15 Cards and a bunch of coins – it’s all you need
There are a lot of games with a lot of components. A lot. The CMON Kickstarters such as Zombicide, Blood Rage and Rising Sun have shown what can be done with a ton of materials at hand.
But what about when you have the bare essentials? I remember playing games with nothing but a few dice – that doesn’t happen anymore does it?
Well, it does – it just seems those games don’t get much of the spotlight anymore.
When I pull out the box for Kobayakawa, I can usually see new players looking for the rest of the game. Surely one small box isn’t everything for 6 people?
Then I open the box and spread out the metal coins. People instantly reach for them, attracted by the satisfying sound of metal hitting the table.
While the others are inspecting the coins, I have shuffled the 15 card deck and if I am quick dealt each player a card and one face up before they have finished playing with the coins.
That’s almost all of setup complete. It’s here I get everyone to take four coins each, and I split out the eight coins for the pot and game timer. Now I am ready to teach and/or play.
The goal of Kobayakawa is simple – at the end of seven rounds, you want to be the player with the most coins. I then take players through a bit of a script to get going.
Everyone secretly looks at their card. Each card is numbered from one to fifteen, one of each value. Each round, to win coins you are basically betting that you have the highest value, determined through card numbers.
The card you see in the middle is the Kobayakawa – it’s important for the showdown. At the moment, just be aware that there is a number we all know is out there – let’s say it’s a 6.
Now on your turn, you have a couple of options. Each option begins by drawing a card from the pile face down.
From here, you can choose to look at the card and compare it to the card in your hand. You decide which of the two cards to keep, with the discarded card placed face up before you. Now every player can see the card you don’t want to keep – this helps with card counting options.
If you don’t want to swap your card, flip the card you drew without looking at it face up and place it in the middle of the table – this card becomes the new Kobayakawa.
Now, remember you are wanting to have the highest value at the end of the round – not the highest card, the highest value. This is where things get tricky.
When everyone has had a turn, we will begin betting. I go through the betting rules later, for now just concentrate on what you will be betting on.
Everyone that thinks they can win will bet, and all betting players will show their cards. Compare the value on everyone’s cards – that is their points. There is one exception – the person with the lowest valued card gets to add the Kobayakawa to their score – this is where risk and reward will come into it!
From here, I get each player to take their turn, reminding them about the low card rule. Usually, by the end of the round everyone is sick of hearing it, but it is the one aspect that new players always forget. Play continues like this until every player has had a turn. Now, the showdown begins!
Each player covers a coin in their hand and pushes it towards the centre of the table, leaving it covered by your hand. Remember, you are betting for the highest value, not necessarily the highest card.
On the count of three, players will do one of two things. If they want out, they will pull their coin back and not bet. If they think they can win, they lift their hand, and it’s game on.
So in the example photo, three players stay in with a 14, 12, and 9. The Kobayakawa is a 7.
So player one has 14, player two has 12, and player 3 has 16 – 7 from the Kobayakawa, and their 9. Player one gets to take all the coins bet, plus one of the eight from the pot as a bonus.
As you can see, it is possible to have score values higher than 15, so the people with low cards are still able to be unbeatable in certain situations. But because the value of the Kobayakawa isn’t set until the last player has their turn, it’s a lot of luck as well.
Play continues this way for 6 rounds, with first player going clockwise around the table. When there are 2 coins left in the pot, this triggers the 7th and final round. Play is the same way except players bet 2 coins and the winner gets an extra 2 from the pot, making it a high stakes round.
If a player hasn’t got two coins, they can still play with one and they still get to keep the entire pot. There is no split pot situations like in poker.
In the case of a tie, the player closest to the starting player wins the pot. It really is that simple! By the end of the first round, almost everyone has clicked on how to play, and the fun really begins.
Now some players play the first game and walk away. There is a surprising amount of complexity hiding under such a simple veneer. The push your luck hoping for the Kobayakawa to push you into the lead is obvious, but that’s not the only thing to keep track of.
There are 15 cards, and all are in play, but the more cards that are discarded means people know what cards are no longer included. This can help people try to determine what card their opponents hold, but also the possibilities of what the Kobayakawa can be.
People have referred to Skull as pure poker with its bluffing and semi-fixed odds, and in a lot of ways, I agree. But Kobayakawa for me is the next step in this kind of gameplay, and is played in even less time than Skull.
I have spent nights at the back of a restaurant playing Kobayakawa for hours. It’s simple enough to allow you to eat, drink and socialise without interruption while being complex enough to keep you interested.
My biggest issue with Kobayakawa used to be availability. I learned it and grabbed a copy from Japan, where Oink Games are based. Recently though iEllo and Superlude have been able to nab publishing rights, so it is getting easier to get a hold of. But honestly, you can print and play with ease to see if you like it. The metal coins are gorgeous, but as long as each player has something to use in their place not essential. Normal coins will work just as well, and if you lose one won’t break the bank replacing it.
About two-thirds of everyone I have introduced to Kobayakawa enjoys it, and I would guess a quarter of those people loves it as I do. But it really isn’t for everybody – try it before you go out of your way to track it down.
I have spent whole evenings with friends just chatting and playing Kobayakawa. It’s deep enough to keep you challenged but light enough to still be social.
Kobayakawa is almost permanently in my games back even if I am not actively playing it. It’s small, relatively light, and a great fallback if you want to pass 10-15 minutes waiting for other people – but it’s not for everyone.