Ender Wiggins
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Introduction

(Published in 2008 by Burley Games, designed by Peter Burley)

Family friendly abstracts have been quite the rage in recent years, with games like Blokus even making it onto the shelves of department stores. Games like Ingenious and Hive have their devoted legions of fans. But if you're looking for a colourful abstract that is family friendly, then you absolutely must consider Kamisado. A brand new abstract that was released at Essen 2008, it seems to have gone under the radar largely unnoticed. Could this be a secret gem? I think so. It's colourful and attractive, has stunning bits, the rules can be learned in about 30 seconds, gameplay is quick, and it offers fun for all ages. Even if you don't usually enjoy two player abstracts, this is a game that appeals to gamers of almost all tastes. Read on to learn more!



Box

The gamebox gives us an early indication as to what Kamisado is about: a conflict between black and gold dragons!



But don't be fooled, this is essentially an abstract. We learn more from the reverse side:



Here we learn this:
Kamisado is a game of pure skill and strategy! There are no dice, cards or any other chance element. It’s just you against your opponent! The aim in each round is to be the first to get an octagonal ‘dragon tower’ to the opposite side of the board, by moving the towers in straight lines, either forwards or diagonally forwards. It sounds easy doesn’t it, but the twist is that you can only move a tower if its colour matches the colour of the square that your opponent last moved to. Also, you will find that the routes you want to use are blocked by enemy towers (and sometimes your own!). As the game unfolds, your towers will be promoted to ‘Sumos’, and will have the ability to push your opponent's pieces backwards, earning you extra turns. The situations continue to become more complex and challenging, until one player accumulates the required winning total and can be declared a ‘Kamisado Grand Master’ – until the next game!

Let's open the box and find out more!

Components

Inside we find the following components:

* 16 dragon towers (eight for each player in eight different colours):



* an 8x8 game-board (featuring the same eight different colours):



* "Sumo" rings (for placement on the dragon towers in the advanced game):



* three instructional books (an English and German rulebook, and a booklet with Example Moves):



Let's look at all these components a little more closely.

Rulebook

The rulebook consists of only eight pages, but most of this gives detailed examples of game-play, as well as explanations of advanced forms of the game. The basic rules for the main game are barely a page, because the main rules of game-play are very simple!



There is a separate booklet with Example Moves, which contains eight pages of illustrations. This is a language independent guide that is to be used together with the rulebook, illustrating the possible moves and rules, and is a very helpful tool for visually learning how the game works:



If you want to check out the rule books, you can download them from the publisher's website here:
http://www.burleygames.com/index.php/kamisado-rules

Components: Game board

The gameboard is an 8x8 playing area, the same size as a chess board, but with squares that have eight different colours:



Are you colour blind? Not to worry, so is the designer. He's thoughtfully gone the extra mile to make the game playable for colour blind folks, by putting Chinese symbols on the reverse side of the board, so you can play on that side to make it easier to distinguish the different coloured squares:



Of course, some people might prefer playing on this side because it looks cool!

Components: Dragon Towers

Stripped of the theme, Kamisado boils down to an abstract game on a board with coloured squares, with coloured pieces. In fact, I suppose it could have been produced with a checkers board with stickers in 8 colours, and 16 black and white checkers pieces equipped with stickers in the same 8 colours. But instead of getting el cheapo pieces like this, we get ... Dragon Towers!



Now isn't that magnificent? Yes, dragon towers! See, the cover makes it clear that the theme of the game is a battle between two dragons: gold and black.



And so instead of the traditional black and white pieces, one player gets black dragon towers, and the other player gets gold dragon towers:



These really are magnificently over-produced, and look wonderfully colourful when placed on the board:



Each player gets eight dragon towers, one of each of the eight colours.

Components: Sumo Rings

Sumo rings come in two colours, one for each player, gold and black:



They are in three different sizes:



Each player gets 8x large, 6x intermediate, and 2x small. Sumo rings are used in the advanced form of the game, where winning "dragon towers" are given "sumo" rings, that give them extra powers. Here's an example of a Triple Sumo:



Since these are only used in the advanced form of the game, we won't worry about them for now.

Now let's go learn the game!

Game-play: Set-up

Set-up is super easy: each player places all their dragon towers on the squares matching the colour on the row closest to their side of the board (called their "home row"):



That wasn't hard was it!

Basic game-play

So how do you play? It's that simple that you'll have it figured before you can spell boardgamegeek.com backwards 3 times! Are you ready? Here goes!

1. The winner is the player who gets a dragon tower to the final row on the opponent's side of the board first
2. Movement is any number of spaces (but not over other pieces) directly forwards, or diagonally forwards
3. The only catch: you must move your piece that matches the colour of the square on which your opponent moved his last dragon tower to
4. If the required piece can't move because it is blocked, the other player gets to move his dragon tower corresponding to the colour of the square the blocked piece is on

It's really that simple! You now know how to play Kamisado!

Want to visualize it? Well here's a diagram showing an example of possible movement:



Example of a winning move:



Quite frankly, most people will be quite content to play Kamisado using this basic game-play. You can play a round, which often won't take you more than 10-15 minutes at most. If you want, you can play several rounds, counting 1 point for each win. But if you want to take the game to the next level, you'll be wanting to consider the advanced rules. Basically this just adds two small things to the basic game-play, and applies only when you play a series of games in succession.

Advanced game-play

The rulebook offers three longer versions of the game for conducting a series of rounds:
Standard Match: winner is the first to 3 points
Long Match: winner is the first to 7 points
Marathon Match: winner is the first to 15 points

Naturally a match with a series of rounds will take longer to play, as the side of the box indicates:



The advanced concept of the game is still quite straightforward to learn. In short, the winner of the previous round gets to do two things in the next round:
1. Decide between one of two arrangements of player pieces for the next round, by either filling from the left or the right.
2. Promote the piece that won the previous round to become a "sumo" piece in the next round.
Let's briefly explain how these work.

Sumo dragon towers

A player who wins a round gets to put a "sumo" ring of his colour (gold or black) on his winning dragon tower (the one that won the previous round by ending up in his opponents home row). Here's an example of a Triple Sumo:



A regular "Sumo" (with one ring) has a restriction that it can only move a maximum of 5 spaces at a time. It gains a new power, however: when its forward progress is blocked by an opponent's dragon tower on an adjacent square, and there is a vacant square behind his opponent's tower, it may perform a "sumo move" by pushing the opponent's piece into this vacant square, with the additional bonus of getting to move the dragon tower corresponding to the colour of this previously vacant square.



Most people learning the game won't want to worry about the Advanced form of the game. But once you and an opponent are familiar with the basic rules, you'll likely want to try a series of games (they are played quickly anyway) with the additional sumo rules. If anything the restricted movement of a Sumo is a good "leveling" mechanism that gives the opponent a slight advantage, because it is not often that the Sumo powers will be utilized. So this is a good addition to the basic rules. Here's a picture illustrating a game with several Sumos in play:



Filling from the left or right

In the advanced form of the game, the winner of a round also gets to decide whether to "fill the pieces from the left or the right". Basically this means he gets to choose from two possible starting configurations, based on the position of all the dragon towers at the end of the round that he has just won. This means that the start of the next round will have the dragon towers on different squares than at the start of the first round, and enhances replayability. For example:



Examples of game-play

Does the above description of game-play sounds in any way confusing? Then consider reading the pictorial illustrations of game-play.

Pictorial Illustration of Basic Game-play: Example moves of the new colourful abstract Kamisado

Pictorial Illustration of Advanced Game-play: Filling your home row and how to perform a Sumo push



Puzzles

Want to try the game for yourself, now that you know how it works?

Basic Puzzle

Here's a very basic puzzle that I created. The Black player has made a very aggressive starting move, by advancing his orange tower right across the board, just one away from Gold's final row. But actually this is not such a clever move, because now Gold can win! You are the Gold player, and your challenge is: can you force a win in one move? (Note: Gold must move his purple tower, since Black has moved his orange tower onto a purple square)



The solution to this Basic Puzzle: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/368272

Intermediate Puzzle

Was the Basic Puzzle too easy? Try something slightly harder. Once again, you are the Gold player, and your challenge is: can you force a win in this position? (Note: Gold must move his pink tower, since Black's last move was moving his orange tower onto a pink square)



The solution to this Intermediate Puzzle: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/368388

Annotations

Then there are some extra bonuses that the rules includes. You don't need this to play the game, but if you get really serious about Kamisado, you'll be pleased to know that the game designer has even come up with a system of annotations:



The rulebook even contains an example of an annotated match of five rounds! Here's the first annotated round using this system of annotations:



A form of chess notation would also work (eg green tower b1-f4 orange square), although I'm sure most people won't ever take the game seriously enough to start annotating games! But if you do, don't say that the game designer hasn't thought of it first!

What do I think?

I'm quite excited about Kamisado. Here are some of the great things it offers:
* Simple rule-set that's easy to teach and to learn
* Quick gameplay, with most games only taking 10-15 minutes at most
* Scope for advanced concepts (Sumos) for those wanting additional challenges in a series of rounds
* Attractive and colourful overproduced components
* Strongly tactical, offering a level playing field where new players can do well

Almost everyone we have taught this game to has been enthralled with the simplicity and fun of the gameplay, has wanted to play multiple times, and questioned us about where they can purchase the game. In our own home, the game has been played well over 100 times in the two weeks since we first received it.

So are there any negatives? Well in a session with a colour blind friend, distinguishing between the colours did pose some challenges, but the Chinese characters did help significantly, although it did make the game more work for him to play. Others have commented that the game seems to be more tactical than strategic, and perhaps this is true. I don't see this as a weakness, because it means that even my younger children stand a good chance at beating me with some clever moves. New players can do well and stand a chance of winning once they grasp the simple rule set. Is this a game with deep strategic principles that can be learned and developed, like Chess? I guess time will tell - our initial exploration of the game has primarily been about enjoying tactics. And yet we do seem to be discovering some tricks that make us want to play again... and again!

Thumbs up to designer Peter Burley (pictured below) for creating a wonderful game, that deserves to be considered a family friendly abstract right alongside other contemporary classics like Blokus!



What do other people think?

But don't just take my word for it! Admittedly, since the game is still so new, there's not a lot of well established opinions, but here are a few scattered comments of enthusiasm from others, to whet your appetite:
"Wonderful abstract! Great introduction to people who never played abstracts or who found other abstract games dull." - Elke Mertens
"The basic game is very sound, but even more impressive are the advanced plays, which really add an extra element the more you get to know the game." - Rob Harris
"Probably my favourite abstract with a great deal of depth for such simple rules. Amazing components that not only look good but are very functional." - George Young
"Very good, original and extremely colorful abstract strategy game. Rules are simple, but game play is engaging." - Koert Debyser
"I get a kick out of this game, because it's the sort of abstract I like: quirky, not too hard but with layers of depth, short, and pleasingly presented." - Chris Farrell
"You can almost feel yourself getting better at Kamisado the more that you play, which is a strength of the game. Burley may not be a prolific designer, but I can imagine Kamisado turning into a classic on par with his Take it Easy! in the years to come, showcasing the value of quality over quantity. " - W. Eric Martin
"I love classic games and this falls somewhere between Go and Checkers. If it had been pitched as a Kosmos 2 player sized game, I imagine they would have poured off the shelves." - Ian Smith
"This game is BRILLIANT! I adore that you can play a basic game, then decide when it's done that you want to turn it into the first round of a standard game, and so on. The production is ridiculously good, and surprisingly large." - Nathan Morse
"Kamisado is the best invention on planet Earth since Chess. While Chess strategy is very obviously complex, Kamisado strategy is deceivingly elaborate, lightning fast, and on a razor's edge at each and every move. As a bonus and despite its complexity, a straight game of Kamisado is quick. Kamisado is an attractive and intellectually demanding game for those of us who are short of time and like a challenge." - Alain Culos

The final word

If you're looking for a fun abstract that's family friendly, quick to play, easy to learn, and has high quality, gorgeous, colourful components, then Kamisado might just be what you're looking for! Time will tell if it will become a king among abstracts. But in our home right now, Kamisado is clearly a crown prince.



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The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
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Zack Stackurski
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Mankato
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I love almost all games, play Boardgames with my wife, have three kids, generally enjoy cats and understand and like those bumper stickers with the little fishies sprouting legs.
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I saw a few nice pics and a review or two around Essen and thought this looked neat... but a hair to complicated for my Blokus loving family. Determining which piece your opponent should move based on the piece you can move based on their prior move seems like it would cause mass Analysis Paralysis problems (and a large number of game players I'm related to are poster adults for AP...)

But I now definitely want to give this a try if given the opportunity. Another great review!
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Andrew Brannan
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Seems like an interesting game in the same vein as Quarto, but the pieces are much larger than they need to be, and the colors are a bit garish for my taste.
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Daniël Muilwijk
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Thank you very, very much for this review! I've put it on my wishlist right away.
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