The concept behind upcoming board game Kroma is an interesting one - you combine translucent pieces together to create different colours on an LED-lit board. Unfortunately, the gameplay itself doesn’t offer anything inspiring enough to draw you in beyond the showy lights and novel colour-mixing mechanic. It captures your attention with a colourful gimmick, but doesn’t do enough to retain it.
In Kroma, you each take turns to fish out different-coloured pieces of semi-translucent plastic from a bag, before placing them on the LED-lit board. When pieces of a different colour are placed on top of one another, the light shining through causes them to appear as an entirely different shade altogether. Throughout the game, you’ll be looking to create areas of certain colour by stacking these pieces together. The winner of a two-player game of Kroma is whoever makes the largest area of the same colour - with pieces needing to be connected via adjacent sides - whilst a three-player game is won through having the most total pieces of a certain colour on the board.
The big draw of Kroma is undoubtedly the novelty of playing on an illuminated board. Whilst the light is sometimes off-puttingly bright (publisher Breaking Games has confirmed to Dicebreaker that the final production version of the game will have a medium and high brightness setting) it does make for an incredibly attractive effect once pieces are placed on the board, enough that we would admire the results of a recent game for a minute or so before packing things away. However, there is the obvious drawback of the fact that, because the game’s mechanics rely so heavily on using colour, people who are unable to discern between the colours of the pieces are going to find it hard to participate.
You’ll often end up fighting over certain pieces throughout the game, depending on which colours are in play.
At the start of the game, you’re randomly dealt a card that indicates which colour you’ll be attempting to make using your pieces. This mechanic makes the initial turns of each game a guessing match of who has which colour, until the secret is revealed by you or your opponent stacking the first piece. It feels like there could be a hidden role aspect to this part of the game, but the benefit to bluffing by making the wrong colour or misplacing pieces isn’t enough to outway the negatives of losing a turn or space you could otherwise use to gain more ground. The goal colours each require two out of the three available colour pieces to be made, meaning you’ll often end up fighting over certain pieces throughout the game, depending on which colours are in play.
Each turn will have you putting your hand into the bag and drawing a piece, before placing it onto a matching space on the board. During the drafting phase, you can’t look inside the bag to see the colours or shapes of the pieces. Instead, you need to use your hands and fingers to feel the shape of the pieces - visualising what they look like inside your head before drawing it. Thanks to a reference provided in the rulebook, you can check which pieces of which colour are still in play, meaning that there is an element of strategy to drafting if you’re hoping to find a very particular piece.
The feeling of picking out exactly the piece that you were looking for is elating, just as finding out that you’ve made a mistake is disappointing.
However, your success at drafting does somewhat depend on how good you are at visually picturing physical objects - something that I, for one, am not very good at. Once the number of pieces in the bag start getting whittled down to a pool of similarly-shaped and -sized ones, luck plays a much larger role in what you draw. The feeling of picking out exactly the piece that you were looking for is elating, just as finding out that you’ve made a mistake is disappointing. But thanks to the speedy playtime, any frustration caused by pulling the wrong pieces rarely lasts very long.
Thinking ahead to ensure that you have enough space to spread out, whilst avoiding the potential for your opponent to steal or cut off the first layer you’ve created, is essential to winning. However, the lack of variety in the size or shape of the pieces, the basic nature of the mechanics and the fact that players can’t interact beyond cutting off their opponent’s run or inadvertently setting the other person up means that playing Kroma doesn’t require much of your attention. It’s an abstract board game that lacks the potential for deep strategy, but doesn’t have enough randomness or thematic elements to draw you in with silliness or roleplay.
Kroma isn’t entirely style over substance, but it doesn’t do as much as it could to really elevate its concept to something truly unique.
Having only experienced the two-player version of Kroma, because the current pandemic makes it difficult to play with more than one other person, I can’t speak for how the three-player style game works. However, there were moments that dragged with two people thanks to certain pieces that were entirely redundant - due to which colours were in play at the time - being drawn and played. The final few turns would also feel slow simply because we’d both already created the largest possible area of our colour that we could with the current board layout. A three-player game could alleviate these issues, involving all the colours and having players use every inch of the board to make as many spaces of their goal colour as possible, regardless of whether they’re connected.
A lot of the appeal of Kroma is in its gimmick - it’s not something I’ve ever seen before and I like it when board games play around with the physicality of the medium. However, despite its visual flair and fun drafting mechanics, there just wasn’t enough to the gameplay for me to remain invested in wanting to play it for very long. Kroma isn’t entirely style over substance, but it doesn’t do as much as it could to really elevate its concept to something truly unique.
Kroma launches on Kickstarter this June, with a release date in Q4 2021.