SNAP Review – Kiri-ai: The Duel

Kiri-ai: The Duel

Two Samurai face each other on the cliff’s edge.

Cloudy skies darken the night.

The moon breaks through as they strike.

This is Kiri-ai: The Duel.

Well, technically, this is a SNAP review for Kiri-ai: The Duel.


Kiri-ai: The Duel is a two-player dueling game designed by Kamibayashi and published by Mugen Gaming. You can get it in the United States through Lucky Duck Games. A game of Kiri-ai: The Duel probably takes about ten minutes.


So Anitra, let’s talk about that art!

Yeah. The art in Kiri-ai: The Duel is certainly stylistic. It’s a very minimalist design, starting with this battlefield card, which is just dots along a line. Then there’s two samurai cards – each one is a shadowed outline in white, showing a “high” and “low” stance. Then there are the action cards, which show dramatic lines to indicate attacks, or arrows for movement.

The cards have a few Japanese Kanji characters and the Romaji transliterations of them, but that’s about it. Everything else in the game can be deduced by the symbols.

We’ll talk about our thoughts on those later. But first, let’s talk about how to play this game.


You’ll start with a battlefield on either the simple or advanced side. We’ll use the simple one here. Each player aligns their samurai card diagonally over the silhouette, in the Heaven stance (that’s the high stance). Make sure to put them white silhouette side up, indicating no damage.

Kiri-ai: The Duel - setup with two samurai cards on the battlefield

The red and blue players have identical decks, but there are three orange Special Attack cards. Shuffle these face down and each player takes one. Set the third card aside for this game.

Kiri-ai special cards
Orange Special cards

In each round, players will play two cards, one above the other. Flip the first card and figure out what happens. Then, flip the second card and do the same thing.

Three of the cards are attack cards – one that can only be used in the Heaven stance (that’s the high stance), one that can only be used in the Earth stance (that’s the low stance), and one that can be used in either. However, these also have distance restrictions, which you can see on the cards.

The other two regular cards are movement cards and depend on which way you play them. One step forward, one step backwards, change stance, or lunge forward. But be careful, a Samurai never moves behind another Samurai. That would be dishonorable.

If a player successfully hits the other player, they flip their card over, indicating they’ve been wounded. A second wound means a lost duel. If both players successfully strike, they bounce off each other, and nobody is wounded.

If a player uses their Special Attack card, they discard it after this round. Otherwise, you take back the first of the two cards you played this round, and the second card has to sit out for the next round.

Then, set out two more cards and do it all over again. The winner is the Samurai who wounds the other one two times first.


So Andrew, what did we expect from Kiri-ai: The Duel?

This was another game I saw at the GAMA Expo this year. They showed us a lot during the Media first look hour, but this is a game I immediately asked Devon at Lucky Duck if we could just sit down and play. I expected something super slick and simple because, well, there’s almost nothing on these cards.

I did not know what to expect from this game. I do enjoy dueling games and I’m a sucker for games that are small enough to fit in a pocket. This one is REALLY small, and this cloth wrap package is really cool.

It’s actually styled after an old Japanese wallet!


… which is pretty cool.

Kiri-ai: The Duel


So, what are the big surprises in this little wallet?

I LOVE the presentation in this game. I love the cards, they’re thick but but they have a slick texture to them, I love the color selection, I love how the silhouettes in this game leave the entire duel to the imagination.

You don’t even see faces on the samurai. I love the simple representation of the two dimensions of a basic duel on the dueling card. A game of this goes by super quickly, you can play this in, like, a best two-out-of-three. I just love it.

I struggled a little bit with this art. I really like the way this looks, but I had to concentrate on the stances in the corner to make sure I was playing a valid card. And the two-edged card for advance or retreat just feels really confusing to me: it kind of looks the same both ways.

But I really enjoyed the tight, back-and-forth nature of this duel. Even with so few cards in your hand, you’ll have to work hard to predict what your opponent will do, and try to counter it, or try to surprise them. There’s very little margin for error, since landing a second hit wins the game. But since the game is so short, it hurts less to lose. It’s really easy to just set up and play again, right away!


So, let’s talk about our recommendations.

If you are a fan of dueling games, Kiri-ai: The Duel is a great pickup. It captures the essence of so many of these two-player games like Pocket Paragons or Jekyll vs. Hyde. It’s really a battle of wits, plus the back-and-forth of a sword battle.

Obviously, as you saw here, the art can be a little bit polarizing, but that doesn’t mean the game isn’t excellently executed. Ha ha.

We’re going to give Kiri-ai: The Duel 4 Katanas out of 5.

And that’s Kiri-ai: The Duel, in a SNAP!

The Family Gamers received a copy of Kiri-ai: The Duel from Lucky Duck Games for this review.

This post contains affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.

SNAP review music is Avalanche, provided courtesy of You Bred Raptors?

Kiri-ai: The Duel
  • Katanas


Age Range: 13+
Number of Players: 2
Playtime: 10 minutes