Kitsune of Foxes & Fools is a game about fox-spirits playing tricks on foolish humans to earn tails. The first fox to nine tails wins. This theme was intriguing and sounded fun. Unfortunately, playing Kitsune was the most frustrating experience I’ve had playing board games. Before you skip reading this review, know that there are good aspects of the game, and a simple version was later discovered online that could have avoided the initial displeasure.
I like the player cards and the mechanism of allocating tails to enhance different player stats. The other aspect I liked was scheming. This is where you target a fool (one of the human cards) and roll two dice to see how the scheme plays out. One die adds on to the foolishness stat of the fool card, and the other adds to the wits of the fox. Trick cards can be played to augment the dice rolls, and, when a scheme fails, a consequence card is issued. The scheming fox earns a tail if the fool’s foolishness printed on the card is greater than the number of tails they already have. This sounds like an appealing game; unfortunately, the game gets bogged down by overly complex details.
The rulebook is rather confusing and doesn’t help clarify questions that come up as you play. Those playing with me and I spent more time reading the rulebook over and over again than we did playing the game. Yet, I still don’t have a full understanding of every aspect of the game. There is an order of play, various stages from dawn to night, then there are specific steps listed at the end of the rulebook. It’s not clear what all the abilities do, and there is too much terminology. Giving credit where it is due, the designers are revising and trying to improve the game. For example, one point of confusion initially are spell cards that just say “Spell of Illusion” and a sin type. The card does not make it clear what it does, and you need to, again, consult the rulebook. These have been revised to state the effect on the card.
The theme is pretty strong throughout this game. The advantages and disadvantages of the fox cards really work with the characters, such as Kenji, who has a big sex drive and, thus, needs to scheme against fools of the lust sin type, if available. Sareiko is a lusty female fox, so she must target foolish male humans. You are using your fox fire to cast spells on the fools to trick them, and, if successful, you might gain a tail. If you are interested in Japanese folklore, Kitsune could be right up your alley -- with some revising, of course. The rulebook even includes a story paragraph for each fox player card. (Side note for parents: there is some PG-13 content in this game, such as the abilities mentioned above and some of the fool names.)
If this game were revised to have more simplified trick cards and focused on rolling the dice to scheme against fools to earn tails, it would be a neat game. This would make Kitsune a fun "take that" game with the allocation mechanism. In fact, I think it would be an improvement on Munchkin (essentially the benchmark for take that games). Kitsune has the luck of dice rolls in every scheme to potentially outweigh the negative effects other players played against you, whereas, in Munchkin, dice rolls only happen if you have lost the battle. The “leveling up” in Kitsune also becomes more difficult as you become stronger, whereas, in Munchkin, you can look for trouble against a Level 1 creature when you are Level 9 (and decked out in weapons, armour, etc.) to win the game. Tails are only gained in Kitsune if you scheme against a fool who is “stronger” than the amount of tails you have. If you have eight tails, you can’t just easily defeat a fool with a foolishness of one to win.
I had all but finished this review based on the contents of the original box when I discovered a simplified rule set. I’m willing to give every game a fair shake, so I had to give these rules a try. It took some convincing to get people to play with, as they really did not enjoy Kitsune the previous times. With these simplified rules, play was smoother, and it was moderately enjoyable. It is a good way to learn the game and introduce new players to Kitsune. Even still, I don’t believe I can erase the bad experience my play group had with Kitsune. This won’t be occupying shelf space much longer; I’ll likely print the simple rule set out and pass this on for someone else to hopefully enjoy more. Since the full game is frustratingly complex and confusing, I can’t recommend paying 50 dollars just to play a watered down version of the game.
It is great to see a designer open to feedback and fixing problems, such as adding the simplified rules and revising confusing cards. However, I think perhaps Kitsune was released a bit too early. Some additional playtesting could have worked out these kinks before putting it in the hands of customers. Kitsune is hard to enjoy right off the shelf; you need to seek out introductory rules online and also purchase the revised cards for seven dollars. If the theme and main mechanisms of Kitsune appeal to you, I would wait for a second edition to be released once everything gets corrected.