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Subject: How I killed Samurai rss

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The 60s were not the same without
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When my brother B brought Samurai around at Christmas, it belonged to the category of games I had only ever played against computer-controlled opponents. Moreover, of the games in that category it was one of those I was most eager to try out "for real", to see how it works and to find out whether my bot-crushing experience would count for anything. Samurai just seems like a very respectable game with plenty of room for strategizing and trickery. It certainly has many of the elements that seem to appear in lots of Knizia designs whether driven by tiles, cards or dice: allocating resources from a limited pool, committing to bets on uncertain outcomes, and trying always to get something for just a little less than the next player.

Samurai also has a commendably high BGG rating, and consequently I had not been unhappy to learn that B had acquired the game along with Imperial in a fair deal. For sure I would also very much like to reacquaint myself with Imperial, but given that we wanted to squeeze in a few plays of Le Havre (which established itself as a success) and Storms of Steel (which is another story), it's perhaps not peculiar that he chose the less meaty of the two new games to try out first.

As I was the only one who had played the game, I got to explain the rules to brothers B and K. We decided to follow the suggestion in the rulebook of randomizing starting tiles for your first game, and to use the normal end game conditions (though I prefer the "domination" game on the computer where you keep going until all land spaces are filled). For simplicity we also randomized the figures on the board. The first game was somewhat unremarkable and I don't remember a lot of specifics. No one made any huge mistakes, but I was able to squeeze out a few more figures by taking advantage of opportunities that presented themselves, and by making sure the game did not end with any of my investments waiting to pay off. With 13 figures I was able to get one of the two majorities and win by way of balanced support.

I was slightly surprised to find that B and K were both unenthused by the game. My own first impression was that it had performed reasonably well, but their perceptions gradually came to colour my own. Of course, having played the game several times before made it easier for me to see past the surface workings of the game and intuit more of the posturing and tension that ideally should be going on. Maybe if they found the game dry it was just because they weren't seeing how tactics fit together into strategy? Thinking back on the game I was not so sure. If there had been an "arc" to it, I would have forgiven anyone for missing it.

On reflection it's also easy to see how sequentially putting down these cardboard tiles doesn't amount to a lot of "fun" for people with little or no interest in abstract strategy. Samurai is almost completely devoid of theme. On the surface the game has no flow, no sweep. It's a piecemeal struggle for "influence", which is code for "some abstract stuff you need to get your abstract hands on, all right?" Conflict consists of slow passive-aggressive posturing punctuated by the occasional burst of special tiles that you can't do a whole lot about when someone decides to target your own interests.

Anyway, this isn't supposed to be a review. At long last we agreed on another game, using the same rules as in the first. I started out aggressively by placing my 4-rice at Edo, but then couldn't draw any good samurai tiles. K started placing samurai at Edo and there was nothing I could do to keep up. In the end I used my ronin and a 1-samurai to score Edo, winning the rice figure and tying the two others. I did it out of vexation as much as anything, but I'm not sure it was actually such a bad move, even considering a marginally better tile draw could have earned me two more figures.

I now reminded the other players of the game end condition concerning tied pieces, and started looking for ways to exploit this feature; I still felt I had taken a hit in the struggle for Edo and would be at a disadvantage if the game were allowed to continue for long. Blowing my figure swap tile in my very next move, I took a buddha figure near Edo. K was placing figures in the northeast and B in the western parts, both sensibly amassing influence without clustering too tightly. I placed pieces here and there, both offering and fishing for opportunities. Placing my 3-buddha on Kyushu, I allowed B to win a rice and myself to tie a buddha. K snatched away a rice piece using his tile swap.

As my turn came around again, B had his 3-buddha and a 1-ship by the westernmost city with just one free space. I did not have a buddha at all. What I did have however were all of my three ships, which I plopped down all around the city along with a completely irrelevant tile to tie the buddha figure 4-4. It was the fourth tied piece and the game was over. Everyone had won a rice figure, but I had also won a buddha giving me the one majority and victory.

The game was quickly packed up, B announcing that the game was going up for trade at the earliest possible moment. Oops.
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Russ Williams
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That second game which ended so quickly sounds interesting and unusual to me. Too bad they don't like abstract-ish games. De gustibus non est disputandum...
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Laszlo Molnar
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The quick game end happens only among beginners (or, especially, if everyone is a beginner but one player). It's a trick that can be used but if you aren't a beginner in Samurai the game won't end early.
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Scot Schafer
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Sounds like it was a GG.. too bad sore losing kills the joy of it
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russ wrote:
Too bad they don't like abstract-ish games.


It is so. Some abstract-ish-ish games have gone down well, like Cartagena and Yucata', and fortunately one of them likes Schotten-Totten, but Alien City was a "no go" by land or ocean.

lacxox wrote:
The quick game end happens only among beginners (or, especially, if everyone is a beginner but one player). It's a trick that can be used but if you aren't a beginner in Samurai the game won't end early.


At least they can't say I didn't warn them. It seems though that the only way they could counteract my blowing all my resources on a quick lead and game end is to move to score points themselves, which is not optimal in other respects.

Qbela wrote:
Sounds like it was a GG.. too bad sore losing kills the joy of it


My stylistic condensation of the wrap-up may have made the losing seem more sore than it actually was, and if we'd had more time, I'm sure we would have played again. However, if they were on the fence after the first game, the weirdness of the second did a lot to influence which side they'd fall down on. B actually rated the game a 6 afterwards, which is no lower than I did myself, though I tend to rate more conservatively than most. As far as I know he hasn't got rid of the game yet, so I hope he'll try it out some more with his friends.
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lacxox wrote:
The quick game end happens only among beginners.

Sorta my reaction... I was thinking that your players were either far better or far worse than I, but was hard to tell without being able to actually see the moves.

I find this one to be a brain burner for what limited brain I have. I have to think at last 3 moves and countermoves ahead (very messy with 3 opponents) just to be competitive. On the other hand, I mostly play against non-gamers and thus don't face the type of intensity most game groups and online players are probably used to.

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Larry Welborn
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lacxox wrote:
The quick game end happens only among beginners (or, especially, if everyone is a beginner but one player). It's a trick that can be used but if you aren't a beginner in Samurai the game won't end early.


Agreed. I've never seen the quick game end when there are at least two experienced players.
 
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Kaffedrake wrote:
The game was quickly packed up, B announcing that the game was going up for trade at the earliest possible moment. Oops.

Hmm. I think the game's "arc" comes from the three most powerful Special Tiles: Ronin, Token Switch and that resurrection one. Each should win you two or three resources or you bungled it. They create "arc" because such a decisive play requires careful setup. Thus, catching an opponent setting up for a Big Play and foiling it while maximizing your own becomes the biggest "meta-game" for me.

Who's "spent" and who isn't? What big tiles do they have lying around for "Resurrection"? Are they being deliberately coy for a big Ronin play? Are they baiting us to over-specialize for a Token Switch?

Each of these situations take several turns to develop and, when combined with similar calculations for the more prosaic tiles, creates overlapping, multi-turn dramas centered around the appearance of every powerful piece. If your friends are playing without these calculations hovering over every move they're really missing out.
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Laszlo Molnar
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sightreader wrote:
Special Tiles: Ronin, Token Switch and that resurrection one. Each should win you two or three resources or you bungled it.

... in general. I have won a 2-player game by giving three resources to my opponent with my Ronin.* Otherwise, I agree.

*this ended the game before he could have been able to get the majority he could have gotten otherwise.

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