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In Edo, players secretly select actions in order to send their samurai out to gather resources and build houses across Japan.
COMPONENTS IN BRIEF
Two-sided board for different player counts; many wooden pieces of good quality for resource-meeples, samurai, and houses; cardboard chits for money and merchant tiles; large cardboard order tiles and a cardboard rack into which to place them, handy cardboard player aids.
GAMEPLAY IN BRIEF
Each player starts with 3 rice, 20 ryo, 5 samurai, 3 order tiles (with 4 orders each), and a house on the board which will award some bonus resources/money.
At the beginning of each turn, players must choose 3 of their order tiles and place them in their order rack rotated to select a first, second, and third action. Players must then secretly place their samurai behind each order tile to determine how many times each order is carried out (some orders have caps or require multiple samurai).
Once all players have chosen orders, in turn each player reveals and resolves their first action, then second action, then third action. Actions include:
*Collect money from bank
*Buy new order card (new cards have only 2 options each, but can be stronger or allow doubling down on an action)
*Place Samurai on board (your samurai used for this action move onto the board, but while on board cannot be used to activate new orders). Once on board, samurai may be moved as part of an action for 1 ryo per space.
*Gather stone/wood/rice (requires samurai on resource space, collections reduced by number of other samurai on that space)
*Build(requires samurai in city, costs resources/money, provides points/income)
*Visit Merchant (requires samurai on merchant space; buy/sell resources and/or exchange for victory point)
*Acquire officials (Can be used to activate orders like samurai, but may never go onto board)
At end of turn, rice must be paid to keep samurai on board, otherwise they return to hand. Income is awarded for city majorities. If someone has 12 points, the game ends and highest score wins. If not, a new merchant tile is revealed, and a new turn begins.
*A wealth of options. You are not only choosing 3 of 12 orders at the beginning of the game, but also in which order to fire them, and how many samurai to assign to each. The number of options only grows if you buy more order cards over the course of the game, and it's enjoyable (if occasionally overwhelming) to have so many options arrayed before you. And yet...
*Surprisingly accessible and fast. In spite of the vast panoply of options, understanding the rules of the game is relatively straightforward. You gather your resources and use them to build stuff, which is simple enough for anyone to understand. Some of the minutia and iconography may take some reminders during the first game, but that notwithstanding this is a game that isn't too bad to teach, and plays at a pretty good clip. Your first game will be over before you know it.
*Scrapping for resource squares. When you gather resources from the board, the number of resources you receive is inversely proportional to the number of samurai at that space. If you are alone on a space, you may receive 3 wood with a single samurai. Each other samurai present reduces your take by one, meaning if there are 4 samurai on a space, it produces nothing. The result of this is a lot of tactical jockeying with the resource spaces, both in terms of where to go as well as trying to guess when in the turn other players will be on the same space you want to be on. The fact that movement is a free action means you can at least use the alternate resource spot as a backup plan, but you may already be relying on multiple spaces if you are gathering with more than one samurai, not to mention the extra cost. Regardless, someone who moves to a resource space as the first action of the turn and doesn't leave is bound to sour things for players who attempt to go there as a second action -- especially if they were counting on those resources to build as a third action.
*Everything is a delicate matter of timing. The resource spaces may be the most obvious example in the game, but what makes Edo good is that everything is about trying to calibrate your timing. You're probably going to want one or two extra officials, and maybe one or two extra orders tiles as well. You clearly want to grab these as early as possible, since by the end of the game it's not worth it. But early on when everyone is grabbing these is precisely when you can squeeze the most value out of the resource spaces. You also want to build houses early on to set up some income, but the big points come from building the fortresses. Judging when to switch from houses to fortresses can be a tricky task, and you also have to be wary that if you aren't the first actor, someone else may take the last available spot.
When planning out your turn, you may know you have to hit a resource space before you build, but be unsure as to whether to do that as 1st and 2nd action, 2nd and 3rd, 1st and 3rd with something else like taking money in the middle, or to simply gather resources this turn and wait a turn to build. Delaying your building can be costly, but if other players start the turn on the resource spaces you need, you might hope they vacate them by your second action. Most importantly, since the game ends in the round where someone hits 12 points, you'll want to time your machine to rake as many points as possible right in the final round.
*Iconography on orders tiles can be confusing. Our first game we played incorrectly with a few of the orders, and the rules were not so clearly organized as to many finding the correct rules easy. Only on a careful re-read of the rulebook did I correctly understand that the 2-officials-1-samurai-action tiles were actually weaker, not stronger, than the 1-official-1-samurai-action tiles.
*A somewhat dry game. While I personally enjoyed the minimalist aesthetic of the board, Edo is a game that is unlikely to get people excitedly saying "Look at this!". The theme feels somewhat pasted on, and the gameplay while interesting isn't terribly innovative.
Edo is what I would consider a very solid "workhorse" Euro game. It provides a lot of decisions and some interesting tensions in a quite reasonable playtime, and is a perfectly good and worthwhile game I probably wouldn't often turn down when others suggested it. That being said, it also feels like just another classic Euro that doesn't excite me enough that I'd often suggest it either.
IS IT FOR YOU?
Are you looking for the next great flashy thing, brimming with theme? Or do you easily get analysis paralysis when given a double-digit number of options? If so, Edo may not be the game for you.
But if you're looking for a Euro with a wide variety of options and interesting decisions in a game that plays faster than you would expect, Edo offers some action programming in barely more than an hour that combines some puzzle aspects with a good but not overwhelming amount of conflict, all in a game that's not too hard to pick up.