Bitoku

Bitoku

RRP: £44.99
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RRP £44.99
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In Bitoku, the players take on the roles of Bitoku spirits of the forest in their path towards transcendence. This is a hand-management, engine-building game with multiple paths to victory: The goal for the Bitoku Spirits is to elevate themselves and becoming the next great spirit of the forest. To do so, they will have the help of the yōkai, the kodamas and the different pilgrims…
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Category Tag SKU Z-THKO-BGBITOKU Availability 3+ in stock
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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Amazing table presence
  • Plenty of variety for different strategies
  • Lots of interaction for a Euro game

Might Not Like

  • Solo mode is a hassle
  • Can be daunting for newcomers - lots of symbols
  • There’s a chance the blocking of actions could put people off
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Description

In Bitoku, the players take on the roles of Bitoku spirits of the forest in their path towards transcendence. This is a hand-management, engine-building game with multiple paths to victory:
The goal for the Bitoku Spirits is to elevate themselves and becoming the next great spirit of the forest.

To do so, they will have the help of the yōkai, the kodamas and the different pilgrims that accompany them on their path. Players will have yōkai represented by the cards that make up their hand, which must be placed in the right places at the right times in order to obtain the maximum benefit from the abilities they offer.

Furthermore, during the game players can earn more yōkai cards for their deck, thereby increasing their playing options and achieving a higher score. Each player also has three yōkai guardians (in the form of dice) that they can send to the large regions of the forest on the main board in order to obtain all kinds of new options that they can play during the game. These options can be structures they build in certain areas of the forest, soul crystals that generate resources when certain actions are carried out, and many others as well.

The players also have the chance to help the mitamas, lost souls in search of redemption by using the chinkon fireflies. There is truly a wide range of actions to carry out, and this is without taking into account the personal domain where the players can lay out another layer of additional strategy while managing the pilgrims. Pilgrims are followers of the player who embark upon journeys of contemplation and reflection who then share the experiences and learning they can along the spirit path with the Bitoku.

The Great Spirit is moving on. Its presence in the Great Forest imbues everything with life, abundance and peace, but it can only stay so long and a worthy successor must be chosen – one who can preserve the harmony of the forest for years to come. In Bitoku, 1 – 4 players take on the role of Bitoku spirits, each trying to prove themselves the most worthy of taking on the mantle of the Great Spirit of the forest.

The game takes place over four rounds, each representing one of the final four years of the Great Sprit’s life, and the player who has the most victory points at the end will be the winner.

A Menagerie Of Mechanics

It’s impossible to talk about Bitoku without first mentioning the board. At first glance, it looks both incredibly busy and a bit daunting. There are symbols everywhere, 5 small tracks, slots for building tiles and a large, branching path. But it’s not just form over function.

Running through the middle of the board is a river, which relates to a key mechanic in the game, and that busy artwork is actually divided into 4 distinct areas, each representing one of the actions you can take. It doesn’t take long before you know exactly where to look for the information you need, despite that initial intimidation.

The core of Bitoku involves 3 key choices, each of which link together –

Each player starts the game with an identical deck of 5 cards. You will draw 4 each round (keeping 3) and these can be played directly to your player board to take the depicted action. Doing this will also ‘unlock’ one of your three dice.

Once unlocked, a die can be placed on the bottom half of the board to perform an action based on its value.

The final action is called ‘crossing the river’ and involves literally moving your die across the river depicted in the middle of the board. The top half of the game board is where new cards can be acquired, allowing you to do more powerful actions on future turns.

The real beauty of this system is how it allows for such freedom, but also somehow still feels restrictive. The actions depicted on your cards are the same as those you perform when placing your dice, which means, with some careful planning, you can technically always do every action each round (4 possible actions, 3 cards & 3 dice per turn).

However, there’s a tricky bit of dice management involved. If someone has already placed a dice below the river, the dice you place must be of equal value or higher for you to take the corresponding action, meaning a savvy player can block you on their first turn of the round.

Combine this with the fact that high value dice, while playing Bitoku, let you do more powerful actions and it ends up feeling like you’re always trying to find the perfect racing line through the options in front of you.

Choices, Choices, Choices

The actions themselves are relatively straight-forward, at least for anyone familiar with Euro-games. You’ll be spending resources to obtain tiles from the board and using these to upgrade your player board and expand your options for future turns –

Mitama spirits give you an instant bonus and can count towards certain end-game scoring conditions.

Dragonflies are the same but they only give you a bonus when combined with a Mitama spirit, making them potentially riskier to obtain.

Buildings are placed on the board (below where dice are placed) and allow everyone to gain bonuses on future turns. However, the player who built the building will gain a bonus when it’s used, leading to some tough decisions with placement.

Crystals are placed on your player board and either give you permanent bonuses at the start of each round or specific bonuses when you play cards on future turns. They also wake up your Pilgrims.

“Pilgrims?!” I hear you cry.

“Correct” I reply.

There’s one final area of the Bitoku board to discuss, which is the ‘Paths of Wisdom’. Stretched along the top of the board, there are 2 paths (1 in a 2-player game). The final action involves spending ‘movement points’ to send your pilgrims along the path(s). Along the way are spots for them to rest, gaining you bonuses and potential points at the end of the game.

Putting It All Together

So, with all that in mind, you’ll be doing a maximum of 9 actions per round (3 cards, 3 dice, 3 river crossings). However, it’s never quite that straight forward.

Unlike a lot of Euro games, there’s a lot of player interaction here. Not only in the usual Euro way (“you took the tile I wanted!”) but also in the dice and building placement. You’re almost always getting in someone’s way and when people start adding buildings to the board, it adds an extra wrinkle because you know they’ll get bonuses if you use

Then there’s the mild racing nature of the paths of wisdom, where only one person can claim a spot and the bonuses get better the further out you go, and the fact that any cards you pick up from crossing the river can be used on the same round (if you have space on your player board), means you’re always trying to figure out where someone might go first and if you can pip them to the post.

A Cornucopia Of Components

If you’ve looked at any pictures of this game, you’ve probably noticed that it’s absolutely gorgeous. Everything in the box is of the highest quality but it’s worth highlighting a few things –

The round and year tracker meeples are beautiful and absolutely unnecessary in the most glorious way.

The pilgrim meeples that each player gets (‘asleep’ on one side and ‘awake’ on the other) are incredibly cute, which is not a word you can often use when describing a small piece of wood.

The art on all the cards is lovely and really sells the fantastical nature of the theme.

The fact that the board is dual layered is, quite frankly, insane and makes me much happier than it should.

And finally, every player receives a 4-page player aid which seems scary at first but is invaluable once you get stuck in.

If You Go Down To The Woods Today…

… you should probably be aware of some potential problems.

If you, or anyone in your group, is particularly prone to analysis paralysis, this game could be an absolute nightmare. I mentioned the concept of a ‘perfect racing line’ through each round earlier and if you’re the type of person who needs to figure that out, you could very well draw the ire of your friends (or, if you’re all like that, the game might take 100 hours).

Also, the interaction in Bitoku I mentioned earlier, though wonderful, can also be occasionally devastating. It’s entirely possible that, by the time your turn rolls around, you’re not really in a position to do anything. People might have placed high value dice to block your actions (or simply covered all the spaces before crossing the river) or the tile you needed to kickstart your master plan might be gone.

Something like that happening once is easy to brush off but if it happens to you repeatedly, and everyone else starts racing ahead, you may start watching the clock.

However, in the games I’ve played these turns have been few and far between and, at least with my gaming groups, it was never done with the intent of messing up other people’s turns.

Also, as a quick potential warning for solo gamers – I personally found the solo rules entirely too much hassle. The AI opponent is controlled by a deck of cards and an ‘activation cycle’, which consists of a table of priorities that you work your way down until you find the relevant condition that is currently being met.

I understand that in a game like this, where the board state is so likely to change between turns, you probably can’t just have an AI deck of actions but it’s a lot of effort to go through and I’d rather play a two-handed game against myself.

Into The Woods

If you’re in the market for a mid-weight Euro, I think Bitoku deserves a place in any budding collection.

It’s definitely daunting at first (make sure to enjoy your fiends faces when you hand them the player-aid) but after a few turns, especially once you’ve seen the action cycle (card unlocks dice, dice value = action, cross the river), it quickly makes sense.

It looks stunning on the table and the random setup and deck building/player board upgrades means no two games will ever play the same. Plus you get a giant stag meeple, so what’s not to love!

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Amazing table presence
  • Plenty of variety for different strategies
  • Lots of interaction for a Euro game

Might not like

  • Solo mode is a hassle
  • Can be daunting for newcomers - lots of symbols
  • Theres a chance the blocking of actions could put people off