Seven Card Samurai
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Set in feudal Japan during the era of the Samurai - a time where bandits roam the countryside stealing the precious rice from villages - success in Seven Card Samurai depends on skill, strategy, and planning. Defend your rice with Samurai and Ronin, use bandits and Ninjas to steal other villagesÕ rice and eliminate their Samurai, and plead with the local Shogun to conscript help for you. But be warned, for the other villages are doing the exact same thing.
Hey all, this is my first game review, and looks like the first review for this game so far. I picked up Seven Card Samurai in a Barnes and Noble. I’m a fan of Akira Kurosawa and the game of Go, so any game with a feudal Japan theme is likely to appeal to me. Hence, on the strength of theme appeal, I pretty much immediately had to own this game.
You and your rivals are leaders of Japanese villages. Your aim is to collect as much rice as possible by stealing it from your fellows, while protecting your own stockpile with all the samurai and ronin you can bring to your aid. Ultimately, you want to put together a team of seven samurai to guard your village from thieving bandits. It’s like The Magnificent Seven, but with samurai instead of cowboys.
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a sucker for nice-looking components. I love my bamboo goban with yunzi stones for Go. I love my glass crystal chess set. I love that my Diplomacy set came with metal figurines. I love the die from Cthulhu Dice (even if the game kind of sucks). Hell, I bought a leather pouch so I could have something nice to carry my D&D dice in.
So let me be clear, the game is quite aesthetically pleasing, and Mike and his team really went the extra mile with providing a nice toy to play with. The box has a fairly minimalist decoration scheme: white, the name of the game, some Japanese characters, and a brushstroke. Inside, you’ll find a rulebook, a score pad, a deck of large, glossy cards a cloth drawstring bag with plastic counters (at least I think they’re plastic). I particularly appreciate the counters. It would have been easy enough to pack the game with 80 punch-out counters made of cardboard, but the plastic ones look and feel nicer. It's a bit of extra-mile treatment for players and I'm definitely grateful.
The card artwork is nice, but I would have liked to see something more along the lines of authentic Edo period depictions of samurai. The ronin card, in particular, strikes me as an egregious offender, reminding me more of some figure from a new-agey tarot deck than the clever Sanjuro of Kurosawa fame. I’ll concede though that this is really a quibble more than a real objection to the game, which - as you’ll see - I quite like.
I should note, however, two small issues with the set I purchased: one of the cards (a green samurai) was unboxed with a small tear on a corner, another (a red samurai) was somewhat discolored so as to appear orange. To be fair to Mike Richie and MindTwisterUSA, I haven’t yet bugged anyone over it. Frankly, the issues are minor and can be lived with, and it’s perfectly possible that these issues were particular to my box and no other. As I said, I really like the game and I think you should too.
To accumulate the most points over a series of rounds (the instructions recommend five rounds per game and includes a scorepad).
Each round lasts until a player can “go out”. Players go out by having a set of seven samurai. When a player goes out, points are counted, with that player receiving a bonus of 7-20 points.
There are only five kinds of cards in the game. Three are one-time-use cards, you play them to the discard pile and they take effect. These are the bandits (who steal rice for you), ninjas (who can dismiss opponents’ cards), and the shogun (who can let you steal cards from an opponent’s hand or take a card from anywhere in the discard pile). Combining one-time cards together allows you to get a little extra bang for your buck: double-bandits combine their strength to steal more rice at a time, bandits-ninja lets you skirt enemy defenses, and shogun-ninja lets you see an opponent’s hand, steal one card from it and discard another.
Samurai and ronin are used to defend your rice. Unlike the one-time-use cards, samurai and ronin remain on the field when played; you leave them face up, and you may only have as many as seven on the field at a time. Ronin are better defenders, three times as effective as samurai, but less valuable when going out (more on that a bit later).
48 Samurai (12 of each color: red, blue, green, and yellow)
10 Bandits (3 Bandits-3, 3 Bandits-4, 2 Bandits-5, and 2 Bandits-6)
Rules of play:
Players start each round with five cards and ten rice counters. Play begins to the dealer’s left and rotates every round.
Each turn, players make two draws and two plays. You may draw from the deck, take a samurai card off the top of the discard pile, or pick up one of the samurai or ronin you’ve deployed to defend your rice. Then you may play two cards. Play one-time cards by discarding them, or play samurai or ronin by deploying them, face up, in front of you. You may only have seven cards deployed at any time. You may also discard a card from your hand in lieu of playing a card if you don’t have any plays you wish to make.
Hand sizes are fluid; there are neither minimums nor maximums imposed on how many cards you may have in your hand in a turn. Thus, if you keep playing shogun cards, you can increase the size of your hand throughout the game. If you keep getting hit with ninja cards (or the shogun-ninja combo) you can find your options swiftly reduced to the two cards you pull from the deck each turn.
Rounds will end when a player goes out. To go out, the player must be able to make a set of seven samurai of no more than two colors from with the cards they have both deployed and in their hand. At any time during their turn, the player may add the samurai cards in their hand to those already deployed, as long as they do not exceed the seven card limit, to go out. So, for example, a player may have two green samurai and one yellow samurai deployed, with four yellow samurai in his hand. That player can end the round by showing his hand to make a set of five yellow and two green samurai, even though he would not otherwise be able to play more than two cards per turn. However, if that player had two green, one yellow, and one blue samurai deployed, he would not be able to go out on that turn. The blue samurai takes up one of the seven spots he needs to use to make his set. Ronin count as wild cards.
Once a player goes out, the round ends. All players receive points equal to the number of rice counters they possess. The player going out also receives bonus points based on the set of samurai used:
7 samurai of the same color – 20 points
6 samurai of one color and 1 samurai of another – 15 points
5 and 2 – 12 points
4 and 3 – 10 points
Any combination with ronin – 7 points
It’s pretty easy to make the low-scoring hands, so if you want to sweep out of the game with 20 points, you’ll have your work cut out for you keeping other players from going out first.
Once the points are tallied, reshuffle and start again with five cards and ten rice counters to each player. Repeat until you have played for five rounds.
Seven Card Samurai reminds me of Bang!, not so much in terms of exact gameplay, but in terms of being a game that’s both light enough for casual gamers while still remaining interesting for those who fancy themselves a bit more hardcore. The lack of player eliminations is nice too, so nobody has to be excluded from the fun.
From the relatively simple elements of the game – five types of cards, fairly simple rules – emerge a surprising amount of choice (reminds me of Go in this respect). Should you play for a high-scoring set of samurai or for rice counters? Should you place ronin down to defend more of your rice, even if it means you’ll have to pick them back up or accept fewer points when you want to go out? Can you afford to spend both of your plays this turn on a combo of cards, or should you lay down some defense and just settle for a stealing a few counters? What if you’ve been constantly raided by bandits and now you’re down to a mere three counters: is it better to hold out for 7 samurai of the same color, or should you cut your losses and make a seven-point set to end the round,? Are you looking to keep an even score across rounds, or play risky to win big in a few? And who should your bandits attack, the well-defended leader or that defenseless village with plenty of rice for you?
The game is okay with two players. It really shines with 4-6 players, so make it a social event. With 8 players, you may find yourself frequently reshuffling if everyone decides they want to hold out for a better hand to go out on, with one-shot cards eventually dominating the deck. That may have just been my friends however.
I strongly recommend Seven Card Samurai. It’s got a fun theme, nice components, and a solid game design underlying it. Frankly, I was quite surprised. I expected any game I bought at a Barnes and Noble to be sort of a cheap attempt to sell toys to bored children stuck at the store with their parents. I was delighted to be disabused of this notion. Quite frankly, I’m uncertain why you haven’t gotten it yet.