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For centuries, Samurai have represented unfailing courage, imperturbable loyalty and internal harmony. There are three Samurai forces: peasants, clergy and nobility. The way to power leads through these three: peasants, represented by rice fields, clergy, represented by Buddhas and nobility, represented by high helmets. To become a Samurai, one has to be supported by one of these forces and have strong connections to the other two. Each player has an identical force and they deploy their forces to the spaces around the power figures. When a figure is surrounded, it is captured by the player with the strongest sympathetic force. To win, a player must gain dominance in one of the powers while getting better support from the other powers than the other players.
Stuart Dagger's excellent review details the nuances of Samurai, and I concur with them.
This is a great tile-laying game for both families and serious strategy gamers. Like Knizia's Through The Desert, it is ideal for introducing newcomers to the genre, because the rules are very straight-forward, and the game components are first-class. But pay close attention to the scoring rules when you devise and execute a strategy, for like yet another Knizia classic -- Tigris & Euphrates --- balance is key, and too much focus on one type of icon can take you out of running.
There's lots of value in this game. I'm glad to see that Rio Grande Games has re-released it, and I strongly recommend it for new and veteran strategy gamers alike.
I love this game--while [page scan/se=0874/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Tigris & Euphrates is a 'better' pure strategy game, Samurai is much easier for the new player to grasp, and the challenge is nearly as deep.
There's certainly an element of chance to the tiles (and with your competitors) that can give this game the same type of feel as the card game Hearts. (If you like the 'stick it to them' feel of Hearts, you'd love some of the play in Samurai.) That element of chance, combined with the random game set-up, makes this a new game every time I play it.
Give this one a spin--I can't believe it's rated so low!
First of all, a premise. I played Samurai various times in the version between 2 players and I can't find an evening with 4 persons to play at this little jewel. So I cannot review this game in the 4 players version. I can only try to imagine how beautiful it can be.
In my opinion, this is a great tiles game (less complicated than Euphrat & Tigris, by the same author), easy to comprehend, easy to play but with some strategic passages that every player learns game after game. I don't spend much time and words about the way of playing (briefly, you have to surround figures with tiles, and the one who has the greatest value on the figure, catch it). Instead, I definitely recommend this game for its capability to entertain the occasional gamer as the strategic player, that can surely appreciate the chance to calculate the remaining tiles of the adversary (because every player's tiles and every captured figure are hidden by a screen). Maybe the most important tiles are the ones which permit to change two figures between them, enabling your competitors to take the one they've planned, and the one which permits you to replay a yet positioned tile on the table. Even the way to calculate the winner of the play is typical of Knizia's mind. You don't have to accumulate many tiles of all forms, because the winner is the one who has the majority of a figure. To solve the eventual draw between majorities, the winner will be the one with the most figures except the ones of the majority he owns. I suppose the 3-4 player version will be also more interesting.
Finally, a good entertainment that hasn't hard weaknesses.
It starts placidly: Players place, one by one, the three types of figurines they need to collect to win, in the towns and cities of the Japanese islands. The battle for them is waged by laying tiles that exert their numerical influence on any adjacent prize space, and the highest values gain the awards when a city is completely surrounded. Very soon, intense local battles rage all over Japan. Two special tiles grant privileges and can dramatically change fortunes in the endgame. The first to capture a majority of two or three groups of figurines is the outright victor. Operating in a foreign environment with unfamiliar rules can be confusing as well as exhilarating. The almost inscrutable secondary methods for determining the winner might even bewilder an inexperienced victor. Don't you like surprise endings?
When we learned a couple of years ago that Reiner was working on a "gamer's game", I, like many another, got very excited. He is so prolific and targets so many different markets that it would be unreasonable to expect me or anybody else to like all his games, but when he is in this mode, there are very few who can stand alongside him and none who can pack so much play into a relatively short space of time. The game, Euphrat & Tigris, appeared last Essen and has been gathering plaudits and prizes ever since. Then we learn't that there were more in the pipe line and life took on a very rosy glow. Durch die Wüste made its debut at Nuremberg, now we have Samurai and it is clear that the three of them form a set. All three are tile laying games -- OK, in DdW the tiles look like camels, but they are tiles really -- and in all cases the object is to place them in such a way as to score points and to capture things. It is not a similarity that you can push too far, because one of the characteristics of Reiner's work is that he doesn't recycle his ideas to anything like the extent that other prolific designers do, but there is a common thread of inspiration, even though there is no overlap in the actual mechanics.
The setting this time is Japan and the aim is to collect three types of objects -- pointy things, round things and square things. Apparently these represent high helmets, Buddhas and rice fields, but, attractive though the pieces are, if you hadn't told me what they were I wouldn't have guessed and in my circle the square ones were immediately rechristened Mintolas, with big Ian receiving his usual instruction that he was not to eat them. The board comes as a four piece jigsaw showing the four main islands of Japan, together with surrounding coastal waters. On the islands are the capital (Edo), three major cities (Kyoto, Sapporo and Akita) and an assortment of villages. The helmets, Buddhas and rice fields are placed in these settlements in the opening phase of the game and after that it is a matter of capturing them by placing tiles so as to surround them.
The tiles come in three main types, each showing a symbol and a number. Type one shows one of the three types of object, type two a samurai and type three a ship. Each player also has a couple of "switch tiles", which are of tactical importance in the play, but which needn't concern us here. The concept underlying the capture of the various objects is that of "influence". As soon as all the land hexes adjacent to an object are occupied by tiles, the object is captured by the player with most influence over it. Tiles of type one only influence the object shown on them; the samurai and the ships influence all three objects. As an example, let us suppose that Akita contains a helmet and a Buddha, that the four land hexes adjacent to it are occupied by a "3 helmet" and a "2 samurai" from you and by two "1 samurai" from me and that I also have a "1 ship" in an adjacent sea hex. You take the helmet by 5 points to 3 and I take the Buddha by 3 points to 2.
The game begins with each player selecting 5 of their 20 tiles to form their initial hand. This is done in secret and the tiles chosen are placed behind your screen. The remaining 15 tiles are mixed face down to form a pool from which you will draw replacements as the game proceeds. Next, players take it in turn to place objects on the board. There are 13 of each type, three go into Edo, two into each of the major cities and one into each village. The only restriction is that a city cannot contain two objects of the same type. This phase, the choice of tiles and the placement of objects, is where you have an opportunity to set up some sort of strategic plan and then to try and produce a board that will suit it. Thereafter it is a matter of taking it in turn to place a tile and draw a replacement, though the switch tiles referred to earlier and the fact that some tiles can be placed in addition to your normal placement add tactical spice and stop this becoming too much a matter of simple counting.
The normal ending of the game (though as in DdW there is an alternative) comes when the last object of one of the types is captured. Players then lift their screens and everybody reveals how many objects of each type they have collected and now (shades of E&T) we have another Reiner special. If one player has the most figures of two or three types, they win. If, as is likely in a four player game, nobody has managed this, then each player who has the most of one type becomes a contender for victory. In all this talk of "most" it has to be a clear lead that you have; tied first places don't qualify. Contenders now set to one side the objects that got them past this first hurdle and count how many objects they have of the other two types combined. It is this second number that determines the victor. This means that to win you have to walk a very narrow line, concentrating enough on one type to establish yourself as a contender (not easy with four players, only three types and only 13 of each type) but not so much that you don't have enough of the others and end up failing at stage two.
So much for the plot, how does Samurai measure up to the two earlier games and does it have a genuine Japanese feel to it? The first of these is the more important, but the second is also worth asking, partly because some of you find your level of enjoyment enhanced when there is a proper marriage of game and theme and partly because the rule book itself expresses the hope that it is something the game has.
The game, like the two earlier ones, is a well crafted, multi-player abstract. With a lot of games that are published, you have the feeling that there were aspects that the designer could have done better. I never feel that with Reiner's games. You may like the concepts in them or you may not, but it is always the case that the presentation of the ideas is as accomplished as it can be made. That is again the case here. This is one very polished game and there is a lot packed into it. Not everybody is going to like it, because some will find it too dry and abstract and some won't like the fact that you have to concentrate and count if you are to entertain any hope of winning. It is not a game where you can be successful with a "flying by the seat of your pants" approach. Others will like it because it is interesting, very skillful and because it calls for concentration and thought. You need to know your own taste and make the call accordingly. If you liked both the other two, and particularly if you liked Durch die Wüste, Samurai is a must purchase; if you are averse to the abstract and the cerebral, you are probably better giving it a miss.
As for the second and lesser of my two questions, for me the answer is "no". The shape of Japan makes it a very good choice for the game and the graphics and components do an excellent job of capturing a Japanese feel. Hans im Glück were giving Franz Vohwinkel almost equal billing with Reiner in the pre-Essen publicity and he deserves it. But the game itself doesn't feel at all Japanese to me. The archetypal Japanese game is Go. (Chinese in origin I know, but the Japanese took it over and made it their own a long time ago.). In that, the idea that the Japanese understand better than anybody -- the influence on the space between of groups of relatively distant objects -- comes through as strongly as it does with their gardens. (And the Japanese are like the British in that if you want to understand them, you should begin by looking at their gardens.) There is none of that here. In Samurai there are no long range influences; everything is short range and about counting and watching. That it is not to belittle the game, simply to say that it doesn't feel Japanese. I'm also not convinced that you could have a 45 minute game that does; they may rush around a lot in their day to day lives, but their art is leisurely and contemplative. The insistence on speed and getting things over quickly is a Western thing. Kurosawa's masterpiece Seven Samurai runs for 200 minutes in its original version; when it was released in the West it was cut down to 140 and the remake as the Magnificent Seven came down even further to a few minutes over two hours. Same story in all three cases; the difference is how quickly do you want to tell it.