Updated: Sep 28
Players: 1 - 6 Ages: 14+ Game Time: 30+ minutes
It is springtime in the forest, and new growth is ready to burst forth and be blessed and guided by the magical Kodama spirits. Tending the forest takes a team ... but wait, you have found yourself on two teams - one with the player to your left, and the other with the player on your right. You will need to plan carefully as your neighbours’ input will directly affect your forests. Work together harmoniously to cover as much as the forest floor as possible with beautiful luscious plant growth, and attract lots of wildlife. For this will please the Kodama spirits, who will call your forests their home. Beware, they are displeased by areas still covered in dirt, and only one forester will be victorious!
Kodama Forest is a relaxing Tetris-style tile-laying strategy game that is published by Indie Boards & Cards and designed by Kevin Riley and Jenny Iglesias (you may know them from the Aeon's End franchise).
At the start of each round, each player has a hand of three polyomino tiles available for placing on their two player boards for beautifying their forests and pleasing the Kodama spirits. These boards are grid-style mats featuring a mixture of squares prepopulated with Kodama spirits to navigate your tiles around, and unoccupied dirt spaces to place tiles upon that are a mixture of blanks (which score one point), and squares that score 5 or 10 points. There are beginner boards with more convenient locations of the Kodama spirits, as well as more advanced boards that are trickier to fill.
The aim is to fill as much of the square grid player boards as efficiently as possible to leave as few squares as possible unoccupied by the end of the game. The game end is triggered as soon as any singular board has all the 5s and 10s covered. Unlike a lot of games where the winner is the person with the most points, in Kodama Forest you are victorious if you achieve the lowest points compared to your competitors across the combined total of your two boards.
There is an abundance of tiles to draw from the canvas bag that is included with the game. Each tile has half-complete features: swamps, flowers and bamboo patches. Complete a feature by joining up two halves and you'll unlock bonus tiles. Join two halves of a flower to gain a 1x1 butterfly tile, complete a pond to earn yourself a 2x1 frog tile, and connect two sides of a bamboo patch to get a 2x2 panda tile.
Each round players have a hand of three tiles, and must place one tile on the board to their left and one on the board on their right. The other tile is retained in hand before drawing back up to three. Due to the shared boards, this means that you must balance both competitiveness and cooperation when choosing how to place your tiles.
As the game continues, it becomes trickier and trickier to place tiles. This is where the option to instead discard a tile to instead place a 1x1 butterfly token comes in. Super handy when you are stuck with a hand full of unplayable polyominos.
When replenishing your hand, whilst you probably should pick out the first tile you lay your mitts on, you may find yourself lingering on a tile to accidentally not select it as you happen upon just the tile you needed. Although of course this only guarantees the shape and not necessarily the feature you desired for those precious bonus tiles.
Officially according to the box, it is for players aged 14 plus, but as with many games this is likely to be purely for safety reasons. It is very family-friendly and children under 14 could easily be taught how to play the game and love it. It also has an educational element as it can help improve spatial awareness (I certainly need as much help as I can get to improve mine!).
Some people may find it a little simplistic, which could limit replayability especially if you prefer more directly competitive games. However, I did feel that it was a clever blend of cooperative and competitive gameplay.
A clever blend of cooperative and competitive gameplay.
The box also states that it is for 3-6 players, but the rulebook does provide gameplay for both solo and 2-player. I found the solo play both challenging and therapeutic - you aim to score the lowest points as possible across two boards in ten turns. I also loved playing the co-operative and competitive 2-player variants with the hubby … even if I was jealous of one of his completely filled boards!
It would have perhaps been preferable for the boards to have labels to indicate varying difficulties beyond just 'beginner' as some boards did look to be more awkward than others. However, I'm not sure how much the designers would have had access to computer algorithms to fully test this.
The game is wonderfully illustrated by Kwanchai Moriya (do check out his website, as he has done lots of stunning artwork, primarily for board games and children's books). The polyomino tiles are of a good thickness and quality and the player boards seem quite durable. I would have preferred if they had been more like the tiles, but appreciate that this would have made the game heavier and would call for a deeper box. For me there was an added bonus of the game featuring lots of tiles - a huge number of piece to pop out of the pre-cut boards! It is mostly plastic free, other than the plastic shrink wrap and ziplock bags for the bonus tiles. It might have been nicer had they included mini canvas bags for the bonus tiles instead. I was also a little disappointed that a game about tending forests did not have Forest Stewardship Council certification.
I thoroughly enjoyed playing Kodama Forest and the artwork is gorgeous. The game has a clever mix of co-operative and competitive gameplay and is suitable for a range of player counts, including having a solo mode. It is relaxing and fun to play and family-friendly. If you are super competitive then this maybe isn't a game for you. It's definitely one I will play again, and I will keep trying to get a better score in solo mode!
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