This super game from iello is illustrated by Jade Mosch, is for 2-4 players aged 10+ and comes from the renown designers Bruno Cathala & Charles Chevallier
KANA GAWA uses a wooden Bamboo style place mat as its board, how's that for clever and unique ? It fits in nicely with the Japanese scheme of the game, though I'm not totally sure what it has to do with theme of the game, which is paintings. Never mind whether it is an item you would use when painting, it's visually excellent. It is marked with 12 Squares, 3 Rows of 4 in which there is one Red square in each of the 4 columns (of three) and two Light squares. On the top row the second, third and fourth columns are marked with 2,3 and 4 icons representing how much of the board you use for, 2, 3 or 4 players. You can fold the board to the exact required size but I would suggest that you don't because if you play it a lot with just 2 or 3 players it will split (mine is already split from rolling it up and putting it away after each game so please be careful).
The components range from very nice - the Lesson cards and Starting Tiles, through good; 2 Pawns (1 Large 1 Small), 3 Storm Tokens and the Diploma tiles, to acceptable; the Brush Pot pawns - the "brush" handles break easily if once again you are not very careful; also the picture in the rules book make these pieces look a lot more like Brush and Paint Pots than the actual wooden pawns themselves. This is one of those games where it says it is playable with 2, 3 or 4 players and it actually is! The more players involved the more tactical it gets, but even with two players there is an edginess that has you doubting your own strategy and double-bluffing yourself, the game is that good. Each player begins with a random Starting Tile which shows two Brush Pots and a paint colour - the player takes two of the Paint Pot pawns. The top part of their Start tile is the beginning of their Painting (Print) and the lower part of the Start tile is the beginning of the player's Studio.
The game begins by choosing a start player who shuffles all the square Lesson cards together. These cards are in four colours and each colour represents a different artist's subject: Green = Trees, 1, 2 or 3; Red = Character, one human figure per card; Blue = One Animal from Boar, Butterfly, Stag or Crane. With this deck of Lesson cards face down the first player places one card on each space in the top Row of the board depending on the number of players. Three players do not use the fourth column, Two players only use the first two columns. These Lesson cards are placed face up on the board unless the space is one of the Red ones, in which case the Lesson card is placed face down. Players can take a Column on their turn but on the first turn of the Round there is only one card in each Column. Once all players have had a chance to take a Column or Pass the Start Player places cards in the second Row.
The first player then decides if they wish to take one of the Columns of cards - to start with there is only one card in each Column - or Pass. Most players will Pass on their first turn unless there is a card they specifically need. Leaving a card on the board is taking a risk as someone else may take it before you when the second Row of Lesson cards is added. As there are only 3 Rows, the second Row of cards is important as this is when the players start to really think hard about whether to take a Column or not. If someone takes a Column they must do a couple of things immediately. The first is they must add these cards to their Start Tile placing the necessary part of the Lesson card under the Start tile so that the usable portion is visible, the Print part has to slide under the the Studio so that the Studio part of the card is visible and vice versa if you want the Print part to be visible. However, if you want the Print part to show you have to have the necessary paint in your Studio with a Brush Pot on it; if you have any arrows showing on your Studio cards you can move one Brush Pot to any colour you own.
The Lesson cards are in two parts, the left third is for the Studio and the other two-thirds for the Painting. After you have placed your Lesson card(s) if you have the exact requirements for a Diploma tile you can take one but remember the Diploma Tiles are in coloured sets of which you may collect only one tile of each colour and if the possibility of collecting one with a higher value than you have comes along, you cannot swap them over. If you have the requirements you do not have to take the Diploma but if you Pass in the hope of getting a higher value one later you may not go back to the one you have passed on previously. Also remember that if you Pass with that hope of getting a higher score someone may beat you to it. The Diploma cards will give you points at the end of the game, it may also give you a bonus such as a Storm token or the Small Pawn. Holding the Small Pawn at the end of the Round gives you the Large Pawn which is the Start Player marker and thus you will begin the next Round.
Diploma cards are kept to one side and are not placed against the player's Start Tile. Lesson cards are placed to build up the player's Studio and to continue the Painting, hoping to create a Print with the longest line of same season. Once placed Prints cannot be moved but they can have Storm tokens placed on them to change their season thus if you have a line of Spring, Spring, Winter, Spring, for example, you could lay a Storm token onto the Winter card and turn it into Spring so you have 4 Springs in a row. The logic being that storms can occur in any and all seasons and thus they are jokers. Thinking which column to take (unless you are in last place which means you have no choice, you have to take the remaining column) and then placing the Lesson cards that you get is where the time factor comes in. This is because your game strategy depends on the cards/column you select and therefore many players like to take their time trying to work out which column will be the most advantageous for them.
The Rules booklet is so well laid out that one read through is all you need to be able to play and then explain it to others. The Diplomas are explained fully on the inner back cover amd the outer back cover explains the basic symbols as well as the Structure of a Round. There are two ways for the game to end, if the Lesson Deck expires or if at least one player has 11 or more cards in their Painting (Print). There are five ways to score VPs; each Lesson card, the Longest sequence of Lesson cards, VPs printed on Lesson cards, VPs on Diploma tiles and 2 VPs for the player who (luckily) ends up with the Large Pawn. This latter was possibly put in because the scores are generally pretty close and it almost becomes a tie-breaker.
KANA GAWA is quality eye-candy as soon as you see the box art, it's splendidly stunning, I'm just surprised that there isn't a little deer standing on the ledge with his father; only joking of course but it does look closely like an emotional scene; Mufasa without Simba or the Great Prince without Bambi, as the graceful Stag looks knowingly out across the sea at the Man-Town opposite. Overall this is a really enjoyable game with 2, 3 or 4 players. It has the possibilities of being a "nice" game but it also has the bite to be a back-stabber because everyone's cards are always on display to all. You do not usually hold cards in your hand, you get them and play them, no discarding or holding, but there is one exception to this and that is the power given to you by one Red icon (a hand holding two cards) which allows you to hold onto a card instead of placing it immediately.
We have played KANA GAWA with 2, 3 and 4 players and each game is slightly different but generally quite tight as far as scoring goes and as long as the players are thinking when they make their decisions. It costs anywhere from £22.00 upwards (around $30.00 US) and is very good value.
Next time you are in your LOCAL GAME STORE check it out, I am pretty sure, that if you like clever and pretty games, you won't be disappointed.