Kōhaku - a very relaxing favourite despite some slip-ups
Designer: Danny Devine
Publisher: Gold Seal Games, 25th Century Games
Player count: 1-4
Set-up time: 3-5minutes
Play length: ± 20 minutes
Win condition: win/loss: choose your level and beat one of the AI
how the solo game works
in Kōhaku you'll play against the rivals, each with their own level of difficulty. After your turn you'll draw a koi tile from the deck and take all similar tiles from the communal pond. If there aren't any similar tiles, draw a feature tile from the deck and take all similar feature tiles from the communal pond. Put all the gathered tiles into the rivals stack for scoring at the end of the game, refill the pond without shifting tiles and you're ready for your next turn. Keep this up until the koi tiles run out, then tally scores for yourself and the 3 levels you're competing against: easy, medium and hard.
Solo rules and end game scoring are explained on a different rule sheet. Explanation is clear.
missing in solo
Drafting and tile placement are the same as in multi-player. The rivals will take tiles from the pond you had your eyes on, same as in multi-player.
Components seem great: from the quality of the communal pond playmat and the handy insert, to the acryllic tiles and the scoring markers. The chunky acryllic tiles with the koi printed not on top but on the bottom, make the koi seem like they're actually under water.
The pond you're making is never the same, the tiles have a nice weigth to them, and your endgame always looks beautiful. I love the spacial puzzle this provides, resulting near the end in numerous calculations of what tile to take next.
The tiles came with foil to protect the printing, and boy did my fingers hurt when I finally prised all of the foil off. Also: some of those tiles may have small damage anyway: the tiles look beautiful but the sides can be a bit sharp or rough.
The way the solo mode works, the rivals will always force you to take as many coin koi and single flower features as possible, since leaving them in the communal pond will have the higher level rivals scoring big time. This means your strategy will be more or less the same in each game.
This game is a pain to score. I divide all tiles into 4 piles when playing: feature tiles, single flower features, koi tiles and coin koi tiles. This way counting the rivals' scores is a bit quicker, since the medium and hard level score extra for certain tiles. That helps a lot, but the score track has no zeros so half the fish end up next to instead of on the score track. And with 8 fish in play (2 for each level, 2 for yourself) it is hard to have any sort of overview.
What's less clear in the rulebook: whenever you run out of koi tiles after refilling the pond, that's the end. If it's your turn you can take your last 2 tiles from the pond, if it's the rivals' turn it ends immediately, since you can't take a tile from the deck to see what koi tiles to take. As explained by the designer in this thread on Boardgamegeek.
Kōhaku is a thoroughly relaxing solo experience. The seemingly great quality of components takes away from the gameplay a bit: tiles look great but can be rough around the edges, the playmat has great quality but not so great design, scoring wise. But! During the game there's just the relaxing gameplay, and the multiple scoring options provided by the feature tiles keep it an interesting puzzle. You won't always be able to take the coin koi or single flower features from the rivals, and your pond will never look the same for it. Even though I have my strategy down and not seeing any need to change it, Kōhaku still enchants me with its theme and looks. A very relaxing and highly satisfying solo experience.