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Kiri-Ai: The Duel Review


KIRI- AI (cut to match)

In the worlds before Kiri-Ai, primal chaos reigned. Heaven sought order. As endless aeons wheeled and passed. Time and the pure essences of heaven and the moisture of the earth worked on a certain rock, old as creation. And it became magically fertile. And from this rock was born Kiri-Ai: The Duel. And the nature of Kiri-Ai was irrepressible!


Kiri-Ai: The Duel is a two player tactical fighting game, beautiful in its’ design, simple in its’ execution. Two Samurai from the classic ‘Edo’ period, stand face to face on a rocky crag near a mountain top, moonlight peeking through the gathering clouds. The wind whistles around their ‘kamishimos’. The lightning flashes above them, their ‘chonmage’ glistening in reflective beauty of the violent flashes. Their grips tighten on the handles of their ‘Katanas’, a steel vice-like grip of fellow brothers of the ‘Bushido Code’, a grip of determination, of foes in a fight of honour, to the death. Locked eyes burn into each other, each trying to read the mind of the other. An unchoreographed dance of bluff and double bluff. Each warrior recites his name and ancestry, his deeds of heroism. Formalities complete, the sixteen times folded blades of the ‘Katanas’ swish from their ‘sayas’ in one flowing, graceful, arc of glinting menace, clashing loudly in combat. The steel on steel echoing above the cacophony of the mountainous storm. Thrust, parry, riposte, banzai charge! The ‘kesagiri chop’ draws blood, one warriors’ ‘kataginu’ staining dark red, he knows there’s one last chance. Thrusting forward, in hope and with honour, his final attack narrowly misses, his opponent landing a ‘Zan-Tetsu strike’ to deal the second deadly blow. Crumpling to his knees with the life ebbing from his body, he stares up at his triumphant opponent. The victor compliments his dying brother samurai, praising his bravery, and with one last sweep of his ‘Katana’, decapitates the slowly dying adversary. Blood is wiped from the blade, staining his ‘hakama’. Honour is satisfied. The storm rumbles on. Rain falls heavy, washing away the blood, hiding the tears in soulful eyes......then back to the ‘shoin-zukuri’, a quick cup of Sake and feet up on the futon.....irrepressible.

What’s in the curly-wurlys?

When you take Kiri-Ai out of the packaging you are smashed in the gob by a joyous, luxurious, beautifully adorned cloth wallet. Made in the style of a wallet carried by the Samurai of the ‘Edo period ‘. It was used to carry their gold coins and, boy oh boy, this one is carry gold alright. 16 carat gold or, more accurately, 16 card gold! The neatly folded rulebook opens out, origami-esque, into a piece of paper smaller than an A4 sheet. Double-sided, it takes hardly more than 5 minutes to read. I was flabbergasted. I had to read it twice, not because of its’ complexity or hedonistic use of flamboyant words, but because it was so damn easy. Simple, succinct, blooming marvellous.

When the 16 Kiri-Ai cards slip effortlessly from the wallet there is a brief ‘curly-wurly’ moment. A feeling of being short changed. “I’m sure these used to be bigger in my day”. How wrong am I, they are GIANT, I’d have to stand upon my own shoulders to even see eye to eye with them. Wrapped in cellophane, it takes me longer to open them than it did to read the rules, sausage fingers. The cards are pure Ferrero Rocher, golden rectangles of fire. Quality is there, a flick test produces a satisfying thunk. I can feel my heart thundering louder in my chest, everything tastes of pure excitement. Thunkthunkthunk.....

Six card draw.....banzaaaaaai!

For only 16 cards Kiri-Ai packs a fistful. A fistful of genius. There is 1 double-sided card which represents the battlefield, a normal side and an advanced side (bit more stony and a bit higher up the mountain I guess). There are 3 special attack cards that will be used only once during combat.

1) Kesa Strike, made from the heaven stance.

2) Zan-Tetsu Strike, made from the earth stance.

3) Counterattack.

Then there are 6 cards for each Samurai, one blue set and one red set, identical in everyway except their very colour. Firstly there is the Samurai card, which effortlessly, keeps track of the Samurai stance (heaven or earth) and his/her health. The final 5 cards incorporate movement, stance and attacks. 2 of these cards have 2 actions printed on them and you play them so the action you want to use is facing your opponent. These are the movement and stance cards. The remaining 3 are attack cards. A high strike played from a heaven stance. A low strike played from the Earth stance and a balanced strike which is played from either stance.

Few is more. Brevity is the soul of Kiri-Ai: The Duel.

Them’s the slashing below the ‘uwa-obi’.

The Duel takes Place on the battlefield with each samurai taking up his designated starting position. Each players hand consists of their 5 coloured cards and 1 randomly picked orange special attack card. It then takes place over a number of rounds with each player playing two cards per round face down in front of them. The first cards are turned over simultaneously and resolved, then that card is returned to the players hand. Then the second cards are also simultaneously turned over and resolved, this card is set aside and is not available for use in the next round. This gives a little snippet of information for the opposing players. If any one-time attack cards are used they are removed for the remainder of the duel. This continues until a samurai has taken 2 hits and is defeated, beheaded in a brave, honourable fight. Cards are settled according to priority. Firstly movement cards followed by attack cards. It is as simple as that, pure brilliance, the wrinkle comes with each player trying to outwit the other.

Play on MacDuff ‘San’...

What a fantastic game Kiri-Ai is! It might not be Kurosawas’ Seven Samurai but it definitely blows the bloody doors off. There might be more learned people than me that liken this to a ‘rock,paper,scissors’ mechanism. Don’t be fooled by that, it is so much more than that, soooooo much more. They might wax lyrical over arcs, min-maxing and, oooooo look at the fluff in my navel, but Kiri-Ai brushes all this self-praise underneath the nearest shag-pile. Two players seeking the tranquillity of solitude.

The soft programming of the two cards played together oozes class, soft, silky hypnotic genius. Each player will be locked in a Vulcan mind-meld, trying to read the others thoughts. This just plays and plays, and plays so well.

It’s quick. It’s approachable. It’s a ruddy marvel. Its’ pocket size means it can be played anywhere. I definitely need a second copy so it can accompany me everywhere. It is a must-have for the discerning gamer.

The rapid-fire play (5-10 minutes) means it can scooch snuggly into any game night or feed you during the shortest lunch break. Lending itself to tournaments, leagues or even epic clan battles. So versatile and so rewarding.

Positively speaking....

Artwork and components are few, but amazingly gorgeous.

It plays so quickly and is instantly engaging and approachable.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist. AP is non existent. Yet there is huge strategy within. Mainly self-induced bluff, double bluff, knot tying strategy.

Thematically rocks my boat. Even if it didn’t want to be rocked. Irrepressible.


Only 2 players? Some people might not want to spend a lot of time with mainly their own thoughts.

Longevity? Will it outstay its’ welcome? Maybe? Not in my estimation.

Honour satisfied...

I highly recommend this game. Everyone should have a copy, by the end of 2024 everyone will. If this doesn’t win an award somewhere I’ll be very much surprised. This will be a bona fide two player classic. It is still fizzing in my brain now. It is much like the Samurai it depicts. Honourable, intriguing, enigmatic, blade-wielding craziness. A beautiful crazy diamond...shine on.

This game needs to be bought and it isn’t many conkers either, whack it in the basket, you won’t regret it.

I don’t want to be writing about Kiri-Ai: The Duel, I want to be playing Kiri-Ai: The Duel...banzaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaii.

Zatu Score


  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

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