Should you play KuniUmi?
In Japanese mythology, KuniUmi is a tale of creation by the two gods Izanami and Izanagi, who had the task of forming the first series of islands out of the sea that would become Japan. In KuniUmi, the board game, players take on the role of two gods, and using their tactical prowess, compete against each other to be the first one to get surrounded by the opponent's tokens, thus creating their own civilization.
During the game, players will be moving their god pawns on the grid, placing a token of their colour in their stead. The goal is to avoid enclosing an opponent’s cluster of tokens with your own, which as the game progresses and the grid gets more occupied becomes harder. The less free spaces are on the board, the more brain-scratchy the gameplay becomes, with players spending longer to contemplate their turn and assess options available to their opponent, trying to catch them out. While the gameplay never reaches chess strategy levels, there is still skill to making a winning move.
Japanese culture is known for its understated elegant simplicity, and the KuniUmi tries to emulate that. The whole game comes in a velvet bag that also serves as the board of the game. Components inside are minimal: two types of pawns and two types of tokens. The green, Earth tokens, stand out in particular: they come in different sizes and have a rough texture that is reminiscent of the moss-covered boulders. Whatever the tokens were coated with, unfortunately, can leave white powdery dust, which slightly undermines the finesses of the overall component presentation.
One imagines creation process to be a spectacular, loud, bombastic event, quite the opposite to the serene, calming, and contemplative experience that KuniUmi offers. Yet it is a welcome perspective providing an interesting interpretation of Japanese mythology in a board game form.
PLAY IT? PROBABLY
Designer: Ignazio Panades
Time: 10-25 minutes
This review originally appeared in Issue 44 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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