If I’m being honest, I cannot remember the full story how I found out about Dojo Kun. All I recall, was the fact that at the time I was actually looking into another few interesting board games I was thinking about purchasing. I stumbled upon a link possibly or banner ad, thought the art was appealing and went from there. It wasn’t until I started watching various online videos of it shown did I get interested in this title.
In my own experiences, I’ve not really come across a martial arts tournament style game graphically designed into a playable, tabletop fighting experience. Now that I have, I can truly say that this is graphical art fighting without fighting at its best and really comes to life in Dojo Kun and its play techniques. I’m sure there are a few other similar style games out there, away from the screen – if there is, let me know.
Most of this genre of game entertainment I’ve only seen and heard about on video game platforms, with the likes of familiar franchises like, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Virtua Fighter and Tekken to name a few off the top of my head. I think it was this uniqueness that sold me on the idea as well as the fact that it looked pretty cool!
Dojo Kun was designed by Roberto Pestrin and was first released as a multilingual version in 2015, published by Yemaia. In 2017 an English language only version was released that featured new revamped and changed artwork as well as components and contents. This was published under CMON Limited and Yemaia. A Spanish version followed on in 2018, published by Edge Entertainment.
In a quick summary, Dojo Kun is a martial arts fighting, tournament game using a “worker placement” mechanic. Each player manages a Dojo, Sensai, Senpai and a specific fighting discipline. Each player will recruit athletes and attempt to improve their stats, values and special moves through worker placement spaces, ready for entry into two tournaments. Cardboard does not hit back, so it’s safe to say that this is where the best of design and colour art fighting without fighting comes to life and gets interesting.
The tournament has its quarter-finals and semi-finals before seeing two athletes going head-to-head for the win. The tournament system uses a combination of custom dice and a kind of push and pull battle system referring to the rolled dice and athletes stats to move specific markers.
Recommended Age – 14+
Players – 1-4
Duration – 90 minutes
Dimensions – Width = 31cm, Depth = 31cm and Height = 8.5cm
Weight – 2191g
Box Art & Design
As I stated in my introduction, “… It looked pretty cool!” Yep, although watching online videos interested me further it was the artwork style on the box that drew me in. I do like the water colour effect behind her that fills out the front area of the box cover.
Referring to the 2017 English language only version, the center picture is a dark haired, female, athletic fighter looking a little focused or angry and showing off her well toned body, covered of course. She’s been captured during a flying kick move, one arm at the ready and the other in a blocking stance.
The colour palette for the fighter is bold, has dark tones and purple colours over a bronzed skin tone. These colours contrast to the subtle pastel shades swirling about in the background. The titles have also been done creatively using a freestyle handwriting tool and a possible chisel or calligraphy pen that can achieve both thin and thicker lines.
There is a small amount of oriental text nearby and that, along with the word Dojo, in my opinion puts this game in a light that martial arts could be included. Publisher brands feature on the front too and so really the front cover design is kept quite clean and simple.
The sides of the box feature game information as above, more publisher branding and four individual characters in their own different colour schemes. These characters are featured heavily on the four player boards and are, at a guess the Sensai to the Dojo you manage, perhaps. On the rear of the box a set-up of a four player game is shown. Components, characters and tokens are all visible. There’s a synopsis at the top, next to the titles and components list included bottom left.
Overall I do love the box and its clean design mixed in with this swirl and swish colour palette. The style reminds me of the opening cinematic intro to Street Fighter IV (2008-2009) from Capcom, released on the PlayStation 3 (PS3), XBOX360, PC and Arcade. The only small gripes I have if I have to pick and throw some negative moves for balance are the dull colour scheme over the set-up picture on the rear (enhanced for this article/post) and the female’s big foot on the front.
As much as the colours are all correct on the rear and it shows various cards, components and four coloured player boards, the colours are just dull. There’s no vibrancy or brightness, it’s almost as if there once was, but a wash of gray has covered it. As for the foot on the front, well, I’m sorry I don’t know in my head where this one comes from it just, well… kinda puts me off as it’s at the forefront of the design.
I know it’s just a drawn, designed and colored bare female foot but there’s just something about it in the image I’m not sure about or don’t like. . . It doesn’t even look gnarled or scabby! Does anyone else feel the same?
The quality from the front of the box continues inside and Dojo Kun does include a black, plastic molded contents inlay. In total there are nine dishes or pockets for all cards and components. The sizes of some of them kind of dictate what is best fitting there. Once the components and cards are nested you’ll find ledges either side for all the larger cardboard pieces to fit snugly on, if put in correctly.
Inside are some included indents or finger holes on the side ledges in order to lift up the cardboard boards and pieces, quite handy if you’re long nailed and are finding that every effort you make to lift the bits out, you’re actually peeling layers of the board design. The only issue I’ve personally faced with the contents inlay is that the pockets are too small for my set-up and situation.
I for one, like to immediately bag my components and cards right from the get go and their punch cards, in order to preserve their cleanliness and value. The plastic clip lock bags alone are tricky to fold or crush in the openings once full of components. I’ve tried different ways around, putting certain pieces with others, creating a player start bag and even flattening all the custom dice and have finally found my solution.
In no way does this take from the fact that the contents inlay doesn’t work, as it does. Everything looked great and gorgeous when I first opened it, everything was in its place and either bagged or factory sealed. There’s a place for it all but if you want to customize your components, preference or add further plastic bags be prepared for a game of Tetris before actually setting up Dojo Kun.
This is the part where things get really interesting as we punch our way through the box contents and see what components come with Dojo Kun. Starting off are the playing boards.
Inside are four in total and they are all the same size square dimensions and made of a thick stock cardboard. These boards are known as the Village boards and are comprised of, one Tournament board, one Combat board, one Sensai Activities board and one Athlete Activities board.
On the rear of these boards are the Dojo Kun titles, bigger and bolder than that on the box (described above). There’s a little of that gray paint wash style present too. The Sensai Activities board features an area for the athletes recruited and a Training Equipment area. The Athletes Activities board has a few sections and features that can be used on a first come, first served basis which will depend on play and players strategies.
Inside are two areas where you can visit great masters, Master Bear and Master Crane, from here you can pick up some skill enhancements. There is an area where you can Help the Village and an area to visit a Mystic Temple, both of which carry rewards and perks of some type that can be added to your visiting athlete’s skills.
In the center of the board there are two tracks in a blue and gray tone, which contrast the red and gray tones of the above explained areas. These central areas give the opportunity for athletes to take a Journey and/or Adventures.
The Tournament board is split into two areas which represent the Silver Lotus Tournament and Golden Lotus Tournament. The first tournament is in silver and gray tones, the second brings in some gold and yellow tones. There is also a round counter at the top so players can track where they are in the game and gives out some additional bonuses during play.
As mentioned above, during each tournament, eight athletes compete in a series of three elimination rounds until a single winner is declared. With this in mind, the design on the board is that of a hierarchical structure.
The Combat board, which has tones of black, white and gray (apart from a blue toned section, separate from the combat panels) is where the push and pull play mechanic takes place to determine a winner, or a draw. When a fight is to take place, both athletes are assigned either a black or white status. Each athletes’ moves can be monitored now on the black and white sections of the board.
These sections are numbered and split into four categories, hit, jump, block and hold. The single blue track on this board is for tournament reservation and positioning.
The player boards are visually impressive and feature the four distinctive characters from the sides of the box. Each player board has its own tone of colour; red, green, purple or blue. Each board also sports the logo of your Dojo and the main martial arts discipline it follows. There are spaces for recruited athletes and any Special Moves acquired, Training Equipment, Sensai interaction and skills upgrades.
On the rear of these player boards is a huge, bold and colourful Dojo logo, taken from the front and layered over an image of a Dojo entrance. The last of the boards are the Dojo Expansions that each player can use when they recruit further athletes. It carries the same artwork from the main player board, front and back.
Overall, I think all the boards are brilliant. They are produced on a thick, heavy cardboard stock. Designed with plenty of thick edges and outlines, defining the areas well and all the symbols and icons are very clear and easy to see. I find the player boards more interesting than the main game boards, most likely because of the addition of the colourful Sensai characters which are all done in a very tasteful and matching style.
Once again though, as with the rear of the box I find that the boards are a little desaturated of brighter, vibrant colour (enhanced for this article/post) but at least they do have colour scattered around from board to board. There is also that familiar cloudy gray paint wash style behind the interactive areas and character portraits.
Inside are 24 custom dice included in Dojo Kun; four green, four blue, four red and four purple. Each dice has various symbols on them that are featured in the game. Inside are foot icons that represent the jumping skill, grab icons that represent the holding skill, closed fist representing the hit skill and an open hand which is for blocking.
Some sides of the dice carry more than one of the symbols. The dice colours represent the four different combat styles and disciplines each Dojo follows. Those four disciplines are Earth, Wind, Fire and Water.
Tokens & Extras
Starting small and re-arranging my bags near me as I write this, there are some Prestige Point tokens with various values. These can be earned from your athlete, tournament wins, predictions on fights, board placement, Adventures taken, Dojo Expansions and activities. These tokens are also the deciding factor to the winner of the game, which is not necessarily based on just tournament victories.
The Ki (Chi) tokens represent spiritual energy and are lost and gained throughout the game, similar to currency. They are used to aid athletes through combat, pull off a Special Move in a time of crisis and to train with as well as other uses. Inside are numerous colored Experience tokens, taken from the base colours of the four Dojos and each having numbers zero to three printed on them, representing experience points.
These points are what you gain and earn throughout the game and distribute among your athletes. All the numbers added together represents that athletes Dan. With higher Dan values an athlete can embark on a Journey and/or Adventure.
I’ve just opened up and emptied out my mixed bag of other tokens and chits, let’s have a rummage through and see what we can see. OK, I’ve shuffled them around into small piles. There is a unique marker, shaped as an oriental archway or temple looking door, this goes around the current round on the main board. There is a first player token, circle in shape with a picture on it what look’s like Falkor the Luckdragon from the movie The Never Ending Story (1985).
Inside are some small Wound markers for use in the fighting combat system, these are square with drips or teardrop shapes on them. There are a couple of circle tokens showing a silhouetted athlete performing a high kick, these come in both a white and black version and represent the fighters who pair off against each other. Also included are eight small, rectangular, lozenge shaped tokens with the same high kicking athlete printed on them.
They also come in black and white varieties, four in black and four in white. These are used on the push and pull combat system board to monitor the hits and blocks while a fight is underway.
There are only three special Reservation tiles. Grey in colour and numbers one, two and three printed on them. These are used for pairings in each round of the tournament, ahead of other players and can be an advantage. Inside are also eight Secret Technique tokens earned by visiting a great master and adding extra value in combat.
The Training Equipment tokens, feature dulled silver/gray tones on the rear, representing the first season and tournament and the others have dulled gold/yellow tones, representing the second season. These tokens give skill boosts in various disciplines, extra Ki or a cost in order to gain something else.
Onto the last few, some more small circular tokens in gray tones sporting numbers one to seven. These represent athletes or fighters from The Void Dojo, kind of like a dummy Dojo for tournament gaps to be filled in with, when players cannot fill them with athletes. These dreaded fighters are like an auto player or A.I. of the game.
To round off, a splash of colour. Each player has some plastic tokens, an octagon shape, representing their Sensai, circle token number one is their Senpai (senior athlete) and the other three circle tokens are any recruited athletes. Each player’s tokens colour match the player board colour tones they’ve picked.
As I’ve used bags to separate and organize my cards and components, some of them are in a designated player start bag, as I like to call it. Taking the purple colour set to demonstrate with, it includes the plastic Sensai token, the number one Senpai token and the three other athlete tokens as mentioned above. The Senpai for this set is Hannah, a short, blonde haired girl with a long red ribbon flowing from it. She wears a dark tunic or robe of sorts and has red gloves on.
Inside are also some player reference cards included. In Dojo Kun these are double-sided, one side shows the various combinations of dice and what’s on each face. This is quite useful as it shows what strengths are in each discipline, for example – the red dice, represent the Fire discipline and Dojo and specialize in hits. On the reverse side is a smaller version of the combat board.
Direction arrows show the way you work out the values per hit, block, hold and jump and per fighter using the push and pull combat mechanic described earlier.
Inside are also two smaller cards with a purple background in this player starting bag, Dojo logo and the titles, Dojo Kun also feature. All other players will have different colour backgrounds and Dojo logo. Turning the cards over, one is dark toned with a silhouetted athlete performing a high kick and the other the same, but in lighter tones.
These are a players Predication cards and can be used when a tournament is under way and they want to predict a winner. If the call was correct, that player earns a Prestige Point.
Moving away from player starting bags the rest of the cards are as follows. Firstly The Void Dojo athletes, these cards are small and identical to player prediction cards, they have a shiny surface and show the fighters name, experience points, what tournament they appear in and which numbered token they are associated with. On the reverse side is the other tournament stats to be used. Of course the Golden Lotus Tournament is the tougher one.
Inside are a small amount of Adventure cards, three representing the season of the Silver Lotus Tournament and the other three for the second season, all of which gain you Prestige Points if you have the Dan levels to choose one. Also, included are two small sets of Special Move cards, a set for season one and the other for season two. They feature lots of symbols within the game which determines if you can pull off the Special Move in combat, depending on dice roll outcomes and a cost.
As a finale and the last set of cards, quality art and design features in the character designs for the athletes. A mixed bag that’s for sure, including different sexes, sizes, dress codes, fitness levels, realistic or exaggerated. There’s a deck of athletes used for the first season and tournament and a second deck for after into the second season and tournament. Graphical art fighting without fighting at its best!
Each athlete card has the same layout but the differences being in what experience points they start with and in what discipline, any included starting Ki or Special Moves and if they will increase or decrease Prestige Points at the end of the game.
Some characters have slight resemblances or references to characters from fighting genre video games, possibly movies and TV or familiar looks from other sources but still keeping them original. Even just sifting through them now has got me in the mood to watch Bloodsport (1988) or Best of the Best (1989). Each of these larger cards have the familiar high kicking athlete logo and Dojo Kun titles on the rear, over a dulled gold and yellow toned background or a silver version.
The instruction manual or rule book included is square and fits corner to corner within the box. It has nineteen pages and like the game itself, is very well presented. The front cover is very colourful and features all four Sensai characters from the player boards but not so still and calming. Here, they are in some sort of animated combat with each other and are designed into each corner of the manual.
The Dojo Kun titles are centered, yet small and certainly not as bold as on the rear of the four game boards. These titles are in front of some Dojo doors, most likely fought over by these glowing eyed masters. There is a detailed section on the included components, all in full colour and identically shown from the physical versions. There is a recommended game layout page before play and step by step sections of the rules.
Each section includes colourful diagrams identical to the spaces, cards, components and boards. This helps you to identify correctly where things are on the board or cards for example and is also a quick reference if you need to look up rules for say, the Master Crane and Master Bear spaces on the Village Boards. Really easy to follow and clear wording without much confusion.
There’s a nice big area of the rule book that goes into the tournament battles, starting with how to prepare and pair the athletes on the spaces. This section includes the Reservation Tokens, dice rolling, involving athletes from The Void Dojo and the Special Moves and gives a detailed example of a typical battle between two Senpais, page by page.
It shows you visually and explains how to move the tokens around on the combat board using the push and pull game mechanic and working out a winner from the remaining values.
In the rear of the manual are the end of game conditions and rules for a single player variant. Also, included is a detailed reference of all the athletes from season one and season two, their starting experience and any details on Special Moves, Ki and Prestige Points that they start with. Another reference page devotes itself to a Training Equipment list, all the Adventures, Special Moves and The Void Dojo characters. Finally, a rules summary is printed on the back cover.
As I’ve already stated above, the thing that sells Dojo Kun well for me is its unique genre and that above all video game fighting genres I know that have been released, a combat training, fighting and tournament style game has been designed well and ported over onto cardboard. A game that doesn’t require a plug or power – just players, or you can opt for a solo game.
It’s got a great design that fits the theme, with the likes of the athlete cards, player board Sensai designs, Dojo logos and disciplines with little bits of artistic license and exaggeration thrown in for good measure. Interestingly, a “worker placement” game mechanic is used and keeps the players strategically thinking about each valued move, do they train, get to unique spots to claim upgrades ahead of others etc.
With limited moves and time before a tournament, it keeps the athletes experience and Dan levels pretty reasonable and realistic comparing them with others.
…Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.— Bruce Lee
The only minor marks against Dojo Kun I have and would say, are the desaturated colours on the Village Boards, as mentioned above and the time it takes to get through a tournament, every pairing and every fight has to be resolved and slows the pace a little, with players who aren’t involved taking a break and making a coffee while the action continues.
There’s a bit of dice rolling, value adding and subtracting in order to determine a winner and this has to be repeated for all fights. Thankfully the hierarchical structure of the two tournaments is quite small otherwise the time it would take them to resolve would multiply massively. Just my views, tell me what you think?
Thank you for reading this article, I hope you found it of some help or interest. Please feel free to drop a comment about this game, the written content or even your own experiences with this genre of game.