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Game Preview: Samurai Sword

Andrea Ligabue
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As part of the celebration for the tenth anniversary of the card game Bang!, designer Emiliano Sciarra and publisher dV Giochi will bring to Spiel 2012 the first non-Bang! game from the famous designer: Samurai Sword.

Looking at an advance copy of the rules of Samurai Sword from dV Giochi, I found a lot of the mechanisms and distinctive features that make Bang! so famous – hidden roles, easy rules, different characters, and fighting – with all of this being much more condensed in a deck of 120 cards.

Of course we are now no longer in the Old West, but rather in the age of the Samurai. At the beginning of the game, each player receives a secret role card: Shogun, Samurai, Ninja or Ronin. As with Bang!, the number of cards for each role varies depending on the number of players. I'm quite sure that the game has its light shine brightest with 5-7 players.

Each player also receives a face-up character with a special ability and a number of resilience points specific to that character. The Shogun then reveals himself to all players, with the Shogun taking 5 honor points and all other players taking 3-4 honor points (again depending on the number of players).

Three teams exist in Samurai Sword: Shogun and Samurai(s), Ninjas, and the Ronin. (With fewer than five players, the Ronin is not in play.) The problem is that you don't know who is your friend and who is trying to kill you! During the game you can – actually, you have to! – talk with other players and bluff about your intentions, but you can never ask another player about the cards he has in hand or how a card that you would play would effect him.

The game is played in clockwise order, with each player taking a turn that will be familiar to those who have played Bang!: draw two cards, play as many cards as you'd like or are able to, then discard (if you have more than seven cards). One big difference from Bang!, though, is that the first action each turn is recover. In Samurai Sword you are never out of the game completely if your resilience points fall to zero; instead you're deemed "harmless" until the start of your next turn and you can't be attacked with weapons and are essentially invisble. At the start of your turn, however, you recover all of your character's resilience points and can now fight again!

Samurai Sword includes three types of cards: weapons, actions and permanent cards. Actions are discarded after use, while permanent cards are placed in front of you. Like "Bang!" cards, weapons are used to attack other players and you can use only one each turn.

The analog to distance in Samurai Sword is difficulty. Each weapon has a difficulty number, and you can use that weapon against an opponent only if he is not too difficult to hit. Your nearest neighbors, for example, have a difficulty of 1, the players on the other side of them a difficulty of 2, and so on. A player bearing Armor is more difficult to hit, so you'll need a stronger (or longer) weapon to reach them. Unless parried by the person attacked, each weapon will do damage equal to the value listed on it, removing resilience points from that player.

The main novelty of Samurai Sword are the honor points. Each time you lose your final resilience point, you're not out of the game (as described above), but you must give the player who "killed" you one of your honor points. Honor points serve as both victory points and a game clock. First, every time you shuffle the discards to form a new card deck, each player must remove one honor point from the game. Second, the game ends as soon as one player has no honor points left.

At that time, players reveal their role and tally points for their team, with some players applying a multiplier to their score based on the number of players. The Ronin, for example, works alone, so in a five-player game the Ronin's honor score is doubled, while in a game with six or seven players the score is tripled. Daimyo cards in hand for everyone but the Ronin are worth one point each. If the game ends because you killed a teammate, your team loses three points. Very dishonorable of you...

Alternatively, if at any time only one player has resilience points, the game ends and that player's team automatically wins – except if the game ended because this player killed one of his teammates. In this case, you score points as you normally would.

So is Samurai Sword just Bang! in Japan? I think not. There are some real improvements in this design, such as all players being in the game until it ends, as well as the damage value of the cards, which provides more variability than the single wound guns in Bang! Does the game work as well or better than Bang!? Who knows without playing it. Clearly, though, there's a lot of Bang! in Samurai Sword, and I think it likely that Emiliano Sciarra has not betrayed his dearest son, but just given him a brother for his tenth birthday!
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