Kanagawa Review - Hashtag: Oh What A Beautiful Morning!

It's taken me a while to get this one in my hands to play. But Kanagawa has a lot going for it (incidentally Kanagawa or "The Great Wave" was a woodblock print painted by the Japanese artist, Houkasai). It's produced by Iello who have a knack for colorful filler games. It's designed not only by Cathala, but also Charles Chevallier, thus reuniting the same duo who created Abyss, one of my Top 30 games (seriously more people need to check that one out). And it incorporates a Japanese theme reminding me of various "Zen" style games I own like Tokaido and Takenoko, which I've always enjoyed as games to . . . . well relax to I guess.

On top of that, with a runtime of only 45 minutes on the box, this has the potential to be a new gateway game entry and we need more of those these days I feel. We seem to be getting swarmed with complex, 2-3 hour games and that's not going to help promote the hobby to newcomers. So I'll grab my easel and dive right in (pretty sure Japanese artists don't use easels, but I suck at Art so what do I know?)



Designer: Antoine Bauza / Bruno Cathala
Publisher: IELLO
Age: 10+
Players: 2-4
Time: 30-45 Minutes
RRP: £24.99


From the publishers website:

1840: In Kanagawa, the great bay of Tokyo, the Master Hokusai decided to open a painting school to share his art with his disciples. You are one of these disciples, and more than anything, you want to prove yourself worthy of the “crazy, old artist”. Follow his teachings to expand your studio and paint your preferred subjects (Trees, Animals, Characters, Buildings), all while paying attention to the changing of the seasons in order to make the most harmonious print… the one that will become the work of your lifetime!


SUBTLE BEAUTY


If there's one thing about IELLO these days, it's that they always do a great job on production quality and artwork. Here, the art is simple, yet beautiful, fitting the Japanese style Kanagawa is based on. It's cool that the print cards actually link together seamlessly to form a panoramic picture as the game progresses. Of course art is subjective to the beholder, but I think it's really good and helps to bring about the relaxing nature of the game.

But it doesn't stop there. The board for placing cards could have just been simple cardboard, but here's it's actually rolled up bamboo (or bamboo substitute anyway, don't quote me) with printed spaces. The brushes for showing what prints you can paint could have just been counters, but we've got custom painted wooden japanese brush jars. Little touches like these may not win any component awards, but they go a long way to really making Kanagawa stand out on the table and justify its price tag, which given you can find a copy online for around £20 is pretty reasonable.


Even the insert is adequately sized to hold everything and yet only take up a small amount of room on your shelf. It doesn't even use up much of a table when it's all laid out.


RUNNING AN EFFICIENT STUDIO


When it comes down to it, Kanagawa boils down to "pushing your luck" and efficient use of cards. At most you will only gain 3 cards in a single round, but it's not necessarily better to have more cards. Some new players have made the common mistake of waiting it out to get the most cards they can. But that's not always efficient. When diplomas and end-game scoring is heavily reliant on getting specific seasonal runs in your print and meeting specific requirements, you want cards that are useful even if it's only one. And taking cards early reduces the amount of choice your opponents get. So you can tell that it's not all about your own print, but also making life harder for the other players.

Multi-use cards are one of my favourite mechanics in games and even though each card only has two uses, there's a good amount of choices to make as to how you will use each card, trying to be as efficient as possible - dumping cards into your studio is wasteful after a point. We're not talking deep levels of strategy here, it's a light filler, but anyone who claims this is running on auto-pilot isn't playing optimally. You can think about what you want to create at the start of the game, but occasionally you're going to have to re-think your tactics to do well if the cards you want get taken.


QUICK LICK OF PAINT


So often we see publishers outright lying about the time lengths of games. But with Kanagawa, they've hit it pretty accurate this time. A typical game should take no longer than 30-45 minutes scaling up with player count. At the absolute most we're talking 1 hour and if it's taking longer than that, kick out whoever is causing analysis paralysis in a light filler and finish the game! The only time the game can occasionally stall is when such a player takes a while to think about where they want to put their prints, but such decisions shouldn't be too taxing and it's no fault of the game.

Kanagawa scales well from 2-4 players with the amount of cards available to choose from and is fun at all of them. There isn't a ton of variety in terms of the cards themselves so I wouldn't advise too many repeat plays all at once, but bringing this out occasionally as a bridging gap between heavier games will work nicely if you want something simple. Although be wary as to how you explain the rules. It's not that the book isn't clear (though it's not perfect), but it uses artistic terminology to describe phases and various components and this has had the effect of throwing off some players in their first game.



VERDICT ON KANAGAWA



Kanagawa is a nice, simple, charming game that's perfectly suited to the filler genre. Each game shouldn't take you more than 45 minutes and even though it's simple to play, there's enough depth in choosing your prints and denying opponents what they're after that it doesn't pilot itself. Luck plays a part in the card draw, but you can mitigate that to an extent and you're pushing your luck for diploma tiles.

It's not meant to be anything heavy, rather be mellow and calming, almost like a baby brother of classic "Zen" games like Tokaido and Takenoko. The production quality is classic Iello, being solid for the relatively small price tag and the artwork should appeal to the majority of people. I wouldn't play it over and over again as there is only so much variety in the box, but it's good to bring out on occasion when all you need is some simplicity in a short time span.





BROKEN RATING - 7 Frayed Paint Brushes




YOU WILL LIKE KANAGAWA IF:



You like the charming artwork and theme.


You want a light game with enough depth to not burn the brain cells.


You want a filler game that can be wrapped up in 45 minutes or less.




YOU WILL NOT LIKE KANAGAWA IF:


You feel there's not enough variety for repeat plays.


You prefer heavier games - it's very light once the rules set in.


You find players with analysis paralysis in a 4 player game.

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