Kohaku Review


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25 June 2022
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Pondering the perfect pond

From time to time I take my son down to the pet shop to feed the koi carp. For a pound you get a cupful of feed and probably one of the least relaxing experiences available on the high street. A soggy maelstrom of slick, shimmering orange flesh commences as the fish enter their dead-eyed, writhing frenzy. I get wet, it’s over in an instant, and I inevitably have to part with another pound coin. Kohaku paints a very different picture – perhaps even a lie – as this is a peaceful game of pristine ponds and carp-centric calming contemplation.

In this tile-laying game, players compete to build the best koi ponds, replete with the flora, fauna and ornamental features needed to accommodate the titular fish and its brethren. Each turn, a koi tile and a feature tile will be drafted from the central board with the only restrictions in placement being not having koi tiles immediately adjacent to one another. Aside from that, players’ ponds are gratifyingly freeform and sprawling.

Points are awarded at the end of the game based on the various requirements of players’ feature tiles. Butterflies score two points for each matching coloured koi in the same row or column, whilst frogs snap up points from the dragonflies depicted on any adjacent tiles. Other tiles score when surrounded or simply by being a turtle.

Having scoring be occasionally reliant on noticing these little artistic touches (dragonflies, specific koi colouring) brings players that much further into Kohaku’s gentle little world. It helps that learning and playing the game is similarly gentle; its choices are important without inducing struggle, and its pacing is, quite simply, relaxing.

On the table, Kohaku looks both subdued and fantastic. Granted, the sight of fish isn’t going to prompt particularly vocal enthusiasm from players or onlookers, but it’d be hard to pass by a game in progress without an internal ‘nice’. Earlier, deluxe editions of the game featured transparent acrylic tiles, but with cardboard this pretty players shouldn’t feel like they’re missing out, especially at this price point. Artist and designer Danny Devine’s organic illustrations pour across the table beautifully, with touches of spot UV finish giving a watery glint to the gentle ripples, bubbles, and dragonfly wings. Kohaku somehow retains this soothing, un-busy aesthetic throughout the game’s perfectly balanced pace too, despite the rapid growth of players’ personal ponds. It just never looks overwhelming, and importantly, never feels overwhelming.

With a relatively small amount of scoring criteria, choosing or placing tiles rarely stoops to a level approaching ‘analysis paralysis’, but the planned or preferred expansion of these personal, aquatic shrines still remains at the forefront of players’ minds. It’s just enough of a puzzle to maintain concentration and engagement. The only thing slightly disturbing the flow of the game is the rearrangement of tiles on the central board at the end of a turn to ensure a dynamic and diverse ‘market’, but that’s a small price to pay for such an elegantly handled touch of upkeep.

At thirty to forty-five minutes, Kohaku isn’t exactly a filler game – instead, its ease of play lends itself more to that ever-thinning niche offering rich gaming experiences without the need for brain-burning and unnecessary excess. Put simply, Kohaku is a light but wholesome piscine delight.

CHAD WILKINSON

PLAY IT? YES

A beautiful addition to the collection for anyone who prefers their completive games to err on the gentler side.

Pick up your own copy here

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TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED KOI

Sharing some mechanics and a calm, almost introspective feel, this pair of tile-laying titles should satisfy those looking to purposefully drift through a quick game or two.

Designer: Danny Devine

Publisher: 25th Century Games

Time: 30-45 minutes

Players: 1-4

Ages: 10+

Price: £28

What’s in the box?

  • 58 Koi tiles
  • 62 Feature tiles
  • Central pond board
  • 4 Scoring markers

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