Edo, what is now known as Tokyo, was a thriving city with a huge culture for shopping. Edo's main district Nihonbashi was filled with shops peddling their wares. Rice, kimonos, fish and many more vendors opened their doors to attract customers and entice them to spend their hard earned money.
Amongst the shop owners, there are Artisans who use their own unique skills to support the people of Edo. From Puppet Masters to Ear Cleaners, Firework Makers to Mask Seller, Edo has it all.
Iki is a 2 - 4 player card drafting, set collection rondel game from designer Koota Yamada and publisher Sorry We Are French. In Iki players are trying to become the best Edokko by helping the city and ensuring the well being and prosperity of its people. Recruit characters from various trades, send them to work on the streets of Nihonbashi and let them gain experience and eventually retire.
The winner is the player with the most Iki at the end of the game, which is a philosophical concept of the Edo period believed to be the ideal way of living among the people.
Iki is played over 13 rounds. 12 rounds representing one month and then the last round is the New Year. Players will determine turn order and also move around the streets of Nihonbashi which is effectively a rondel. In the second phase, players will have the opportunity to recruit a character and place it on to the board.
Players will then move around the rondel, visiting a shop and activating a character. If the character belongs to one of your opponents then the character gains experience and will eventually retire. There is a final phase in which various events may take place such as fires, feeding your characters, refreshing characters, fish, pipes and tobacco pouch tokens and gaining income depending on the month.
At the end of the game, points are gained for a number of areas such as diversity in characters recruited, buildings constructed, fish tokens and pipes/tobacco pouches. Above is a brief explanation of how Iki plays. There are several aspects of the game not covered but hopefully, this gives you enough of an idea as to how the game works.
At first glance, Iki seemed like a very unassuming game, or at least it did to me. Recruit some characters, move around a board and gain some resources/money etc. There didn't seem like much to the game. But I will admit when I am wrong and I was so wrong on this one. Iki is a wonderfully deep game with a lot of interconnecting parts and tough choices. Yet there is a feeling of elegance to the gameplay.
The mainboard is effectively an eight space rondel with shops around the outside. The first part of the game is to determine turn order and a number of spaces you get to move around the rondel. Straight off, you have interesting and meaningful choices to make. Working out how far to move and where you want to go in turn order is critical.
If there is a particular character you want or fish, tobacco or pouch token you need you had better get there quick. But the more you move the later in turn order you go. It is a delicate balance that you need to manage between what you want and what your opponents might want which I love.
There are a number of factors to consider when simply recruiting a character. You want to get diversity in characters recruited for end game scoring. However, there is some mid game scoring for "like" characters. You also want a character with a good ability so your opponent will be tempted to visit them and thus give you experience.
But is that character too good and going to help your opponents more than you? All these things go through your head when looking at the characters on offer and this comes in to play when determining turn order.
There are other factors to consider such as your fire rating, buildings to construct and feeding your characters. At the end of certain rounds, a fire will break out in one of the four market areas. You need to have a certain fire rating otherwise run the risk of losing one or more of your characters. Some of the characters give you a boost on the fire track when you recruit them or as part of their ability.
Again, character selection, turn order and the location you place the characters are all connected and intermingled. Buildings are powerful but hard to construct. They also tie up one of your workers and are never retired from the board. They can give you some good abilities and end game scoring however.
With everything being connected you have a lot of interesting and tense choices to make on your turn all stemming from the beginning of turn order selection. Nothing feels bolted on or superfluous to the gameplay or theme. I really enjoy the interconnectivity of the different gameplay mechanisms and think they come together very well.
Iki is a wonderful light to mid weight euro game that gives your brain a good workout. The game length to decision space is spot on. The game length is around 60 to 90 minutes and for that time you have varied and interesting choices as well some tense gameplay moments and enough time to execute a strategy.
The only knock I would give it is the rulebook. I found the rulebook harder to digest than it could have been for a game of this complexity and game length. I will say that it is worth it though. Once you have learned the game it is fairly straight forward and easy to teach. It is just the initial hurdle of the rules that could have been avoided.
Iki is a game that came out of nowhere for me and passed all my expectations.