Kami-Sama is a strategy game for 2-4 players combining aspects of area control, card drafting, set collection and pattern building. Each player takes on the role of a Kami, a revered spirit seeking to acquire favour with the humans that worship you.
Players take turns placing their shrines in one of four villages, fulfilling goals, acquiring victory points and drafting cards from each village's deck. As the game progresses the board rotates, giving you new options to play with. The player who acquires the most victory points by the game's end becomes the Kami-Sama, the almighty spirit who oversees all others.
Set-up & Gameplay
Players begin by drawing two of the eight Spirit boards at random, selecting one to represent them during the game. Each spirit has the same 'Add or Remove a shrine' ability and Nature/Favour tracks, but past this each spirit has a unique passive ability as well as three activated abilities unique to them. Players may then take the appropriate number of Shrines in their colour depending on the number of players; three cubes in their colour (placing the other two on the round tracker); a favour and a nature marker which may then both be placed on space zero of their respective tracks; and any tokens associated with the spirit, if any.
To set-up the board, combine the four village boards, lining up the fishing village board in front of the first player. Place one of the advent tokens on the fishing village, with the other off the board but adjacent to the first advent token. When the two tokens cross in later rounds, this signifies the end of the current year. Place a supply of village tokens near the board and select at random three goal cards to be revealed during the game, one from the Year One cards, and two further from the Year Two and Three cards. Place the Year One card face-up on top of the other two goals and place the stack in view of all players.
Finally, place each player's scoring marker on the scoring track, and shuffle each village's corresponding deck, placing them in the indicated spots around the edge of the track.
The game proceeds with the starting player performing all of their actions in the Fishing Village. Players must use all of their cubes on their turn, placing each on an associated action and taking that action. The 'Add a Shrine / Remove a Shrine' action allows you to add a shrine from your supply into your current village or remove any shrine from your current village.
Adding a shrine to certain areas gives added benefits: Adding one to a forest gives two Nature, while adding to a field gives two Favour. Adding a shrine to the temple space grants one of either Favour or Nature and adding a shrine to a hut or stilt house offers no immediate benefit but may be necessary based on the current year's goal. The other three unique abilities may have further keywords: to 'Move' a shrine, you may take a shrine and move it without taking any bonuses, while 'Replace' can switch an opponent's shrine with one of your own.
Once a player has completed their actions, play passes clockwise around the table until the final player has completed their actions. After all players have taken a turn, rotate the board clockwise until the fishing village is in front of player two. Now, players may retrieve their action cubes and complete their actions in their new villages. Play continues in this fashion until a full board rotation is complete (marked by the advent tokens), after which players score points based on the lower value between their favour and nature tracks, i.e. if a player has five favour and three nature, they score three points. Players also draft villager cards from each village based on their control of each area: the more combined area within a village, the earlier you can draft your card.
The board is then rotated one additional time, and players continue, adding one extra action cube to their supply from the scoring track. The game ends after the third year's rotation, after which the player with the most points ascends to godhood and becomes the Kami-Sama.
Final Thoughts on Kami-Sama
I am a sucker for anything mythology-focused, so this one really nails it for me in terms of theme. The lavish vibrancy of the board is dotted with little nods to Japanese culture, and when combined with the wooden shrines makes the game feel authentic and beautiful in its own way. From familiar iconography such as Torii Gates to the Kami themselves, every part encompassing the flavour of this game has had care and attention driven into it, ensuring nothing seems out of place or forgotten.
Every village stands unique from one another, and even though there is some shared terminology, every spirit finds unique design space to call their own and explore, giving the game a high degree of replay-ability. Kami-Sama is medium-weight, and I wouldn't really recommend it as a gateway game. In my experience the decision making can often be strenuous for someone not used to similar types of games, and can often lead to large bouts of Analysis Paralysis (AP) for those prone to overthinking.
Each spirit is lovingly crafted and illustrated, and you can have a vastly different game using the same mechanics based on what your spirit's power set wants you to accomplish. Yue's ability to play in two villages at once allows you to dominate multiple areas at the same time, while Shize's wind-focused skill set can move opponents into uncompromising positions, freeing up the area for her ascension.
Rather than playing every spirit once and getting through each of them, this game rewards acquiring intimate knowledge of your spirit's best ways to gain advantage and is perfect for multiple playthroughs. The expansions offer additional spirits to aid in replay-ability, but even the eight that come packaged with the base set offer plenty of variety for repeated play. I wouldn't call either of them essentials: I'd draw a comparison to Marvel Legendary's small-box content, nice to have if you like the characters, but by no means a must-buy right out of the gate.
Component quality is pretty stellar for a production at this price point. The wooden shrines are quaint and slot nicely into the indents on the dual-layered board giving it a wonderful presence when taking in its look, combined with the use of more muted tones rather than the standard red-blue-yellow-green player colours we've seen time and again. The art style evokes the Shinto roots of the source material, and the spirit boards are large enough that text is legible and clear.
My only complaint is the minuscule favour and nature tokens which I would have preferred to have been wooden components, as on multiple occasions we found the cardboard tokens slipped quite easily and made us lose our places with just a tiny bump here and there. Still, if this is my complaint then you should expect the rest to be of admirable quality in comparison. It could be said that the player boards are a bit thin: I've had no serious issues with mine so far, but I could see potential for them becoming damaged over time if improperly protected.
All in all, Kami-Sama takes a different tactic from the tried-and-true Area Control formula dominated by titles such as Kemet and Inis. The theme of placing each delicate shrine takes a lot of the aggressive edge associated with the genre and turns it on its head. There is definite competition for spaces, especially from Year Two as the board becomes inundated with shrines like the pop-up stalls at a weekend market, but 'combat' as such is concentrated into sections of intelligent decision-making rather than aggressive bouts of spite.
Gameplay is quick once the rules are down, and there is often very little lag in-between turns as players often can perform their actions within moments before moving on, but be aware of those who suffer from AP, as there can be more potential avenues of play depending on the spirit, particularly those who can act upon multiple villages at once. 90 minutes is about right for this one in my mind, once you're used to the rules, but I'd certainly recommend laying away two hours with teaching time as well.
Kolossal Games are known for their impressive work with Western Legends, but I think Kami-Sama could well fly under the radar due to its theme, and it really shouldn't. If given the opportunity, I would absolutely suggest giving it a try.