SNAP Review – Shadows in Kyoto

Shadows in Kyoto

A strategy game of hidden identities, based on true historic events, Shadows in Kyoto was designed by Emperor S4, and is published in the US by Deepwater Games. Listen to our thoughts, or read on below.

Shadows in Kyoto components

About Shadows in Kyoto

A game for two players that plays in under 30 minutes, Shadows in Kyoto is set in Japan in the same time period as Hanamikoji. The Oniwaban were undercover agents (spies and secret police) employed by the Edo shogunate, even after the last Edo shogun ceded power to the new Meiji emperor.

In Shadows in Kyoto, one player represents the Oniwaban (green), and the other plays as the Government (yellow).

Your goal is to try to get one of your agents who possesses real intelligence (represented by a red dot) to your opponent’s home row. You also want to avoid capturing too many of your opponent’s agents that have false intelligence.

Shadows in Kyoto setup

How to Play

Place your agents on the board, keeping their identities secret by turning the printed side towards yourself. All but one will fit on your home row.

Move an agent by playing a “location” card from your hand that matches the type of location the agent is moving to. Each type of location has its own color (residence: green, market: yellow, shrine: red, castle: blue), but there are wild cards as well as a few special locations.

At its core, Shadows in Kyoto is an abstract strategy game, where you are trying to outwit your opponent. Either convince them to take the wrong pieces from you, or maneuver them into a situation where they are unable to stop you from moving a “true” agent into their home row.

When using a “location” card, agents may only move forward (directly or diagonally). “Tactics” cards allow for special actions such as moving sideways, or swapping pieces secretly.


agent with 3-red secret identity attacks agent with 2-red revealed identity
Green captures yellow, because 3>2.

Move a pawn onto a space occupied by an opposing pawn to attack. The defending piece must reveal their identity; showing both their power and whether or not they have real intelligence.

The attacker compares their piece’s (still secret) power with the defending piece’s power. If their power is greater than or equal to the defender’s power, they capture the defending piece and remove it from the board. If the attacking piece has less power, it simply retreats to its previous space.

Be careful! One of the ways you can lose the game is to capture 3 of your opponent’s pieces with false intelligence. Only 2 of the 6 pieces have real intelligence, so the odds aren’t in your favor.


Yellow piece showing 3 and a red dot
Government (yellow) gets real intelligence to Oniwaban home row to win

There are 3 ways to win Shadows in Kyoto:

Move a piece with real intelligence onto your opponent’s home row, or

Capture both of your opponent’s pieces with real intelligence, or

Force your opponent to capture 3 of your pieces with false intelligence.


Geisha cards introduce asymmetric player powers. Pick one specific to your side at the beginning of the game, then use her power all throughout the game. One gets more choice for movement cards, one makes it so their side can jump their own pieces, one prevents the opponent from entering certain spaces, and one can even change how the tactics cards work.

You can also choose to use equipment cards. These have powers that can only be used once per game, and each is unlocked when an agent is captured. Equipment is even more powerful than the geisha.

Geisha and equipment cards


Shadows in Kyoto is the type of game that makes us feel clever. Hiding information and moving it around secretly appeals to us.

Just like in Hanamikoji, we love the art on the board and the cards.

Unfortunately, even after several plays, we found ourselves needing to refer back to the rule book often. Each geisha and piece of equipment has very specific rules governing its use. They just weren’t intuitive for us, and the icons didn’t help much.

Several rules weren’t quite intuitive, either. For example, the way to resolve battles is odd – we mentioned that you win if your power is greater or equal to the defender’s. However, there’s an exception: 0 beats 3. This isn’t bad, but needing to go back to the rules over and over again slowed the game down and lost the flow the designers were going for.

Lastly, the board didn’t want to sit flat until we broke it in. The pawns are really easy to knock over by accident; and since their identities are supposed to remain secret, one stray move can ruin the whole game. This is especially concerning to us since we often play with kids whose fine motor skills aren’t always good enough to maintain the secrecy of the agents as the game is designed.

Despite all of this, Shadows in Kyoto is a quick, easy to learn game. We’ve never had a session that lasted more than 20 minutes, even when needing to refer back to the rulebook often.

Yellow 2 has been captured

Find Shadows in Kyoto for around $20 on Amazon, at your local game store, or buy directly from Deep Water Games.

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

The Family Gamers received a copy of Shadows in Kyoto from Deep Water Games for this review.

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

Shadows in Kyoto
  • Art
  • Mechanics
  • Family Fun


Number of Players: 2

Age Range: 10+

Playtime: 15-30 minutes (usually 15)