kodama: the Tree Spirits, but really it's been a team effort with strong direction and development from Travis R. Chance and Nick Little at Action Phase Games. This is a brief history of how the game came to be.


Early Days
Kodama: the Tree Spirits began as another game I self-published called Kigi, released as a print-on-demand game in late 2014. Since then, it's licensed and translated in Japan, China, Poland, and Germany. It's a pretty big hit by any measure of POD success.

Action Phase Games approached me several months later with a clear enthusiasm for the core mechanics of the game. They had just as much enthusiasm for developing and overhauling everything else about the game, too. I was cautious at first. "After all," I thought, "Kigi is such a hit everywhere else until now, why change things?"

Well, a day or two later, Travis R. Chance and Nick Little came back to me having already played the game about a dozen times. They suggested a lot of interesting tweaks and critiques that really took the heart of what made Kigi work and gave it a whole new perspective. From there, I knew I wanted to work with a publisher that passionate and that quick with their development cycle. So I signed on and Kigi finally had an American publisher!

Since then, Action Phase has taken a strong lead in further development, until it eventually became a whole new game we're calling Kodama: the Tree Spirits.


New Theme, New World
First and foremost, Kodama is far more thematic than Kigi. We are strongly influenced by Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away and the classic video game franchise Legend of Zelda. We wanted to tap a little more deeply into an ecological theme as well. After all, it's fun to see how the trees grow and expand across the table as you play, but we wanted to put players in more of a literal caretaker role as the forests expand.

But why are you growing trees? In Kigi, you're an artist hired to paint a mural, but that didn't have enough story or character behind it. We wanted this new game to present a more urgent need to grow these trees. It needed a stronger emotional hook. So we looked back at the original Japanese art inspiration for Kigi and sought out some other motivation for play.

That's where the Kodama came in.


Who are the Kodama?
Kodama are the tree spirits of Japanese folklore. In our game, they're looking for trees to call their new home. Players are human caretakers for these tree-homes, cultivating their branches over three seasons of supernaturally fast growth. (If you recall the scene from My Neighbor Totoro where Totoro and friends grow an enormous tree overnight, you'll know what we mean.)

In Kigi, the players are artists painting trees who score bonus points for completing "Commissions," at the end of the game. Most of the time these were binary conditions like having the most or least of a particular feature on your tree compared to other player's trees. These were too all-or-nothing for the new theme, so we completely overhauled those to a new list of bonus conditions.

The new conditions scale according to how well you achieve certain combinations of features or branch formations, rather than being purely binary. We found these more granular conditions scaled very well and kept the gameplay much more interesting. These Commissions were renamed Kodama, because you're essentially being rewarded for how well you accommodate the particular desires of each tree spirit.

Once we settled on Kodama being so important to the gameplay, it was time to bring them to life in art. Scott Hartman directed Kwanchai Moriya to develop very cute characters that would tap into the players' compassionate and protective instincts. Look at these little Kodama, don't you just want to hug 'em? We wanted to make them very cuddly while still having a sort of mystical nature that is quite obvious at first glance. I think Scott Hartman and Kwanchai Moriya really hit it out of the park here.


Endless Growth
One of the core mechanics of Kigi called for players to prune branches after they reached a certain length. As a result, some emergent play patterns encouraged players to focus on one single branch and then prune it from an opponent's tree before they could score on it any further. This is a fine mechanic if you're trying to model competitive artists vying for lucrative commissions, but it didn't feel appropriate for this new theme.

I'm never one to shy away from wholesale changes to core mechanics, so I proposed completely removing pruning as a mechanic. What would happen if you absolutely had to keep growing your tree? We realized that if we removed pruning entirely, it would create a very different spatial puzzle. Suddenly you're more worried about being able to optimally place your own cards on your tree rather than attacking anyone else's.

This also had the added bonus of removing one of the major pitfalls of Kigi, an endgame state where only one or two players had any kind of foliage while everyone else had barren stumps. Now when you play a full game of Kigi, you'll end with these enormous verdant trees worthy of any tree spirit!


Changing Seasons
In Kigi, you play through the whole deck of branch cards once through. I wasn't really concerned with keeping turn orders balanced since the Commissions were blended into the branch cards. On any turn, depending on which cards emerged from the branch deck, you had to decide whether to pursue the high-risk/high-reward of Commissions or take the incremental short-term gains of a branch card.

In Kodama: the Tree Spirits, Action Phase wanted to do two things: Ensure each player has an equal number of turns and make Kodama scoring happen more frequently in the middle of the game as well as at the end. The solution to both goals was dividing the entirety of game play into three seasons: Spring, Summer, and Fall.

Within each season, each player has an equal number of turns and the season ends after a set number of rounds in which each player has had one turn. We removed the Kodama from the branch deck as well, instead dealing a hand of Kodama cards to each player at the beginning of the game as part of the setup. This allowed players to focus on their spatial puzzles and short-term scoring for a few turns before they all reached the end of the season at the same time.

When a season ends, each player must choose only one Kodama to move into that tree, thus scoring points according to that Kodama's preferences. Choosing which Kodama to score is very important, as almost all of them score big points if you wait until the end of the game to score them. Choosing which one you'll score earlier is a tough call and makes for a fun long-term challenge.

At the start of a new season, players have a slightly new variation on normal play, to emulate the changing natural environment from season to season. These changes are small, but just enough to make you re-evaluate how you grow your tree.


More Changes
Those were the biggest changes between Kigi and Kodama: the Tree Spirits, but there were numerous other smaller changes that popped up in the development process.

We changed the art style to a night-time scene, because we thought that was a much more mysterious and magical time to depict. All of the features on the trees were changed to nocturnal counterparts, but still keeping the overall natural theme where possible. We have three air borne features: Stars, Clouds, and Fireflies. We also have three tree-dwelling features: Flowers, Mushrooms, and Caterpillars.

We added a sixth feature to Kodama so that the branch deck could be bigger and we could slow down the scoring opportunities just a little bit and keep overall scores down to around 100 or so. That sixth feature necessitated re-evaluating the distributions of all the features throughout the deck, adjusting how frequently each combination of features would appear.

One of the last changes we made from Kigi is removing the ability to play a branch card on an opponent's tree. We did this mainly so that it would reduce the analysis paralysis that would sometimes happen during Kigi, where players could have dozens of (literally) branching options for scoring. This also ensured each player's tree would be the same size at the end of the game which felt a little more fair for all involved.

Aside from those changes, Action Phase also added several new components to the game, including score boards, tons of new art, and several new play pieces that might be upgraded in deluxe editions or stretch goals.

And that just about wraps it up! I hope that clears up any questions. For fans of Kigi, I think you'll find some really interesting new ideas in Kodama that let it stand on its own terms. Aside from the branch-growing mechanic, it really is a whole new game with lovely art and smart design choices. I hope you'll support the Kickstarter campaign on October 13th 2015 and watch Kodama: the Tree Spirits grow!
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8bg
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Re: Designer Diary: From Kigi to Kodama
Thanks for sharing -- can't wait to back the KS!
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M. Frieg
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Re: Designer Diary: From Kigi to Kodama
Same here..and if i had known this before i would not have backed the german Spieleschmiede-version.. :-( Although it might be a good game also (hey there was a reason i backed it) this one is so much more and better... art and gameplay it seems.
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Robb Williams
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Very interesting write up. Kigi is great and I am really looking forward to Kodama.
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Re: Designer Diary: From Kigi to Kodama
Encouraging to learn of the care and attention that went into this game.
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Nick Tich
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Re: Designer Diary: From Kigi to Kodama
Kigi is a staple at the vast majority of my game nights. It's just so easy to pick up and play for any level of gamer, but it still offers up some very interesting choices! Naturally this reimagining has my attention!

Like mentioned above, the one thing about Kigi was that most of the time everyone around the table tries to build on 1, maybe 2 trees, leaving many players with just a stump. There's almost always a card from the display that will work on those bountiful 1 or 2 trees, so you're basically forced to continue on those trees until they are 'pruned' or you'll be taking a hefty point hit by starting on another tree. I'm sure the restriction to your own tree was put in place to alleviate that 'complaint.' That being said, being able to strategically prune branches or disrupt like feature groups on other player's trees was part of the fun with the game.

I actually really enjoy the Kodama implementation of the 'commission' cards, as it gives you tricky decisions in terms of whether to use the commissions in the short or long-term. Commissions in Kigi felt pretty luck driven, as they come out randomly with the rest of the branch cards. On top of that, taking a commission was often a big risk, since if you didn't finish the game with that objective complete, you'd get zero points and you'd basically forfeit that turn. In Kodama, smart planning and adaptation to what is drawn will be rewarded much more often! I LOVE THAT!

What I worry about is the game will become much less interactive without being able to play off of other player trees. I almost wish they would have found a way to leave that mechanic in the game, as the introduction of Kodama 'commission' cards would increase the risk of playing on other trees (since you don't know what Kodamas they have - you could be helping them with one of their secret objectives without even knowing it!). I feel like people would tend to stick with their own tree because of that risk.

Sorry for the long winded post, but I just thought I'd air my feelings on this one. I will be following this project VERY closely and doing some more research, and this is coming from someone that typically dismisses ALL Kickstarters. Like I said, the original game is something I have tons of games played and continue to bring out almost every time we play games.

Thanks for reading!
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Travis R. Chance
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Re: Designer Diary: From Kigi to Kodama
Nick, thanks for the thoughtful reply! We worked very hard on developing this game. And what we noticed, before eliminating playing on other trees, was the new kodama cards, as goals, just did not inspire such an action in players--not even Kigi veterans. You have to work toward YOUR goals, which have nothing to do with your opponents' goals. We tried to root the system in the old way, but it is hard to have goals that care about what other people are doing, as they can give you a windfall of points accidentally OR you get nothing at all. In the end, after a couple of months of very intense testing and development, it made more sense to lose this. What may have seemed like player interaction often would skew the beauty of how kodama work and add a lot of AP to the game--remem, we have a 6th feature as well.

Indeed, this was a concession of sorts, but the game adds a lot in place of this single mechanic. I hope you have a chance to play and enjoy it as much as we have!
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Daniel Solis
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Re: Designer Diary: From Kigi to Kodama
Yup, what Travis said. As I mentioned in the OP, the aggressive pruning, all-or-nothing Commissions, and feast-or-famine card flops really fit the theme of competing artists in Kigi. After many, many playtests, we just found having that more subtle denial-of-opportunity level of interaction was a better fit for this theme.



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Angus Lee
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Re: Designer Diary: From Kigi to Kodama
Talking about the Commission Cards, we played games of 2-player Kigi in the past and found that those "Most/Least" commission cards just not working: since very likely you or your (only) opponent will fulfill it, so there are (almost) always a 10 point difference; therefore, taking a commission card in 2-player game is a must.
With the more varieties of Kodoma cards in Kodoma, hopefully there are no such "most/least" ones or they can be taken out in a 2-player game.
 
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Travis R. Chance
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Re: Designer Diary: From Kigi to Kodama
Indeed. There are no most/least cards in the game at all
 
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Daniel Solis
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Re: Designer Diary: From Kigi to Kodama
Yup, all of the Kodama cards are scaled objectives with much smoother gradients of success.
 
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Dale Rowe
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Re: Designer Diary: From Kigi to Kodama
I can't help but feel Kodama is the family friendly version of a much more purer game: Kigi.

And that is not to say that Kigi was not family friendly, it is just that I feel that in so stringently wrapping the mechanics around a more fun and light-hearted theme they have dulled or rather muddied the purity and freshness of Kigi.

They have also subtracted the most elegant mechanic in the game, the pruning, in favour of the aesthetic pleasure of "making a forest appear before your eyes", which whilst pleasant, is certainly more of a marketing pledge.

In all, as much as i still like the sound of Kodama, I would still much prefer an englisgh, boxed version of Kigi. It was fresh and breezy as Kodama is charming yet rigid in scope.
 
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Travis R. Chance
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Re: Designer Diary: From Kigi to Kodama
GarcianIII wrote:
I can't help but feel Kodama is the family friendly version of a much more purer game: Kigi.

And that is not to say that Kigi was not family friendly, it is just that I feel that in so stringently wrapping the mechanics around a more fun and light-hearted theme they have dulled or rather muddied the purity and freshness of Kigi.

They have also subtracted the most elegant mechanic in the game, the pruning, in favour of the aesthetic pleasure of "making a forest appear before your eyes", which whilst pleasant, is certainly more of a marketing pledge.

In all, as much as i still like the sound of Kodama, I would still much prefer an englisgh, boxed version of Kigi. It was fresh and breezy as Kodama is charming yet rigid in scope.

I would argue the contrary. Part of our mission in developing Kigi was in making there be more choices. In Kigi, placing a branch is very deterministic: you put it out to score the most points, which is why the pruning existed from our vantage: to stop terminal scoring at some point. Placing on other players trees only contributed to this issue, as placement scoring was the backbone of the game. For example, a player might place and score only two on the first play, then the next could get as much as 5 depending on what came out of the branch deck. The third player might then score 8. Then the place, and prune. Repeat this. There was very little incentive to place otherwise except the commissions, which often could be a risk as players could jockey to ensure you failed--and since they scored in a binary means, this meant you potentially wasted precious momentum in taking them. In Kigi, there is almost always a right play if you look long enough. In Kodama, there is usually a fork in the road.

Kodama caps the scoring to ensure more choices. It also accomplishes this with the updated commissions in the form of the kodama cards and by making players only place on their own trees--which also helped take reduce AP in the game. The sixth feature also helped with what in development I called the "pick the biggest pile of beans" problem we encountered and eventually addressed. By not allowing placement that would score beyond 10 points, we managed to encourage more diverse play with far less determinism.

What may seem like a marketing choice really was about reinforcing the most alluring mechanic in the game: the branches being placed to make a tree. After talking with many fans of Kigi, testing both games, and, of course, many hours talking with Daniel, we feel confident in this perspective. People see the trees on the table and stop and say, "Wow! What is this?"

In Kigi, most trees remain without branches throughout much of the game, or end up so by the game end. In Kodama, your tree is lush, and your decisions are much more open. It isn't simply about taking a card and placing it to score the most points each round. There is a tension in the short term (placement) and long term (kodama cards). The decrees just add a little variety to the mix.

Just wanted to offer you some insight from the publisher side. We saw something amazing in Kigi. We have had many fans of the original that tested Kodama state that they appreciate the games for different reasons. I think most would agree Kodama is the heavier of the two in terms of complexity and decision points. It is truly a wonderful game and without Kigi, it simply wouldn't exist. To that end, I have appreciation for both.
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Daniel Solis
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Re: Designer Diary: From Kigi to Kodama
What Travis said!
 
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Bryan Thunkd
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Sadly, I prefer the art of Kigi but the game of Kodama, making neither a good choice for me.
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Jim Greenwood
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+1 for the KIGI art preference
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Joe T
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I just got Kodama,looking forward to it! But I don't really understand the Sprout cards. They are only for "newer" players? And encourage them to play them during the seasons? Isn't that what the Kodama cards do as well, right?

Also the box states 2-5 players, but there are 6 tokens and trunk cards correct? So you can play with 6? Thanks!
 
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Daniel Solis
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The Sprout cards are really meant for kids. They are balanced and streamlined to be played in a certain order, making the choices easier for kids to understand. We have six trunks for a little opening variety, but the game is designed for up to five.
 
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