As parents, we read to our children to teach them language and a love of great stories. If you want to teach them math and strategic thinking, then play a game, almost any game, with them. That is a big reason why active gamers, whether RPGers, or board game aficionados tend to be better thinkers.
One game I grew up with was WaterWorks, the card game on building and fixing leaky pipes. It’s fun, competitive and great on a dining room table. It needed that much space for the cards to spread out. Recently, however, I found a nicer game that has a similar play style and prettier pictures.
I discovered Kodama, The Tree Spirits after visiting Games Inn, a local store/gaming café in Hobart, Indiana, one Sunday afternoon. Created by ActionPhase Games, this product combines lovely artwork by Kwanchai Moriya with a fun instructions for a game that is more challenging than I first thought.
The action looks a lot like the old Waterworks game where participants build a pipeline from faucet to spigot while breaking their opponents’ pipes. It is an easy card game for kids and still popularly sold in many toy stores.
In comparison, Kodama is also simple. Gamers build a tree instead of plumbing. However, the stump has only a few branches and angles, limiting the directional options. In addition, each tree card displays its own special features: caterpillars, mushrooms, flowers, clouds, and starlight. The winner is that person whose tree garners the most points by selectively including specifics features found on the branches. However, it is not just about building only trees with caterpillars. The player also receives points for including the occasional flower branch with caterpillars and clouds. In short, the most successful players build an ecosystem in their tree.
The random factor comes in two different ways. First, the participants are limited in choosing between four growth cards with each round. If the best cards are not available, oh well, tough luck. Secondly, the season cards dictate what extra conditions can affect the players’ points. Unfortunately, no one knows what these seasonal conditions are before tree building starts. The seasons also mark each round of game play. Since the game only has three seasons, the game is fairly short.
The box features cards, symbol dots for each player, a fold-up board for keeping score and an instruction book. The art seems pretty simple but is actually quite complex and soothing. The beauty of the product is a large part of what attracted me to the game.
Like Waterworks, Kodama, The Tree Spirits is small and easily transportable. It requires a large table top and some strategic thinking. After playing it twice and losing. I figured I had better start paying more attention to what I was doing wrong. In the pipe game, game masters have to decide whether to rip up the opponent’s pipe or build on their own on each turn.
Although Kodama is also strategic, it differs from the old classic in that it is not viciously competitive. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great cutthroat game, like Munchkin or Risk, as much as most. However, sometimes it’s nicer to play something more oriented to how good your skill set is and less focused on how big of a bastard you can be. In this game, the people work on the strength of their trees. No one breaks, sickens or otherwise impedes the other players. The strategy is simply to grow a better ecosystem than theirs.
The game is short enough (ten minutes) to not become tedious and can be played by two to five players ages 14 or older.