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Game Detail

PlayersPlay Time Publisher(s) Designer Year
2-4120 minStronghold GamesVital Lacerda2014
OptimumOptimum PlayTeaching TimeTeacher AgeMin Age to Play
4 Players90 min30 min18+14+
Kanban is a worker placement game set in an automotive factory. The goal of the game is to have the most points at the end of the game, and points are generated by efficiently using the various currencies in the game: actions (1 per turn); time (typically 2 or 3 units per turn, sometimes as little as 1 unit, sometimes as many as 4); seats at the table (representing the players' ability to take credit for things happening around the factory); parts (wooden cubes in 6 colours); part manifests (effectively wild parts that can be used as any colour); and books (used to study in the various departments). Additionally there are plans, but they're not really a currency, exactly.

The game plays over multiple turns and has a couple of end conditions. The game will end when there has been either 3 meetings and 2 week end sessions, or 3 week end sessions and 2 meetings. The game can also end with there being 3 of both. Meetings occur when a sufficient number of cars have been fully developed, and week end sessions occur when the factory manager returns to her office.

While the board is intimidatingly busy and full, there are only 9 sections that players need to concern themselves with, including 5 departments, 3 tracks, and 1 recycling bin:
-development, with a number of car types and upgrades available,
-logistics, where players go for parts,
-production, where parts are spent to put cars into testing,
-testing, from which cars can be obtained and put into players' garages,
-administration, allowing players to micromanage and use time in departments that are actually full,
-recycling, which gives players an opportunity to exchange parts of a type they don't need for parts they do need,
-the scoretrack, which shows players' current scores,
-a banked time track, allowing time units to be saved and spent later
-and Human Resources, a track that shows how many times players have been certified in the various departments and gives small bonuses for having done so.

Every round, players each place their meeple on an available action space in one of the five departments, and the factory manger, Sandra, is moved to the next available department. In order, from leftmost to rightmost, players and Sandra take the appropriate actions in their department. Sandra's actions are different from those available to the players, usually clearing away resources and decluttering the board. Player actions usually involve gathering, then spending, currencies. Every action will generate time units that are spent immediately. If a player doesn't have anything they want to do with those time units, they can bank the time, to be spent later. There's an important rule to remember, though - a player can never spend more than 4 time units in one turn. There's only so much time in a day, and, apparently, that comes to 4 time units.

There is one final way for players to spend their time units. Every department has a training track, and players can spend time and books to advance on the tracks. Doing so can be an important way to earn points in Kanban, as Sandra will either award or subtract points to or from players, depending on whether one is playing with the nice Sandra or the mean Sandra. Players can get more points by studying harder and gaining mastery in a department, which will generate points at the end of the game.

At the end of some rounds, there will be either a meeting or a week end reporting session. Meetings are opportunities for players to gain points for having attained certain goals, with some goals being public and known, and others being put out during the meeting by the players. Goals can range from having 2 red cars in a player's garage to having a mix of parts in their storage to having black engine upgrades, and many others. These goals can be a huge supply of points, but because of the way the end of the game is reached, it is important to remember that the last set of goals may not be used. Players should not count on the goals being available.

Speaking of the end game, there are a lot of points to be had here. Players will get points for cars in their garages, upgrades developed, unused resources, and mastery in the various departments. Kanban is actually very close to my limit for the number of end game points awarded. I have played many games that award so many points at the end that the points generated during play seem superfluous, and that drives me up the wall. Kanban's close, but doesn't quite get there.
Personal Opinion:
I really enjoy Kanban. The board is crazy busy and kind of ridiculous, and there is a ton of stuff going on in the game that requires players to think several turns in advance, and it's pretty easy for someone to ruin your awesome plan just through happenstance, but that is part of what makes the game fun. That moment when everything just clicks, and for a brief moment chaos crystallizes into order... it's great. And that moment when your plans are ruined and you're doomed! except, wait, what if I do this?... just as good.

Kanban is not for everyone. It's a long game with a steep learning curve. Individually, all the actions and options are easy to understand, but there are a lot of moving parts and interactions. I have one friend who describes the game as being work, not play, and I don't think he's completely wrong.

I would describe Kanban as being a competitive optimization and efficiency game in the best tradition of European-style gaming. Those who like hard-core Euros are going to love it, while those who don't, well, won't.

Please leave a comment describing your Kanban experiences, and consider writing your own review agreeing with me, or, if you think I've got it all wrong, telling me just how wrong I am.

Thanks for reading,
Steven Sweeney
Plays at Review:
2x3p, 1x4p

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