Review: Kindo

By Kelsey Rinella 05 Aug 2015 0
Well do I remember playing ‘one more game’ of magic in college. We often went out for breakfast by the end. Kindo offers alternate color schemes. This one could be called the “Don’t keep your spouse awake with bright lights as you play ‘one more game’ until 1am.”

Sometimes I see someone execute a solution so perfectly that I am gulled into thinking it simple, like Pelé scoring with a bicycle kick. Only after a few painful falls onto my head or back do I come to realize how much skill went into that shot, and how many ways it could have gone wrong. Other times, I see a solution and consider ways to improve upon it, and realizing why each of those would fail makes the original solution seem ever more impressive. Kindo is a strategy game as at home on the iPhone as the iPad, and executes that so well that it illuminates how hard it is.

It’s easy to think about the limitations of a small screen, but consider also that people don’t want to pay much for games, which largely rules out a substantial art budget. A minimalist aesthetic helps address both issues, keeping the interface from feeling crowded with detail. Phones (or perhaps their users) also aren’t well-suited to long rules explanations, so the rules must be as simple as possible--chess would never have made it as an iPhone game. Finally, the game has to suit distracted players in play sessions of highly variable duration, often very brief ones indeed. There are several elements of Kindo which suit it extremely well to this situation, but the one which tells us most about the game is this: positive feedback.

The crowns evoke Snow White’s evil stepmother for me. Makes me think of the little dots denoting last turn’s moves as pixelated poisoned apples. My favorite maneuver nearly complete: build your opponent a cage so large it can hold everything but a hope of victory.

My strongest association with positive feedback is disaster stories, which is maybe not the most promising connection to make. But if you want to have a game with enough options to be interesting but which can be played to completion in two minutes much of the time, it needs to reward aggressive play and end very soon once one player develops a substantial advantage. In Kindo, you get two moves each turn: either occupying a square adjacent to your current territory or fortifying a square to prevent attack from one direction. If you can take an opponent’s square by cutting off its path to its home base, you get an extra move next turn, which is so powerful that most of the game focuses on setting up such moves and avoiding giving them to your opponent. Once the game starts handing out extra moves, defense becomes more difficult and the game usually proceeds quickly to a conclusion.

Balancing that effect is another: when you take a square your opponent placed last turn, you give your opponent an extra move. This is so costly that it’s very rarely worth it except as a decisive strike, so taking a new square can be as effective a defense as fortifying, if only temporarily. The resulting flow often comes down to some positional maneuvering followed by a blunder, with any blunder immediately and catastrophically punished at the highest of the three levels of AI. In a game this quick, recovery is virtually impossible, so once you’ve made a mistake big enough that you notice it, you’re already thinking about the next game. It’s like eating a bag of assorted jelly beans--each one you eat tells you something, and neither the triumphs nor the unpleasantness lasts long enough to dwell on. In my hands, it’s also like eating jelly beans because I’m virtually certain to make every mistake at least twice (except black licorice flavor--even I am wise enough to avoid that heinous crime against candy).

I very carefully selected a screenshot with three consecutive wins against the hard AI. It took a while. I adore the icons for each game, which show the territories occupied. Just a brilliant bit of design.

Kindo takes the limitations of its format seriously, and designs around them as well as I can imagine. To some extent, that illustrates why I tend to gravitate toward playing games on the iPad--those which fit comfortably into my use of the phone necessarily offer more limited options, and I like a bit more room to stretch and a wider variety of challenges to balance. But Kindo is literally the only strategy game I’ve played which seems to me worth playing in a grocery store queue, and it delights me as an artifact which reflects its environment so insightfully.

Kindo was played on an iPad Air and an iPhone 5S for this review.

Review: Kindo

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