Kodama: The Tree Spirits is a card game with a simple basic narrative: Draw cards, grow trees, appease tree spirits.
First off, I'll say that this game has a very low level of competition. You have limited direct interaction with other players, and aside from one fairly minimal opportunity to influence your opponents, it is essentially a game of competitive solitaire. That mechanism can often be a deal breaker for some folks, so I just thought I'd get it out of the way right away in case you're one of those people.
The idea behind Kodama is this: You start with a card that represents the base of your tree. It has one of a number of glyphs on it - flowers, fireflies, caterpillars, etc.
There is a constantly refreshed pool of 4 growth cards in the center of the table, and on your turn, you chose one, add it to your tree, and then score the results on a communal score keeping card.
Scoring the hand is fairly straightforward. You are trying to make as many series of cards with common glyphs on them as you can. You don't have to stick to the glyph on your tree, but thats glyph will usually have more scoring options for you through out the game (more on that later). The basics are that for every card with a common glyph you get a point, so for a 2 card branch back to the base with the following glyphs on it:
Card 2: Caterillar
Card 1: Caterpillar and Firefly
Base Cared: Firefly
You'd score 4 points. 2 for the 2 connected caterpillars, and 2 for the 2 connected fireflies.
The other aspect are the Kodama cards. Kodama are tree spirits, who you attract to your tree by achieving certain conditions through out the game. You have 4 Kodama cards at the beginning of the game, and you'll need to play one every season (a season lasts 4 or so turns, i forget). So while you're trying to score in the short term as described above, you're also trying to grow your tree so that when you apply the Kodama's criteria to it at the end of the season, you'll score as well as you can.
Some of the Kodama cards will say somethng like, "Score 3 points for every card in a branch that can be traced back to only the left or right side of your tree", so that'll effect how and where you place your cards for the season. You'll have to evaluate if the short term score of lining up some glyphs on the left, is worth it to take away from the multiplied score you might get at the end of the round if you build to the right, and score fewer points immediately.
There is also a nice physical aspect of growing the trees. The base of your tree represents the ground. You can't play cards that would send branches below the level of the ground, so you have to grow up and out like a real tree, rather than just having spirals of branches in all directions. The other restriction is in regard to the art on the cards. In order to grow a branch, you must place the card so some wood on the branches of both cards touch each other where the cards meet. You also cannot place a card so that it obscures any scoring glyphs on either card. Additionally, each card can only contact one other card, so once you've grown a branch off of one card, in order to grown a second branch, it must be angled in a way to steer clear of any other branches. Its hard to describe that in words, but it ends up leading to some slow and careful placement of cards, sort of like reverse Jenga, to get it drop into place in a location that meets all those criteria. It also leads to some funny shaped trees.
At the end of each season, you each pick the Kodama card you want to score, tally the points, and then move on to the next season. After Spring, Summer, and Autumn seasons, the player with the most points wins.
All in all, this is a very light weight and whimsical game. It does reward some strategic thinking, mostly in the selection of which Kodama to score, and when to score them. However, they Kodama you have are known only to you, so it is mostly only ever about doing the best with what you have, and the only interaction with other players being your relative score, and appreciating how silly each others' trees look. The one possibly inter-player interaction I mentioned earlier is at the time of the draw. You can see everyone's trees, and what cards are available to draw from, so it is possible if you see a card that would be particularly beneficial to an opponent that you could chose it as a defensive action, solely to deprive them of the card. However you still have to add it to your tree, so unless you can incorporate it at least neutrally, if not to your advantage, it may not be wise to chose based on spite.
One additional aspect that I have not played, but I appreciate, is there is a second set of cards called Sprouts, which are simpler objectives, and they are included as an option for when you have younger kids in the game, to give them a leg up and make the game more approachable for those a little bit farther down the developmental curve when it comes to synthesis and strategy.
The art is kind of dreamy and soothing, and well the game really is at its core about you tending a tree to make it grow in a way that pleases supernatural tree spirits, and the overall feeling is very much what you'd expect from that description.
Its not the kind of game I'd want to play all the time, but its reasonably cheap, and a nice diversion to have in a drawer for when the mood or the group of people is right.
£17.99 at amazon
Oh, and if the name sounds familiar, Kodama come from Japanese folklore. They perhaps reached their peak nerd fame as the little clicky headed beings in Princess Mononoke