Kokoro is one of the first Kickstarter games we backed. What attracted us to this project in particular was the meeting of two well-loved games. At the time we had recently enjoyed Kodama - a great little card placement and set collection game set in a very whimsical world. Kokoro is a re-theme of an Essen 2016 hit, Avenue, into the universe of Kodama. We didn't get the opportunity to play Avenue, but it received considerable buzz for a small game and Kokoro promised to be a good re-theme with some additional modifications.
Kokoro (designed by Eilif Svensson and Kristian Amundsen Østby) and a competitive game for 1-8 players. It is very much like a roll-and-write game, but mechanically it works with a deck of cards. The game has five rounds and in each round you will draw cards from the top of a deck. The cards have six different types of routes on them - four different turns, a horizontal and a vertical line. Each player has a grid on a dry erase board and must choose a square where they will draw each line segment. Each round you are trying to connect a line back to one of the correct sanctuary - there are six sanctuaries and one is active in each of the five rounds.
Your lines should be drawn to connect the flowers and worms printed on the board back to a sanctuary in order to score points. The main twist with scoring is that you must score more points in every round than you did in the round before. With no fixed round length (the end of round trigger is based on the order of the cards drawn) you might have a huge first round with lots of potential for points, but when working on a different sanctuary in round two, if you don’t get more points you’ll score minus five points instead.
No lines are ever erased so as the game continues you’re ideally trying to connect everything into one big line in order to maximise and ever increase your points.
At the end of five rounds you’ll add up the points scored in every round, plus any bonuses and the player with the most points wins.
Fiona’s Final Thoughts
One of the strengths of Kokoro for me is the high player count. Kokoro plays 1-8 and it's great for me to find a game that plays so many players, but that isn't a typical party game. In reality, Kokoro could play an infinite number of players simultaneously and you're only limited by the number of components in your copy of the game. The designers appear to have thought about the high player count by allocating each line segment its own number which can be called out to a large group who have a small image of each tile type on their board as a reminder.
The fact that it seems possible to identify a perfect game could easily be seen as a negative, but fortunately a lot of variation has been packed into the box, with a second side to the board which randomises the location of each player's sanctuaries and a pile of gamer changer cards which change the rules or offer different point scoring opportunities. We're only just starting to change things up with these cards, and none of them seem to be earth shattering changes, but it's nice to have the variability in the base game, when it could so easily have been saved for an expansion.
Kokoro: Avenue of the Kodama is definitely a light game which plays in a short length of time and is also very portable (we've played it two-player on a train journey). For gamers, it will only be a filler, but it's also a great game to bring people into the hobby because it's so unique from many typical board gaming experiences. I’ve had huge success introducing this to my work board gaming group and it continues to go up in my estimations as more and more people enjoy the puzzle of the game. The charming artwork and nice production, mean that it will definitely work well for children and families as well as gamers who enjoy puzzly games that aren't too mentally taxing.
Amy’s Final Thoughts
Kokoro’s gameplay is elegantly simple. The result is a game that is tough, but rigorously fair. Each player has had the exact same opportunity, it’s all about how you use it. Do you plan for the future and build a route that scores you no points now in the hope of a big payout later, or do you steam ahead from the early game in the hope of being able to constantly improve just that little bit to keep your points rolling in? Having no crossroads makes Kokoro incredibly unforgiving to mistakes and lack of forethought, although if you really don’t know what to do with a line then you can opt not to draw it in return for a glimpse at the next sanctuary, allowing you to plan for the future.
Once you grow tired of the basic gameplay there is an advanced variant which changes the rules, either giving you new ways to score or some more flexibility in how you can place a certain line type, e.g 5s and 6s are interchangeable. Unfortunately, if you’re looking for a step up to advanced gameplay, or an ‘expansion’ like experience, none of them make a huge difference to the game. Conversely, they don’t add much complexity, so they are probably worth including from your second game onward to add a little more variety.
It’s hard not to see the charm in Kokoro - the art is minimalist, but incredibly endearing. The gameplay may not be deep but it has been polished to a mirrors sheen, it’s hard to find any faults in it. Even the dry erase pens coming with little erasers built in the top are a great thoughtful design. Kokoro is a small game that makes for a fantastic warm-up game that can be relied upon to take 15 minutes regardless of your player count.