Tuesday, April 16, 2024

What’s Kraken’s use of familiar forms

What’s Kraken is a Roll and Write that is centered around what I’m starting to think is the single most common mechanic in R&Ws, drawing stuff on grids. That being said, the game keeps it interesting by having you draw on more than one grid, as well as deal with inventory management. Oh, and checking off tracks.

The theme is pretty simple. You are manning a pirate ship that is trying not to lose a fight with a Kraken. Fortunately, these pirates are all about deep sea diving.

The player sheet actually has a fair number of things to keep track of. The biggest part is a grid map for diving for stuff. And trust me, you will need stuff if you want to win. It also has two more grids for the pirate ship, starboard and port sides. Those are for keeping track of the damage the Kraken does. There is also a salvage track and three tracks for doing damage back to the Kraken.

Each turn, you roll four dice. Two for you and two for the Kraken. If I read the rules correctly, they have to be differently colored so you don’t get to mix and match dice. Which, quite frankly would make the game a whole lot easier but also remove the value of one of the special items.

Fundamentally, there are three things that you are going to be doing on your turn. Diving to get resources, repairing damage on the ship, and doing damage to the Kraken.

Diving is probably the most interesting part of the game. You are making a path of shapes and collecting the resources your shapes go over. In fact, it’s quite like Postmark Games’ Aquamarine, except honestly , Aquamarine does it better.

And, as I mentioned before, you are going to need resources if you are not going to lose the game. There are fish to modify dice rolls. There is timber that is required to repair the ship. There is treasure that lets you swap dice with the Kraken. And there are blasts which make it easier to damage the Kraken.

And it is actually kind of annoying to damage the Kraken since you need specific doubles of dice. You are going to need to use these resources if you are going to fill in the Kraken tracks and kill the thing. Luck is not going to do it.

Damage and repair follow the same basic rules. You use two dice to determine which side of the ship you were drawing or erasing a specific shape. If you ever can’t add a shape, you guessed it, you lose.

One of the things that really strikes me about What’s Kraken is how granular it is. Most of the time, you are only going to have two dice to work with each turn. And a lot of the actions require you to use both of them to do that action. 

That said, that economy of actions drives the game. You have to juggle hurting the Kraken, keeping the ship afloat, and diving for stuff. And the Kraken just keep whaling away at you every turn. You have to do the best you can with your rolls and your stuff.

While there is a lot of moving parts (and I haven’t even described all of them), they all work together. More than that, they are thematic, which also helps the game experience. Which ends up being a good one.

What’s Kraken does absolutely nothing that I haven’t seen before. Every mechanic in the game is one that I’m familiar with. Which does make the game easily to learn. It isn’t innovative but it does well with what it uses and it all makes sense.

What’s Kraken isn’t the best R&W I’ve learned this year. Nor is it the most innovative. However, it is a profoundly pleasant game. It won’t fit in a minimalist game collection but it will work. Well for one aimed at variety.

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