3-5 players, Competitive, Area Control, Negotiation
Designer: Eric M. Lang
Artwork: Adrian Smith
Overview of Gameplay
The game is played over a set of three seasons (rounds). You start in spring then head into summer and finally autumn. You end in winter where the land is settling down and you calculate all the final victory point totals to see who wins. During each season you go around the table and each player draws 1 of 4 tiles that represent certain actions that you and other players can take such as harvesting resources, buying a training card, recruiting your warriors, moving your troops around the board or even BETRAYING someone….more on that soon.
So as these tiles are selected they are laid down on the board in specific spots along this track and once you reach a certain point on the track other things happen such as collecting the benefits from worshipping certain Kami (if you place one of your Shinto minis there that is). There are 7 total spaces for these tiles so everyone around the table gets a chance to pick a tile and partake in the benefits during each season.
OH! And you can form alliances…..and commit the dreaded BETRAYALS!! So let’s discuss this a bit. At the beginning of each of the seasons you actively discuss with the other players on making alliances. You want to make an alliance if it benefits you in some way BUT you need to make sure that you reap more out of the deal than the other person in some way because there is just one winner and that’s YOU. So yeah be strategic. One of the tiles you can lay down is a betrayal tile which basically breaks your alliance immediately and allows you to replace any 2 troop minis on the board with 2 of your own. A very powerful ability, HOWEVER you also suffer a loss of Honor. Honor basically breaks all ties in this game and now I know what you’re thinking. “How many ties could there be in this game?!” Well let me tell ya it happens a lot more than you would expect. I was surprised at how many different aspects of the game were so evenly matched that they lead to ties. So honor is for sure something you want to have.
Once you get the 7 tiles laid down which basically end up consisting of moving your troops around the board to different lands and adding more troops and just generally strengthening your clan in one way or another, you then move on to the war phase. During the war phase you visit each land (which are assigned a random number at the beginning of each season) and if there are multiple troops on that particular land of different clans, they do battle. The battling is actually really innovative as well. You have a player screen that is up so the other players cannot see your decisions and you assign coins that you can accrue during the previous phase to specific spots on a war card you each have. Then reveal the cards at the same time and see how has won each specific type of battle based on who put the most coins on each spot if any. It’s basically wagering against the other player on the battle but here’s the interesting part….if you win the land from the battle you have to give the coins you wagered to the losers so even if you lose you still have some power in case you have to do battle again before that season ends. It’s a really interesting way to keep players in the game and not feel like a loss is like a TOTAL loss. The winner of course gets the victory point value for capturing that land. And Victory points are the key to winning.
That’s basically the meat of the game right there. But wait there’s more! There are monsters you can summon to do your bidding! During the tiles placement phase one of the particular tiles allows you to buy a card. And these cards do all sorts of things that help you like giving you more victory points at the end of the game or giving you more money to use at the start of the war phase and so on. The coolest ones though are the monster cards. The game comes with quite a few completely different monster minis that are actually quite a bit bigger than the regular troop minis. Not only that, but these are some of the best minis I have seen. VERY detailed and really cool looking and I’m just itching to paint them. Anyway, when you summon a monster you can immediately place it on one of your strongholds and these things all have different powers that do a wide range of stuff. Let’s just say it VERY advantageous to have one on your side. Once you collect the monster it stays with you the rest of the game. Even if killed it can be re-summoned back out later.
I already touched on the minis a bit above but they are fantastic. Awesome and unique sculpts galore with a wide variety of poses. The rest of the tokens and components are all of a high quality cardboard with some plastic pieces such as the money tokens. I have had the honor of also playing the kickstarter version of this game and have to say that the components in that version are far and away preferable. They are pretty much superior in every way however that version is pretty hard to come by now-a-days.
The game board is very colorful and huge. It’s clearly laid out where the tiles and cards will need to be placed and the lands are labeled clearly. It’s a very beautiful board, probably in my top 3 favorite boards just for the artwork.
Not a fan of CMON’s storage solutions. On one hand I do appreciate the blown plastic insert to securely hold the minis, on the other hand I do not appreciate the lack of thought given on how to hold literally everything else. The minis are stored in a couple smaller boxes that sit inside the main box and you have to basically bag up the rest of the components and stuff them wherever you can to make the lid close fully. I recommend stashing some of them inside the smaller boxes with the minis.
Visual Appeal /Theme
Visually this game is gorgeous. I mentioned the main board art already and it is just fantastic to look at from the colors to the little bits of art scattered about. Once you get the minis on the board along with some of the monsters the board really comes alive and is truly a sight to see. The theme is based around feudal Japanese lore which I find super interesting and a nice change of pace from your standard fantasy tropes you see so much of.
I had little trouble with the rulebook. CMON does a pretty decent job of explaining their games and this one is no exception. Of course there were a few things that I had to check whilst playing the first game such as how the negotiation works but for the most part it is a well written rules guide.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
The amount of table talk this game generates is legendary. I mean generally area control games will produce a good amount of player interaction anyway but for this game in particular it is increased. This is due largely in part because of the alliances players can form. You see at the beginning of each season players can freely talk to one another and join forces in pairs of two. This will give them as an alliance unique benefits during the tile selection phase for each player. Whereas a lone player would only benefit one time, joined players benefit twice. Here’s the thing though, only one person can win this game so you never really want to join with another player that is right up there with you on victory points….UNLESS you plan to betray them.
In any case this game has some incredible player interaction and generates a ton of table talk because of all the alliances and betrayals that can occur. As far as fun goes it does get rather repetitious unfortunately. Each turn you are taking the same actions over and over again with the only thing changing is the board state, albeit pretty slowly. Also I can say this game is much more fun at a lower player count primarily due to downtime between turns.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
This is a really tough one. I think minimum you should play is four BUT this sometimes creates a situation where the same groups of people form alliances which basically defeats the whole idea of using it to your own advantage. People just naturally want TWO benefits instead of one. Although playing with five does give an odd number so not everyone can ally, which I think is best, at this play count the downtime can be ugly as each player is choosing a tile and then taking time to select what they want to do. This can be especially brutal if choosing the buy action from the market as players will strain themselves trying to figure which of the many items from the market to buy. And at three players the board just doesn’t get filled up as much as I would like for an area control game. So I guess 4 players would be my pick with 5 players only if you are not playing with any AP prone players.
Replayability is pretty high as each different playable faction has a completely asymmetric ability associated with it. One of the players can fly their troops to any space on the board whereas another’s settlements also act as units. They are each interesting in their own way and will alter, to some degree, your playstyle. On top of that you will not see ALL the monsters in a single game or even all the available purchasable market items. The season decks are decently thick so you never really know what each season holds till it starts.
Positive Final Thoughts
This game is unique enough to keep in my area control collection. I really like the variations of the monsters and units and the large variety of market cards that change up things in the game to keep it fresh. On top of that it is just a gorgeous game to behold, they really outdid themselves with the art on the board.
Negative Final Thoughts
There are a few things I’m not personally a fan of however. Like I don’t really enjoy the battle system that’s setup with the bidding and deception, it just feels awkward to me even though it is interesting. The board state is very rarely as it seems, which I think is just the games design but there are so many things that can make a battlefield super complex super quickly. This is especially true during the last season when a number of players have bought market cards that enhance certain aspects of their units. Which of course is extremely hard to track at higher player counts. This almost makes the game more of a gamble when playing it as you never really know what a “good” move would be UNLESS you spend time keeping track of each players stuff…..which increases the down time. Again I will keep the game as I do think it’s super unique and I love the theme and artwork but I have other area control games that I would pick to play over this one.
I don’t personally own any of the expansions but I have played the game with six players with an extra clan from an expansion. Now speaking from a pure player count standpoint here I can say I would HIGHLY advise against playing with six players. The downtime is horrendous with six players and the board felt overly crowded with very little room to maneuver.