Koryo is catchy, is it not? Easy and fun to pronounce, but it’s definitely a strange to our tongue, unless of course you’re a Korean. Koryo is a card game from Korean designer Kim Gun-Hee, published on 2013 by Asmodee and Moonster Games. I honestly don’t know the origin of it’s title but it surely is interesting. A friend asked me to look into it and with only a handful of cards (okay one deck, but still…) this game is surprisingly good and interestingly fun.
Kim Gun-Hee’s name probably a stranger for our ears but he’s not a first time game designer. Actually he had design several small games like Spice Merchant, Tales & Games: The Hare and The Tortoise and Black Swan. He’s also The president of KBDA (Korean Boardgame Designers Association), which sounds prestigious indeed.
Koryo has nice steam punk anime style (Korean style I guess) over the artworks (Thanks to Stephane Gantiez and Ian Parovel), but I must admit the cover is a bit too bland and non-thematic. You can find a someone in the cover, miraculously (maybe with the help of some unknown technology) draft cards in front of him, seemed cool but in short it’s like really straight-forwardly explains that there is no story in the game, just you as players, play cards. Thank God it’s just the cover, the cards have amazing thematic artworks. The game contains 63 cards in total (45 Character cards, 10 Event cards and 8 Season cards), 8 VP tokens, first player marker and rules, packed in a small simple box, easy to carry, can be played in 15-30 minutes and very easy to learn by 2-4 players.
Okay, let’s breakdown the game inside. The character and event cards are shuffled together to form the draw deck while the 8 season cards are sorted in ascending order from top to bottom based on the season number. The game is played over the course of 8 rounds (Season), and at the end of the last round, final scoring takes place and player with the highest point wins the game.
There are 9 different Characters over the 45 Character cards and each character has distribution as many as it’s value (range from 1 to 9). These characters have different effects listed in the form of symbols and brief text description on the bottom part of the card. Event card is more like an action card that can be played during the game, and only consist of 2 types of event (5 cards distribution for each event).
A round is divided into 4 phases, Card Distribution, Order, Action and Round Ending Phase. During Card Distribution Phase, each player is dealt a number of cards from the draw deck based on the current season card, in which player choose simultaneously during Order Phase. Players can only choose 1 type of card to play, discard the rest. On Action phase, once they already choose the cards, beginning from the first player clockwise, each player reveals the cards and some cards can be activated if the requirements are met during that time. After each player has play the cards, the round ends, the first player marker is moved clockwise from the current first player to the next and then check the number limit for player’s tableau. If a player has more cards than the limit, he needs to discard down to the limit, the only restriction is he cannot discard event cards, they can only discard character cards. Once players check their tableau limit, the next season card is revealed and next round begins.
The game is simple, the season cards are sorted from 1 to 8 with different numbers as limit for card distribution and tableau. First round has high number of card distribution (with 10 cards) and low number of tableau limit (3) and with each round the limits are one by one added and subtracted, when at the last round, the card distribution limit is 3 and the tableau size is 10. So based on this clever system, we can see that the game has tableau building mechanism. Players build their tableau with cards to gain the effect and scoring points at the end game. Character cards have 9 different characters which can give certain benefits if (only if) a player has a clear majority of that character during his turn (only this the character’s effect can be triggered).
An event card has immediate effect on being played, but cannot be discard in normal way (like discarding cards out of tableau limit effect), since each event card on a player’s tableau will give minus 1 point in the final scoring.
In the final scoring players get points out of the value of a character that they have majority on and also VP tokens minus event cards on their tableau (if any). Player with the most points win the game, if there is any tie, the tied players share victory. Okay that’s the second clue of how the game works, character majority and set collection. Now, onto the characters:
1. The Omniscient (only 1 card in play) which only gives 1 point in the end game but it surely is powerful during the game since it can break ties in card effect majority resolution. So with this card you can still win the majority even if you tied with other players.
2. Spy (2 cards in play) gives 2 kind of powers / abilities. The first power is stealing a VP token from another player (if any) and the second power is protection against Lobbying events (only in effect if there is no Guardian around in the player’s tableau).
3. Senator (3 cards in play) gives you extra +2 tableau limit, which is very useful to collect more variety of cards and gain majority.
4. Priest (4 cards in play) gives you the ability to discard an event card if you majority. This is the only way you can get rid of event cards.
5. Ship Owner (5 cards in play) gives you the flexibility to play 2 cards of 2 different types instead the normal 1 type of cards. This is also very powerful to get more than 1 type of card in a single turn.
6. Banker (6 cards in play) let you take 1 VP token from the bank (if any).
7. Guardian (7 cards in play), when a player has majority of Guardian, that player cannot be targeted by Barbarian event cards.
8. Broadcaster (8 cards in play) gives you an extra card during the card distribution phase.
9. Merchant (9 cards in play) gives you only victory points at the end game, it does not give players in-game benefit.
Barbarian event card (6 cards in play) let players to destroy (discard) a character of one player, unless that character is protected by Guardian effect.
Lobbying event card (4 cards in play) let players to swap 2 cards in anyone’s tableau (including his tableau), unless that player is protected by Spy effect.
The first impression playing the game is the shuffling, yes you heard me, as for a small game like this, it surely needs to be shuffled a lot (8 times) because each round the discarded cards are shuffled to form the new draw deck, so you definitely need to sleeve the cards to protect them worn out easily. The game play is quick and very easy once you grab how all the characters work and I’ve tried several plays with 2 and 4 players. Though essentially with that range of players, there is no different setup or rules, the game play is somewhat different. It’s a bit more tactical with 2 players compared with 4 which more chaotic and unpredicted. The turn order is more important with more than 2 players since it’s very crucial who’s going first and who’s after. I like the clever way to put decision making in this game is more and more important in each round since you will get less and less cards as rounds progress. Event cards provide the core tableau manipulation in later rounds where majority is pretty important for players to decide which they want to keep and lose as well as deny other players points.
It’s a good filler game with some nice depth and decision making, though of course it’s quite sucks if you don’t get certain cards in certain times. I tried the game with my gaming and non gaming friends, and they all seemed enjoy a game or two.