A to Z Gaming: Kodama

We cultivated our trees with a mix of flowers, insects, stars, and clouds to make our tree spirits happy in Kodama: The Tree Spirits, the next game in our A-Z game shelf play-through.

Basic Info: Kodama: The Tree Spirits
Players: 2-5
Time: 30 Minutes
Designers: Daniel Solis
Artists: Scott Hartman, Kwanchai Moriya, Mirko Suzuki
Publisher: Indie Boards & Cards

Kodama is card placement game where players take turns choosing branches for their trees, scoring points for connected features such as stars, flowers, and caterpillars, and satisfying the specific needs of different tree spirits. The player who can best take care of their chosen tree spirits wins the game.

The game is set up with each player receiving a randomly-chosen trunk card showing one feature (caterpillar, firefly, mushroom, flower, star, or cloud). They also receive a hand of four kodama cards. The scoreboard is placed on the table, with score markers for each player matching their trunk’s feature. Three Decree cards are chosen — one Spring, one Summer and one Fall — and placed face-down near the scoreboard. The deck of branch cards is shuffled and four placed face-up in reach of all players. The player wearing the most green starts.

The game is played over three seasons with four rounds each season. Before the turn, the Spring Decree card is turned face-up and read out. This will give players an additional rule for the round.

On their turn, the active player chooses one of the face-up branch cards and places it on their tree following a few of placement rules. The location where the branch extends off the branch card must touch some bark of the tree on another card, but the new card can only touch one other card, you can’t cover features on the tree, and the card can’t dip below the bottom of the trunk card.

The player then scores their newly-placed card. This is done by looking at each feature on the new card and tracing it back to other cards down the branch — each of the same-type feature it connects to is one point. Any feature that doesn’t appear on the next card down doesn’t score any points. A branch can’t be placed in a location that would gain the player more than 10 total points for the turn (not counting Decree bonuses).

The available card row is replenished and the next player takes a turn. After four rounds, the Spring scoring phase is entered. Players choose one of the kodama cards in their hand to score. These cards give points for a variety of different things — like having particular features touching your trunk or having a number of features next to a certain card.

After everyone has scored, the first player marker moves to the player with the lowest score. The Summer Decree card is turned up and another four rounds are played. This process repeats one last time for Fall. After the scoring of kodamas at the end of the Fall round, the player with the most points wins.

We first tried this game on a trip the The Board and Brew, our local game cafe, a few years ago. Before that, I had picked it up a few times at the game store, attracted to the art. After playing it, we knew we had to have it on our game shelf.

I like pretty much everything about this game — the art is beautiful, the theme is charming, and the game play is a fun puzzle. This game doesn’t come out as often as it used to, with all of the other “big” games on our shelf, but Kodama is a great one to bring out when you just want a calming, pretty game.

There’s certainly a bit of luck in the game — luck in the kodamas you get at the beginning of the game and how well they play together, and luck in the cards that are available on your turn. But the game is short enough that if you’re unlucky in one game, you just set it up and play again.

How is it as a 2-player game? Kodama: The Tree Spirits works fairly well as a 2-player game. The only thing that might be annoying is that the offerings in the branch row don’t necessarily change as much between turns. This is great if there are a lot of cards you want (and that work well with your Kodamas), but it’s not so great if you need the cards to turn over faster.

How about the art and component quality? The main components are a deck of cards and a few cardboard chits, which are all fine. As I already mentioned, the art was a big draw for me, and it didn’t disappoint.

Will this stay in my collection? This is an easy yes. We love the game and it’s a great addition to game night.

One Reply to “A to Z Gaming: Kodama”

  1. I love this game! It’s simple and pretty and I like trying to balance getting the right number of elements I need versus collecting caterpillars because they are cute.

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