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Store:  Strategy Games
Edition:  Samurai
Series:  Samurai
Theme:  Oriental
Format:  Board Games, Placement / Tile-Laying Games


French edition

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Product Awards:  
Deutscher Spiele Preis
4th place, 1999

Ages Play Time Players
14+ 45 minutes 2-4

Designer(s): Reiner Knizia

Manufacturer(s): Hans im Gluck, Descartes

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Product Description

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.

Product Awards

Deutscher Spiele Preis
4th place, 1999

Product Information

  • Designer(s): Reiner Knizia

  • Manufacturer(s): Hans im Gluck, Descartes

  • Artist(s): Franz Vohwinkel

  • Year: 1998

  • Players: 2 - 4

  • Time: 45 minutes

  • Ages: 14 and up

  • Weight: 1,053 grams

  • Language Requirements: Game components are language-independent. An English translation of the rules is provided.


  • 39 figures:
    • 13 high helmets
    • 13 buddhas
    • 13 rice fields
  • 80 hexagonal tiles
  • 4 Japanese screens
  • 1 game board in 4 pieces

Product Reviews


Average Rating: 4.3 in 17 reviews

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A wonderful strategy game
April 01, 2004

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.

Great entry into strategy gaming
August 05, 2001

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!

by Fabri
Another Knizia little jewel
February 11, 2001

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.

An awsome board game, definitely worth the money
December 27, 2000

This game is really cool. I've played it a load of times and each time it gets more exciting than the last. You take turns laying down tiles and trying to collect Buddhas, rice fields or High Helmets. For the price, I believe that sharing thirty minutes with friends or family is definitely worth the price.

Fantastic, fun-filled tile-laying treat!
November 18, 2000

Having played this game only 3 times, it has impressed me as being a game of tremendous depth, with lots of exictement and just enough luck to make a neophyte have a good chance at winning among a group of experienced 'shoguns'. The scoring system is clever and for more than 2, hiding the captured tokens behind your screen makes the ending a real surprise. Everyone I played with has commented that they felt they had a good chance of winning right down to the very end.

Kudos to Reiner Knizia for another excellent game!

Please don't confuse this with other Samurai/Shogun games
April 20, 1999

From Battleline, Avalon Hill to Milton Bradley there have been many games on this theme. Throw the rest out! This one smells of the word classic. Few games make me glad to be involved in boardgaming as this. Playing this game involves skill, cunning, and plenty of fun. Some games are designed well, some very well. This game gives you the understanding of genius.

SAMURAI is intuitive, intriguing, and just plain fun!
December 17, 1998

SAMURAI is the latest in the tile trilogy (EUPHRATES & TIGRIS and DURCH DIE WUSTE being the other two) from designer Reiner Knizia. The production values on this game are outstanding, ranging from plexiglass figures to thick, easy to handle tiles. The rules are only 4 pages long, but that includes examples and end game conditions. We were literally playing the game 5 minutes after opening the box.

In SAMURAI, players place various tiles on the board to influence 3 different sets of figures: High Hats (nobles), Rice Paddies (food), and Buddhas (religion). Other tiles like boats, loyal samurai warriors, a figure switch token, and a tile switch token all add a degree of variability to the contest. When all land hexes around a figure are occupied with tiles, the player with the highest applicable influence captures the piece (in the case of a tie, the figure is set aside, and no one scores). When the game is over, a player must be high in one of the three categories (again, High Hats, Rice Paddies, and Buddhas) to qualify for the win (or if high in two categories, you get an automatic victory). Disregarding that unique majority of figures that they hold, each qualifying player then adds up the total remaining figures from the other two categories, and a winner is determined. Like in E & T, these conditions may cause initial confusion among some players, but after a few games, it is no problem at all.

Another strong feature of SAMURAI is that it plays just as well with 3 players (and can also accommodate only 2) as it does with 4 participants; simply remove one of the four interlocking pieces of the map, and reduce the number of figures, and you're ready to go. Gameplay is fast (usually under an hour) and smooth. And since figure setup and tile selection are different for each game, replayability is another strong point for this title.

SAMURAI is a synthesis of elements from Knizia's other published efforts. It offers tremendous gameplay, and challenges the players with a plethora of decision making opportunities in such a compact and neat design.

SAMURAI has vaulted to the top of my favorite games play list, and not simply because it is just one the newest titles available. The design is elegant and easily accessible, and the pure fun factor is extremely high. I'm hesitant to rate any game as 5 Stars, but SAMURAI is about as close as you can get.

Kudos to Mr. Knizia and Hans Im Gluck Games for this excellent product.

by Emory
Nice. Fun. Pretty.
March 22, 2004

This is a fun and relatively straightfoward game. My 5-year-old has beat me at it on more than one occasion, so the basic mechanics of it are not hard to master.

The little figurines are nice and made of lacquered wood, I think. I'd even say that the theme is much more than pasted on...the rules and pieces do capture some of the basic notions of fuedal fidelity, albeit in an abstract way.

Enjoyable, and not too deep.

by Fred
Nice Intro into Gaming, esp in Mixed Crowd
May 17, 2001

I like this game. It's not rocket science, but it is fun and pleasant. Most reviews cover its pros and cons well, EXCEPT they fail to mention that (a) it's really good for introducing kids into gaming (and off the TV set), and (b) it plays very well in mixed company (how many girls do you know who'd slog through Axis & Allies or Tigris and Euphrates?) A real crowd pleaser, it has the additional advantage that you can play a decent game pretty much minutes after opening the box. Nothing wrong with that!

Zen and the art of game design
March 20, 2001

I have no idea how I went so long without writing a review of this Knizia classic. While not one of his masterpieces, a la Euphrat & Tigris, Medici, or Taj Mahal, it still stands tall in the good doctor's canon of work.

Gameplay is simplicity itself. Play one (or sometimes more) tiles from behind your screen, exerting influence on the three factions represented on the board. The object is to be strongly supported by one of the factions, while still maintaining enough influence with the remaining factions. There is very little luck to the game since each player has an identical set of tiles, although each player picks his new tiles randomly from this set.

The components are top-notch. The board, while a bit drab, is attractively laid out. The tiles are refreshingly thick and the pieces representing the three factions are beautiful. The only downside is the set of player screens, which do not want to stand on their own. One small flaw in the presentation is the pseudo-Japanese font used on the tiles. Some people complain that the '1' tiles look too much like it should be a '7.'

Samurai lacks the sweep and grandeur of Euphrat & Tigris. It lacks the funkiness and easy accessability of Durch die Wuste. What it does bring to Dr. Knizia's tile-laying trilogy is a quiet charm all its own. Understated, elegant, subtle. This is a game for the thinkers of the world. Highly recommended.

This pithy puzzler may not be for everyone
March 24, 2000

I've owned this one over a year now, and it pushes the envelope of my abstract boardgame barrier. However, I've never NOT enjoyed a game I've played, and the mechanism is really a bit of mathematical genius. The combination of tiles of different strengths paired with the exact number of spaces (meaning you use almost every tile, every game) really forces you to think about what goes where. Of course, only having three face-up to choose from at one time limits this. This is classic Knizia game design here: He gives you a large number of options which make the game seem to be easily won, but then limits the number and manner in which those options may be chosen. This is almost the cosmic law of the universe in way, and it doesn't surprise me that a mathemetician has captured it to some degree. So many opportunities, but with each one chosen, the rest are altered by your choosing that one. And as in real life, the consequences of your previous actions are with you for the rest of your life--I mean, game... yeah, it's just a game. OK.

Unlike real life, there are tiles which allow you to go outside the boundaries of the cosmos. One tile allows you to retrieve one of your previously-placed tiles once per game, and put it somewhere more to your advantage. Similarly, the other 'special' tile allows you to switch two of the aesthetically-pleasing plexiglass figures. These two tiles; and when and how how they are used, can make you the Shogun, or just another pissant warlorld kicking himself for not moving that one rice bale. Make no mistake: this one is for thinkers, deducers, contemplators, GAMERS. It forced me to grow as a gamer, which I came to appreciate. I wouldn't introduce Aunt Betty to the wonderful world of German gaming by pulling out Samurai. But if you and a couple of gamers can enjoy the quiet, zenlike warfare of chess, and aspire to Bushido, the warrior's path, Samurai can feed the need.

The cutting edge of abstract strategy
July 14, 1999

The first Reiner Knizia game I bought was Euphrat & Tigris. Samurai was the second, mainly purchased because I liked the author's other game so much. I was not disappointed.

As usual, the game is beautiful. The pieces that make up Japan slot together perfectly into a long board. The three figures - high helmets, Buddhas and rice fields - are adorable and easily differentiated.

Since most of the influence tiles can only be laid down one at a time and only affect one type of figure, having the high-value tiles isn't always a great advantage, especially if someone unexpectedly switches the kind of figure you were trying to take with something else.

The scoring at the end of the game is quite complex and I still need the rules to figure it out. As a result of the scoring, a player who is clearly behind in collecting figures can still win the game. A novel twist.

(Only later did I find out that Samurai and Euphrat & Tigris were not typical of Reiner Knizia's games. That only came as a pleasant surprise some time later when I discovered games like Money!.)

Challenging but easy to learn
February 04, 1999

Samurai was easy to learn compared to Euphrat and Tigris but still presented some strategic challenges. The goal of the game is to collect the most of 2 types of 3 token types (hats, buddas and rice paddies). These tokens are obtained by surrounding them by your 'armies' (chips with strengths from 1-4 which can be placed next to certain tokens and 'wild card' chips which can be used anywhere). When completely surrounded, the token is obtained by the player with the most 'armies' adjacent to it, or if there is a tie the token is removed from the game.

The game is visually appealing. It plays well with 2 players but is more challenging with more.

Knizia has another winner with Samurai
January 11, 1999

Our game group eagerly awaited the arrival of Renier Knizia's third game of a tile laying trilogy (Durch Die Wuste and Euphrat & Tigris being the other two) and we were not disappointed. This game plays well for 2, 3, or 4 players due to the adjustibility of the map which allows you to add or subtract islands as needed.

The English rules in the Rio Grande Version are clear and easy to understand. We reviewed them and were up an playing in a matter of 5-10 minutes. The game plays fairly quickly and has a number of levels of strategy going on. You always seem to want to do more on your turn as your attention is captured multiple areas of the board and the need to keep track of who has the largest number of each piece as well as the total of all other pieces. This is a great mechanism for keeping the game close until the very end.

The production value of the game is fantastic with the playing pieces being extremely attractive. My one gripe with the game is the the theme is very weak. If not for the map of Japan, the link to the theme would be nonexistent making this game extremely abstract. Fortunately the gameplay makes up for the thin veneer of a theme (hence only 4 out of 5 stars)

Overall I would say the game has very high replay value and is a must have. It is simple enough that it is good for family and friends outside of the gaming group too. I would rank Samurai above Durch Die Wuste and below Euphrat & Tigris. There is a little more depth than the former, but much less than the latter.

by Dr Jay
Samurai works well as a strategy game.
December 16, 1998

One of my friends commented that Samurai is the weakest of the manufacturer's three major tile games. I do not agree with that review. Samurai was described by one member of our foursome as 'complex.' I found the game absorbing and constantly changing positions.

Our English rules took about 30 minutes to digest. We particularly had to get used to the winner being the one with largest number of Buddhas, helmets, or rice fields, along with the largest number in the two other categories. Therefore, I found myself mentally counting who had the most rice fields or Buddhas during the game.

I liked the idea of choosing five tiles to begin the game as well as everyone somewhat randomly placing all the helmets, Buddhas, and rice fields in the cities and villages. Naturally, players tended to place adjoining helmets or rice fields to help their locations later on. A tendency existed in my case to choose 3 or 4 level samurais and ships to execute quick moves to grab helmets, Buddhas, or rice fields. That worked fine at the beginning of the game, but some players held back their 4 level Samurai to grab territory at the end. You have to determine what strategy you like.

One of our players concentrated on capturing the city of Edo and outwitted his opponents who were too busy with their own captures. I certainly liked the extra tile of transferring the helmets, Buddhas, or rice to different locations late in the game. The other one of these extra tiles allowed you, for example, to pick up a played Samurai 4 and transfer that same tile to another place on the board. Both of these actions, I found, late in the game enhanced the playability of Samurai.

All in all, Samurai proved calculating and confounding. You never knew next what was going to happen with your opponents. The game ended in a tie for first place, which indicates the balanced quality of the game. The players ended up with 11, 10, 9, and 7 pieces respectively. Again, that kind of ending shows balance. The interaction with four players works particularly well. I would play the game again.

Not one of Reiner's strongest
January 08, 2001

This game is my least favorite of Reiner's 'tile-laying series'. Euphrat & Tigris is one of my favorite games of all times, and I like Through the Desert despite its completely luckless, abstract nature.

But I can only give Samurai 3 stars. After playing 10+ times, I tend to feel that the game boils down to an exercise of "don't give the following player a chance to take a piece". The game feels very defensive to me, as you can't really play a long-term strategic game. In this way, it almost feels like Knizia's Battle Line, where the strategy is to play "as ambiguously as possible" and not commit to any piece in particular. Defensive games are not my cup of tea. There are about 4-5 'tricks' you pick up in the first few games. These are exciting at first, but then after you've seen them all, the game slows down to the same old defensive game. In this way, one really poor player can really upset the game as the following player will take advantage of their mistakes to win the game.

Investment in time not equal to the pleasure derived!
July 28, 1999

Samurai was a good game, but played too long. The game pieces are excellent! The board represents a map of Japan. The object is to capture the most tokens. The catch is you not only must have the most, but if you tie with another player, you do not win.

The Player with the second most tokens wins.

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