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Subject: Red Player One Reviews Joraku rss

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Curt Frantz
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The Game

Joraku is a trick-taking game that integrates area control mechanics. It's a combination I've never experienced, so I had to pick up a copy. Let's see how it plays.



The Board and Components

The board contains seven regions. They are numbered one through six, while Kyoto isn't assigned a number. Each region will score for control throughout the game.



Each player is given two daimyo tokens (one being for the score track) and 10 samurai cubes at the start of the game, and these will be placed on the board through card play that we'll see in a minute. When scoring, Daimyo count as two samurai.



Then, there's the deck of 21 skirmish cards. There are three suits, or colors, of cards (red, blue, and I'm going to call this yellow). In each color, there is a one, a two, a three, a four, a five, a six, and a ninja.



There are also six daimyo cards, which are used for setup, and the kachidoki card, which is used for scoring at the end of each trick.



The Gameplay

The game takes place over three rounds that are played identically. Each player will randomly draw one of the daimyo cards which indicates where their Daimyo token will start the game. In a four player game, each player is dealt five cards. Two of the five cards must then be passed to the player on their left. In some situations, you might want higher cards, and in other situations lower cards. Ninjas are usually pretty powerful, as I’ll explain.

Once cards have been passed, play will begin. The player with the highest daimyo card will play a card first. In this case. That player must then take an action before the next player chooses their card. For all non-ninja cards, there are two choices: The play can either add zero to three samurai cubes to the region of the board indicated by the card (one through six), or can gain action points equal to the number of the card. Action points can be used in a few ways. One action point can be used to move a samurai cube one space. Two action points can be spent to move a daimyo token one space. One action point can also be spent to remove an opponent's samurai in the region occupied by the player’s daimyo. These actions can be combined, up to the number of action granted by the played card. Higher cards are better if actions are needed. Early in the game, of course, it'll be important to just get cubes on the board, while it might be more important to start moving samurai later on. The ninja is special; it lets the player place zero to three samurai in any one or multiple regions of the board. A player could place three samurai in one region or one samurai in three different regions. It allows for a lot of flexibility, but the player must have samurai in reserve if they want to take advantage of their ninja.

The next player then has to play card. They must follow suit (or color) if possible. So if the player has a red card, they must play it. If they don't, they may play any card they want. They can then add samurai to the board or gain action points. This goes around the table until every player has played. The highest number played wins the trick. There's an exception to this though, a ninja will win any trick if a six has also been played. If a ninja is played without a six, it essentially counts as a zero. If six was the highest card in the trick, but two players played sixes, then the last player to play the six breaks the tie. What does winning a trick do? It means the winning player gains the kachidoki card and the region of their daimyo is scored according to the chart on the card. Remember, the Daimyo counts as two samurai when scoring. So, the player winning the trick doesn't necessarily score the most points. When it becomes clear which player may win a trick, other players will likely try to add cubes to that region to score some easy points.

Each round will consist of five tricks, and at the end of a round, each of the seven regions on the board is scored, according to these tables. What's interesting is that each regions scores differently over the course of the three rounds. Towards the beginning of the game, the points are heavily weighted towards the higher numbered regions and later in the game, there are many more points awarded for control of Kyoto and the lower numbered areas. Region six scores quite a few points during round one, but none for rounds two and three. Contrary to that, Kyoto doesn't score any in round one, but is worth 15 at the end of round three. There will be a migration, or march to Kyoto, as the game is played, since players will be chasing these higher point values.

Final Thoughts

Strengths

Six vs. ninja dynamic - You'd like to play your ninja when a six has been played, but that's not always possible. However, you know two of the cards in one of the players hands because you passed them those cards. So sometimes you can force them into following suit and playing a six to trigger your ninja. Three, two, and one points for kachidoki scoring at the end of each trick might not sound like a lot, but over the course of the three rounds, it really adds up. You'll be scoring this card after every trick, which is a total of 15 times.

Cube management - The managing of samurai cubes is also very strategic. If you place all 10 samurai as quickly as possible, you may be forced to use your 1s and 2s for action points, which is very inefficient. It often gets to the point that you're hoping other players remove your samurai so you can re-place them in more optimal regions. Sometimes you won't want to remove another player's cubes, because it will allow them this freedom.

Turn order/card sequencing - This is huge. If you're able to play last on the final trick of a round, you'll be able to manipulate the board to score the maximum amount of points without retaliation from the other players. There are certainly ways to sequence your hand to control when you'll be leading a trick or playing last. I find this part of the game very fun.

Length – This game packs some serious strategy for a 60 minute game! It doesn’t overstay its welcome; three rounds is the perfect length and the way the point allocation changes from round to round makes the final scoring very suspenseful.

Weaknesses

Each game will feel similar – What’s on the board will be very different from game to game, and the cards will obviously be varied, but the ‘march to Kyoto’ will be similar in each game (assuming the players understand the scoring). This is intended, but some players may feel like this makes for a very similar game each time it’s played.

Analysis paralysis – the spending of action points can sometimes take more time than it should (especially depending on the players). To find the most optimal play, you may have to stare at the board for a minute. In this sense, it feels very different than traditional trick taking games, because each trick will take 3-5 minutes due to the actions being taken.

Luck of the draw – This is not a huge concern of mine, but some might find it an issue. Obviously, you’ll be wanting certain numbers (or ninjas) at certain times and you may not get them. You will be passed cards that you’ll sometimes find helpful, but some rounds you won’t be too happy with the draw.


There's a lot more strategy in this game than I initially thought there would be. I really, really like this game. It was the novelty that drew me in, but I was rewarded with a very suspenseful and strategic game that plays in about an hour. I don't always enjoy area control games, because they're often very brutal, but in Joraku, having cubes removed from the board isn't always a bad thing, so it can be more forgiving. Everything is very situational. If you don't like trick taking games in general, or have trouble translating the card play mechanic into area control, and ultimately points, you might not enjoy it as much. A potential downside for some folks may be the replayability. Each game will play out similarly on the board, in terms of the migration to Kyoto, but you will have very different choices to make based on what cards you're dealt, so I tend to think that keeps it interesting. I'm very pleased to have this one in my collection, and would recommend it to players who think they would enjoy a relatively quick area control game.

How easy is the game to learn?

This game can be taught in 5 or 10 minutes, as there aren’t many rules to Joraku. The only hang up for some players is the fact that if the highest card in a trick was an off-suit card, it still wins. This is counterintuitive to most other trick taking games, so it can take a few tricks for some players to catch on to this.

Will it be easy to find players?

I haven’t mentioned this yet, but the box art is pretty fantastic. That’s what initially drew me into this game. All you’ll have to do is show some friends the box and explain the interesting trick-taking/area control mechanic to coerce them into playing.

Is the reward worth the time spent?

Absolutely. There’s a lot of strategy packed into about 60 minutes and it’s a very satisfying feeling to score higher than the other players. The card draw is the only luck in the game, leaving a lot of room for strategic play.

How much fun is defeat?*


This is a game where I don’t know I’ve lost until the game is over, due to the round-to-round variable scoring. I’ve seen players in dead last the entire game win Kyoto in the final round and win the game. The game is designed so that all players are usually within striking distance, which keeps things fun for everyone. It’s very difficult for the leader to run away with the game.


Overall Score:

*I think one of the best ways to evaluate a game is to consider how much fun it is to lose. The goal is to have fun whether I've won or lost!


If you enjoyed reading this review, feel free to check out my other game reviews HERE
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Karl Fast
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I would add that the 6 variant cards provide tremendous variability in strategy. You picked 2 of them at random, which means and additional 15 rule variants. These can dramatically change the game.

Even better, it does not introduce any complexity. The rule changes are so simple that you can easily us them with new players. For example, one rule says that ties are rounded up, instead of down. Another rule changes the scoring for each trick from 3-2-1 to 4-2-0.

Joraku is one of the best new games I've played in the last year.
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Curt Frantz
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karlfast wrote:
I would add that the 6 variant cards provide tremendous variability in strategy. You picked 2 of them at random, which means and additional 15 rule variants. These can dramatically change the game.

Even better, it does not introduce any complexity. The rule changes are so simple that you can easily us them with new players. For example, one rule says that ties are rounded up, instead of down. Another rule changes the scoring for each trick from 3-2-1 to 4-2-0.

Joraku is one of the best new games I've played in the last year.


You're absolutely right, the variant cards can make for very different games. My group hasn't played with them yet, as we don't think we'll like the changes some of them implement. The one you pointed out (4-2-0 rather than 3-2-1) seems like one of the more interesting. In general, we're worried that they might change the game such that's less balanced.

But we haven't used them yet, so I could be totally wrong

It's also one of my favorite games of the past year or so. I wasn't really expecting it to be so good; it was a very pleasant surprise.
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bort
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Great review! Coincidentally, I just played this again tonight. I'd played it once before (and enjoyed it), then hadnt gotten around to playing again.

I need to play more, its a fantastic game.
 
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