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The year is 1508 AD. The Onin Wars have been over for 31 years and the Japanese era of civil war has begun. Hosokawa Matsumoto, the Kanrei or vice-Shogun, has just been assassinated and the region is becoming unstable without its primary leader. Who will take his place and bring leadership to the people? Matsumoto's adopted sons, Takakuni and Sumimoto, both have scrolls declaring they are the heirs to their fathers title of Kanrei. The brothers charge to the battlefield fighting for their father's title and for control of the region. Which brother will destroy the others scroll and become the next Kanrei?
In Senjutsu, two players recreate feudal Japanese Samurai warfare in a unique clan vs. clan battle of customizable warriors. Strategy and replayability are found through various weapons, armory, and tactics cards available to modify and diversify warrior abilities
This is one of the games launched at Gencon in America. It comes from a new company - Salvador games - and feels like a cross between Stratego and chess, but fortunately isn't called Stratechess. The setting is oriental, and the combatants are warriors. While Senjutsu clearly belongs to the Stratego family, it has several facets that elevate it to a higher plane.
The first thing you notice about this game is the pieces. There are two types of warrior - Samurai and foot soldiers, distinguished by the shape of their helms. Each warrior is equipped with 4 high quality plastic octagonal elements, and these slot on top of each other, like a miniature set of plates. The moulded heads fit on top of the equipment. While the shapes are distinctive, I found these slightly confusing and a different colour would have made them clearer. The weapon type is shown on one side of the plastic, so only you know how each fighter is equipped.
Each piece of equipment determines what type of fighter they become. Weapons are close range (same square), mid range (1 square) or long range (2 squares). The board is a 14 by 9 grid with centre of the board blocked by a 2 by 2 zone. Four other areas on the board provide defensive cover in the form of trees, but allow movement through them.
The initial set up determines how you mix the array of weapons and shields. So a warrior with 2 polearms (range 2, and hit orthogonally) and 2 bows (like polearms but also hit on a diagonal), will not relish an encounter at close quarters with a swordsman. Each warrior without a shield will be killed immediately, so you tend to include a shield with the warriors who are placed in the front rows of your set-up area. This blending of weapon types distinguishes Senjutsu from Stratego and the appearance of the troops looks good on the eye.
Any undefended hit on a warrior is an automatic kill, but the second really good thing in Senjutsu is that remaining weapons and shields are left stacked on the ground. These remain facing the owner, but can be picked up by any fighter and added to their stack, when they are re-faced to the owner of the fighter who claimed them.
When fighting takes place, the attacker discards the used weapon (out of the game) and the defender dies if there was no defence available - usually a shield, which is then also discarded. So the ideal attacking ploy is to charge in, kill an opponent's fighter, survive the inevitable revenge attack, then pick up weapons from dead opponents.
Of course it doesn't happen like that very often. A more frequently seen scenario is that a group of warriors are moved into position slowly to make it seem that they may impose themselves on that area of the board. Bluff and counter bluff are elements within the game as you manipulate your pieces around the board. The loss of the warrior who carries the crown loses you the game.
Like Stratego, Senjutsu emphasizes attacking and the Samurai pieces can move 2 squares unlike the foot soldiers that are restricted to one. So will you place the crown under a Samurai, as this allows more options? Probably, but then you could bluff your opponent.
The final twist away from Stratego brings Senjutsu closer to Lord of the Rings - the Confrontation. Rule breaking cards are earned from the death of opponent's Samurai troops. These may allow you the flexibility to move across the board in one move, or provide your shields with added resilience, so you do not surrender a shield when hit. While the number of cards is low (only 12 per player, they add an element of uncertainty that spices up an already good game.
Senjutsu is an advance on Stratego, and offers a range of tactical opportunities. It lacks the elegance of Lord of the Rings - the Confrontation, but if you like either of these games, you'll appreciate the differences in Senjutsu. This is one of the most enjoyable 2 player games that I have played this year.