Posted in Board Games

Game-a-Day Fortnight: Day 11 – Samurai Spirit

Samurai Spirit is based on the film Seven Samurai, and sees 1-7 samurai cooperatively defending a Japanese village against raiders by engaging in the ancient art of battle blackjack!

In real-world feudal Japan there were no women samurai and when a you took two wounds you transformed into an humanoid animal warrior. It’s the same in Samurai Spirit, which even has a note about it in the back of the manual explaining but not apologising for its staunch adherence to historical accuracy.

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In this game you’ll Fight by drawing raider cards numbered 1, 2, 3 and 4, Confronting them by adding them to your Combat Line (the right side of your samurai board) trying to reach your kiai number. Think of it like 21 in blackjack. You want to hit it exactly, and not go over, or you’re out of the round and raiders burn down a village barricade.

Below, Kikuchiyo has a 3, 2, 1, 2, 2, which equals exactly 10, his kiai number. So, he gets to remove the first card (the 3) from his Combat Line, to stay in the round and give him another chance to reach his kiai number again. His special kiai ability also activates.

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Any time a samurai reaches his kiai exactly, he discards the top card from his Combat Line.
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Kikuchiyo’s kiai ability also lets him discard the most recent card in his Combat Line.

When you Fight, you can Defend instead of Confronting, which lets you place the raider to the left of your board instead, not suffering any ill effects of the card – but you only have three slots on the left, one for a card with each of these icons: hat, farm, family (doll).

Ideally, you’ll want to fill up the left side, to uphold the samurai code of honour and – more importantly – to avoid penalties at the end of the round. Without a hat, you’ll get a wound; lacking a farm or family icon means a farmstead burns down (flipping over to reveal yet another penalty) or a village family is killed (removing a round end bonus).

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Our village is under attack! Call on the 1-7 Samurai!

To help you deal with all these raiders, in addition to their kiai abilities, each samurai has unique talent, which can be used each round. Talents let you do things like put the next raider onto the bottom of the deck, pass certain value raider cards to a neighbour. Instead of choosing to Fight, each round, sometimes you may want to Support, which grants an ally access to your talent once their turn rolls around.

Raiders often have icons in their lower left, which are known as ‘battle penalties’ – basically the damage the raiders inflict to you and the village. Each turn, you apply the penalty in the lower left of the most recent card in your Combat Line. It might burn a barricade, prevent you supporting other samurai or let intruders sneak into the village (which also happens whenever you Support). Raiders, of course, can also wound you.

 

Wounds are really interesting in this game. You can handle 1 wound, but take a second one and your animal spirit is unleashed! You flip your board, which makes your kiai ability more powerful and increases your kiai number. Take another wound, and it’s fine. Take one more after that, and you die, the group loses morale and you all lose.

Sometimes, taking a wound is a good idea, to unleash your animal spirit and give you more wiggle room if you’re getting close to your kiai number and know there are lots of high cards coming out soon.

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Finally, this tiger has had more than he can handle.

After each round, any intruders that got past your samurai are flipped over. If they have flames in their lower right-hand corner they burn barricades (or farms, if the barricades are all gone). You win the game if you have at least one farm and family by the end.

But! Round 1 isn’t the end.

You play again, without healing wounds or caging your animal spirit. Instead, you add lieutenants (value-5 cards), shuffle the deck and go again. After that, you play a final round with the addition of value-6 boss cards, each of which has unique art and powerful battle penalties.

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Kikuchiyo’s filled up the left side, then encountered a boss. Luckily, he’s reached his kiai!

Samurai Spirit has a lot of gaming goodness packed into a box about half the size of most other modern board games. I only have two main criticisms with Samurai Spirit. One, I’ve mentioned: the lack of women, the ‘sorry if you feel that way’ non-excuse pseudo-apology in the manual.

The other criticism is a fairly significant rules oversight I’ll warn you about right now.

If you’re playing the 2-player variant, it’s very important you ensure you have enough family icons on the cards that form your raider deck. If there’s only one icon, the game is literally unwinnable (at least one of the three families will die each round). If there’s two, it’s very likely unwinnable.

I’d recommend checking your cards and ensuring you have more than 2 icons. 4 or more, perhaps? The game’s designer and updated rules PDF agree, but if the physical manual in the game box may not mention this critical, but easily-overlooked rule.

Samurai Spirit is a great game! For a relatively cheap price, the game packs a lot into a little box – basic mechanics are simple enough to grasp quickly, but the co-op powers make for interesting interaction and combos, the player count is great, and the three-round structure ratchets up the tension as the game progresses. It’s even short enough that, win or lose, if you’re anything like me you’ll be keen to dive right back into the fray!

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Posted in Board Games

Game-a-Day Fortnight 2015 – Day 6: Tokaido

Tokaido! A lovely Japanese-themed game so pretty I want to hang the board on my wall.

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You are travellers on Japan’s East Sea Road, trying to have the most culturally enrinching journey possible… while making sure no other travellers have a better trip than you!

Bathe in hot springs with monkeys, paint beautiful panoramas, meet samurai and other helpful folk. Collect souvenirs, donate to the temple, work the farm for coins, but don’t get to the inn last or only expensive meals will be left.

Tokaido is a little different each time thanks to lots of characters that give you different ways to approach the game. Suz was a painter tonight, able to paint extra panorama pieces while eating at the inn. I was a priest, giving me extra money to donate to the temple.

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One note from tonight: in the two-player version you both control a third dummy player which we found is basically used to block the other player. Not as good as actually having three or more players because the dummy doesn’t care what it gets from the spots it lands on, but real people will.

That said, it’s an easy and fun game for anywhere from 2-5 players, great for newcomers or experienced players. And again: so pretty! Just look at that box art!

Posted in Board Games

Game-a-Day Fortnight 2015 – Day 4: Tsuro

Tsuro is another great, fast game. It’s beautiful too, and sort of zen.

You play by placing tiles with paths to follow (anyone touching any of the paths must follow it), flying around and trying not to stray off the board (and lose) or crash into another dragon (both lose).

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At first, you just move a little way. Later, when tiles connect up, you’re zooming all over (and hopefully not off) the board. Whoever survives the longest, wins. You’ll always have a winner by the time the tile deck runs out.

I think it’s a better game with more people (can do 2-8 players), as you’re all passing by each other and it can get hectic. It’s a good game when you’ve got 15 minutes – though I find we’ll often want to play two or three times in one sitting 🙂