I would love to have my own Koi Pond. But the realities of the cost, upkeep and where I live mean this is unlikely to ever happen. But thanks to Kohaku, a tile laying game by Danny Devine published by Gold Seal Games and 25th Century Games, I can now build and admire my own Koi Pond in less than 30 minutes.
In this 1 to 4 player game you draft tiles from the central board and place them in front of you to build your own pond. The rule set is incredibly simple and can be taught in less than 5 minutes. At the end of the game everyone would have built a beautiful pond that can be admired.
Before play can commence you put the board in the middle of the table and fill the spaces according to the pictures. This way you will have a board which alternates between fish and features. The fish come in 4 different colours, red, yellow, white and black with some fish having two of these colours. Every fish is drawn slightly differently with accompanying baby koi, dragonflies or a coin for the single coloured fish.
There are several different feature tiles which provide scoring opportunities such as 1 point per dragonfly in the 4 tiles orthogonally touching this feature. You can pass each player an aid which provides details of how each feature scores, however it is fairly obvious from the writing on the tiles and I found new players do not require the aid. Apart from removing or adding koi tiles according to player number this is all the set up you need.
On your turn you take a koi tile and an adjacent feature tile and place them in your pond. If this is your first turn they must be placed next to each other, on future turns the tiles can be placed anywhere following these simple rules. 1. Tiles must always be placed orthogonally. 2. Feature tiles must be placed next to koi tiles and vica versa.
Once you have chosen your tiles the central board is refilled. If there are any spaces on the outside of the board you move the tiles from the middle to replace them, and then refill the empty spaces according to the pictures. This method of refilling the central board feels like the tiles are being shuffled and it really helps the gameplay as koi could be moved next to features that work really well together.
You continue drafting tiles and placing them in your pond until there are no more koi tiles available to refill the board. You then flip the central board over and use the cute little fish tokens to record your scores according to the feature tiles and coins placed in your pond. I found the best way to keep track of which tiles you have already scored with is to go from left to right, top to bottom.
Final Thoughts On Kohaku
Kohaku is one of the most Zen like games I have ever played. There is next to no down time and it doesn’t really matter if someone takes the tile you had your eye on, a new tile just came out that works just as well and thanks to the clever refill mechanism it may have moved a tile I hadn’t even considered before. I feel so chilled when playing this game and everyone I have showed it to agreed. The artwork is outstanding, the rule book is clear and easy to understand and the solo mode is a solid game which will keep you coming back for more. The only real complaints about the game is the lack of insert in the box, instead you get several high quality plastic bags, and maybe an advanced mode with secret scoring objectives.
The box says the game takes 30 to 45 minutes but I would say anywhere between 20 and 25 is about right. I have played the game at all player counts and it works really well in all cases. The artwork really is amazing and the tiles have little UV spots that look like ripples on the pond. Once you have finished playing you will always sit back and stare at your beautiful creation.