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Kohaku Solo Review

Kohaku Review

We moved into an old farmhouse last year. It’s got a pond and a stream which are home to around 15 Koi carp. We call the big crimson one Big Bad Kevin. Mainly because our neighbour is called Barry, and he’s get the wrong idea if he heard us talking about Big Bad Barry! After a busy day, I go out and feed them. And a bit like watching fire, their slow, smooth movements captivate me. Stop me in my tracks, and I find myself standing and breathing. That is the power of the Koi. So when I saw Kohaku, I was instantly drawn to it. And when I saw it had a solo mode, that was the clincher.

The Rivals

But, for a game that feels relaxing and yet crunchy (my mental meditation) when playing with my husband, the solo ramps up the tension 3 fold. And that’s because I am playing against not just 1 AI, but 3! Easy (yellow Koi), medium (red Koi), and hard (Black Koi). Simultaneously!

Set up is almost identical to the 2 player – I just don’t remove the extra 7 Koi tiles), so it hits the table super-fast. And that’s a must when I solo a game.

And so is my turn. I take an orthogonally adjacent pair of Koi and Feature tiles, place them in my personal oasis pond, and then refill the board (moving any central tiles to empty spaces on the outer edges).

But then, the Rivals enter the serene scene, and it’s serious messing time!

On the Rivals’ turn, they are going to flip the next face-down Koi tile in the stack. They take all the Koi tiles matching the colour(s) of the revealed tile from the central pond. These, plus the one they flipped over, go into their own stack (they don’t build a pond themselves – thieves and lazy ones at that! haha). If there are no matchy-matchies, they still get the flipped tile. But now they also get the top Feature tile from the Feature tile stack. If there are any of those same Features in the central pond, they thieve those away for themselves too! And, regardless of colour or number, like Features always count (so e.g. a flipped-over lily would enable the Rivals to take all the lily tiles from the central pond).

If any tiles have been taken by the Rivals, they get replaced from the face-down stacks in a clockwise direction, starting in the top left corner (rather than the central space- shift that I do on my turn).

When the Koi stack runs out, the game is over and it’s me v the Rivals in totting up time!

I score normally, and:

  • Easy-Wheezy gets 3 points per Koi and 2 points per Feature
  • Medium-Maude starts from Easy-peasy’s score and gets 1 additional point per Feature; and
  • Hard-Horrace starts from Medium-Maude’s score and gets 1 additional point for every coin and every single flower

Wowza! 3 to beat! Which I rarely do – that Hard Horrace is a Koi thieving king!

Mental Meditation

Whilst I love a BYOS solo game, having an actual opponent to beat is tip-top. And here there are 3 in one! I own quite a few games where you can increase/decrease the Automa challenge level – Welcome To being an obvious one. But this is the first where I play all 3 levels at once. And it is great! It feels like a simple but fresh twist on the usual solo scoring mechanism.

And the brutal arbitrary nature of the Rival’s picks really means each of my turns becomes a series of snatches- what can I take before they potentially wipe them off the pond for good?

Yes, there’s luck in there; what comes off the decks each turn is based on shuffling and probabilities. But that’s what placement optimisation is about’ mitigating the randomness with tactical tile laying! Using what I’ve got to make the most of what I have, as well as what might come out! Setting up 4 Koi in the hope a matching lily or statue is going to be available also brings that push-your-luck tension into the game. I mean, you could be working on a configuration that never comes to pass. But with 7 different scoring opportunities, there’s always something I can do. It might just not be the BEST thing that could have been done. And that HURTS in the BEST way! Haha

And I really like the added re-arrangement of the tiles at turn-end when I play the Rivals – refreshing the tiles from different spots gives less predictable decision dilemmas which for me is excellent.

Final Thoughts

Kohaku is a beautiful, highly replayable, easy to learn, crunchy tile-laying game that works perfectly (dare I say it even better!?) as a solo. I love how the simple drafting mechanic lends itself to a smooth and satisfyingly crunch single player experience that is on my table in the time it takes for me to shuffle the stacks. Scoring is probably the longest part of the game. But once familiar with how the Features work, it definitely gets faster to find out I lost…hard! haha. If you like placement optimisation puzzles that you can play solo, I would highly recommend Kohaku!

That concludes our thoughts on Kohaku. Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts and tag us on social media @zatugames. To buy Kohaku today click here!