Koi – Smirk & Laughter Games – Review


Koi is a great game that could be used as a gateway game. Yet, it still has enough depth to keep seasoned board gamers entertained. 

Publisher: Smirk & Laughter

Designer: Bill Lasek

Artist: Christy Freeman

Game Type: Programable Movement, Area Control, Grid Movement

Initial Year of Release: 2018

Age Range: 10+

Expected Playtime: 40-60

Number of Players: 1-4

Koi - Smirk & Laughter Games - Review 1

Theme and What is it?

The life of a koi fish is spent in sublime contemplation. Well, I am not really sure about that, but it seemed like a great first line. Koi fish swim around and eat stuff and then swim around some more and then eat some more stuff. That is exactly what you will be doing in Koi from Smirk & Laughter Games. You play as a koi fish and your goal is to eat as many dragonflies and frogs as possible. The player with the most points at the end of seven days (rounds) is the winner. Sounds pretty sublime to me.

Koi - Smirk & Laughter Games - Review 2

Gameplay Mechanics

Koi is a movement programming game. This is accomplished with a deck of koi cards that provide movement options. Each player has their own koi fish that they move through the pond. They must move around rock obstacles and eat dragonflies and frogs to score victory points. 

Movement is accomplished with the koi cards and the grid on the game board. The koi card shows movement patterns a fish can take. There are black arrows (moves that have to be made) and blue arrows (moves that are optional). On their turn, players can play as many cards as they want from their hand. As players move through spaces that have dragonflies and frogs, they collect them and these and are scored at the end of the round. 

There are other cards in the koi deck. Rock cards allow players to place new rocks in the pond. Lily pads allow players to place new lily pads, which are where dragonflies spawn at the beginning of a round. There is also a cherry blossom card. This lets players put a cherry blossom token on the board. All objects adjacent to the token are then pushed outward. And last, a frog card which allows players place a frog on the board. Frogs eat dragonflies adjacent to them, and they can also be eaten by the koi to score points. Dragonflies are worth 3 points and frogs are worth 1. 

Each day a weather card is revealed and is in effect for that round. Weather will affect the game or alter a rule.

After seven days (rounds), the player furthest along on the score track is the winner.

Koi - Smirk & Laughter Games - Review 3

Initial Impressions

First off, the artwork is amazing (more on that later). That is what initially caught my eye. Once I was done marveling over the art, I got right into the rulebook and started to figure the game out. It did not take too long understand the rules and set the game up. I was able to explain the game to three other players in just about five minutes and went over some example moves. The first round was slow as players were feeling out movement options and making sure they were doing everything correctly. After that the game took off.

Koi - Smirk & Laughter Games - Review 4

Game Build Quality

I always like what Smirk & Laughter do with games. The components are always high quality and Koi is no exception. The little koi meeples are fun and make the game very enjoyable. Overall, I give Koi very high marks for the build.

Koi - Smirk & Laughter Games - Review 5

Artistic Direction

My favorite thing about Koi is the art work. It is amazing. From the board. to the cards, to the tokens, everything looks wonderful. Once the game really gets moving and the board is starting to fill with components, it is very beautiful. I feel like a great deal of attention was given to making sure everything added to the overall beauty of the experience. 

Koi can be a very relaxing game because of the artwork. I think it depends on the people who are playing it.

Koi - Smirk & Laughter Games - Review 6

Fun Factor

Moving your fish around the pond and eating dragonflies and frogs is a fun experience. The weather cards change up each round and keep the game from growing stale after seven rounds. 

There is also some great “gotcha” opportunities. You can place rocks in the way of other players and frogs can eat the dragonflies that other people are going for. So, there can be a strong “take that” element to the game.

One thing that I noticed in every game of Koi that I have played is that once a player starts to get behind in scoring, it is very difficult to catch back up to the leader. I am pretty sure that by round four or five I would be able to say who was going to win a game. This can be discouraging to the players well behind the leader. I think this discrepancy exists because of the luck involved with what cards each player is dealt. If you have terrible cards there is no way to counter that.

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Age Range & Weight

Koi is recommended for 10+. I played with my 7-year-old and my 10-year-old. Once they figured out the movement options on the cards they did well. My 7-year-old would get caught in corners or behind rocks. Usually it took a little coaching from an adult to help him and he was right back to playing on his own.

My 10-year-old did very well and has won most of the games she has played.

Koi can be a great game to introduce to non-gamers. It is easy to learn and does not have too much variety that it feels overwhelming.

Koi - Smirk & Laughter Games - Review 8


Everyone that I have played Koi with has really enjoyed it. My kids have asked to play it each game night since we first learned how to play it. I have enjoyed it because of the art and the zen-ness (if that is even a word) of the whole experience. 

There may be a certain level of frustration if players are not being dealt cards that work for them. I have not really found a great way to overcome this other than to keep pointing out how amazing the experience looks. But I only had a couple of players talk to me about this issue and I noticed it myself when it happened to me. That is why I even bring it up.

Overall, Koi is a great game that could be used as a gateway game. Yet, it still has enough depth to keep seasoned board gamers entertained. 


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