Koryo is a 20-minute game in which you will attempt to gain influence over the governing families of a steampunk styled tenth century Korea. Every round you will be targeting a family to earn favour with, and as your influence grows, so too will your abilities…
The power struggle of Koryo is neatly presented as a well-illustrated deck of 45 character cards and 10 event cards. The character cards represent the governing families with each being numbered from 1 to 9. This number shows how many cards make up a family and the influence points a player receives at game end for collecting more of that family than any other player.
Having the most of a family also grants players additional abilities during gameplay. These abilities all occur at different points within a round and are at the core of choosing which cards to play each turn.
Event cards offer impactful one-time powers, but cost influence points at the end of the game for each one used.
At the beginning of each round, a season card is revealed. These define how many cards players will be dealt in the round. They also place a limit on how many cards a player can have in front of them at the end of the round. The number of cards dealt starts off at 10 in the first round and then decreases by 1 with each new season card. The number of cards a player can keep in front of them starts at 3 and increases by one with each new season card.
The actions players will be taking in Koryo are deceptively simple. Each round they will play any number of cards from their hand, providing they are all identical. Cards are placed face down in turn order with each player announcing how many cards they are playing. After playing cards, each player discards the remaining cards from their hand.
Cards are then revealed in turn order and any activated effects granted by families happen on a player’s turn. Actions during this phase can be taken in any order, so if a player wants to use abilities they can do so before, in between, or after revealing their cards.
At the end of the round, players must discard cards in front of them down to the amount allowed by the current season card. Event cards cannot be discarded in this way, meaning that they not only deduct an influence point, they also take up valuable space.
Any card which is discarded is shuffled directly back into the deck, so no card is ever permanently removed from play.
This process is repeated for 8 rounds, with the first player rotating clockwise each round. End game scoring is simple, the player with the most cards from each family scores as many influence points as are on the family’s cards. They also score 1 point for each coin they have acquired by the banker family ability. They then lose 1 point for each event they have left in front of them. The player with the highest score has the most influence over the families and so is declared the winner!
The most impactful elements of Koryo are the abilities which each family offers. They range from slowly accruing more points each round, to allowing players to play cards from multiple families in one turn, to simply being dealt an extra card each round.
This is where the balancing act intrinsic to Koryo’s design comes into play. Players need to have large collections of the more highly numbered cards when end game scoring occurs, but cards which score more highly tend to have less impactful abilities. Having five merchant cards will guarantee you 9 points at the end of the game, but they offer no additional ability. On the other hand, just having a couple of the priest will allow you to discard the negative points from any played event card – though you will only score 4 points from them if you have the most.
The season cards give Koryo its pace and ensure each game crescendos rather than fizzling out. At the beginning of the game, players will have a wide range of options to choose from. However, they will only be able to carry 3 cards over to the next round. At the end of the game, players will be apprehensively eyeing their opponents’ cards and trying to work out which of their three options will best help them gain the advantage. In fact, players will often be trying to guess what their opponents are playing and whether it affects what the best available move is.
The mind games and bluffing are some of the most enjoyable aspects of Koryo, and they are most prevalent in the later rounds. Most of the cards will be on the table by this point and player’s hands will have relatively few cards. This means that each player can guess at what their opponent might be about to play and work to counter it. This leads to some fantastic moments where a player who seems to be behind can snatch a victory by correctly predicting the opponents’ cards.
Unfortunately, the iconography on the cards is a little unclear and so frequent references to the rulebook are necessary until players have the abilities memorised. The designers seem to be aware of this as two of the pages in the rulebook are intended to be cut out as player aids. However, there are only two of these so, with 3-4 players, this solution is not ideal. Further, the player aids do not have the full ability details on them and can be misleading for new players.
In addition to this, the rules themselves – while concise and clear enough to get you playing with minimal fuss – are written in a very small print. This is an odd choice, as there is a lot of white space within the rulebook which could have been put to better use. This is disappointing in an otherwise well-presented game.
Speaking of presentation, the card art in Koryo is nice to look at and enforces the game’s steampunk aesthetic. Each family has their own design with a different colour background, helping to tell the cards apart at a glance.
Koryo’s theme is similar to that found in Coup, in that players are trying to influence governing factions. This theme shines in Koryo, from the abilities the families provide, to the way in which unsavoury events can negatively impact players’ influence. The more consideration is given to the theme, the more it fits the game like a glove. However, it is not overtly obvious. Unless it is actively considered, the theme blends into the background somewhat. This is a shame and could have been fixed with some simple steps, such as having the name of the family on each card.
Closing thoughts on Koryo
In all, if you enjoy set collection and predicting your opponent’s moves, then Koryo could well be a brilliant pick up. It is also a good game to play with a variety of different groups since it plays quickly and can be taken as seriously as players want to. This makes it perfect as a filler game between larger offerings, or as something to play multiple times over to try out different approaches.
Koryo manages to fit a surprising amount of meat onto its bare-bones concept. Its components look good and closely fought games are sure to leave everybody wanting to play just one more time.