It’s not often (read: never) I get asked to do a Kickstarter preview so when it does happen, you better believe I’ll take up on it. Patrick Engro of Engro Games reached out to me to preview a game for his first ever Kickstarter, a little micro card game called Okazaki. It’s being Kickstarted along with another game called Reach and while I haven’t had the chance to play that one, I did get to play Okazaki a handful of times. So, what do I think of it?
Full disclosure before I get into my thoughts on the game. I’m actually close friends with Pat in real life. We went to college together and we stayed in touch afterwards. Pat is actually the person I entered the hobby with and he was my primary gaming buddy before he moved to Japan early last year. So, if you want to take what I say with a grain of salt for that reason, you’re more than free to do so. I am simply doing this preview because he asked and because it helps give Okazaki and his Kickstarter a little more exposure. Besides, it’s not like it’s a paid preview, since we all know the furor that sort of thing gets.
Now that the boring administrative stuff is out of the way, let’s get back to Okazaki. Okazaki is a two player only trick taking game in which you’re trying to replicate a sequence of cards that sits in the table between you and your opponent. The first unique thing you’ll notice about this game is that the cards are all identical. They’re double sided cards with two halves on each, separated by a helix which helps add to the whole DNA replication theme that the game is portraying. The point of the game is to manipulate these cards and get them into their proper orientation. It’s a real clever use of identical cards and the game never feels restricted by what you would assume is a fairly restrictive conceit.
The gameplay itself has a quasi trick taker feel to it. Anyone reading the top 100 on my blog knows that I love a good trick taker, so this excited me going in. It’s important to note, though, that this isn’t a TRUE trick taker in the common sense. There are no suits and thus no following of suits, but players play a card from their hand and whoever plays the higher card wins the trick. This allows them to get first dibs at drafting a card from the play area, of which there are three (the two cards played by the player as well as a common card that sits in the middle between them). This can be hugely important as it allows you to get a card you may desperately need for your hand or your sequence while also depriving your opponent of something tasty.
Luckily, losing a trick is not the end of the world. Smartly, Okazaki has a mechanism called mutation abilities, which are activated by the person who lost the trick. These mutation abilities are the key to getting cards orientated the way you need them to be and often results in players losing tricks on purpose so that they can change a card around. It’s nice to get a consolation prize for losing a trick, especially when that prize can play such a big role in winning the game.
The best way to describe Okazaki is puzzle-y. I love a good puzzle in my games, where you have to twist knobs and press buttons in your brain to try and figure out the solution. When this mental safecracking results in a successful play or move, there are few things as satisfying in gaming. Okazaki is right in this wheelhouse, featuring lots of maneuvers and manipulation to get the cards you need in your sequence.
As fun as this puzzle is to solve, I do have a few quibbles with Okazaki that are worth mentioning. The first criticism kind of goes along with what I just discussed. It’s a very puzzle-y game, which I love, but it’s more strategic puzzle than a tactical one. I much prefer tactical puzzles, where the board state is constantly changing and you have to adapt and make plays based on what your opponents have done before you. Okazaki is not quite that. This is a game where you need to think several turns ahead, setting up plays that will eventually pay off like you’re stuffing mementos in a time capsule for Future You to find later. This is totally subjective, though. If you really like that long term planning over more reactive turn to turn decision making, Okazaki should be right up your alley.
My second criticism is that sometimes I felt like I was spinning my wheels, trying to achieve something but constantly having it undone. In order to get a card into your sequence, you need to link it up with the common card in a specific fashion and that can be tough depending on the board state. A game between me and my friend took twice as long as it probably should have because we both got stuck into a rut where we just were having trouble accomplishing anything. Is this simply because we’re trash at the game and just hadn’t gotten a hold of the nuances and subtle strategy required to be successful? That’s more than likely, yes, but it still created moments of frustration that I felt needed to be admitted here.
Outside of these two things, Okazaki is a good, fresh feeling micro game. It’s a fun puzzle that is addictive and sharp and certainly deserves checking out. It launches on February 18th and you can find it here.