“Springtime has come and your forest is blooming.” The opening to the rule book in Kodama Forest promises a relaxing and calming game experience. And this certainly is the case in this clever little polyomino based abstract strategy game, that is both co-op and competitive at the same time!
Confused? Well, if you have played games like Between Two Castles before you will know what I mean. In Kodama Forest, you are playing with your neighbours, and also against everyone around the table at the same time. Each turn players will place a tile on both the board to their left and right. They work in conjunction with their neighbours on either side. The winner is determined by the single-player who scores the best from both boards unique to them.
The joy from this game comes from the simplicity of play and the co-operative nature makes this work well with families of any age groups and abilities. But the competitive element is still there for players who want that edge to their game.
Into the Forests!
In Kodama Forest, players are working with their neighbours to try and fill as much of their boards as they can. Each round, players will take three tiles from their bag. Players will then choose one tile for each board. Discussing with their neighbour, based on what they each have in hand that turn, and what has been previously placed.
The player boards are made up of nine-by-nine grids. On each space is either a plain dirt space worth one negative point at the end of the game if left uncovered, a dirt space with five or ten negative points, or a Kodama space. A magic forest spirit that cannot be covered by any tile. Players need to work around the Kodama’s to fill their board as best they can.
The tiles have one of four types of images on them. The half flower, which wants to be joined up with another half flower to form a full flower. When this is achieved, players can then add a single space flower tile onto their board as an extra bonus turn that round.
The half bamboo tile also wants to be reunited with their other half. When this is done, players can add a Panda tile to their board. This will cover four tiles. The half pond when reunited with its other half allows players to place the double pace pond tile. And finally, the trees, which are purely decorative!
The game will play in rounds, with each player placing a tile on either of their boards until one player places a tile on their board covering the last of the numbered dirt spaces. At this point, all players count the negative tiles left on their board and the player with the lowest combined total across both their boards is declared the winner.
Polyomino games are very popular. From the modern granddaddy of them all, Patchwork to the recent smash success Cartographers, there are now 186 games with this mechanic listed. So, they all need to stand out. Offer something new and fresh. No matter how much you like Tetris, you don’t need to own 186 copies of the same game!
I like how Kodama Forest offers the mix of a co-operative and competitive experience at the same time, whilst offering a pure form of polyomino tile-placing. There are minimal restrictions in the placement. You cannot hang over the edge of the board or overlap tiles as you would expect. But you can rotate as you wish and place where you like.
Tiles do not have to join up or touch other tiles when you place them. You don’t have to connect the flower, bamboo or ponds if you don’t want to. You just need to avoid the Kodama spirits. I like the freedom this offers as you play the game.
There are nine boards in the box, all double-sided. One side showing a beginner side with more convenient locations of the Kodama spirits, the other with a more advanced option. This allows for a lot of variability in the set-up which makes the game feel fresh each time. But even with the same board each time, the order of the tiles coming out and the fact you are playing with another player makes each game unique anyway.
This combines to make Kodama Forest feel like a distinctive game and one I will keep in my collection. Alongside my other eight polyomino games, Kodama Forest feels like it offers something different and works best for me when I want to play with my two children.
A Solid Base
The only issue I have with this game is with the components. The board come with a four-piece frame. You fix this frame together to hold the board in place and limit the displacement of the tiles on your board. But it doesn’t quite work. The frame comes unstuck quite often and really does not deliver to the brief! The tiles slip about a bit on the board, and this can be frustrating. Especially for a game of this ilk. You want to get into a meditative relaxed state. Not one where you are constantly aligning tiles to the right spots.
A double thickness print production would have benefited this game, much like in Scythe where you can slot your components into a groove. Azul also found this issue was commonly felt too, so offered an upgrade to fix this with the Crystal Mosaic. And I hope Kodama Forest does the same.
But other than this, I really enjoy this game. I think it is a great one for a family looking for a calming game to play together. As a co-operative game, you can help younger players along. This opens this up to most ages and abilities from five and up.
The theme and art is very appealing to younger players. And the game helps with special awareness, problem solving and maths so is a good educational tool as well. Kodama Forest is a good game and one I can recommend to fans of the polyomino revolution!