Review: Gunkimono

IMG_1936

Length 30-45 minutes

Release Date 2018

Designer: Jeffrey D. Allers
Artist: Michelle Garrett, Melanie Graham, George Sellas
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
Category: Tile-laying
Players: 2-5
Price: $30.90 Amazon.com

Gunkimono is a reprint of a lesser-known game called Heartland. With a new theme and a lovely production, it is an excellent offering from Renegade Game Studios.

Review

Renegade Game Studios does a bang-up job giving new life to older, under-appreciated games. They take those obscure, out-of-print titles that never got the attention they deserved, shine them up, and make them available again. As a sucker for “hidden gems,” whenever I hear news about them reprinting a game like Byzanz or Arboretum, my ears perk up.

Gunkimono is the latest such release. This game puts two to five players in the roles of warring Japanese factions, vying for supremacy. Each player begins the game with the same set of five square tiles, as well as a hand of three random, double-wide tiles.

The game board is divided into two sections: the “Honor tracks” on the left and the main tableau and score track on the right.

The Honor tracks are seeded with point tiles according to the number of players, and one piece of each player color is placed on every column. Similarly, Stronghold pieces are placed on their appropriate spaces along the side.

On a player’s turn, she begins by placing one of her tiles on the tableau, either directly on the board or on top of existing tiles. She must position her tile such that no color covers a space of the same color—that is, red can’t be placed on top of red, blue can’t be placed on top of blue, etc.

Over the course of the game, the tableau will build upward as tiles are placed on top of each other. Tiles must always be “level,” so if desired, a player may use a square tile to support a double-wide tile above it.

After the tile has been placed, the player gets to choose how she wants to score it. There are two possibilities:

  1. She may score victory points for creating groupings of like colors.

    In the example above, if the player chose to score VP, she would earn five points: three for the group of three blue tiles, and two for the group of two orange tiles.

    OR

  2. She may advance her markers on the Honor tracks.

    Each tile bears one or two Honor icons (red pagoda symbols) per square. In the example above, since the tile she played is orange and blue, the player could move her markers along the orange and blue tracks, according to the number of symbols on her tile.

Next to the Honor tracks are two sets of “Strongholds” in every player color. If all of a player’s Honor markers reach or pass a Stronghold, she may place it on any space on the board (except in an area with an existing one). At the end of each of her turns, she will score points for the total number of spaces in her Stronghold area. In essence, Strongholds are points that keep on giving.

Players take turns placing and scoring tiles until the game-end tile is revealed (it is seeded somewhere in the last six tiles of the supply). At the end of the game, the player with the most points is the winner.


This game puts a clever spin on the tile-laying genre, as it asks players to choose how they wish to score their tiles. They must contend with competing objectives, deciding whether to score for tile formation—getting points right now—or if they want stronghold symbols, ultimately racing opponents to bigger points down the road.

Gunkimono offers multiple strategic options. Players can go the “slow-and-steady” route, where they try to continuously rack up VP every turn, or they can focus on moving their Honor markers quickly—they won’t score much early on, but they will steadily earn points once they get their Strongholds out. The game strikes a nice balance between furthering one’s own objectives and preventing opponents from doing the same. It also scales well, with a setup tailored to the number of players.

The production quality is very high, with thick, durable tiles and detailed wooden bits. The rulebook is an easy read, succinct but comprehensive. Overall, Gunkimono looks and feels like a well-made product.

I am very pleased and impressed with this game. To be honest, I have no real issues with it; everything about it just works. Gunkimono feels like a “next step” game—a bit more involved than, say, Ticket to Ride, but still accessible to new gamers. Its mix of turn-by-turn tactical thinking and broader strategic planning make it a solid gaming experience.

This one gets an enthusiastic thumbs-up from me.

A review copy was provided by Renegade Game Studios.

The Bottom Line

Gunkimono is a very cool game. Its use of the classic tile-laying mechanism feels clever and fresh. Highly recommended.

 

8.7