WBG Score: 8.5
Player Count: 2-4
You’ll like this if you like: Port Royal, Furnace, Mystic Vale.
Published by: Ludonaute
Designed by: Aske Christiansen
Distributed in the UK by: Coiledspring Games.
This is a free review copy. See our review policy here.
Living Forest came out in 2021. It won the 2022 Kennerspiel des Jahres, one of the most prestigious gaming awards of the year. You can read for the review for that game here. I love the game, but it does have some minor issues, particularly with one of the three end game conditions, which is a little less easy to grasp a winning strategy for. Certainly for players with less experience with the game. As such, a new expansion has been made that goes some way to addressing that. It also adds a new solo mode and some cool new cards. Let's get it to the table and see how this plays.
How To Set Up Living Forest: Kodama
Set up the game as you usually would, with just a few changes. First, add in the guardian cards into their respective decks when you lay these out. There are five new level two cards and five new level three ones. Second, when you place your player mat, add the new mini-board that runs along the left side of this, then add your matching spirit of nature Kodama card to your own personnel deck. Third, add the new Kodama board to the table, along with the new Kodama cards in three face-up stacks. A few cards are removed based on player count; check the rule book for that. Add the new Element tiles next to this board. These new tiles add a one-time-use bonus of your choice across the elements in the game. They are all the same but double-sided to make it easy to find the right one. No pointless flipping of tiles here!
Fourth, add the new tree tiles to the new tree dispenser and place it on the table. Finally, add two rocks to the spaces shown in the rule book on the Circle of Spirits board and place the Onibi standee there too.
How To Play Living Forest: Kodama
The game plays much the same as the base game with these few changes:
As you play cards in the drawing phase, you will, at some point, play your new Kodama card. The Kodama symbol on the top left is the crucial part here. It has no effect in the drawing phase, but during the action phase, these symbols allow you to take a fragment tile if you have two showing, an element tile if you have three showing, or perform an additional action if you have four on display.
There is a new action available during the action phase, called Call a Kodama. This is how you add new Kodama cards to your deck. There will be three face-up cards which can be bought using your flower symbols, with the cost shown on the bottom right of the card. This expansion aims to make the flower symbols more useful. When you buy one of these cards, you can add it to your deck face down, but you must then move the Onibi standee forwards a number of spaces based on player count; check the rules for this. Each Spirit standee that is jumped over by Onibi causes an extra two-value fire tile to be added to the Circle of Spirits.
There are six new trees in the game. They grant you extra elements based on a multiple of how many Kodama symbols you have face up in your card row during the drawing phase.
The only other major change with this expansion is that the game now requires you to have 13, not 12 points, to win. This applies to either trees, fires, or flowers.
Living Forest: Kodama Board Game Review: Is It Fun?
I would say that this expansion does not necessarily fix the issue with the unbalanced end game conditions. However, I did not think it was too much of an issue to begin with. I felt that the flowers were certainly more difficult to master, and they took me a lot more plays to understand how to use effectively; however, this was possible, and I liked that the game offered different end game goals, each needing different strategies to be implemented to make them work. It is interesting to me that they made the game with this in mind, but then made an expansion to "correct" this imbalance. For me, it was not an unbalanced game, just a game with a different learning curve for each strategy.
That said, this expansion exists now, and it is good. It adds more than an unnecessary correction. It brings a lovely new ruffle to the puzzle this game presents. Adding in a new function for the flowers does encourage you to get more early in the game and potentially target this end-game strategy more often, but it is more than that. Whereas before, when the flower symbols offered nothing more than potential end game points, useless until your final turn, they now allow you to acquire new Kodama cards. These bring new powers, as well as increasing your flower strength, exponentially increasing the chances of you winning through the flower end-game mechanism. However, this is not all this does. You can also use these cards to get more fragment and element tiles and take extra actions when they show up in your draw phase. Extra actions are huge in this game. Where you could previously only have a maximum of two, the chance for three now is a massive incentive to encourage players to aim for early flowers. Not necessarily to win this way, but to get ahead and then switch to trees or fire depending on their hand and the other players' actions.
The new level two cards all allow you to perform certain actions twice, something that could previously only be done by acquiring a specific high-cost tree. One person having this early often made the game an inevitable win for them via the tree method. With these new level two cards, this opens up the chance for more players to try similar strategies and avoid that previous unsatisfactory end.
The new level three cards allow players to take extra actions. With these in play, along with a strong Kodama strategy, there is now the opportunity for some powerful combination turns. Again, opening up the flower game by making a reliance on this less risky, as you can progress in other strategies simultaneously.
I would recommend this game to anyone who has the base game. I would not say this is an essential expansion as the base game is already very good. But it does develop the game in clever ways that I think make the game better. As such, if you have Living Forest, I would strongly recommend considering this expansion. The solo mode is excellent too. I have not touched on it much here as I have only played it a couple of times, but it works very well, maintains a similar tension throughout the game, and delivers a very satisfying experience, closely aligned with the multiplayer game.