Iwari: Explore and expand in the new continent [Review]


Iwari is a fictional universe created solely for this game. Here, humanity was still in its infancy. They founded their tribes and started exploring uncharted terrains. While doing so, they also encountered other tribe members. Anyway, for those who don’t know, the game got funded through Kickstarter. Will this game get on our gaming table often? Let’s find out if it’s for you, too!

A short disclaimer before you read my board game analysis

As an avid euro gamer and hardcore Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) LCG player, my reviews may reflect a preference for these styles, and I may not cover solo games/variants extensively. Please note that my personal remarks are based on my gaming experiences, and I aim to provide honest insights within the scope of my preferences.

Highlighting how to play Iwari

I only highlight the essential rule to give you an illustration on how to play Iwari. If you only want to know what I thought about the game, you can always jump to the next section.

In this game, players focus their efforts to explore and expand their territories. They do this by playing the cards from their hands. The hand always consists of three cards. These cards depict the area players may influence during their turn. Players must play cards depicting the area they want to explore/expand. If they don’t have the related cards, they can play two cards as a wild card. During one’s turn, he/she may play up to three cards to place up to two objects (tent and/or totem) in one area.

The scoring happens twice in Iwari. The first time only counts points from tent majority in each territory. The second one repeats the first, and it also scores totem majority and settlements. A settlement is a group of four or more sequential tents along the road. Whoever gets the most points wins the game.

For further rule explanation, Man VS Meeples has covered it in their video on their Youtube Channel. I embed the video below.

What made me love (and maybe, not love) Iwari

For starters, Iwari is definitely a euro game (yay). It’s an abstract game, so there is no chunky wall-of-text on the cards. The gameplay, essentially, is captivating, too. It needs you to throw some thoughts during the whole session. Is Iwari a simple one? Hmm, I couldn’t say it’s easy, though. I may be a bit bias here, but the testimonials from my diverse gaming group have proven my statement to be accurate.

Components & artwork that you won’t miss

I don’t know about you, but I always love to have pretty components and illustrations on my table. Thundergryph Games’ team is well-known for its remarkable artistry. Let’s Not pretend, even a glance of the box has successfully made you love Iwari, right? The vibrant colours fit perfectly with the fantasy style graphic. They went extra miles by designing different forms for the Totems and Tents instead only differentiate them by colours.

Obligatory portrait of the Void.

Many of you may reckon I wrote it as if I have played many games from this publisher. Well, in fact, this article may be the very first appearance of Thundergryph Games on my blog, but I have backed several of their games through Kickstarter. What can I say? Their designs are always top-notch, and they have never let me down.

Well, how can you resist this components?

Iwari’s gameplay and its reliance on the Tent placement

Based on BGG’s entry, Iwari is actually a reimplementation of Web of Power (which later also had multiple successors, China and Han). I honestly haven’t played any of those titles, so I had no expectation for this game (a good thing to enjoy a new game). Basically, this game is all about asserting dominance via its area majority mechanic. Players score main points based on how they influence the regions by building Tents and erecting Totems.

The impact of the secondary points cannot be taken lightly. When you let someone loose to build their own Tent routes, that extra points can decide the win or lose, too.

Iwari’s revolving heavily around Tent placement. That extra action to build Totem is related and really dependent on it. For instance, the number of Totems in a region is equal to the number of Tent majority there. Therefore, placing your Tent is essential, not only to open the door for you but also to shut your opponents’ future move. This includes the scoring, too, which I will explain in the next segment.

The placement of the Tents affects the whole game flow. Tent majority determines the points all players gain in that region. With the 3-2-1 rule, it still gives other players to place their Tents on a discovered area. I love the scoring because it prevents players from overcommitting over one territory.

Never overcommit in Iwari

The number of totems in a territory depends on the number of tent majority.

It may be tempting to build them in one place to get the majority and gain points. However, you also let yourself vulnerable when contesting Totems. When you have too many Tents, you may also let another player slips in and build his/her Tents on the last spot of your region. This is more their advantage than yours. For example, there are five free spots in Tundra territory. You build four Tents, and somehow another rivalling Tribe comes in and build a Tent. Yes, you gain 5 points, but the other one gets 4 points! You spend 4 times more resource only to get 20% output!

Oh, look, there are five spots in this Desert! Well, if I want to influence this area, I only need to build 3…

More than that, I will just waste my resources. Well well well, what do we have in Tundra here? I have 2 Tents and the Totem majority connected to other regions. I may not gain the Tent majority in Tundra, but I don’t want other tribes to erect Totems. Hence, I will shut them down by not building another Tent there.

Moral of this story? Everything in Iwari needs to be “just about right”. Players must always be aware of the placement because it matters a lot during the scoring. Some sacrifices are necessary to win the game.

Player count and replay value

They designed Iwari for 2-5 players. It didn’t feel fun at all with 2 players, but it started to show promises with three. It may feel a bit crowded for some, but I would say five players will give the best experience in Iwari. That’s my sweet number for this game.

The deluxe edition comes with six maps and some other expansions. This guarantees a higher replay value in comparison to its retail version. I don’t really like the idea that they cut many things on the normal one, though. It’s still okay if the difference lies only on the components, but when it hampers the gameplay and replay value, I am not really a fan and will consider twice to back their next project.

The artwork also makes you want to play this game over and over again.


Iwari can be categorised as a light euro game. It definitely has depth and feels complicated for new players. However, if you are used to games with high complexity, this might be kids’ play for you. Be as it may, Iwari can be your “main dish” for one board game night. Also, nothing beats pretty components in board games, and Thundergryph Games has once again exploited this to release one of their games. I love Iwari, but my opinion still stands. They should have included the expansion in the retail version and kept the deluxe as the prettier version of it.

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