Radio Review #117 – Kanagawa



(2016 – IELLO Games)


“When I paint my masterpiece….”


The Great Wave off Kanagawa is one of the most identifiable pieces of Japanese art throughout the world. Created by artist and printmaker, Katsushika Hokusai in the 1830’s using a woodblock printing technique that would allow him to generate over 5,000 original copies, the print has spread its influence throughout modern culture. You may find the Quicksilver clothing logo a bit familiar, for instance. Chances are you’ve seen some type of recreation or illustration of this iconic piece.

Bruno Cathala is one of the most recognizable names in modern-day board game designing. Shadows Over Camelot, Mr. Jack, Dice Town, Five Tribes, Cyclades, 7 Wonders: Duel, Mission: Red Planet, Abyss, Raptor, and I could continue on and on. One thing that has always impressed me with Cathala, is not only does he have a knack of implementing unique and clever mechanics within his designs, but most all of his games are stunningly beautiful to look at. So it somewhat fits that he’d be involved with a game, co-designed by Charles Chevallier (Abyss, Guilds of Cadwallon, Masques), in which players are students at Katsushika Hokusai’s art school located in the prefecture of Kanagawa, Japan, learning from his teachings and applying them in order to create wonderful masterpieces of their own.

In Kanagawa, each player will start their day going to school and attending the lessons of Master Hokusai, given in the form of Lesson cards. With these lessons, Hokusai will instruct the students not only how to use various techniques in their paintings, but will also teach them how to establish a professional studio. Each Lesson card can be used to expand the player’s studio or as an addition to their painting. At the end of the 1st day of lessons, players will have a choice to whether to leave and collect a Lesson card to apply now, or stay for another day’s worth of lessons (being able to collect more Lesson cards when they do choose to leave). Expanding their studio will allow the player to use a wider variety of paints and landscapes in their painting, along with other bonuses. Adding sections to the painting will help earn the player harmony (victory points), depending on how well their masterpiece is constructed. At the end of the game, the player with the most harmonious painting will be declared by Master Hokusai, his top student and new apprentice.





– Kanagawa bamboo board scroll


– Starting tiles


– Lesson cards


– Brushes


– Storm tokens


– Diploma tiles


– Master and Assistant markers





During the game, players will attend Master Hokusai’s painting school, where they’ll develop artistic techniques in order to create masterpieces of their own. The main game board (fashioned in the form of a bamboo art scroll) represents Hokusai’s school. Lesson cards will be placed here during the game as the teachings that players can learn from. At the beginning of the game, this scroll is placed in the middle of the play area.

There are four types of lessons that Master Hokusai focuses on at his school. Each Lesson card contains a color/icon combination on the back that represents its type. Blue represents lessons on painting animals, green on painting trees, red on painting characters, and yellow on painting buildings. Each space on the scroll shows whether a Lesson card will be placed face up (blank) or face down (colored in) when adding it to the board. At the beginning of the game, all of the Lesson cards are shuffled together and placed face-down to create a single draw pile.

There are 7 different Diplomas that a player can earn at the school; each Diploma type with a varying level of mastery. Players can earn these Diplomas once they’ve met the criteria to complete them, whether it’s for having a certain number of trees in their painting, amassing a number of supplies in their studio, creating an ongoing landscape, etc. At the beginning of the game, these Diploma tiles are placed above the scroll. divided by type and level.

Each player receives a random Starting tile, which will be the first section of the player’s painting, along with 2 Brushes. Players will use brushes to add additional sections to their masterpiece, as well as complete various actions in their studio. One of the player’s is chosen as the start player and will receive both the Master and Assistant markers. The Master marker always represents the current start player, while the owner of the Assistant marker is the player who will gain the Master marker (and thus go 1st) the following round. Some studio actions will allow a player to gain the Assistant marker from another player. Basically becoming Hokusai’s prized student.


Finally, all remaining Brushes and Storm tokens are placed in a general supply to be used during the game. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:





Each round will begin with players attending Hokusai’s lessons at the school. At the beginning of the 1st round, new Lesson cards are added to the top row of the scroll. These are the current day’s lessons. It’s possible that Lesson cards will be added later to the 2nd and 3rd rows, but I’ll cover how that works in a bit. During the 1st round, the number of cards are drawn depending on the number of players in the game. So in a 4-player game, 4 cards are drawn for the row. As mentioned before, the face-up or face-down placement of the cards are listed on each space of the scroll.

After this is done, each player will choose whether they wish to learn more from Master Hokusai, or take what they’ve learned from his current lessons, return to their private studio, and work on their masterpiece. If a player chooses to learn more, he’ll simply pass his turn. However, if a player chooses to return to their studio, they’ll take all of the Lesson cards in a chosen column into their hand, removing them from the scroll. The player will then use the cards to either expand their studio or work on their masterpiece.

For instance, on his turn Player A decides to return to his studio, and takes the Lesson in the 2nd column. Since this is the only card in that column, he’ll only collect that card. After he puts his lesson to practice (either by expanding his studio or adding to his masterpiece) Player B and C decide to wait and learn more from Master Hokusai, while Player D decides to return to his studio, collecting the Lesson card in the 3rd column and putting it to practice.


Once all players have had a chance to either pass or collect lessons, if there are any remaining students at the school, Master Hokusai will present new lessons for them. A number of Lesson cards are drawn equal to the number of players still at the school. This is easily identified by how many columns still hold Lesson cards on the scroll. The new cards are placed directly below the remaining Lessons from the previous day. At this point, the remaining players will choose to either remain at the school for a 3rd lesson, or return to their studio, in which they’ll collect both cards from the lessons in a column.

For instance, since Player B and C still remain at the school, 2 new Lessons are added. One to the 2nd row in column 1, and the other onto the 2nd row of the 4th column. Player B will then have a chance to either wait for an additional lesson or return to his studio. He chooses to return to his studio and chooses column 1. He then receives both Lesson cards from this column and resolves them as either studio expansions or additions to his masterpiece.

Since Player C waited, a 3rd Lesson will be brought out for him and he’ll get to collect all 3 cards. If the player is the only student left in the school when a new lesson is placed out, he must take all the cards in that column. So for instance, if Players A, B, and D had all taken 1 card after the 1st day of lessons, Player C would be required to take the 2 cards left in the remaining column the next day. He could wait until a 3rd day of lessons in this particular case.




I. Expanding the Studio:

Each Lesson card is multifunctional and can either be used for its studio side (left side) or its masterpiece side (right side). When using it as an expansion to the studio, the card is flipped around and tuck the card under the starting tile (or adjacent lesson card) so that only its studio section is shown. These studio sections contain a variety of icons that can provide different things for the player. A majority of these contain the paints that players will need to create the landscapes on their masterpiece. Each masterpiece section of the card contains one of these paint icons, and players will need the matching paint in their studio in order to add a Lesson card requiring that paint to their masterpiece.

For instance, Player A currently has two types of paint in his studio; blue and yellow. This means that he’ll have the opportunity to create additions to his masterpiece that contains rivers (blue icon) and plains (yellow icon).


Other than the paint icons, there are other icons that can be listed on the cards that gain the player an immediate or permanent benefit when added. When a card with a brush icon is added (seen left), the player will gain a Brush. These Brushes will be placed on the empty circles spaces beneath the paint icons in the studio, and can be placed there from the player’s reserve at any point during his turn. In order to add a particular card to the masterpiece, the player will need a Brush on the paint icon in his studio that matches the landscape icon on the card being added. The next icon that player’s may find on a studio card is the Assistant (seen right}. When a player expands his studio with a card containing this icon, he’ll immediately receive the Assistant marker. This means he is the current prized student of Master Hokusai, and will be the 1st player for the next round if it isn’t taken from him by another player before then.

When an arrow icon shows up in the studio (seen left), this allows the player one point of movement for his brushes on his turn. Once a brush has been placed on a studio space, if cannot be removed from the studio. Therefore, the player will need to spend movement points in order to move that particular brush to a different paint icon in the studio. The player can move any number of brushes on his turn, but must spend an arrow icon for each brush movement. Therefore, if a player only has two of these arrow icons in his studio, he can only move 2 brushes to different vacant paint spaces. When a player has a card-hand icon in his studio (seen right), this is a permanent effect that allows the player to keep one of the Lesson cards in his hand in between rounds. Normally when a player collected his lessons for the day, he’ll need to resolve them before the end of his turn by placing them either in the studio or as additions to his masterpiece. However, for every one of these icons he has in his studio, he can keep that many cards from round to round.

The final icon that players may see on the studio section of a card represents Harmony. Harmony is the victory point substitute in the game. Some cards will contain these Harmony symbols, while other may contain them with a slash mark. I’ll cover what these mean in a bit.



II. Adding to the Masterpiece:

Players ultimate goal is the create the finest artistic masterpiece, using the teachings of Master Hokusai. As we’ve already seen, players will need to expand their studios so that they’ll have the required paints and supplies to use. When a player decides to use their acquired Lesson card for its masterpiece side, he’ll tuck the card under the starting tile (or adjacent lesson card), so that only the masterpiece area is shown. As mentioned before, each masterpiece area contains a required paint icon representing the landscape type on the card. The player is only allowed to place this card in his masterpiece area if he currently has a Brush on the studio space that it requires. Note that each Brush can only be used to paint one area each round.

For instance, Player A has a Lesson card that requires a forest icon. In order to add a forest area to his masterpiece, he’ll need a Brush on a forest (green) paint icon in his studio. He currently has access to this paint type, but a brush is not currently on that space. Since one of his starting tile provides an arrow icon, he could use it to move one of his brushes to this space. Once he’s done so, he’ll now be allowed to add the forest area onto his masterpiece.


It’s important to focus on the order in which you construct your masterpiece. Many of the diplomas can be earned depending on the order and makeup of the player’s masterpiece. Each masterpiece section of a Lesson card contains various items beyond just its landscape type. The main subject of the card is represented by one of the four techniques spoken of earlier (animals, trees, characters, or buildings). If you’ll remember, the back of each card will hint at which of these subject types is present on the front of the card. Each card also contains a season icon in the top right corner of the card (summer, spring, autumn, or winter). Some cards may even contain one of the harmony symbols spoken of earlier, in the top left corner of the masterpiece section.

For instance, Player A has created a new addition to his painting. This card depicts a pagoda-style building in a landscape that includes a river. The icon in the top right shows that the season of autumn is represented in this section of the painting. There is no harmony icon present.




III. Earn Diplomas:

Once a player has finished placing a card in either the studio or masterpiece areas, he’ll check to see if he meets the requirements of any of the available diplomas. Each type of Diploma contains two or three levels. The higher level awarded, the more Harmony (or Victory Points) it’ll be worth to the player. However, each player can only gain a single level of each diploma. So if a player takes the lowest level diploma, he can not therefore take either of the higher ones later. More interestingly, the player will need to immediately choose to either take or pass on a diploma as soon as he’s eligible to take it. If he passes, he can never earn that particular level of that diploma type again.

For instance, Player A has finished adding a card to his painting (the pagoda-style building). Taking a look at his painting and checking the available diplomas, he notices that his painting meets the requirements for the level 1 building diploma. For having at least 2 different buildings in his masterpiece, he can claim this diploma, which is worth 3 Harmony points at the end of the game.

If he chooses not to take this diploma at this time, he won’t be able to claim it in the future. He’ll instead need to attempt to claim the level 2 or 3 building diplomas. This may be risky. If two other players claim these before he’s able to, he’ll be left with earning no diplomas in this category.



Let’s take a look at the 7 different diploma types, and how they can be earned:

Animal Diplomas – Having a boar and a stag in the painting will earn the level 1 diploma (along with a brush). Having a crane and a butterfly in the painting will earn the level 2 diploma (also rewarding a brush). Having a boar, a stag, and a butterfly will earn the level 3 diploma (and also the assistant marker).



Building Diplomas – Having two different buildings in a painting earns the level 1 diploma. Three different buildings are required for the level 2 diploma (and rewards a storm token), while four different buildings are required for level 3 (rewarding the assistant marker).



Character Diplomas – Having two different characters in a painting earns the level 1 diploma, Three different characters are required for the level 2 diploma (rewarding a storm token), while having three identical characters will earn the level 3 diploma.



Tree Diplomas – Having three trees will earn the level 1 diploma. Having four trees in the painting will earn the level 2 diploma (along with a storm token). Having five tree will earn the level 3 diploma (and the assistant marker).



Arrow Diplomas – Once a player has expanded his studio enough so that it contains two arrow icons, he can earn the level 1 diploma (along with the assistant marker). Having three arrows in the studio will earn the level 2 diploma.



Brush Diplomas – Having three brushes in the studio will earn the level 1 diploma (along with the assistant marker). Having four brushes in the studio will earn the level 2 diploma.



Landscape Diplomas – If a player has two landscapes paints of the same type he can earn the level 1 diploma. A player who has three of the same type can earn the level 2 diploma (also receiving a brush). Having four of the same landscape type will earn the level 3 diploma (along with the assistant marker).




End-of-Game Scoring:

As soon as the last Lesson card is added to the scroll, all players will be forced to choose a column and take all of the cards there. Players will then either place their cards as expansions to their studio or as additions to their masterpiece. Once all players have completed their turns, the game ends. Alternatively, if a player is able to place 11 or more cards onto his masterpiece, the game will end at the completion of that round. Before final Harmony points are calculated, players will have the chance to place out any Storm tokens that they accumulated during the game. As we’ll see, players can score points according to how many matching season icons they have in a row. Placing a Storm token over a season’s icon will allow the player to change that particular icon to a season of his choice. Finally, players will total the harmony of their artistic masterpiece in the following ways:


– The player that ended the game with the Master marker is considered Master Hokusai’s prized pupil and receives 2 Harmony points.

– Players receive 1 Harmony point for each Lesson card placed in their masterpiece (including the start tile).

– Players will receive bonus Harmony points according to the Harmony icons on the Lesson cards in the masterpiece and those in their studio. Note that any Harmony icons that show a “slash” over them will deduct from this total. So if a player has 5 Harmony icons amongst their masterpiece and studio, but have two “slash” icons, the player would receive a total of 3 Harmony points (5 – 2).

– Players will take a look at their masterpiece and find the longest running row of Lesson cards that contain the same season (this is where the storm tokens come in handy, seen above). Players will receive 1 Harmony point per card in this season set.

– Finally, players will receive the Harmony points listed on their earned Diplomas.



After all points are totaled, the player with the most harmonious masterpiece is declared the new apprentice if Master Hokusai.





Before discussing the merits of the game, let me first share my thoughts on how utterly gorgeous Kanagawa is. To begin, the bamboo scroll is such an elegant touch, helping to further the 1800’s Japanese artistic tone. The brushes in the game could easily have been comprised of wooden cubes, however these custom-made components are wonderfully designed and exclusive to the game. The main attraction however is the artwork itself. If you’re going to present players with a game in which they are students of Master Hokusai, attempting to create a painting masterpiece, the illustrations and art design must be outstanding. And as with most of IELLO’s releases, Kanagawa is one of the finest. Using a water-color technique, it seems a great deal of attention went into the creation of each Lesson card. As your painting expands, there’s an abundance of pride that you’ll have in your new creation. If a game can get you to that point, it’s performing wonderfully.

While visually stunning, the gameplay itself is just as strong. Players will start each round with a risk/reward card drafting element, that can provide for some tense situations. The more days you stay for Hokusai’s teachings, the more lessons you’ll learn and be able to take with you, however you’ll risk the chance of another player taking a specific card you desire. Each card has a dual purpose (reminiscent of La Granja, Imperial Settlers, Glory to Rome) and players will need to find balance in expanding their studio and making additions to their painting. It creates a minor engine-building dynamic. One that’s fairly light, but players will need to use planning and strategy to simultaneously develop both of these tableau areas efficiently to be successful.

Timing is of tremendous importance in Kanagawa, and wasn’t something I expected at first glance. On top of the decision-making aspect regarding when to collect lesson cards and when to wait, the earning of diplomas can directly impact end-game scoring with a crucial press-your-luck component, especially in the full 4-player game. Since you can’t normally hold onto cards from round to round (unless you have the icon in your studio that allows you to do so), you can never be quite sure which lesson cards you’ll acquire next. Therefore, when you have the opportunity to earn a lower level diploma, do you go ahead and take it, or do you possibly wait to obtain a higher level one? You risk the chance of either not being able to complete it, or another player taking it before you get there. It’s a very interesting twist, and can add a bit of cutthroatness (something present in many Cathala designs) to an otherwise light-hearted theme.

With Kanagawa, Cathala and Chevallier have mixed light card drafting, tableau building, and worker placement mechanics with a high focus on press-your-luck and timing elements. All composed within an interesting ancient Japanese artisan theme. As with most IELLO publications, the production quality is top of the line, and the bamboo scroll and brush components help to elevate the theme even more. A beautiful game, both visually and functionally.



If you’re near the Wilmington, NC area, feel free to check this game out and more at our community’s FLGS, Cape Fear Games.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s