If you look back at our Kanagawa review, you’ll see that I fell in love with its soothing, beautiful artwork and the undemanding nature of the gameplay. In Yokai, the first and only expansion for Kanagawa to date, players balance risk and reward when drafting new cards, whilst the core gameplay remains largely unchanged.
For the sake of a quick refresher, Kanagawa is more or less just a card drafting game but presented beautifully as a series of lessons and diplomas on watercolour painting. Each turn, players draft cards and then decide whether to either add them to their masterpiece or to take them as lessons.
The former option, adding them to their masterpiece, places the card with the picture side visible into the top row of a personal tableau, expanding the point-scoring opportunity that the player has as the result of completing one of the diplomas available. If a player chooses not to complete a diploma when they have a chance (because they want to hang on to score a higher one) then they must bypass it permanently.
The second option, taking a lesson, allows players to add the drafted card upside down and tucked into the bottom row of their tableau. When a player does this, they gain the benefits shown such as colour icons or paintbrushes — thus allowing them to expand their masterpiece on further turns.
The base game of Kanagawa includes four sets of cards that offer scoring options based largely on set collection. Buildings, people, landscapes and animals are the central themes, whilst in Yokai, three new sets (kites, lanterns and parasols) are introduced. The instructions insist that players swap two of the base game decks out for two of the new ones during setup, which does at least lead to some variation from game to game.
Aside from the introduction of these cards, the key addition in this expansion is the three yokai pawns, represented by wooden pieces that fit in nicely with the components from the base game. These pawns come into play when the yokai symbol on certain cards is shown, and a player takes the card accordingly.
Whenever this happens, the player takes one yokai pawn (either from the supply or another player) and keeps it beside them. If at any point a player takes all three yokai, then they may score the yokai diploma. The risk here comes at the end of the game, where each yokai still held by each player counts as negative points — the more you have, the more you lose.
Of course, there are also diplomas relating to the new cards that must be sorted during setup, with the diplomas relating to the outgoing decks of cards removed accordingly. The helpful colour coding system that the game uses makes this relatively quick, but it’s still fiddlier than I would like to be honest.
Boiling things down then, Yokai is a relatively minimal expansion in terms of how it changes the game. Yes, the yokai themselves offer an interesting but minor new rule that I think an experienced player will very likely appreciate and never not want to use, but the additional decks are only really there to facilitate the use of the yokai pawns and add variety.
Overall then, Yokai is what I would consider to be a fairly minor expansion, but one which is very cheap and likely worthwhile for fans of the base game. Newcomers to Kanagawa could probably skip the expansion at first and decide whether they like the game enough to invest in the expansion later without losing too much sleep.
You can purchase the Yokai expansion on Amazon.