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Subject: The beauty of Japanese art (outside hentai) - a Kanagawa review rss

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Stephane Josephy
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Kanagawa by Bruno Cathala and Charles Chevallier.
Art by Jade Mosch.
Iello
2-4 players
Age 10+
Time: 30-45'

Foreword: So, Essen 2016 is just behind us, and besides all the heavy games I brought back (A Feast For Odin and Great Western Trail are awesome, for starters), there are quite a few smaller ones that also deserve attention. Kanagawa was not high on my shopping list, but the cute art and components were just too good to pass. Let's see if the game is also worth it.

Theme: the players are apprentices of Master Hokusai, the great painter of the town of Kanagawa.
Trivia: Katsushika Hokusai is a real woodpainter, and the Great Wave off Kanagawa is an iconic woodblock painting on display at the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art.

To win the game, the apprentices will have to share their time between learning new painting techniques at the workshop, and actually painting the best possible masterpiece to impress Hokusai-san.

Components & rulebook: as said earlier, game components are just amazing. The box cover, with a clever mix of surfaces, is surely eye-catching. The 15 paintbrush tokens have innovative shapes and are a pleasure to look at & manipulate.

The cards, while a bit small, (and not easily sleevable, I think. I don't care, but I know normal people do) are nicely illustrated. And finally, the main school mat is a very typical rollable surface made of straw (or something (probably plastic) (straw-looking plastic, if such a thing exists)).

All of this is very aesthetic, while remaining perfectly functional.
Nothing to say about the (french) rulebook, it is clear, concise and complete.

Game Mechanisms: at its core, Kanagawa is a card game. Each card is multi-functional: one half depicts the skill you will learn if you use the card as a workshop, the other half is a fraction of the painting you work on. The back of each card is colored to represent what type of element you might find on the painting (character, animal, trees or buildings)
At the start of a turn, one card per player is place on the school mat, most face-up, but some face-down, according to a pattern printed on the mat. In turn order, you can pick a card or pass. If all players pass, a second card is revealed under the cards present. And then a third.
So, in the third round, you can pick a column of three cards instead of just one, or two, if you are greedy and jumped on a good card earlier.

When an apprentice grabs one of more cards, he can play them in any order as a new skill, or as a part of the painting, if you have previously learned how to make the required landscape of the card (mountain, forest, plains or sea).
The main way to score points is by receiving diplomas granted for specific milestones in your painting. For instance, there are three diploms available if you have 2,3 or 4 different buildings. Very similarly to Augustus, when you reach 2 buildings, you can pick the small diploma, or wait for a bigger one, with more Victory points, but the risk that somebody picks it before you.
17 different diplomas are up for grabs. You also score points for the size of your painting, for its harmony (the seasons on the cards must match) and some extra points printed on cards here and there.
The game ends when a painting reaches the size of 11 cards, or if the card pile is empty.

Gameplay experience: Kanagawa seems easy at first. Pick cards, place them, rinse and repeat until you reach 11 cards before anyone else. However, that game plan alone won't win you many games. You really need to focus on some types of cards to grab good diplomas while they're available. If possible, you need to match seasons to get that bonus too.
The attractiveness of certain cards to some apprentices makes the card-grabbing mechanism interesting. Should I take that first card before everyone else, or wait to get more ?
The fact that some cards are face-down brings a moderate 'gamble' feeling at times, which is fine by me.
Interaction is minimal at first. Everyone is building his workshop, there's not much interest in picking less than 3 cards a turn and generally, most columns are roughly equivalent.
Later in the game, though, it is vital to watch other people's painting, to see what diplomas they're aiming for. If you compete for a same diploma, it is a race. You have to fight for first place (given by a one-shot workshop skill), and you'll want to jump onto any good card earlier.
And some diplomas offer massive points. Even if you don't directly compete for them, near the end of the game, it is sometimes wise to deny access to interesting cards.
But, but, why do you take THAT card !?
So, if you're looking for a nice, medium-light game with excellent components and gorgeous graphics, try to find this one.

Pros & cons:
thumbsup amazing look and feel
thumbsup elegant card-picking mechanism
thumbsup nice, family-friendly theme

thumbsdown nice, family-friendly theme when you have a 10y old kid who's all into monsters and sword fights and space dogfights. He likes the game, but it lacks hemoglobine. And explosions.

Overall: 8;5/10

Kanagawa is great, and I'm very enthusiastic about the work Iello has done here, , especially for a small-box game. Perfect production.

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