You cannot judge a board game by its cover (I own a fair few that are less than attractive on the outside but house some spectacular gameplay), but every now and then that cover can be glossy and pretty enough to attract attention regardless. Such was the case with Kumo Hogosha when I first spotted it at Gen Con this year.
Packaged in a sleek tan box with a magnetic flip top and a beautifully illustrated slip cover, Kumo Hogoshoa seems like it should be a miniature-driven game out of one of the big high production quality studios. Instead it is an abstract strategy game that draws aesthetically from its theme and doesn’t skimp on components or packaging.
The result is charming, attractive to passersby, and happens to be a pretty good game to boot.
How Kumo Hogosha Plays
Kumo Hogosha is about two rival teams made up of 1-2 players, competing to push a stone pillar in the center of the board off the edge. To do this, you have eight cubes with different faces representing possible actions. Each turn you will have 5 action points plus additional actions if you capture your opponent’s cubes. Using those action points, you can take the face action of a cube, place a new cube on the board, turn a cube to a new face action, or rotate the board 90 degrees.
The latter is a mandatory action, though you can do it multiple times on your turn by spending additional action points. The board spinning action itself is another example of clever design, with a second board piece that fits over the top of the main board with a small circular disc. It turns seamlessly without affecting the rest of your components – very cool.
As the game progresses, you and your opponent will take actions to run across the board, block opponent cubes, push the stone pillar at the center toward the goal, throw opponent cubes away from it, and otherwise try to out maneuver the other player. Like any good abstract game, the average play time is 20-30 minutes, but can go long if both players are particularly good at blocking their opponent’s actions.
What We Like About Kumo Hogosha
It’s rare to find an abstract game with a new angle like this, let alone with such high production quality and a theme so inviting. The sumo wrestlers work perfectly, running, throwing, blocking, and pushing into each other to control the stone. And despite some challenges in the English rule book (it ships with both French and English rules), it is very simple to teach and learn, but takes some time to master.
I’ve made it very clear what I think of the visual components here as well, but it bears repeating. This game looks very nice, and somehow manages to add to the experience of the game even without theme to draw upon.
Issues with Kumo Hogosha
As mentioned before, the rules can cause issues. They are short and the actual ruleset is very simple, but there were several areas in the English rulebook where the French had not yet been replaced or the wording was unclear. There are also several apparent nuances not covered by the rulebooks (either the general one or the specific Sumo book.
It’s also a bit disappointing to only have the two Sumo teams in the box. The publisher promises additional teams soon, including the Samurai, and there is already room in the box to house the cubes, but for now, it’s Sumo vs. Sumo, so both players will be tackling the same actions. If you play with four, you just split the teams and come at the pillar from more angles. As a result, matches can stalemate at times though rarely for too long.
The Bottom Line
Kumo Hogosha is the kind of production you would never have seen in the board game hobby 10 or even 5 years ago. It’s clean, attractive packaging, clever layout, and stylish presentation – all for an abstract game, elevates a decent game to a pretty fun experience.
The only thing that holds this game back from being a buy for me is that the options out of the box are limited and the rules are a bit of a hurdle when starting. But if we see an official US release with updated rules and the promised Samurai faction, this will be one worth tracking down.
Disclosure: The publisher provided a copy of this game for review.
SUMMARY & RESULTS
A great production with strong visuals, a fun abstract mechanic, and a ton of interesting decisions to make as you struggle to capture the stone for your team. Well worth playing and possibly buying if you’re a fan of abstracts and the game receives some promised updates.