This weekend was one of those rare ones where the schedules amongst my gaming friends matched up and we were able to get together Saturday for some tabletop cardboard-based hijinks. Amongst the great games we played (Ticket to Ride, Risk Legacy, Waggle Dance) was unfortunately a bit of a stinker, the deck builder Kanzume Goddess.
I’ve written a review of this game since (coming to Geek Pride UK soon!), but I’d like to explore what I felt wasn’t quite right about KG and how I reckon, with a few minor tweaks, the game could be improved.
In a nutshell, players have Disciples that give ‘Faith Points’ which are used to buy new Warriors which can Attack the other players, draw more cards, Defend against damage, heal Energy (player’s life force), and so on. Winning is accomplished by either killing all the other players off or reaching 25 Energy. There is also an interesting combo chaining mechanic, where Warrior cards have three coloured dots. The largest is the card’s colour (Warriors that Attack tend to be red for example, whilst healers are often yellow). The two smaller dots denote what colour card is allowed to follow. In theory this creates a strategy to what cards you need to buy to make sure you can play correctly in some thunderstorm of card draw, super attacks and smug 10-card ultra combo of deck emptying awesomeness!
In practice, it’s actually a boring struggle to get the right cards at the right time. Even when you do, the majority of the occasions every other player can either defend the damage, or just heal up in their own turn. To make it even duller, many of the cards will only allow you to draw a single additional card, in theory just replacing itself in your hand and only being playable if you are lucky enough to have the right coloured dots on it.
However, as with all games there’s something to learn. KG is still interesting on paper, it just needs a little boost to make it work. Firstly, the coloured dot combo system. Taken from another game called Nightfall, this has a lot of potential to give players that little serotonin buzz of cleverness from seeing the best order pattern in a lengthy combo play. Unfortunately in KG it’s just restrictive and few of the cards make good use of what cards have been played already in a turn.
Two ideas sprang to mind. Reducing the number of colours on the dots would reduce the risk of not being able to play all your cards, but I think would reduce the strategy we’re trying to keep. Another idea would be to make it so any card can be played after another, but include a bonus on each card if you are able to match the colours of the previous card. You now have more playability from your cards with the juicy incentive of knowing if you get the play order right you’ll get some tasty extras such as another card draw, energy or Faith points.
Secondly, the Gods. Each player starts as a different God, complete with individual powers that can be played as often as the cost can be paid. It sounds like a fantastic way to make each game different and improve the replayability of KG. The reality is the Gods are woefully unbalanced, and I don’t think KG has been playtested extensively enough to compare all situations between all the potential card combinations. Some Gods just blast the others to pieces before they can get any traction, whilst others just extend the game into a tedious tit-for-tat of minor damage and healing. The best solution is probably the hardest: playtest the bejeezus out of your game. It’s a common lesson, but one that some have over-looked and KG looks like a prime suspect. Alternatives? Removing the God powers would remove what is another potentially interesting aspect of KG. Neutering the more powerful Gods slightly could work, but again it would come down to play testing to make sure the game still works.
Can you think of any games you’ve played where a couple of tweaks could make all the difference between being dull and being playable?
Which games have given you the greatest opportunity to learn about better game design?