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Kami-Sama Review

Quick Look: Kami-Sama

Designer: AJ Lambeth
Artist: Gong Studios
Publisher: Kolossal Games
Year Published: 2019
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 14+
Playing Time: 60-90 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com


tl;dr: Area Control boosted by variable player powers, with wonderful thematic art. Can feel a little unbalanced.

Getting to the Game: Each player chooses their kami via whichever method works best. The rulebook says that each player takes two face-down cards and chooses one. Gather the kami-specific tokens or bits and place them on your player board. Assemble the game board like a puzzle and place in the center of the table, next to which will go the score tracker and shuffled village cards. Each player also takes a quantity of their color of shrines, depending on how many players in the game. It's time to get mystical!

The goal of Kami-Sama is to accumulate the most points by gaining sets of district tokens, which you gain by completing the randomly-chosen goal for the "year." Each session will take place over three in-game years, so the goal will change throughout the game. In addition, you are trying to balance the gains of both nature and favor each year, since you'll only score points for the lower of the two. The passage of the years also ramps you into more action cubes, giving you the ability to do more and more as time goes on. In practice, this becomes a very delicate balancing act of using your player powers to edge other people out, while giving yourself room to respond to them as the board heedlessly spins around in the dizzying advance of the cruelest of gods: Time.

Playing the Game: On your turn, you will play all of your available action cubes into either the generic "add or remove a shrine space" ability, or your three player-specific abilities, the most powerful of which will require two cubes. For example, Yue's two-cube ability in the photo above allows you to remove an opponent's shrine from your current village (the one in front of you - more on that later), and put one of your own in its place, and if this allows you to complete a goal, you can choose any village token you want. Yue plays hard towards sets, allowing her to very easily gain 6 points a year or more.

Meanwhile, the board itself spins, marking the turning of the years. Your "current" village, which nearly all of your powers will rely on, is the one directly in front of you, and it will only be your current village once per year. So, gather ye rosebuds, as they say; there's precious little time in Kami-Sama to get cute. When you have a village in front of you, you have to decide just how hard you want to lean in to blocking opponents' desires, completing the goal and getting the token for that village, and setting yourself up for future years. Shrines linger from year to year, meaning that decisions you make today will haunt you as you grow older together.

What works about Kami-Sama is just that: the duality of both permanence and frailty. Your chokehold on the temple and the huts of the fishing village may seem solid, but with just a simple spin of the board, your best-laid plans are razed in deference to your fellow kami. The pain that you'll feel when your solid line of shrines is chopped up and decimated is rivaled only by the joy you'll feel doing the same and more to your opponents passing their handiwork to you. And placement matters a great deal: At the end of each year, whichever kami has the longest line of contiguous shrines earns first dibs on the village cards. They'll take one from the top of the deck for each player in the game, choose one, and pass the rest to second place. If you're not first in line somewhere on the board, you're going to end up with a display full of half-point peasants, and no one wants that. The gameplay here is highly interactive, and with that comes the opportunity for players to be ganged up on. 

This leads nicely into what doesn't land quite as well for me about this title: there's very little to bring you back into a game that finds you behind. If you have a bad start, and your opponents are able to thwart your every village, then the next couple of years are going to be less forgiving. Each kami has their own ways of having big turns, but most require delicate setup. Take, for example, our friend Damok, the ancient grove. The name of his game is efficiency. He can spend a few turns dropping seeds all over the board, and then all at once covert those seeds to shrines. If he isn't careful about placement, or he tries to grab too early, then he'll quickly be overpowered and edged out, having to start all over again. New players will be forgiven for not knowing exactly how best to position themselves, and when figuring it out halfway through the game, they'll realize that there's no way back in. That will fade with experience - the question becomes, is there enough incentive to bring those players back for a second go?

Personally, I believe that there is. Between the art, the various kami that all behave differently, the randomness of the goals, and the delicious drafting of power cards at the end of each year, there's enough variability to ensure it will be a long time before you play a game that's strikingly similar to the one you just finished.

Artwork and Components: Gong Studios knows what they're doing, and they've brought their A-game here. The art is vibrant and gorgeous, though it is somewhat difficult to tell at a quick glance which village is which. The individual kami are obviously well-loved, and each player board is incredibly thematic, bringing the feel of each spirit to maximum effect.


The wooden shrines not only differ in color, but also in shape - a nice touch to bring individualism to the game that creates a very stunning effect when the villages fill up. Wooden action cubes and scoring disks complete the feel of the game, though the cards and punch tokens are of standard fare.

The Good: Beautiful table presence, balance between establishing a presence and keeping it feels very thematic.

The Bad: Tough to strategize when your pieces are so mutable, hard to come from behind.

Score: Overall, we very much enjoyed our time with Kami-Sama, and felt like there was lots more to be had with the differing kami. This title very much benefits from more time spent with it, as you learn exactly how to value contiguous shrines over completing goals. The art itself will have this game being taken off the shelf a lot to have a look, and there's enough game here to keep it coming to the table. I'm giving Kami-Sama a score of Zen.

Check out Kami-Sama on:


Nicholas Leeman - Reviewer

Nicholas has been a board game evangelist for over 10 years now, converting friends and family alike to the hobby. He's also a trained actor and works summers as one of the PA announcers for the St. Paul Saints. He lives in Minneapolis, MN with his board gaming wife and son.

See Nicholas's reviews HERE.
in Minneapolis, MN with his board gaming wife and son.
Kami-Sama Review Kami-Sama Review Reviewed by The Madjai on December 26, 2018 Rating: 5

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