Fight Your Way to the Top in ‘Dojo Kun’

Reading Time: 15 minutes

dojo kun box

Your dojo has been selected to take part in the secret tournament known as Dojo Kun. Acquire new equipment, recruit new students, and train them for battle both in the dojo and in the nearby village. Only the most skilled athletes will triumph, and only one dojo will emerge as the greatest in all the land.

What Is Dojo Kun?

playing dojo kun

Dojo Kun is a 1-4 player game from CMON that is part resource building and part dice battling. Each game is split into two phases. During the training phase, players take turns building up their dojos in preparation for the tournament. After three rounds of building and training, athletes from each dojo compete in a single-elimination, dice-battle tournament.

Dojo Kun is rated for ages 14+, but if they have the patience to finish a couple of games and figure out the rules, there’s nothing strategically too difficult for, say, a 10-12 year old. The box lists a playing time of 90 minutes, and while I found that to be reasonable for the most part, give yourself at least twice that for the first game.

Dojo Kun Components

dojo kun components
You’re gonna need a bigger table.
  • (1) Tournament Board
  • (1) Combat Board
  • (1) Sensei Activities Board
  • (1) Athlete Activities Board
  • (4) Dojo Boards
  • (8) Dojo Expansion Boards
  • (4) Senpai Cards (1 of each color)
  • (24) Athlete Cards
  • (6) Adventure Cards
  • (6) Special Move Cards
  • (8) Prediction Cards
  • (4) Player Aid Cards
  • (7) Void Dojo Athlete Cards
  • (7) Void Dojo Athlete Tokens
  • (1) Round Counter Token
  • (4) Sensei Tokens
  • (16) Athlete Tokens
  • (24) Dice
  • (108) Experience Level Tokens
  • (8) Secret Technique Tokens
  • (2) Fighter Tokens
  • (8) Combat Moves Tokens
  • (3) Reservation Tiles
  • (18) Training Equipment Tiles
  • (50) Ki Tokens
  • (60) Prestige Point Tokens
  • (10) Wound Counters
  • (1) First Player Token
  • (1) Rulebook

The first thing you notice about the components of Dojo Kun is the sheer quantity of them. Get your poking finger ready to pop out the over 200 included tiles and tokens. Thankfully, baggies were included, and everything fits comfortably back in the box when you’re done playing.

There are 16 total game boards that make up the playing area of Dojo Kun. If you flip over the dojo boards and their expansion boards, the backs are painted to look like an actual dojo — an unnecessary but pleasant addition. The front side of each dojo board features the dojo’s sensei and the various playing areas. While the artwork is lovely, the beauty of not only the sensei but all of the player characters is their diversity. My wife particularly enjoyed filling her dojo with badass women, and considering she won every game we played, I’m thinking there might be something to that strategy.

dojo kun character cards

This diversity is also apparent in the representation of the martial arts themselves. While many terms in the game are Japanese — ki (energy), dojo (training hall), kun (rules), sensei (teacher), senpai (head student) — and the five elements of earth, water, fire, wind, and void are used rather than the Chinese five elements of earth, wood, fire, metal, and water, there are elements of Chinese martial arts mixed in as well. The kung fu / wushu usage of animals such as the turtle, mantis, and snake feature prominently (although I’m not familiar with any martial arts imagery that uses a swan). Also, the usage of dan to represent rankings is used in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean martial arts schools. Finally, the athletes represent an array of martial arts disciplines including Sumo, Judo, Boxing, Wushu, Pehlwani, Muay Thai, Karate, Ninjitsu, and more.

For the most part, the quality of the components is solid. The cards are a nice gloss and thickness, and the cardboard components punched out cleanly and appear to be well-constructed. After a few games, none of them show any peeling or other damage. The plastic tokens look nice, although I did trim a few sprues with an X-acto knife. The dojo boards are also clean, fit together well, and most importantly, lie flat with minimal sliding around when bumped.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same of the village boards. Everything looked great when I first removed the shrink-wrap, but only a few minutes after placing on the table, the corners began to rise up as the boards warped. Through several plays and boxing/unboxing, they have flattened slightly, and I’m optimistic that over time they will continue to do so. The weird part is that it is unnecessary for the boards to be separate at all; the game is played with the four village boards in the same configuration every single time. They could have easily made it one single foldable board. The only reason I assume they did not is for expansion purposes.

dojo kun village boards showing corners bowed
Village boards after a few rounds of being jostled

How to Play Dojo Kun

Objective

The object of Dojo Kun is to gain the most prestige points (stars) by the end of the game. This is done in two seasons, with each season broken down by three rounds of training followed by a tournament.

Setup

Village Setup

Place the four village boards in the center of the table as follows, clockwise from the top left: tournament board, combat board, athlete activities board, sensei activities board. Set up each village board as follows:

Tournament Board: Place the round counter token (that looks like a torii, or gate) over the leftmost section of the round tracker.

Combat Board: Place the black and white combat moves tokens at the zero point of their respective combat sections. Place the reservation tiles on their respective numbers.

Athlete Activities Board: Shuffle the three silver adventure cards and place them face down at the top of the adventure section, then turn the top card over and place it immediately below the deck. Do the same for silver special move cards in the special moves section. Place one of each of the secret technique tokens on their respective squares in the Master Bear section.

Sensei Activities Board: Shuffle the silver athlete cards and place the deck face down in the upper left corner of the board. Turn over four athlete cards and place them in the spaces at the bottom of the board. Shuffle the silver training equipment tiles and place the stack face down on the far left rectangle of the upper right section of the board. Turn over three training equipment tiles and place them on their respective rectangles to the right of the deck.

Player Setup

Using whatever house rules you normally use to choose game tokens, or turning them over and handing them out randomly, give each player a dojo board and the corresponding cards and tokens for that board: a senpai card, one sensei token, four athlete tokens, two prediction cards, two dojo expansion boards, and one player aid card. The player aid card shows the combat dice move distribution on one side and the order of combat moves on the other. Place the sensei token in the upper left corner of the board. Place the senpai card on the first athlete rectangle to the right of the sensei image. Place the athlete token labeled with a “one” in the circle above the senpai card. Place the two expansion dojo boards to the right of the dojo board, face down. Set off to the side the prediction cards, player aid card, and additional athlete tokens.

dojo kun player setup
Initial Player Setup

Additional Tokens

Throughout the game, you will be using most if not all of the other tokens remaining, which is about 250 tokens and 24 dice as well as the gold season player, move, and adventure cards. Depending on your party’s level of comfort with chaos, you can either just dump these on the board within easy reach of all players or assign a “banker” to distribute the necessary tokens and dice as they are needed.

Training

Each season begins with three rounds of training. The purpose of these rounds is to build out your dojo and train athletes to compete in the tournament at the end of the season. Preparing athletes includes both increasing their experience levels in each discipline, which corresponds directly with the number of dice you get to roll during the battle, as well as gaining ki, or energy, which allows athletes to perform tasks in the village as well as execute special moves during battles. Athletes may gain as many ki as you like, but they may only progress to the third level in each discipline.

Play begins with the person who last watched a martial arts movie (after some debate, it was agreed that my watching the second and third Matrix movies counted as watching a martial arts movie, although it could have just been sympathy for me sitting through the second and third Matrix movies). Give this player the first player token.

During each training round, players can choose to perform either sensei activities or athlete activities by placing the sensei or athlete token on the appropriate space. Each sensei or athlete can only perform one activity per round (exception: see “accelerate athlete training”). Also, each activity may only be performed by one player per round, unless the activity specifies more than one athlete can take part in the activity (Mystic Temple and Help the Village).

Athlete Activities

Athlete activities are indicated by round token spaces that correspond with the shape of the athlete token.

Training: Place the athlete’s token on a training activity in their dojo and perform the associated action. This usually entails gaining an experience level, some ki, or both.

Mystic Temple: Used to gain ki. One player per round may gain two ki. Remaining players gain one ki.

Help the Village: Used to gain prestige. One player per round may gain a ki and a prestige point. Remaining players gain only a prestige point.

Note: the included instruction book show images of the board that are different from the actual boards. In the instructions, the Mystic Temple and Help the Village spaces are incorrect.

Master Bear: Gain a “secret technique”, which grants an additional move during combat.

Master Crane: Gain an experience level. An athlete must sacrifice one experience level to gain two in any experience level.

Adventures: If a player has enough dan and ki, they may take an adventure card that grants them special benefits such as gaining prestige points in exchange for ki.

Special Moves: Learn a special move. These moves can be used during combat.

Reservation: Pick your place in the tournament. You also take the first player token and get to act first in the next round.

Sensei Activities

Sensei activities are indicated by octagonal token spaces that correspond with the shape of the sensei token.

New Training Equipment: Add training equipment to your dojo for your athletes to train on. You may only add new training equipment if there is room in your dojo for it.

New Athlete: Add a new athlete to your dojo. You may only add a new athlete if there is room in your dojo for them.

Expand Dojo: Flip over one of your dojo expansion boards to allow you to add more training equipment and athletes.

Accelerate Athlete Training: By placing your sensei here, any athletes that train in your dojo can also perform an action in the village in this round. Athletes may only perform activities in the village after all other players’ athletes have left their starting spaces.

Example Round

Dave stayed up late last night watching Beverly Hills Ninja and goes first. He decides he wants to expand his dojo right away and places his sensei token on the “Expand Dojo” space of the sensei activities board and flips over his dojo expansion board labeled with a “3”.

Sam had the same idea, but since there is only room for one sensei on the “Expand Dojo” space, she instead decides to add a second athlete. She places her sensei token beneath “Kaori” and adds the card to the first “New Athlete” space on her dojo board. She also takes her athlete token “2” and places it above Kaori.

Kelly decides that her senpai could use more experience, so she places her senpai athlete token on the first training equipment space and raises Feng Lee’s experience in the Earth discipline from one to two.

It is now Dave’s turn again. He wants to add some training equipment, so he places his senpai token on the circle/octagon under a piece of training equipment and adds that equipment to the first empty training equipment space on his dojo board. He is now out of moves for this round.

Sam doesn’t want to miss out on expanding her dojo next round like she did this round, so she places her senpai token on the circle next to the reservation tiles and takes tile number one. She also takes the first player token from Dave.

Kelly doesn’t like any of the training equipment or athletes available to her sensei, so she places her sensei token on the “Accelerate Athlete Training” section of her dojo board.

Sam has one more move, since she added an athlete this round, so she takes her token “2” and places it on the first training equipment space on her dojo board. This gives her athlete “Kaori” one ki and bumps the Earth discipline level up from “1” to “2”.

Since all other players have moved their sensei and athlete tokens from their starting spaces, Kelly may now use her athlete in the village. She elects to “Help the Village”, giving her senpai one additional ki and adding one prestige point to her dojo.

The round is now over.

End of the Round

The round ends when all players have performed all of the sensei or athlete activities they are able to. At the end of each training round, do the following:

  • Return all athlete and sensei tokens to their starting positions.
  • Move the round counter token one space to the right.
  • Remove all remaining face-up athlete cards from the sensei activities board and replace them with four new ones.
  • Remove all remaining face-up training equipment tiles and replace them with three new ones.
  • Slide any remaining face-up adventure or special move cards down one space and flip over a new card for each.

The next round begins with the player holding the first player token. Continue through three training rounds until the round counter token is on the Silver Lotus or Gold Lotus tournament section.

The Tournament

After three training rounds, it’s time to battle.

Seeding

Players choose up to two of their athletes to compete in the tournament. Any player who has a “Reservation” tile places the athlete token of their choice on that tile. Next, all the players choose one athlete token not on a “Reservation” tile and hand it to the tournament organizer (whomever holds the “First Player” token). If there are fewer than four athletes, the organizer chooses athletes from the Void Dojo to bring the count up to four. These four athletes are placed randomly in the spaces on the tournament board marked with a dot.

Next, all the players who have athletes on a “Reservation” tile, in ascending order of the reservation number, choose where they place their reservation athletes on the remaining spaces in the first column of the resevation board, pairing up against the previously placed athletes.

Finally, the remaining athlete tokens and enough Void Dojo tokens, if necessary, to fill out the remaining spaces in the first round of the tournament are placed randomly on the remaining spaces.

Tip: Void Dojo tokens and athlete tokens are not the same material, and as such, can’t truly be chosen at random when picked one at a time. We found the best way to randomly assign tokens when using Void Dojo tokens is to take them and drop them on the board in the middle of the tournament bracket. Then, each token is placed in the space closest to where it lands.

Hajime!

There are five steps in the combat.

  1. Prepare: Each fighter is given a fighter token, either white or black, which is placed on the athlete that is fighting. On the combat board, all of the combat move tokens are placed at zero for each move. Finally, each player takes a number of dice that correspond to the fighter’s experience in each discipline.
  2. Predict: Players not involved in the battle now bet on who the winner will be. Using their black and white prediction cards, they choose the color of the athlete they think will win the battle and place it face down next to their dojo board. Players who choose the winner correctly earn one prestige point. There are no penalties for choosing incorrectly. If two athletes from the same dojo are competing, all players not a part of that dojo automatically earn one prestige point. Also, the two athletes do not battle each other. Instead, the player chooses which athlete advances, or in the case of two athletes from the Void Dojo competing, the lower number advances.
  3. Roll Dice: Players roll all of their dice and move their combat tokens according to the moves on the dice. While the combat board only goes up to six, it is possible to roll more than six of any one move. If this happens, flip the combat token over to display “7+”, move it back to the zero spot, and continue counting. Dice may also show ki symbols. These ki are a temporary boost and are only available for this specific roll. Do not add ki tokens to the fighter for ki that are rolled.
  4. Special Moves: If a player has special moves, either at the bottom of their athlete card, gained from the village, or both, they now determine if they can use these special moves. Each special move shows a number of move symbols above an arrow followed by more moves or special abilities below the arrow. Players must have both the required moves shown as well as the requisite number of ki listed above the arrow to perform the special move below the arrow. An athlete’s ki is determined by combining the ki tokens on their athlete card with any temporary ki rolled on the dice. Neither the ki nor the moves are “used up” during the special move, and can be counted towards any additional special moves an athlete may have.
  5. Fight: Players now fight, using combat tokens to move and counter. Each move counters another move, beginning on the outside with the jumps and ending with hits in the middle. The number of each subsequent move is reduced by the move that preceded it: jumps reduce holds, holds reduce blocks, and blocks reduce hits. The winner of the combat is the athlete who lands the most hits on their opponent. If there is a draw, barring any special athlete ability, each athlete takes a wound token and the battle begins again. A wound token is placed next to an experience level of the player’s choosing and one die is removed of that color. Wounds last through the entire tournament, not just the current battle.

The tournament continues, combat after combat, until only one athlete emerges as the winner. Each player is awarded the number of prestige points shown beneath their athlete token on the tournament board.

Example Combat

two athletes and a combat board
Left to right: Sam’s athlete, the Combat Board, Kelly’s athlete.

In this battle, Sam’s “Kaori” will be battling Kelly’s “Grimm”. Use the image above for reference.

Prepare: Sam chooses to be black and Kelly white. Sam takes a red die, a blue die, and two green dice. Kelly takes a red die and two blue dice.

Predict: Dave, who is not battling, believes Sam is going to win. He takes his black prediction card and places it face down next to his dojo board.

Roll Dice: Sam and Kelly roll their dice. Sam has no jumps, moves her grab token to “4”, her block token to “2”, and her hit token to “1”. Kelly also has no jumps as well as no grabs, moves her block token to “3” and her hit token to “2”. Kelly also gained the secret grab move from “Master Bear” during the training rounds, so she moves her grab token to “1”.

Special Moves: Kaori’s special move requires five ki to perform. She has three ki on her card and rolled two more, so she is able to use her special move and adds two more blocks to the combat board, now totaling “5”. Grimm’s special move requires no ki or moves. Instead, he gains one prestige point for every tournament he enters as well as for every round in the tournament he wins.

Fight: Starting with Sam, she has no jumps so Kelly’s holds are not reduced at all. Moving down the line, Kelly’s one hold reduces Sam’s blocks by one from “4” to “3”. Sam’s three blocks now move Kelly’s hits from “2” to “0”. Next, Kelly also has no jumps so Sam’s holds are not reduced at all. Sam’s four holds reduce Kelly’s blocks from “3” to “0”. Kelly’s zero blocks do not move Sam’s hits, leaving it at “1”. Sam wins the battle with “1” hit vs. “0” hits. Dave gains one prestige point for correctly predicting Sam would win.

combat result
Result of combat

Reset and Begin Again

At the end of the Silver Lotus tournament, award prestige points based on how far each athlete progressed, and reset the board for season two. Replace all player cards, equipment tiles, special move cards, and adventure cards with the gold cards, setting them all up as you did in the first season. Place the reservation tiles back on the combat board. Replenish Master Bear with all four move tokens. Finally, slide the round counter to the beginning of season two and continue the game. All athletes retain any experience, ki, and Master Bear tokens they gained during the first season. All wounds are removed after the tournament before beginning season two.

End Game

The game ends after six training rounds and two tournaments. The victor is the player whose dojo has amassed the most prestige points from:

  • Prestige point tokens earned during adventures, predictions, and tournaments.
  • Prestige points as shown on special move, athlete, and training cards and tiles. Don’t forget to reduce the count for any prestige points shown with a red slash through them.
  • One prestige point for each dojo expansion.

Losing players must sing “You’re the Best” by Joe Esposito to the winning player. While this is not exactly in the official rulebook, I recommend making it a house rule.

Variations

Dojo Kun is a 1-4 player game. To play as a single player, complete the training rounds as in the normal game. During battle, fill all of the other tournament slots with players from the Void Dojo. Victory is determined based on how many more prestige points you gain compared to the Void Dojo, with fewer than 20 points earning you the title of “wooden dummy” and greater than 41 points making you a “sensei”.

The Verdict

The Good

Dojo Kun has become one of our family’s favorites. It’s a nice combination of skill and luck, applying strategy to the training rounds to maximize the chance of success during combat. The athlete’s skills are varied, increasing replayability. The numerous ways of gaining prestige for your dojo allow players to devise a number of different strategies.

The Not So Good

Unfortunately, all but one of those numerous ways of gaining prestige are almost guaranteed to lose you the game. This is because the tournament is weighted so heavily compared to the training rounds. The mechanics are there for, say, using your senpai to gather ki and go on adventures in the village to gain prestige for your dojo. Unfortunately, every effort during our playthroughs to use this strategy failed because the training simply wasn’t long enough. By the time you acquire equipment, dojo expansions, and extra athletes you need to be competitive in the tournaments, there are not enough training rounds left to gain the necessary ki and dan to go on adventures. If you ignore your athletes to follow this strategy anyway, you get destroyed in the tournament. We never had a winner who did not win at least one, if not both tournaments.

My Wishlist

  1. Expand the training to four rounds and then a tournament. You could do this with the existing pieces by recycling the equipment tiles and player cards.
  2. Add more discipline-specific skills. In the current game, the disciplines of each dojo are little more than window dressing, and choosing a specific dojo does not change the game play in any significant way.
  3. Reduce the amount of chance involved in combat. Actually, this would make the game worse for the most part, I’m just still bitter about my lousy dice rolls in the last game causing my 9-dan athlete with a special move to lose to some 5-dan loser from the Void Dojo.

Dojo Kun will be available for purchase on September 29.

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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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