Review – Kyoto

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Designer Sabine Harrer, Johannes Krenner

Artist Christian Opperer

Publisher Pegasus Spiele

Length 30-45 minutes

Release Date 2021

Player Count 3-6

Kyoto is a game of bribery and negotiation with an all-too-real theme. Players represent countries of the world working to curb the effects of global warming. Meaningful action requires financial investment, and no player wants to see their country’s economy hurt. How much are you willing to contribute for the greater good?

Review

Kyoto is a game about saving the world. Mind you, not from a mad scientist’s doomsday device, nor from an alien invasion, but from the very real, very present threat of global warming.

In this game, 3-6 players represent countries of the world meeting at a conference on climate change. Each player begins with a hand of cards and a coffer of money. Additionally, everyone receives 2 secret agenda cards, which signify private interests that may not align with the common goal. Thematically, these might represent, for example, the oil or chemical industries lobbying against climate legislation.

The game is mostly card-based, but a small central tableau tracks the impending crises of global warming, air pollution, and animal extinction.

Throughout the game, if any of these crises reach the critical level, the game ends and the player with the most points automatically loses (they are blamed for the ecological disaster).

To play Kyoto, players take turns being the conference speaker. Each round, the speaker begins by taking $2 million from the shared environmental fund. Then, they draw a card representing a scientific study.

Note that the cardboard lectern conceals the active study’s hidden effect.

Each study card features:

  • A reduction goal, which shows either the CO2 icon or environmental damage icons. These represent the actions necessary to avoid further harm (e.g. players must reduce emissions by x amount).
  • A funding goal, which is the amount of money players must collectively spend to avoid further harm.
  • A visible impact, which represents the known penalty for failing to meet the reduction and funding goals.
  • A hidden impact, which represents further damage that will occur if the round is failed. Only the current speaker gets to see what this damage will be.

After the study card is selected, players have 90 seconds to negotiate. This phase of the round is where the meat of the game lies. Each player can contribute up to 2 cards from their hand, along with any amount of money they wish. Additionally, they may try to bribe others to play… or perhaps not play a particular card.

As expected, this can lead to some tense haggling and cutthroat negotiation. At the end of the 90 seconds, the round ends with 1 of 2 possible outcomes:

  1. The round succeeds. If players have collectively contributed enough money and resources to meet the requirements on the current study card, the round is a success. The study is discarded with no negative effects. If more than enough money/cards have been contributed, the speaker can choose which cards/dollars are actually used. (Unused cards are returned to their owners and unused dollars go into the shared environmental fund.)
  2. The round fails. If players do not manage to drum up enough cards and money, they fail the round and suffer all negative effects shown on the study card.

The game continues like this until either:

  1. a crisis reaches its critical level, or
  2. the study deck is exhausted.

When either of these things occurs, the game ends and players tally their points. Points come from leftover cards and money and from agenda cards. If the game ended with no crises reaching their critical level, then the player with most points wins. Otherwise, if a crisis is maxed out, the player with the most points is blamed for the disaster and loses. The player with the next-highest score is then declared the winner.

It’s heartbreaking when an animal species goes extinct and players have to flip its token over to the skeletal side.


Kyoto feels poignant, relevant, and perhaps a little existential. Players spend the game trying to pass the buck to others, hoping that opponents will contribute to the greater good while they sit back and save their money. It’s an interesting exercise; all players need to help out in order avoid disaster, but each person wants to help out the least.

What’s also interesting is players’ desire to be in first or second place, depending upon how the game plays out. If everything is going great, everyone will aim to have the most points, but as soon as crises seem imminent, strategies will shift as players shoot for second place.

Of course, negotiation is at the heart of the experience. Wheeling and dealing is key, and the 90-second time limit keeps the pressure high. Real-time aspects in games are hit-or-miss for me, but this mechanism works pretty well here.

The production quality of Kyoto is okay, but there is nothing spectacular about it. To be fair, though, the game is mostly card-based, so the other components are minimal anyway. The 3D lectern is a nice touch, and it serves the functional purpose of concealing hidden information on the study cards. All told, the game looks alright, but it’s not exactly eye-popping.

In terms of fun, however, Kyoto is indeed an enjoyable game. The bribery and “table talk” are what make the experience, so fans of negotiation games will likely enjoy it. It plays in under an hour, so it’s good for lunchtime game groups and family game nights. (And with the right group, it could even start some meaningful dialogue about the real threat of climate change.)

If you like games with lots of wheeling and dealing, give this one a try!

A review copy was provided by Pegasus Spiele.

The Bottom Line

Kyoto is an interesting semi-cooperative game. It feels relevant, poignant, and perhaps a little existential. Recommended for fans of games with lots of "wheeling and dealing."

 

7.5