Of late I have been dipping my toe in the very big pond that is Kickstarter. I know that there are some bloggers who are quite involved with kickstarters and who back a multitude of titles, but for me, as a new “kickstarter” on the block I have taken a very selective approach.
Momiji is a game that caught my eye. There was a sense of intrigue. What does Momiji mean? The images and artwork looked gorgeous, so I backed this offering.
Momiji is a Japanese word, and it refers to the maple trees, but specifically when those leaves turn from yellow to vivid red during autumn. Although it started life as a Kickstarter and was fulfilled in autumn 2021, Deer games have decided to release it to larger online retailers in the second quarter of 2022. This is good news as it opens up this lovely family game to a wider audience.
Momiji is a game about trees and leaves. It is a set collection and hand management game with independent and specific objectives that change with each game. It plays for up to four, and with a solo mode, most games will be finished within 40 minutes. In its gameplay, it is more than just a filler game in scope and playing.
Players aim to gain victory points through the collection of specific leaf types. Depending on player count some leaf species are not used. Leaves are only scored if placed in front of a player, but these need to be laid in columns in numerical order by type. The cards are numbered zero through to three, and every column must commence with a zero card. Subsequent cards laid in a player’s area must be of the same value, or just one number higher. Victory points are calculated by the product of the topmost leaf card in that pile and the total number of cards of that type.
Each card also may contain acorn symbols in the corners. Depending on how the cards have been played in a player’s area within the columns, adjacent cards may have acorns that align next to each other. This juxtaposition also will score more acorns which can then be used for further victory points or extra actions.
Acorns can be played to draw additional leaf cards to the communal draw area. This can increase the variety and opportunities to collect more favourable cards. Once a column of leaf cards has a final card, it is considered closed. A single Torii token is added to this pile and no further cards may be placed. The game ends once the draw deck is empty or after five columns of leaves have been closed by placing a Torri token.
For the first few games, there are standard additional actions available. These are generated through the three landscape tiles. They may allow the play of a couple of cards in one turn or even the omission of a card in the numbered sequence. In subsequent games, three different landscapes may be chosen. These provide a variety of amendments to the standard play, perhaps with the award of additional acorn tokens and new moves depending on which landscape is selected.
The objectives of each game are determined by drawing a number of objectives from the start. These tokens must be purchased during the game. If a player is successful in fulfilling that objective, then ten additional victory points will be awarded. Failure to achieve that specific objective may allow others to claim extra points, despite that objective being “owned” by others.
Thoughts On Momiji
First impressions count a lot. The box art, colours, and artwork of an autumn scene with Mount Fuji in the background count for so much. Lifting the lid shows all of the components nicely held in an insert, with a covering plastic window. Everything has its place. The landscape tiles are printed on very thick cardstock, and with three placed in front of the player, this shows a nicely interconnected Japanese panorama. The objective tokens double up as torri tokens. There are 84 leaf cards, six species and 14 of each leaf. These are high-quality linen cards with a premium feel. Deer games have provided a useful scoring pad AND pencil, and this fits nicely with the other components.
Gameplay is straightforward. On a player’s turn, there are just three actions. Retrieving leaves from the public area, playing leaf cards to a personal area, or purchasing one of the objective tokens. This means the rounds move quickly with very little downtime. With such straightforward rules, children aged seven or eight could grasp Momiji with ease. That said, there are depths and strategies here too.
There are clever mechanics at work. Victory points are scored depending on the highest value in a pile as well as the number of cards. A “three” is the highest, but as soon as that is reached the leaf pile is complete. Once five columns are finished, the game finishes. Players may choose to “bulk” their leaf column with numerous low-value leaf cards but run the risk of scoring poorly if another player triggers the end of the game.
Deer Games have produced a gem here. There are a few expansions that integrate so well with the gameplay that for us they have become the new normal. However, the base game as briefly described above is very suitable for new gamers.
Watch Out For Squirrels
Bonus acorns are awarded depending on the placement of cards and the acorn icons on them. The position of the cards in a player’s area is therefore important as this can determine the opportunities to score extra acorns. In a normal game, the player who laid the leaf cards appropriately would receive two extra acorns when a single card is added to their play area. However, a player who has the squirrel token may claim an additional acorn from the supply whenever any other player wins acorns. This squirrel token will also provide extra victory points during endgame scoring. The squirrel may be claimed by any player who lays down one or two leaf cards of the same type in a single turn.
Acorn tokens can be used and played to gain additional actions by placing them within a player’s landscape. Only one acorn may be added to a player’s landscape which may provide up to three extra turns. Golden leaf tokens allow a gamer to utilise another player’s landscape board. The exploitation of these extra abilities means no one can have a monopoly on the “best” extra action. Golden leaves may be claimed if a player chooses to take a single leaf card from the public area. These golden leaves also will score extra victory points.
Both the squirrel and golden leaf modules increase the player interaction. By “cashing in” on others’ skilful play or claiming supplement reactions, this will hamper others’ ability to lay cards. This increases the replayability between games. Similarly, the random selection of objective tokens at the start means there is a very different dynamic and subplot with each game. Victory points are gained predominantly by making collections of cards. Gamers may gain extra victory points through the claiming of objectives, and this can completely swing any game. This element should not be overlooked.
The Ancient Garden
We enjoyed this little sideshow. This expansion allows players to purchase extra cards if they show a zero or one value. These cards come at a cost. Also, with each purchase, this will move a player’s token along the purchase tract. With each movement, a player’s animal token will advance and any bonus points will reduce. As the token moves along so this may open additional landscape tile opportunities. This is a nice balancing act between gaining extra useful cards and possibly additional actions through playing on landscape tiles as well as against losing valuable bonus points.
The wooden tokens provided by Deer games are lovely. The printing on the player’s animal token and acorns is top-notch. The rule book and supplementary information sheets about the landscape tiles are well written, clear, and easy to understand. My family have fallen in love with Momiji. My wife was sceptical about my Kickstarter purchase, but once on the table, she’s converted. There is little vindictiveness, but by seeing what other leaves a player is collecting, it is easy to hamper their set collection. Every game we have played is fun and different, meaning a freshness each time it comes to the table.
A Walk In The Woods By Oneself
The solo game is different to many other solo variants. There is no AI here. Deer games provide four scenarios of varying difficulties with a prescribed set-up. This covers the number of leaf types, landscapes, and objective tokens. These are more like a game of Solitaire or Patience against the game.
Victory in the solo mode is dependent on different conditions being met. This will be affected to a degree by the draw of the cards from the deck as well as decisions that one makes in playing from a hand or the timing of claiming objectives. The solo game has just 42 leaf cards in play. With every turn, the four “public” cards are replaced. In effect, with a starting hand of 6, there are only nine actual turns. This is tight and quite a challenge. I have come so close to completing one of the medium levels, but even after several attempts, I have yet to be successful. At the moment I am not brave enough to try the more difficult solo modes yet.
Final thoughts on Momiji. Momiji is a deeply satisfying game. I love the quality of components but realise that I have paid a slight premium for the Kickstarter edition. The gameplay is very quick and varied. There is a simplicity about the rules that means even children could enjoy Momiji. For adults who want a little more, then the various expansions can be used either alone or in combination with each other. Deer Games have done well here. I am looking forward to seeing this in retail, but more importantly, seeing what their next offering might be.