Review: Kamisado29 Apr 2016 2
Released 24 Mar 2016
According to its creator, the origins of the game Kamisado came from the toilet. Or rather, from the floor of a men’s room, whose colored mosaic tiles apparently triggered something in Peter Burley’s head, ultimately leading to the multicolored boardgame which is the subject of this review. (And also revealing the truth of "The Epiphany Toilet".) Peter Burley, by the way, is a British game designer and known for the bingo-with-strategy puzzle game Take it Easy. And you might know the publisher (Germany-based Scorpius Forge) for its rather interesting 3D life simulator of the Lakota Indians, Evolution: Indian Hunter.
Kamisado is an abstract strategy game for two players and is played on a colorful 8x8 grid. As with chess, everything is out in the open so there’s no luck involved and, again like chess, much of the action revolves around limiting your opponent’s moves and in doing so, trying to take control of the board. Here the similarities with chess end, however, for Kamisado is a very different game. It should, however, still appeal to woodpushers everywhere.
The game is deceptively simple and easy to learn with only a few rules to memorize. The object is to maneuver one of your towers to the back rank by means of making only forward moves (both in a straight line as well as diagonally.) The twist here is that the color you land on during your move decides which piece your opponent gets to play next. The player who manages to land his or her tower on the back row scores a point (or possibly several) and either the game is finished or the board is rearranged and the next round begins.
There are some additional rules that make the game more interesting, but these only come into play if playing for multiple rounds. The tower which made it to your opponent’s back row becomes a “sumo” tower and will have its movement restricted, but gains the ability to push other towers around and gain you extra turns. You can even have double or triple sumos in play, all adding to the strategic depth of the game without it ever becoming too much. The more rounds you decide to play, the more interesting the gameplay becomes.
It’s quite an elegant game and while you may find yourself struggling a bit in the beginning trying to learn the ropes and figuring out the best strategies, it is in fact extremely easy to get into. After only a few games the first aha moments start to present themselves, and it’s fun when that happens. I find it generally a good idea to play aggressively and to threaten your opponent’s pieces right from the start, but a more defensive playstyle where you cautiously try to maneuver yourself and find holes in your enemy’s defense is just as viable a strategy. Rounds are rather quick, although I do recommend you play until at least ten points, since having sumos on the field enhances the game considerably.
At this point we've established that Kamisado is actually a great game. The question remains whether this digital offering does it the justice it deserves.
At first glance, it seems to tick all the right boxes. It has a slick presentation, pleasant and fitting music and all the required play modes: a tutorial, offline play against another player or against 5 levels of AI, and, very important for these kind of games, an online mode allowing asynchronous matches against any opponent in the world. A quick glance at the options screen confirms what I had expected for a game which relies so heavily on colors: an option to add symbols to the board for people who have difficulty distinguishing colors. The board itself looks great and the Smarties (or M&M’s for you Americans) on top of the towers look delicious too. So far, so good.
However, as soon as you start playing in earnest, it quickly becomes apparent that it’s far from rosy. The tutorial does indeed get you up and running but the moment you start playing a few games against the AI you notice some cracks in the plaster. After finishing a round, the board is rearranged and the loser should get the first turn for the next round. The game has a tendency, however, not to display the score of the previous round and not to change the turn indicator either. The game will continue normally and scores will still be registered behind the scenes, they will just not be displayed anymore. This happens quite regularly and while not disastrous (you can always count the rings on the sumo towers to figure out the score,) it’s definitely annoying.
Another big problem lies with the AI. It's just not very good. After playing a couple of games on the Easy setting I decided to dive into the deep end and ramp it up to Master. I managed to win my second game after only a few moves, and in the consecutive games I tried to reconstruct my early win where I noticed then that the AI will always make the same moves. There might be a slight variation, but in the end that doesn’t matter because it will still give me the win in roughly the same amount of moves. I can now beat the highest difficulty with my eyes closed and as long as I stick to the plan, every single game will play out in the exact same fashion. At the end of the first round, the winner decides how the board is shuffled (from the left or right) and the second round begins. It only took me a little while to crack this as well, and the third round after that. To me, this took all the fun out of playing the AI, leaving only multiplayer.
Unfortunately this turned out to be a disappointment as well. When I started playing Kamisado for this review, just over a hundred people had created an online profile (which is a snap, by the way,) and now, nearly two weeks later, that number has risen to a mere 242. I’m not expecting tens of thousands of players for a game like this, but I’ve never been able to find anyone online to play against and although I’ve sent out about thirty invitations to random players, it took about ten days for somebody to respond. That game is still ongoing, by the way, but it hasn’t progressed beyond the opening moves. It seems that the online community is so small and so little involved that an online multiplayer mode for Kamisado is just not feasible at this point. Unless you have friends willing to jump online and play with you, that is. I badgered my neighbor into playing, we learned the basics together, we discovered different strategies, learned how to use the diagonals, how to pressure the other and restrict his moves and had a blast doing it.
A patch or two should be able to clear up the bugs and improve the AI and as the online community grows, Kamisado could be an absolutely great digital board game. As it is now, however, it's merely okay and only if you have a friend or two willing to keep those online games going.