Welcome to the beautiful prefecture of Kanagawa (BGG, Amazon)! You are all students at Katsushika Hokusai’s art school and hope to create your own masterwork through the teachings of the great master himself. The publisher of Kanagawa, Iello, provides some of the best art direction in the board game industry. Iello games look and feel polished and refined and Kanagawa did not disappoint. Everything about the game fits into the theme and looks gorgeous. The artwork on the cards is interesting and flows well so that it does seem that you are creating a large art scroll. The gameboard is a bamboo mat which unrolls in front of you for your lessons. This elegant touch feels perfect – I love it. The paintbrush tokens are these neat little miniatures when they could have just been little cardboard tokens. Iello makes me feel all warm inside.

Three columns of cards in a three player game. Some cards are placed face-up and some face-down (the red squares).

The card drafting and tableau building mechanisms are very similar to those I discussed in Dream Home by Asmodee. In both games you are drawing one column of cards and adding them to your personal tableau. In Dream Home you are choosing two cards (one room and one improvement card) or one room card and the first player token. Kanagawa is slightly more complex with an added element of press-your-luck. Lesson cards are placed in rows to help students develop their studios or their prints. At first only one row of cards is dealt on to the board equal to the number of players. Players can take a card or pass and wait for a second row and take a column of two cards or pass and wait again to get three cards. In the end you can get more cards but you run the risk of other players snagging cards you really need.

The lesson cards are delightful. I love multi-use cards. I absolutely adore multi-use cards when they are intuitively designed with clear iconography. The iconography is practically flawless and can be picked up and understood quickly. You barely need to examine the cards closely before knowing what they can do. Besides, I would much rather spend that time enjoying the amazing water-color artwork. 

Jade Mosch did the water-color artwork on the cards.

The core of the decision space is after you choose your cards. Once cards are drafted, you can add them to your print to expand your painting and score points or you can add them into your Studio to help you gain the skills needed to add to your painting. It is here that Kanagawa felt nicely streamlined. There are no wasted actions. Sometimes when you draw cards in games like this you end up with cards you can’t afford to use or don’t have the requisite abilities to use causing you to discard. This causes frustration in younger players (and honestly, it bugs me as well). In Kanagawa you can always add cards to your studio to gain more skills. It is always an options and adding to your studio provides more options during later turns. There is a slight difficulty with the game here. Let’s compare to Dream Home again. In Dream Home you choose a column and then place a card. Since the cards in Kanagawa have multiple uses and you can have up to three of them to place during your turn, there tends to be a bit of analysis before the next player can take their cards. It slows the flow of the game down. Nothing dramatic but it isn’t as snappy as Dream Home.

Some artwork and barely functioning studio.

You earn points at the end of the game primarily from Diploma tiles which have their own press your luck element to them. There are usually a few different tiles for each scoring element (number of buildings, tree, portraits, animals, number of identical landscapes, and number of brushes/arrows in your studio) increasing in points and number of elements to earn the diploma. For example you can earn the 3 point yellow diploma tile if you have 2 different buildings. Or you can wait to earn 4 points and a storm token with 3 different buildings. Or earn 7 points and the Assistant pawn if you have 4 different buildings. When you reach an objective (2, 3, or 4 buildings) you are required to announce it and then decide whether you take the diploma tile or wait to earn the next. If you wait then you can never go back and take the earlier tile. There are lots of them diploma tiles (a total of 19 of the seven colors) and you can never have more than one of the same color. You also earn points by having a long stretch of one season in your print and by scoring bonus points on some lesson cards. 

The Diploma tiles are not that confusing but they do slow down the flow of the game.

Overall the game is gorgeous and the artwork beautiful. The gameplay is a rung above Dream Home in complexity so if you like the card drafting in Dream Home (and I do!) but feel like you need just a bit more decision space (like I do!), then Kanagawa is a great choice. Tableau building games provide a strong feeling of creation and accomplishment that really shines in Kanagawa. There are other amazingly fun tableau builders that are too dry but with solid mechanics (San Juan), can be too cut-throat for some families (Citadels) or too complex for beginning gamers (7 Wonders, Eminent Domain) and Kanagawa fits in nicely where those games fall short. It is great family (or library) fare, with attractive and accessible art, and satisfying after the first play. The only difficulty in teaching the game was explaining the diploma tiles and dealing with the large amount of them. It may take a few plays (or at least some time examining each tile) to really understand each one. The shear number can be potentially overwhelming for younger players but not necessarily intimidating or off-putting. Just take the time to explain each one when you get a chance throughout the game.   

Baba! How you been? ~ A review of Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga is the second installment of Iello’s Tales and Games Series following their inaugural dice-chucker – The Three Little Pigs. In Baba Yaga, players have slipped through the clutching grasp of the Baba Yaga, a hideous witch who lives in the woods and flies around in a cauldron. However, in order to escape back to the safety of their home, the players will need to successfully gather the necessary ingredients in order to cast three spells. While you are gathering your ingredients, the wicked Baba Yaga will be hovering above in her magic cauldron mocking you! Be careful! Spellcraft is an exact science and any mistakes will lead to a failed spell. Also as those spells get cast, some strange things will start happening.


  • Designer: Jérémie Caplanne
  • Players: 2-5
  • Game Length: 15+ minutes
  • Ages: 6+
  • Category: Dexterity, Memory, Real-time Distraction, Basic Forest-Lore, 
  • Mechanic: Memory, Spellcraft 101

Similar to The Three Little Pigs, Baba Yaga comes in a box which resembles a book and fits nicely on a shelf – and the librarian in me thanks Iello for that. If I end up with a full shelf of these games I will be a happy parent. The components are nice – consisting of several discs, spell cards and a gorgeous wooden doll representing the Baba Yaga flying along in her magic cauldron. Baba Yaga resembles a matryoshka doll or Russian Nesting Doll and applies the thematic elements of this Slavic folk tale perfectly. It will be the first thing your child picks out once the box opens. The tiles are study and the cards thick enough for small, graspy hands. Also the artwork on the discs will likely be overlooked but it is splendid, fanciful work.

The front and back (forest and ingredient) of a Forest tile.
The front and back (forest and ingredient) of a Forest tile. [source]

The set-up is simple. Place the Baba Yaga Flight Path Tiles in an “X” on the table. The extra Flight Path Tile gets set aside. Then in each quadrant place of the “X” place four Forest Tiles in a grid fashion with the forest face up, and the ingredient face down. These represent the areas in the forest the children will search for ingredients needed for their spells. The forest side of these tiles provide subtle clues to the spell component underneath (as well as looks similar to other forest tiles leading to confusion in the heat of the search). Each player is dealt three spell cards face down with the house tile, extra Baba Yaga Flight Path Tile and the Baba Yaga figurine are set aside.

Set up for Baba Yaga .
Set up for Baba Yaga .[source]

Baba Yaga is a simple game of memory, dexterity and distraction. On a turn, the active player flips over the first spell card and then scrambles to search for the needed ingredients by flipping over tiles one handed (or otherwise handicapped if other spells are in place already). When a ingredient is discovered, the active player leaves it turned to its ingredient side and moves to another tile. If the tile is not a needed ingredient, it gets turned back to its forest side. This is the memory portion of the game. And it seems almost too easy…

However, while this occurs the other players alternate moving the Baba Yaga along her flight path, keening loudly, heckling the active player all while cackling hysterically. This serves as a time limit to discover the spell ingredients as well as the distraction element of the game. When the Baba Yaga makes a complete round trip the search is over for the active player. If the three of the necessary ingredients are exposed then the spell was successful and a spell effect takes hold! If an incorrect ingredient is revealed or not enough ingredients were discovered then the spell was a failure and the next player flips over a spell card and begins to search. The game ends when someone casts all three spells. The spells effects vary from reducing the the amount of spell components needed, switching tiles, extending/reducing the flight path of the Baba Yaga or some dexterity elements such as playing with one hand covering your eyes.

Bottom Line: Baba Yaga is a great follow-up to The Three Little Pigs and a solid game but, perhaps not as much fun as the dice-chucking in The Three Little Pigs. Game sessions are still fast, fun, loud and messy, requiring a tiny bit of fixing the layout after a round of fervently flipping over tiles. It does scale well for younger kids if you stick to a two player game and make it more of a memory/deduction turn-based game and use the game as a medium of conversation about what is on the tile and what could be hidden underneath. There are also variations in difficulty to provide a handicap for parents or older siblings.

Would your kids rather?

Would your kids rather play Baba Yaga or The Three Little Pigs? This is a toss-up. Baba Yaga was fun but also difficult for younger players. While my 3 year old was able to play and enjoy (with some guidance) The Three Little Pigs, the dexterity elements of Baba Yaga proved too much of challenge and caused some frustration. Alternatively, the fact that there is no downtime in Baba Yaga is awesome. The only minor complaint I had about The Three Little Pigs was the downtime. The simultaneous game-play in Baba Yaga fixed that. While the active player is attempting to uncover spell ingredients, the rest of the players alternate moving Baba Yaga. What ends up happening is the table becomes a delightful tangle of arms and hands as everyone quickly reaches for tiles or Baba Yaga. So everyone is engaged and laughing and don’t even care it isn’t their turn. And parents, seriously, downtime is the death of a game with kids. End of the day, my eldest (5) would go with Baba Yaga because of the increased dexterity and player interaction while my youngest (3) wants to chuck dice and scream so preferred The Three Little Pigs. As a father of two geeky girls, I think either is fine!

Would your kids rather play Baba Yaga or The Phantom Society? Another minor issue was that the feeling of discovery wasn’t as explosive as, say, The Phantom Society (also by Iello), where kids would scream with glee when they discovered a ghost. While, uncovering a needed ingredient created a nice element of AHA! but not that much…because… CRIMINNY! HERE COMES THE WITCH! GO GO GO! You simply don’t have time to relish in the discovery. It is too tense. So when I give the option of the “witch game” or the “ghost game” it is an unanimous “GHOST GAME!” from the girls. However, since I need to set everything, I prefer the fast set-up of Baba Yaga.


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Rapid Reviews! Pigs, Ghosts and Fairies…Oh My!

In this Rapid Review, I am going to burn through a couple of games currently popular with my two daughters and myself. All three game are for ages 7+ and play in about 20-30 minutes. These reviews are meant to be small snapshots into the game’s theme, how they play and whether my children enjoy them. Some may be fun for both children and as filler games for adults and some may be best in your family’s weekend collection.

Today’s games are The Three Little Pigs and The Phantom Society by Iello and Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule by Game-O-Gami and Game Salute. Each game is recommended although The Phantom Society is overpriced.

The Three Little Pigs [Iello]

Everyone knows the story of the Three Little Pigs and this game plays off of that recognition. Even going so far as to package the game in a delightful faux-book that could fit right up on the bookshelf (as part of a series, I believe, with Babayaga next). Inside there is a storybook retelling The Three Little Pigs for anyone unfamiliar; a set of five super-cute pink dice – perfect for preschooler hands; a “wolf” spinner with an arrow set to point at either straw, wood or brick when flicked; and a set of 36 cardboard tiles representing the building components from the story – roofs, windows and doors made of straw, wood or brick (nine of each). Each component has a “price” represented by a number of piggies – two piggies for straw, three piggies for wood and four piggies for brick.

Set-Up: The market is made up of tiles stacked next to each other in a 3×3 grid corresponding to building structure and material. The first little piggie then rolls the 5 little pink dice three times and uses the results of those rolls to purchase a tile from the market. You can reroll any and all dice three times [except any die locked by rolling a “wolf”]. So, playing the industrious little capitalist pig you are, you attempt to roll the right amount of roofs, windows and doors to build the perfect house in either straw, wood or brick (or any combination of the three).

Then you use the purchased tiles to build up your house. You can start a house with a door-tile or a window-tile but not a roof-tile. The roof-tile is used to complete your house and halts all further construction. Thus, once the roof is added that house is finished and cannot be added to. Houses can go as tall as possible with any amount of windows added, but they can only have one door and one roof. Additionally, some of the tiles have flowerpots and pigs walking about…these bits of tasty bacon-flavor are tallied for bonus points at the end of the game.

So what happens when you roll a wolf? In the course of dice-rolling, if you roll one wolf, that die becomes locked and is unusable for that turn. If you roll a second wolf, you-know-who comes-a knocking! Your turn is done. The market is closed. You choose a person to fall victim to the wolf’s terrible lungs. You then flick or blow on the spinner to see what housing component (straw, wood or brick) get puffed away. So it pays to diversify your houses.

Once the number of stacks of the building materials are used up equal to the number of players the game ends. So for three players, the game ends when three stacks are used up and then the players score any completed (roof and all) houses.

Is it fun? Yes. It is simple and easy to teach with a well-known (if worn-out) Yahtzee dice-rolling mechanic. My five year old picked it up immediately and had plenty of fun playing and crafting her houses. My two year old though the wolf was amazing and simply liked chucking dice with the hope of rolling wolves. She required some additional help to play but the look of sheer glee when she finally rolled one is priceless. Was it fun for adults? Probably not as much.

IDK…that whole wolf thing seems a bit competitive… Well, yes. I can see some younger feelings being hurt if their sibling sent the wolf over for some dastardly destruction. However, it is fairly rare in the game to actually roll two wolves during a turn. After three games we had yet to see the wolf rear its ugly head and demon breath. So instead, a fun variant we play is that the wolf only lock up dice and don’t blow down houses until after the game is scored and finished. Once the game is done we each take a turn with the spinner sending the wolf over to someone’s house. It was a nice way to spread the destruction around.

Verdict? Cute, inexpensive and fun for kids too young for King of Tokyo. There is also a way to add some complexity to the game with objective cards for bonus points. Parents will love the educational value (counting, risk/reward, matching) and kids will love the cute components. It even comes with a storybook to read along with the game.

two kids playing The Three Little Pigs

The Phantom Society [Iello]

In The Phantom Society, players take the role of pesky Scottish ghosts or eccentric Scottish ghost-hunters in the running havoc in the Sir Philipp Venkman Marlombier Manor Hotel – a former whiskey distillery. Ah Venkman, how I miss you…

Anyway, the game-play is simple. The ghost players will hide their four pesky poltergeists somewhere in the 36 room (represented by tiles) manor. Each room is either green, white, orange or blue and the ghost of the corresponding color will be placed in the appropriately-colored room. On their turn, the ghosts (hidden and ready for mischief) will “destroy” an adjacent (horizontally, vertically or diagonally) room (or a room connected by a previously destroyed room – either by a ghost or a hunter) all without leaving their room! Then the player takes the tile of the room.

The hunters will attempt to deduce the location of the ghosts and search a room where they believe it hidden. The problem is, those Scottish hunters are not subtle and when they “search” a room it is devastated – like “Oops! We crossed the streams” devastated. If the room searched has a ghost, that ghost is now neutralized and can do no more damage. The room is then taken by the hunter with the ghost exposed to all. If no ghost is found then the searched room is flipped over to its “destroyed” side (each tile has a normal side and a destroyed side).

This continues until one of two conditions are met. Either the ghost costs a total of 45,000 pounds of damage from either their actions destroying a room or the actions of the hunters searching for them. Each tile has a number on it from 1-6 representing 1000-6000 pounds. If this happens and the total destruction reaches 45,000 pounds, the ghost win and relish in their scotch-whiskey fueled ectoplasmic mischief. However, if all four ghosts are discovered before that amount is reached, then the hunters win and banish the ghosts to a series of exorcisms and AA meetings (“Hi, my name is Casper” — “Hi, Casper.”).

Is it fun? I have played this game with both my girls (2 and 5) and my gaming group (20 – 50) and both enjoy it. For the kids, it is exciting to hide or locate the ghosts and that mechanism works to a tee! It is glorified hide and seek for the ghosts and glorified Memory for the hunters but still…it works. They still gasp in surprise when a ghost is neutralized. For adults the process of deducing patterns to elucidate the pattern of where a ghost is hidden is challenging but burns out quickly. Even with the addition of the tile placement strategy of the rooms at the beginning (players take turns placing the tiles on the board which allows them to move higher valued rooms away from the center where they are more susceptible to ghosts). There is also a bidding variant where players bid on the amount of damage they believe they are able to achieve as the ghosts. Highest bid plays the ghosts with the victory condition now being their bidded value. It attempts but fails to add much spice to the game.

Is it worth it? For families with young kids, sure. But the price point is a tad bit high for what you get. I’ve been dying for a Ghostbusters-themed game and I hoped this would scratch that itch. However, despite the name of the manor, it does not. It does stand as a nice little filler for 2-4 that plays fast and easy. The art is nice, the board is innovative and I love the little hidey-holes for the ghosts but I wished it had a tad more depth to make it a better filler game.

The Board for The Phantom Society

Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule  [Game-O-Gami, Game Salute]

Sort of like a Love Letter for kids, the game consists of twenty double-sided cards with a fairy on one side and a goblin on the other (both sides equally cute). Each side of the card will have the silly name of the fairy or goblin which falls into one of five rhyming categories (Earwax Stew/Morning Dew, Candy Rock/Chicken Pock, Petal Flower/Dusty Dour, Hula Hoop/Salamander Sloop, Snowflake Shelley/He So Smelly). Also each card  has one of two corresponding sets of icons (toadstool/frog, moon/sun).

Set up: Each player gets four goblins (cards flipped to display the goblin side) placed in front of them – one of which will be a special goblin card with a border of stars – these cards have a special ability. Four fairies (cards flipped to their fairy side) are placed between the players to make the “fairy ring.” The rest of the cards are put aside for the game.

The goal is to either remove all the goblins from your hand or attempt to gather six fairies. They do this by taking one of the cards in front of them and adding it to the fairy ring. If the played card rhymes with another card in the ring, that card gets flipped over. If the played card is one of the special star-bordered cards, all the cards in the fairy ring get flipped over. Then any cards that match the icon of the played card get placed in front of you into your “hand” (all information is open, so you don’t really have a hand, just cards in front of you).

This continues until one player gets rid of all their goblins or collects six fairies.

Is it fun? Of all the games reviewed, this is the only one I’ve had equal fun with adults and children alike. It is light, quick and the art is amazingly adorable. I believe Game-o-Gami is producing puzzles with the same artwork and I would easily get them for my girls…or if they produced a poster, I would put it in my office…probably a goblin. The rhyming is essential for the game so it is helpful to play with early readers. I guide my 5 year old through the game and she has fun but it is really awesome when she teams up with her cousin who can read and they analyze their moves.

Analysis Paralysis...so cute.
Analysis Paralysis…so cute.

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