Friday, October 2, 2009

Review -- KACHINA


It is always fun to experience a game when it is brand new. There is a sense you are in on the ground floor or a gaming experience.
There is also some trepidation since you don't know if the game will be a good investment or not. It's pretty easy to find out information on chess because it's been around forever. A game such as Kachina, released just this year by Bucephalus Games on the other hand is an unknown.
Well folks, fear not in the case of Kachina. The game created by Scott Caputo may not be around hundred of years after its release the way chess is, but in the here and now it's a darned fine game.
Let's start with the theme Caputo has used for this tile-laying game.
Kachina's are spirits in the teachings of the Hopi tribe of the southwest United States. The Hopi are also known for their bright artistic work.
So, each tile in this game represents one of eight Kachinas, or spirits, and is differentiated by some really stunning artwork, albeit in miniatures since the heavy cardboard pieces are only about 1.5 inches square. I particularly like the art for the warrior, eagle and ogre.
It was the amazing art which initially drew my attention to Kachina when I first learned of the game online, and the connection to the Hopi culture was an added attraction too.
Some games are all glitz and no playability though.
Kachina avoids that pitfall rather nicely as well.
As stated it is a tile laying game. The game consists of 60-tiles of eight different types. Six of the tile types have unique powers, which means when you place them they have some additional affect on the game in terms of where it cam be places, of how many points you may score. Each tile has a point value as well. That is a nice touch in as much as it lends a level of strategy to the game.
There are some handy player reference cards to help keep the special powers of certain Kachinas close at-hand.
The tiles are shuffled -- yes it would have been nice to include a cloth drawstring bag to hold the tiles and allow for easy random draws – and each player is given five tiles.
The game allows for two to five players, which is nice.
That you get five tiles to start, and replenish as you go along is a major plus for Kachina. That allows that each time your turns comes around you actually have some options. With certain tiles have certain powers, you need to determine when it is best to use that tile. It sort of feels like the decision of when to use your trump card in various card games.
The tiles are played out in a pattern which ends up looking a lot like a Scrabble array, or crossword puzzle. The game develops over rows and columns, with no single line allowed to be longer than seven tiles.
As you add a piece you score points for the row, or column, and sometimes both.
The game plays rather quickly, which is a bonus too.
Certainly the game is ripe for expansion. There are undoubtedly lots of other Kachinas which could be added to the mix with other abilities to impact the game. There is probably options to offer up spirits from other tribes as well, which could create some conflict mechanisms too.
The potential for expansion is good because it will keep the game fresh, much as have the creators of Carcassonne, maybe the best of the genre has gone through several expansions.
As is, Kachina though has a lot going for it. Pleasing to look at, simple game play with some level of strategy beyond the dumb luck of drawing a single tile. A definite winner.
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 23, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

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