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Subject: [DriveThruRedux] #11: Samurai Revisited rss

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Joel Eddy
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This is the eleventh in a series of written reviews to counter balance my Video Review Series. Starting with my 50th Video Review, I will go back and re-review a game that I originally reviewed "50 videos ago". Hopefully, I can include insights I've learned from playing the game after having reviewed it once already, as well as check back in with the game to see if it's still fresh after time has passed.



Component Quality:
Just look at the picture below this paragraph! Tell me those pieces don't look like they belong in a collector's edition. I don't know what the little, marble-y, plastic figures are made out of, but they are stunning.

Everything in Samurai (including the goregoues player screens) has a very crisp, clean, and traditional Japanese feel. The "less is more" philosophy is really expressed thoroughly. The publisher even went to the extra effort of creating a fantastic modular map. It's basically four giant puzzle pieces that fit together to form the island chain of Japan. Players will include or exclude different portions of the map depending on the number of players. The publisher could have easily made a standard game board and just put something in the rules to show which portions of the map will be used based on the player count. Instead, you are left with a gorgeous and unique piece of Art that gives a real sense of an island chain floating in the Pacific Ocean.


(image by Catando)

Gameplay Impressions:
The BGG entry lists some other mechanics such as "Tile Placement" and "Area Control", but Samurai is very much a "Hand Management" game.

All players are given an indentical set of twenty tiles that they will take turns placing onto the modular map. Before setting up the board players will draw (or select) five of these tiles to make up their starting hand, shuffling the remaining tiles into a draw stack. The selected tiles will be placed behind the individual player screens.

The game consists of three types of figures: High Helmets, Buddhas, and Rice Fields, represeting Japan's Military, Religious, and Economic interests respectively. The goal of the players will be to capture as many of these as they can... in a sense. You will not win the game for having the most total figures, but rather winning the most "groups" of figures. See the Scoring section below for exactly how the end of the game is scored.

Setup

Setup is relatively simple. Edo (the capital city) will be seeded with one of each of the three figure types.

Then players will then take turns seeding the rest of the board with figures, placing one figure of their choice in a village or city. Villages can hold exactly one figure and cities can hold two different figure types. Once all of the cities and villages are filled with figures, play will begin.

Tile Placement

A player's turn is simple. Place a tile on the board, or possibly multiple tiles. And, then draw back up to five tiles. Most of the time players will only place one tile, but there are some special tiles (with a Kanji symbol depicted) that allow players to place more than one more per turn. Players will be trying to surround the different villages and cities on the board with tiles in their color to take control of the figures within the location.

There are several different types of tiles. Most tiles will feature an image depicting one of the figures (High Helmets, Buddhas, or Rice Fields), and a number. These tiles will only exert influence on any matching figures they are adjacent to. However, there are other tiles such as the Samurai, Ronin, or Ship tiles that will exert influence on any figure. Ship tiles may only be placed on the sea spaces surrounding the islands. There are also two special tiles. One of them will allow a player to swap a figure from one village or city with another figure in another location. The other special tile will let a player move an already placed tile to a new location.


(image by henk.rolleman)

Capturing Figures

When all of the land spaces surrounding a location are filled with tiles, players will add up all of the influence surrounding that location and distribute the figures to the player who exterted the most influence on a given figure. Only the influence from a matching tile or "neutral" tile (Samurai, Ronin, or Ship) will be counted when considering each figure. If there is a tie between one or more players for a figure, that figure is set aside to mark the tie.


(image by Frouvne)

Scoring (Winning the Game)

The game will end in one of two ways: If there are ever four figures set aside in a tie, or if the last figure of any type is removed from the board.

Once the game is over, players will total up their figures in each of the three types. If any player has the majority in two different types of figures, they are declared the winner outright. If no one is an outright winner, then each player will check and see in which figure types they have a majority. If there is a tie for the majority of a given type of figure then those players will not be considered. There must be a clear majority. Set aside the figures in which a player has majority, count the rest of the figures which were not set aside. Whoever has the most figures that are not part of the type they just set aside is declared the winner. If there is a tie, then the tied players will count every single figure they have collected from all types.

It sounds much more convuluted then it actually is. Just read the above paragraph twice... slowly, and you should get it. The rules set out some good examples to help teach the scoring. It's advisable to instruct new players on how you will score the game first, before teaching the game flow.


(image by OldestManOnMySpace)

Was It Fun?
I was a bit flabbergasted the first couple times I played Samurai. I was still a "rookie gamer" at this stage of my life. I initially played against someone who was already experienced with game and was decidedly beaten every time. After the initial plays, I got the hang of it and quickly fell in love with the game. Honestly, it wasn't hard to fall in love with Samurai. The gorgeous components, ease of play, and overall presentation match the theme perfectly.

Samurai is an exercise in purity. It could be viewed as an abstraction of an electoral process. You need to have the support of multiple demographics to win the game. You can't just go for the overall total of supporters. It definitely conveys the theme of the precarious balance of power in feudal Japan. Obviously, this is not a historical simulation! But honestly, if the theme does not come across to someone playing this game, I don't know how to help them. It's easy to dogpile on Knizia games with snide remarks of, "Pasted on theme!" It's also tiresome.

Is It Still Fun?
I first played this game about ten years ago and I'm still playing it. What do you think?

Oh. You wanted an answer with a bit more meat to it? This game is still fun for me when played with the "right people".

"That's a cop out answer!" I hear you say.

If I am playing this game with players severly prone to Analysis Paralysis I want to throw the game in garbage. If people play fast and loose, this is a great game that can be played multiple times in an hour. I have found that Samurai can induce some people with Analysis Paralysis, but I have no idea why. Maybe, it's the serious subject matter. Maybe they feel like it should be approached as a "brain game". But, it's very much just a Hand Management game, much like any card game. You just need to make a smart move and not worry about all of the probable ramifications. This goes double when you are just learning the game.

I'm a big proponent of "learning by practice" as opposed to "learning by analysis". Why can't we play quickly and finish three games in two hours instead of playing slowly and methodically and only finish one game in an hour and a half? You are going to learn from your mistakes either way, and the rest of us don't have to sit there bored while you calculate out every possible move.


(image by Geosmores)

Conclusion & Rating: (9.0/10.0)
Samurai is definitely one of my all time favorites games! Depending on my mood, this is my favorite Knizia Tile Placement game. I usually go back and forth between this one and Tigris & Euphrates. I don't care for Through the Desert. If I'm looking for a quick border-line "Filler", I choose Samurai. If I want a bit more of an epic feel to my game, I will choose Tigris & Euphrates. There is probably an equal amount of luck in each of these games, but the luck in Tigris & Euphrates can seem more catastrophic (and disheartening)! I don't mind the luck in either game, but Samurai has a bit more control. Everyone is given the exact same "deck" of tiles, which can easily be counted. As you (and your opponents) become more experienced, the game really comes alive. I prefer the game with two or three players. Four seems to induce just enough Analysis Paralysis to take the luster off the game for me.

"Sudoku Killer":
I originally sub-titled the Video Review as "Sudoku Killer". It was the first of many silly "Killer" sub-titles I have used. Samurai is the opposite of Sudoku. Instead of trying to figure out what number to put in the empty space to make sense mathmatecially, you are trying to figure out how much influence you should focus on a given city or village. Your influence is being stretched thinly across the board. Some people call this game (among other Knizia titles) "mathy". I don't find this game especially "mathy" at all. You go big or go home in certain areas, and place influence in your opponents' strongholds to keep them focused away from the figures you want to collect. It's very much NOT about math. It's about bluffing and pushing your luck in different areas of the board. There is no exact calculation that can be made here.


If you enjoyed this written review, please feel free to check out the Video Review counterpart.

For other revisit/reviews check out my Geeklist of written reviews.
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Van Willis
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Joel thanks for the review. I always appreciate reviews that take a second look at a game.
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Sheldon
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Thanks for the review, this was the first Euro I played way back in the day and I really liked it, unfortunately at that time I was more of an ameritrasher and had no idea where to pick up a copy (it wasn't at Toys R' Us or Wal-Mart!) so wasn't able to get my own copy until a few years later. Now I also have a copy on my iPad for extra portability.
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Dave Maynor
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Great review Joel. Bret brought this game one night... and now I must find a copy. This is a fantastic game, and I think you nailed the aesthetic in your review.
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Joel Eddy
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i3ullseye wrote:
Great review Joel. Bret brought this game one night... and now I must find a copy. This is a fantastic game, and I think you nailed the aesthetic in your review.


Sweet! Glad to hear you enjoyed it Dave.
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Alex Brown
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eekamouse wrote:

I'm a big proponent of "learning by practice" as opposed to "learning by analysis". Why can't we play quickly and finish three games in two hours instead of playing slowly and methodically and only finish one game in an hour and a half? You are going to learn from your mistakes either way, and the rest of us don't have to sit there bored while you calculate out every possible move. ]


Thank you.

I'd rather play several games hard and talk about what choices we made. Nothing hurts more than a wasted games night where you sat there for two hours and two-thirds of the way in some guy made a play that won the game for someone else but we have to i) play it out or ii) talk about how things would have 'been different'.

I only play games 1hr or less in duration now. Design is so good these days that there are very few games I can sincerely say there is no comparable, and often better, alternative for at a quicker pace (maybe Twilight Struggle?).
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Remus McRhymus
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eekamouse wrote:
If I am playing this game with players severly prone to Analysis Paralysis I want to throw the game in garbage. If people play fast and loose, this is a great game that can be played multiple times in an hour.


This.

I used to bring Samurai to work and play it during my lunch hour. With the right opponents, this is a fantastic lunch game. There was this guy I used to work with who was ridiculously competitive. Games were not about fun with him. This guy is a software architect. Very math-oriented person. He would sit there and study the board for 5 minutes every time it was his turn! I'd say "Dude! Come on, man, this is a lunch game, we don't have that kind of time!" He'd ignore me and stare at the freakin map for 5 minutes. He almost ruined Samurai for me. I stopped bringing it in. I'd given it a rest for a while, but now when I play it, I love it. I taught it to my son the other day, he loved it. Yeah, you need the right people for this one.
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David Short
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eekamouse wrote:
This is the eleventh in a series of written reviews to counter balance my Video Review Series. Starting with my 50th Video Review, I will go back and re-review a game that I originally reviewed "50 videos ago". Hopefully, I can include insights I've learned from playing the game after having reviewed it once already, as well as check back in with the game to see if it's still fresh after time has passed.


This is a great idea Joel. I'd love to follow your progression. Might you consider making a separate geeklist just for these "re-reviews"?

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Joel Eddy
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dshortdesign wrote:
eekamouse wrote:
This is the eleventh in a series of written reviews to counter balance my Video Review Series. Starting with my 50th Video Review, I will go back and re-review a game that I originally reviewed "50 videos ago". Hopefully, I can include insights I've learned from playing the game after having reviewed it once already, as well as check back in with the game to see if it's still fresh after time has passed.


This is a great idea Joel. I'd love to follow your progression. Might you consider making a separate geeklist just for these "re-reviews"?



Already done...

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/72130/drive-thru-revie...
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David Short
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eekamouse wrote:
dshortdesign wrote:
eekamouse wrote:
This is the eleventh in a series of written reviews to counter balance my Video Review Series. Starting with my 50th Video Review, I will go back and re-review a game that I originally reviewed "50 videos ago". Hopefully, I can include insights I've learned from playing the game after having reviewed it once already, as well as check back in with the game to see if it's still fresh after time has passed.


This is a great idea Joel. I'd love to follow your progression. Might you consider making a separate geeklist just for these "re-reviews"?



Already done...

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/72130/drive-thru-revie...


Subscribed!
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Joel Eddy
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remus wrote:
Games were not about fun with him. This guy is a software architect.


Hey! I'm a software architect. I hear you though. We have a guy in QA here that slowed this game down to a crawl for us. It no longer appears at lunch here. cry
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Remus McRhymus
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eekamouse wrote:
remus wrote:
Games were not about fun with him. This guy is a software architect.


Hey! I'm a software architect. I hear you though. We have a guy in QA here that slowed this game down to a crawl for us. It no longer appears at lunch here. cry


I didn't mean to generalize. I'm a Software Configuration Manager, so in gamer terms that probably equates to "Rules Lawyer", but I'm probably the furthest thing from it. At least I think I am.
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sunday silence
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Certainly a good review but to take it to the next level I think any review of this game should:

A) answer the question how does it play with 2? 3? and 4? I only played it with 3 and I cant imagine it would feel the same with 2 as that would be rather obvious zero sum situation and that would have to impact how you play.. And with 4, obviously there is going to be a huge amount of chaos created by 4, which happens in every game like that and of course it takes away from planning, skill etc.

This is important because one of the great things this game is doing is providing an abstract game that can be played by more than two people. "Abstract" well more or less, I mean it uses cards (tiles but essentially the same thing) in order to make it less than perfect info, but pretty much an abstract to many people.

That's hard to find; and the game more or less works for 3. Not sure how it works for 2 or 4 but if it works just as well for 2 or 4, well that really would be quite impressive.

Is 3 the sweet spot? What is the answer?

AND...

B) How do you view exactly the victory conditions:

Brilliant game design that creates a subtle balance or:

Game designer gives up at trying to find a way to break a tie.

Until you come to some conclusion on that one we wont get a final verdict on this game. My feeling is that history will judge this game on whether the winning conditions are really clever or really just nonsense.

I collected tokens in 3-3-2; player B: 4-3-1; C: 4-2-2. I win.

Hooray! I.e. the basic problem is was this well thought on my part or just fortunate? Answering that is likely the key to how history will regard this game.
 
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