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|Meeple Like Us
|Medium Light [2.37]
30/3/2019 – Archie Edwards on Facebook pointed out that the board was actually double-sided, which I clearly didn’t pick up on when I played this at UKGE. I’ve reworked the section on colour blindness accordingly. The grade was adjusted as a result from an E to a C-.
We liked Kamisado enough to give it three and a half stars in our review – it’s an enjoyable game of shared momentum and it has a lot to recommend it. I mean, not enough for us to give it more stars than we did that but a lot of that is simply bound up in the context of expectation. We can’t devote the time needed to ever master a game like Kamisado to the point we’d get the most out of it. We work on the assumption that’s true of most of you reading as well.
Still though, if you did fancy giving it a go we need to address a second question – could you play it? Would you? Should you?
Sometimes I pad out these introductions a bit just so that the BGG boxout on the side of the post doesn’t butt against the first images in an ugly way. That’s what I’m doing here. How are you these days? How’s the family? Hope things are good with you.
Is that enough?
That’s probably enough.
Well, Kamisado doesn’t start off strongly. Colour isn’t just an important channel of information – it’s virtually the only one that genuinely matters There are eight colours used on the board of Kamisado and there’s a lot of importance bound up in how they’re used.
Consider players with Protanopia where the blue and purples overlap. The red and greens, oddly, are probably differentiated enough for it to otherwise not be a massive problem. However we also have palette problems for players with Tritanopia, although the oranges and darker oranges there start to become an additional problem As usual though that’s all bound up in the context of severity of impairment and local lighting conditions. Players with Deuteranopia have a much harder time, with the pinks and oranges, and greens and blues, being especially problematic pairings.
The board though does come in two versions – a plain version as shown above, and a version that is adorned with the symbols that map on to the towers that can be seen in the image below. Unfortunately I missed taking photos of this when I played at UKGE so I’m going to steal a still image from Tom Vasel’s Dice Tower review to show how that works:
Now, this is technically colour blind accessible but here we encounter an issue i discussed with regards to Hanabi in the past – the use of Kanji characters just isn’t as instantly visually distinctive as more straightforward iconography would be. Issues of orientation and unfamiliarity mean that mapping icon to board is taxing. It’s more accessible, but not in a way that leads to flow of play. This problem also extends to the pieces, which are identified by coloured Kanji symbols on their crowns.
Part of the problem here is that while the board is fixed its pattern is sufficiently complex as to defy easy memorisation. There are occasional shared-coloured diagonals in the style of a chess board. The number of colours and combinations and relatively erratic distribution of squares though means that it’s not necessarily possible to deduce from context what colour a square might be. Asking about a square, or closely examining it to map character to colour, will leak a lot of gameplay intention. Obviously though there are possibilities for that to be employed as subterfuge. If playing with a colour blind player, so much forgiveness or discreet inattention would be needed in play that it woud likely render the game’s key hook utterly meaningless. Given that the colours here are more important than simply ‘where I start and where I go’, realistically any misplay could be attributed to colour blindness. Permitting takebacks in that circumstance is both absolutely necessary and basically invalidates the element of surprise that is fundamental in striking a killing blow at an opponent.
We can only tentatively recommend Kamisado in this category.
We have a tale of woe in this section too. I’ll preface this by saying that while I don’t think the game is unplayable, I think it’s likely to be so burdensome as to make that the preferred option. Consider what’s required of a player – to consider every possible colour upon which their piece may land, and the squares that they will then open up to their opponent as a result. That by itself is quite a lot to ask, but then it becomes necessary to hold in memory a model of what happens next – you’re not going to get far in Kamisado by focusing only on the immediate future. You need to be wary of what you’re opening up because that’s the key to winning (and losing). You want to be able to engineer circumstances so that you can take advantage of piece positions to box opponents in to traps. That requires a vast amount of very precise visual information.
Leaving aside accessible chess sets, we might be able to illuminate this by an example. Chess has a lot a player needs to track in terms of the position of pieces, but the immediate information imparted by each is limited. A pawn is relevant, at least in the short term, only to its most adjacent squares. The bishop is only relevant on diagonals. The rook on rows and columns, and so on. Relying on this by itself though is an easy way to lose a game – you also need to know how it impacts on the overall game state. But really there are sixteen pieces at most and while that’s a lot it’s also manageable. It’s possible to hold a mental representation of a game of chess in mind, and it gets easier as time goes by.
Kamisado has half as many pieces, but this paradoxically increases the amount of which you need to be aware because they all have the movement of a queen – albeit one that can only ever advance towards the opponent. The average ‘area of impact’ of a piece is larger than it is in chess. Also, all pieces are identical in power. They differ only in their colour. You can’t subdivide and assess their impact by tactile profile. You need to be aware, on average, of more of the board than you do in chess and you need to be aware of the intersections of a greater set of pieces.
That’s already worse than chess, but it becomes even worse still because the specific square upon which a piece is located is vital information. You don’t even really need to know anything about the board in Chess – its distinctive pattern conveys no information that has an impact on the game. That’s not true here – every single square has massive amounts of state based information that needs to be understood and internalised.
And on top of that you need to add the fact that it’s not just that a square is occupied that you need to consider – you also need to consider the colour of that piece. That’s not colour in terms of ownership, athough obviously that matters too. That’s colour in terms of the specific allocation of identifier to piece.
Wow, that’s a lot
For those for whom total blindness must be considered, this makes Kamisado almost completely inaccessible. For those for whom close inspection of a board may be possible with the use of an assistive aid, I’d still say it’s a game we couldn’t possibly recommend. Even for those with relatively minor visual impairments, the precision and specificity of the information you need to manage makes this a game we’d advise you avoid.
We don’t at all recommend Kamisado in this category.
Most of what you do in Kamisado is construct ever wider mental representations of the impact of moves and countermoves. You don’t need to do this to play, but you do need it to play well. Otherwise you’re mostly just shuffling pieces around with only limited impact and agency. You can spend a lot of time in Kamisado making moves without anything significant changing. To get the dance that we discussed in the review, you need to have an idea of where your footsteps are taking you.
The rules of Kamisado are not complicated, but it can be surprisingly cognitively expensive to action them and plan around them. I mentioned the Stroop Effect in the review, and for those unfamiliar with the idea it’s the disconnect that comes when someone is required to say the name of a colour without saying the name of the word. We might flash up the word ‘red’ that is coloured blue at which point someone should say ‘blue’. When this must be done at speed, it can be cognitively overwhelming.
R E D
That’s not quite what’s happening in Kamisado but it’s not a million miles away because you need to be making decisions based not on the colour or square of your tower but rather the colour and square of the opponent piece you activate. It’s counter-intuitive and taxing but not overwhelmingly so. You soon get into the flow of it, but it’s easy to get mixed up with often dire strategic consequences.
G R E E N
It’s not then that Kamisado is unreasonably cognitively expensive to play in a technical sense. It is though much more expensive to play well and that expense accrues considerable interest as a consequence of the Stroop-esque gameplay loop at its core.
For those with memory considerations, the same applies – you need to remember a lot of move and counter move and counter-counter move. The deeper you can go with this, the better you will play. The exponenting effect of the possibility space though means there’s a relatively strong set of diminishing returns that take hold before you can get too deep.
Kamisado requires no literacy or numeracy during play, and has no synergy of rules or pieces. Game flow is reasonably consistent, although if you can force an opponent into the position where they are trying to move a piece that is fully blocked you might end up taking two turns in a row. Scoring is straightforward, and can be scaled to the level of challenge required – sumo pieces add to game complexity but their employment in the end can be a matter of choice.
We still don’t recommend Kamisado in either of our cognitive categories.
You spend a lot of time in Kamisado essentially setting yourself up for an own goal – every time you are defeated in the game it’s a direct consequence of a move that you chose for your opponent. It’s a little bit like someone grabbing your arm and saying ‘why are you hitting yourself’, but not so much that the game becomes unpleasant to play. In my experience, the horror of realising what you’ve done is just an agreeably consensual way of both players getting an emotional high from the experience. Sure, you just let them score but they couldn’t have done it without you. You’re part of the team, little buddy.
Kamisado has the risk, like all unabashedly perfect information games, of losses being attributed to an intellectual difference. Games like Chess have a sheen of intellectualism to them that associates skill with smarts – it’s not actually true, but it’s hard to shake off hundreds of years of cultural association. However, Kamisado doesn’t really present itself in that way. It’s certainly a game that offers opportunities for the demonstration of considerable mastery. In the end though its systems are so unusual that it’s hard to trace a direct line to its antecedents in chess and other games of ‘logic and skill’.
Kamisado has no explicit ‘take that’ moments, although one might argue that the whole momentum of scoring is in effect exactly that. There’s no player elimination, and the extent to which score disparities are permitted is entirely within the control of players. There’s no scope to undo mistakes in Kamisado, but at least by the time you realise that a mistake is made the match is usually over and so there’s no time to dwell on it.
We’ll recommend Kamisado in this category.
It’s a bit of a shame that a game that makes use of a modified chess board didn’t adopt the chess notation that would have made the game optimally playable with verbalisation. However, the nature of the board combined with the rigidity of movement patterns alleviates this to some extent. You might say something like ‘move my pink tower forward to the purple square’, and that will often be sufficient for unambiguous referencing. The pink, yellow and orange diagonals are the only places where further precision will be necessary.
Kamisado has large, solid pieces and relatively generous proportions on each square which means it’s still broadly playable by those with fine-grained motor control issues provided they can reach over the length of the board. The pieces have reasonably high friction and they’re unlikely to be easily dislodged by an unexpected twitch or spasm of the hand. There’s no need to collect up pieces either, since there’s no capacity for pieces to capture others. The regularity of size and form factor too lends a considerable amount of physical accessibility to the game.
The exception here is when a piece of promoted to being a ‘sumo’, at which point a smaller token is placed in its tower. This token is easily dislodged and would create a physical inaccessibility by virtue of its presence. However, all it does is indicate the state of a piece and it could be easily replaced by a rubber band or other such convenient indicator.
We’ll recommend Kamisado in this category.
There’s nothing in the way of human art in the game – the pieces are ‘dragon towers’ and the board is just a board. The box shows two lonely and unadorned towers with no people in sight. The manual does unfortunately default to masculinity in its text.
With an RRP of around £20 for an explicitly two player game, Kamisado is difficult to recommend on the basis of price unless you are willing to approach it with the same diligence you might expect for getting good at chess. Like Hive, the amount of long term fun you’ll get out of Kamisado is directly linked to how you and your competitors are willing to invest time into developing a mastery of its intricacies. However, as with Hive the question I have to ask is – if you’re willing to do that, why not do it with Chess? You’ll find it easier to find and maintain a competitive balance due to its wider adoption and the greater average amount of chess literacy.
We can only tentatively recommend Kamisado in this category.
There is no need for literacy or numeracy during play, and the rules are simple enough that you’ll likely never need to consult the manual after you’ve gotten the hang of it. There’s absolutely no need for formal communication at all.
We’ll strongly recommend Kamisado in this category.
Given we’ve been so critical of the game in so many categories, there isn’t a lot to talk about here since the key compounding accessibility categories already warn players away from Kamisado. So – yeah, there’s nothing that comes to mind here that isn’t already handled by individual category recommendations.
Kamisado is a relatively brisk game in and of itself, although the speed of individual rounds is highly variable. It offers two modes for play – one that is essentially to first blood and the other that is based on a number of rounds within a match. It lends itself well then to conditions with modulating severity of symptoms because any individual game is short but you can go as long as you like in the larger context of a match. You can even stop at any point and play the rest of a match later.
Kamisado comes out of this quite heavily bruised, and that’s a shame for such a straightforward and elegant game. Unfortunately it’s also a game that weaponises the Stroop Effect for its own nefarious purposes and it’s perhaps not surprising that would have considerable accessibility implications across the board. Given its age we might find it in our hearts to forgive its other more avoidable blunders.
Kamisado is really a textbook example in the danger of relying on colour as the sole differentiator of important game information. It accompanies each square with an icon, but Kanji isn’t the easiest way at all of doing this. Some identifiable representational art would have resulted in a much more positive overall profile given it would also have alleviated some of the visual accessibility issues too.
We liked Kamisado enough to give it three and a half stars in our review – unfortunately, in many categories it does worse than the two games we’d be most inclined to recommend in its place. While Kamisado is, in our view, a better game than Hive it’s also one that has a worse accessibility profile. It’s not as good as Onitama, but even if it were it’s still not appropriate for as many people. It’s an awkward proposition, garnering neither effusive praise in its review nor widespread approval in its accessibility profile. I’m sorry we have nothing more encouraging to say, but that’s unfortunately just the way it goes sometimes.
A Disclaimer About Teardowns
Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.
Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then this will not be the blog for you. We will not debate with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.
Teardowns are provided under a CC-BY 4.0 license. However, recommendation grades in teardowns are usually subjective and based primarily on heuristic analysis rather than embodied experience. No guarantee is made as to their correctness. Bear that in mind if adopting them.