Avenue came out just last year, a smallish print run in a small box from Aporta Games. It’s a quick to learn and play roll and write (well, card-flip & write) that was a delightful little route building puzzle where you gain points from trundling your bicycle around farms for grapes. This year, Indie Board and Cards (IBC) Kickstarted a re-implementation of it – Kokoro: Avenue of the Kodama – set in the same world as their release from last year, Kodama: The Tree Spirits. Same designers, same concept – so why the change? I think it was a great choice on IBC’s behalf to give it a vibrant new look that will stand out on the shelf, and it seems to be a move for them to start up a new line of related games that’ll be an easy marketing package in that Kodama universe.
As soon as I tried it (even solo!) Avenue was a favourite. From playing alone, to a small group or even maxing it out, it played simply and quickly, with everyone engaged at the same time due to simultaneous play. Kokoro is all that with a new splash of paint. Instead of trundling about the countryside on your bicycle getting grapes, you’ll be connecting flowers and caterpillars to sanctuaries during the each round for points and during the overall game, helping the Guardians find their way through the overgrown forests to the aforementioned caterpillars and flowers. The map you’ll be creating paths on has been made into a lovely landscape layout on dry erase, making your missteps in paths much easier to fix as you play. And so the game goes, as it did with Avenue: 5 rounds of play, where a caller reveals the orientation of paths, and you need to fill those out on your map to connect to things that will give you points. What’s the big deal about this new version? Two big things have changed in the Kokoro release, so I want to explain those next.
The first is, if you flip over this lovely dry erase board you’ll find another map layout! This one has some different placement of caterpillars and flowers, but also lets players randomly place both Guardians with the roll of a 10-sided die, meaning that this can keep play fresh for those who have those expertly puzzly brains and can work out optimum strategy by playing the main side enough. I have seen fan-made maps for Avenue that are essentially layout variants, and this is such an elegantly simple way to create some freshness each game for those used to gameplay. This pairs nicely with the other main change I’m happy about!
The next change is the addition of “decree” cards, which are essentially small new/altered rules for each game you’ll play – there’s a nicely sized deck of them, so you won’t end up playing them through and seeing repeats super quickly, and it’s fantastic what a lot of them do! There are a handful that make path cards more flexible – that is, if you have a 1 or a 2 come up, you can place it as either the 1 or the 2 (the same goes for the 3/4 and 5/6 pairs) which can make things much less stressful when you’re sitting there thinking “oh gosh I’d kill for a 2 right about now!”. One that came up and delighted me was a once-a-game option to erase a path you’d placed previously – oh, the power – and the decisions! There’s one that removes the 6th sanctuary card, which can ease the unknown planning of paths somewhat, and even some bonus scoring for Guardians if you collected the most of their type of symbol in the group playing. So much going on! These are completely optional, but I can see myself playing with these a lot in the future, if the group feels comfortable enough with the game itself – and it’s such a simple way for IBC and the designers to have added longevity and variety to the game.
Not only is this game solid thanks to its simplicity and puzzly fun, but it looks gorgeous. Avenue had some fairly bare-bones design and art, but Kokoro really is bright and bold. I can’t explain why, but I find the sweet little tree spirits such a delight, especially rendered by incredible artist Kwanchai Moriya. These little touches, along with the guardians and all of the peripheral art on the boards and nice simple cards, come together nicely. To go back to the point I made earlier of the simplicity of Avenue, and Kokoro playing out much as Avenue did – the reimplementation and changes are great, and the look of it is certainly a draw, now. It’s a solid look and the feel is good – not really a deluxe, linen finish sort of thing, but nice nonetheless.
In its slightly bigger box, with these few tweaks and gorgeous art, Kokoro is now in retail; it’s a fantastic version that will please fans of the original while being accessible and fun for new players. I encourage you to take the path of the guardians!
Kokoro: Avenue of the Kodama is designed by Eilif Svensson and Kristian Amundsen Østby with art by Kwanchai Moriya and Daniel Solis. It plays 1 – 8 people in about 20 minutes, and is published by Indie Board and Cards.