I’m a sucker for a pretty game. Last year at Gen Con Sagrada had me transfixed with its translucent dice doubling as stained glass sections and this year at Origins it was the beautiful Indian-inspired components of Kerala. Vibrant colors, extraordinary design and satisfyingly large wooden elephant meeples, what’s not to love? Every time I’d walk by Kosmos’ booth I’d audible say to myself or anyone else who happened to be next to me “Ooh, that Kerala. What a pretty game.”
As for the game itself, the theme for Kerala is carried almost entirely by the art. There’s a loose thread about bringing together elephants for the most impressive festival in the Indian province of Kerala, but that’s only apparent if you had spent time with the materials. Instead, Kerala is mainly a puzzle driven game where players create a winding grid of colored tiles, amassing the elephants drawn on tiles and trying to avoid fragmented color sections. The complication for this comes that each new tile has to be placed beside one of your two elephant meeples, where it then moves for the next play. You have to keep your tiles tight or wrapping over each other so you can quickly switch segments if the drawn tiles aren’t accommodating to your layout, but with five colors and only two elephants it’s easier said than done!
Interesting note, playing Kerala with two and four players provided a surprisingly different experience. At the start of each round, players on their first turns draw the number of tiles equal to the number of players from the bag before choosing one. So in a 2-player game, the first player has two tiles to pick from and the second player has three, but in a 4-player game, the first player has four tiles and the forth player has thirteen. The amount of choices with more players leads to a more guided game, but the limited choices with fewer players make the move a tile, move an elephant, and the passing options more valuable.
With rules that can be explained in minutes but turns that can run on far longer as analysis paralysis sets in, Kerala feels more similar to a classic game than a modern game. Most theme-driven modern gamers should be placated by the attention to art though, and with it, find a greater appreciation for this different kind of head-scratcher. (Kosmos) by David C. Obenour