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Kodama: The Tree Spirits (Saturday Review)
Posted On 14 September 2019
Release Date: 2016
Designer: Daniel Solis
Length: 30-45 minutes
Artist: Scott Hartman, Kwanchai Moriya, Mirko Suzuki
Publisher: Action Phase Games
Complexity: 1.5 / 5
In a world where every tree is inhabited by its own gentle and benign spirit, it is your important task to ensure that every sapling grows strong and big, and offers a home for as many small creatures and plants as possible, thereby creating harmony and balance in the forest. If you can work in harmony with the seasons and nurture the worms, fireflies, flowers and mushrooms that grow on the tree that you have been tasked to look after, you will come out as the best caretaker and will be generously rewarded with health and happiness by the tree spirit, the kodama, that inhabits your tree. It is this work that you carry out in Kodama: The Tree Spirits by Action Phase Games.
Here is a game that is gentle, peaceful, almost zen, and certainly very beautiful to look at. As soon as you see the box, you know what to expect. The art by Kwanchai Moriya is just gorgeous. It’s cartoony and cute, without being tacky or overdone. You can immediately see that this game is friendly and enjoyable, and as you start to play it, your expectations are met.
Your main focus is on growing your tree and making your kodama happy. Every time you play a branch card, you try and make it neatly fit your tree, which is very satisfying and makes you feel rather creative. Like a gardener would graft a tree onto suitable rootstock, you add branches to your tree, and when you successfully extend the colony of plants or creatures living on your tree, you get a lot of enjoyment, akin to the pride a gardener will feel when a graft has successfully taken. In fact, the whole game is very organic and puts you in touch with nature. It is very calming, almost zen-like.
There is also very little player interaction, even though it is competitive and everyone draws branch cards from a central pool of cards. It is possible to take the branch that would give your opponents the most points, but most of the time you’re better off focussing on what you need, rather than ruining other players’ plans.
Even when a player does try to spoil it for you, you still get a huge feeling of enjoyment and satisfaction from placing your branches onto your tree. Seeing your tree grow and the animals and plants inhabit the newly created living space is much more fun than worrying about how many points you get from what card. In fact, I have seen very competitive players stop worrying about points and instead start focussing on making their kodama happy.
Of course, ultimately the game is about finding the best branch that gives you the most points, while also fulfilling your personal objectives and gaining as much benefit from the seasonal bonuses as possible. If you’re good at 2D puzzles, then you’ll be good at playing Kodama: The Tree Spirits. The game does remind me of The Hanging Gardens by Hans im Glück, in that you’re trying to select the card from a central offer row that gives you the most points. However, the art and the ability to place cards anywhere, in any orientation, as long as the branch of the new card touches a branch on the tree, makes Kodama a lot more satisfying and almost tactile.
It’s also an easy game to teach and play, ideal for younger players and also great as a gateway game. Its length makes it also an option for a game to finish off a games night. It’s a real allrounder in my view and well worth a closer look. It comes in a small box, so won’t take up much room on your game shelf – or in your cupboard.
I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.
I backed this game on Kickstarter and paid for it myself.
At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.
Music: Relaxing Instrumental Music for sleeping 523 Hz by Scuspin