Is KANAGAWA Fun to Play?

What is it you love about your favourite games? Simplicity? Strategy? Vegging out? 

One of the big attractions for me is the artwork! (I’m shallow like that). Currently, one of my favourite games is Kanagawa. It’s a game with stunning box art and beautiful cards.

Kanagawa is a game for two to four players in which you’re an artist seeking to create a masterpiece to honour your esteemed teacher. Each round you must draft cards and decide whether each card will progress the game towards it’s end or extend your range of abilities. When one player has added 11 cards to their painting, the game ends and points are tallied. The person with the most points wins.

How Easy is it to Learn?

Board Game Geek rates the complexity as 2/5 (medium light). Its an elegant game with a simple mechanic. The art extends to the glossy, full colour instructions. And it’s quick – a game can last only 15 minutes for a two players, although the box suggests 45 minutes for a larger group.

Each round you lay cards on a mat (a bamboo mat nicely in keeping with the theme). Here is your first decision point: will you broaden your knowledge with the chance of getting more cards, or will you take that choice card to work on your painting? The second decision point is whether to add the card to your painting (if you can) or use a card to increase your abilities and give you more options. Different combinations of cards in your painting increase your score and allow you to claim “diploma” tiles that grant also extra points. But this brings another decision point: take the easier diploma with less points, or wait for a more difficult one with the possibility of others getting it first. 

How Easy is it to Play?

Set up is easy and the mechanics are very simple. Draw cards, place them in your “studio” and draw diploma tiles. When the game ends (a player has 11 cards in their painting) and points are tallied. The person with the most points wins. You can gainn extra paintbrushes which allow you to add more cards to your painting. These are nice plastic models that are easy to handle. The diploma tiles are also thick, easy to handle cardboard.

If I have a complaint it’s with the cards themselves. It can be quite difficult to tuck them under one another – something you have to do every move, and it gets a bit messy having all those cards being tucked into the end of the row. But apart from that the game is very easy to play.

How Easy is it to Win?

There is a small learning curve with Kanagawa… actually more of a familiarity curve as you become mindful of the best strategies and learn to look out for chances to claim diploma tiles. A more experienced player will have an advantage with the first few games, but there is an element of luck in any card game and this evens out the chances of victory considerably. I’m the keenest player in our family but by no means the head of our leader board. You likely won’t know who the winner is until those points are tallied so, unless you’ve done dismally, there’s always that element of suspense.

Is it Fun to Play? 

Personally I find this a very enjoyable game. It has a relaxed pace to match the theme. It’s not highly competitive – you do have to watch out for what others are doing but mostly you’re working on your own project, not trying to thwart others. The Board Game Geek community rates it 7/10, “Good – usually willing to play.” I rate it a 9. It used to be my first pick and, after 15 plays in 6 months, you still don’t have to ask me twice to play.

Who Will Enjoy It?

The box says this is suitable for ages 10 plus. It’s not a game for young children, but I think most people will enjoy it, especially casual players. That said, it only rates as 94th in the Board Game Geek family game rankings, so it’s not exactly setting the world on fire. But it set my world on fire.

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