If you’ve ever been to a serenity garden you can probably appreciate the tranquility that comes with meditation. Emptying your mind and releasing stress is incredibly freeing and can provide a temporary feeling of lucidity amid the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Meditation doesn’t necessarily have to come in the form of sitting cross-legged while listening to a CD of nature sounds. It certainly can, but it’s not the only way to achieve mental clarity. For some, it might be applying satisfying layers of paint to a miniature or sipping coffee on the front porch. Others might go pump some iron or take a long hike. Whatever floats your boat, it’s important to find that calming activity to help declutter your mind and reassess challenges from a fresh perspective.
Serenity gardens typically have koi ponds, and it’s easy to lose yourself in the ripples and gentle movements of the fish within. In a similar way, you’ll find yourself transfixed by the gorgeous components of Koi, a light strategy movement game by Smirk and Laughter Games.
Koi Board Game: Swim in a Beautiful Pond
In Koi, players assume the roles of hungry koi fish trying to gobble up as much food as they can while they lazily meander around the pond. Dragonflies and frogs are on the menu, but the latter are also eager to devour any dragonfly they come across. It feels similar to a nature-themed version of RoboRally, which is probably the closest comparison I can come up with.
Movement is made by playing cards that essentially read as little programs. Starting at the bottom of the card, your koi performs a series of mandatory or optional movements. You can play multiple cards each turn, meaning that you can sequence your actions to optimize your mealtime.
Now, this wouldn’t be a true koi pond without incorporating some natural beauty. Frogs, rocks, lily pads, and cherry blossoms will steadily populate the board as the game progresses, causing you to constantly rethink your tactics. In Koi, the board ebbs and flows and the players have to surrender to the current and trust in its mysterious ways.
Another interesting mechanic is the ever-changing weather. What? You thought this was an indoor koi pond that you could visit at your leisure? No way! The weather cards set a global effect each turn that players can take advantage of. This might mean being able to move a frog instead of their koi, or placing nature tokens at a whim.
When it comes to setting the mood, Koi delivers in a big way with its components and art style. The watercolor palette instantly hearkens to the series of Water Lily paintings by impressionist Claude Monet. Sidenote: if you get to see these paintings in person, I highly recommend taking the opportunity.
I’m a monster who usually judges board games by their covers, and this one is certainly eye-popping to the point where it stands out on the shelf. It has that curb appeal!
Koi Board Game: Expanding the Pond
A main problem with games that utilize random mechanics, whether it be dice or card-drawing, is that sometimes players are left with ‘dead hands’ or they are unable to do much with their turn no matter how they spin it. In Koi, the movement cards provide enough options that you can usually perform meaningful actions on your turn. That being said, players are not immune to drawing a combination of ‘useless’ cards either.
One possible solution for this issue has already been hinted at through the global weather cards. In addition to having a weather card with each round, it might be useful to incorporate a global movement card which a player can use once on their turn in addition to playing cards in their hand. By allowing everyone to access this card, you ensure that every player can at least perform some movement each turn, even if their hand is completely filled with Nature cards.
There is a nice card-cycling mechanic built-in as well; at any point on their turn, a player can discard two cards from their hand to draw a new card from the deck. This is also helpful in ensuring that players always have something to do.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the nature of the game lends itself to some bouts of ‘analysis paralysis’ in which players spend lots of time overthinking their turn to optimize it as much as possible.
Since the state of the board can change very drastically from turn-to-turn, it’s difficult to plan your turn while the other players are acting because they can easily snatch the dragonfly that you had your eye on, nullifying your entire plan and sending you back to the drawing board. In a game centered around a koi pond, it seems to me that players should try to minimize the downtime between turns as much as possible.
Whether that involves the use of a timer or incorporating the extra ‘global turn card’ that I mentioned above, the game benefits from a constant flow of turn-taking instead of getting caught up in making the perfect move.
Koi: A Serenity Pond in Your Living Room
Koi is a simple game that plays quickly with minimal setup and teardown time. Apart from being offered in a stunning package, there is enough light strategy and randomization to keep you coming back to the well for additional plays.
If you’ve ever wanted to simulate the effect of a serenity pond in your living room, Koi is certainly a good place to start. At least give it a try before you call the contractor and start rearranging the furniture.