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Subject: Samurai - A Black Pearl rss

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Dede Kurnia Kardiman
Kepulauan Riau
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This classic Reiner Knizia’s game brings you back to the old Japan. To become a Samurai, you need to gain support from at least one of the three major forces: peasants, clergy, and nobility; while maintain the strong connections to the other two.

The Game Box
You see it ... You’ll love it! That’s the only way to describe the box. The black background color makes the box looks elegant. The cover shows the artwork of Japanese icons: The Red Sun, The Great Mount Fuji, Gold Buddha Statue, Japanese Noble House, and Shogun.

The Components
Inside the box, you’ll get the following great parts:
- 39 shiny black plexiglas figures, 13 each for High Helmet, Buddha, and Rice Field.
- 4 game board pieces of Japanese major islands: Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Hokkaido.
- 80 hex tiles, 20 for each player.
- 4 paper screens to hide your ‘open’ hex token.
- 1 rule booklet with black borders ...
All are high quality parts, especially the Plexiglas figures ... I really like them.

The Setup
The game board used in play depends on the number of players. For 2 players game, only use the Honshu island map. With 3 players, add Kyushu and Shikoku. With 4 players, use them all. Then, the plexiglas figures are placed in cities, one figure on a ‘one house’ city, two figures on a ‘two houses’ city, and three figures on Edo, the capitol of old Japan. There should be no same figures on a city.

Each player then take 20 hex tiles of one color to represent his/her influence power, selects 5 tiles as your initial hand and put these face-up behind the screen (hide it from other players). Place the rest 15 tiles face down in front of the screen for supply.

A player must select properly the first 5 tiles that he (she) want to use, depends on his strategy. For example, if a player wants to immediately take control over Edo, he might want to keep the 3 Samurai Tile and the Ronin Fast Tile as the initial hand. More details on these tiles later.

The Game Play
Starting from the first player clockwise, each player takes turn to place his hex tile from behind the screen. Each turn, a player may place one standard tile and any number of fast tiles he has onto the map. At the end of his turn, he will randomly open the face down tiles to bring his hand back to 5 tiles.

There are 15 standard tiles: 1 tile for each 2, 3, and 4 High Helmet, Buddha, and Rice Field, 3 tiles for 1 Samurai, 1 tile for each 2, and 3 Samurai, and 1 tile for Tile Exchange. The High Helmet, Buddha, and Rice Field have influence power on the respective figures placed on a city. The Samurai Tile is like a wild card that has influence on all type of figures. And you can use the Tile Exchange to swap the tiles already placed on the map.

Only 5 Fast Tiles available: 2 tiles for 1 Ship, 1 tile for each 2 Ship, 1 Ronin Tile, and 1 Figure Exchange Tile. The Ship and Ronin Tiles are like Samurai Tile, which is wild card, but Ship Tile can be placed on water. The Figure Exchange Tile can be used to swap the figures between two cities, but after swapping, there should be no two or more same figures on a city.

Each tile placed on the map has influence on the city adjacent to the tile. If during tile placement, the land area of a city is completely surrounded by tiles, then the figures are captured by the player who has the most influence to the city’s figure. Let’s use Edo as the example. Edo has three different figures on it. Around Edo there are 6 land hexes. Player A has 4 High Helmet Tile and 2 Buddha Tile adjacent to Edo. Player B has 3 Rice Tile and 2 Samurai Tile adjacent to Kyoto. During his turn, Player C places 3 Samurai Tile and a fast tile 1 Ronin adjacent to Edo. Now Edo’s adjacent land areas have been populated by tiles. Calculating the influence power, the Rice Field figure goes to Player B for his 5 influence, the Buddha figure goes to Player C for his 4 influence, and the High Helmet goes to nobody as Player A and C are tie for 4 influence. The High Helmet figure is then put aside as a Tie Figure.

From above example, we can see that the fast tiles, when played properly, can be a useful weapon to get control over a city or to prevent another player from getting control over a city. Thus, keeping fast tiles in your initial hand could be very useful, especially if you’re planning to do a sudden-shocking attack to a city.

The game ends when any one type of figure has been taken out from all cities on the map, or if there are 4 Tie Figures.

The Winner
I really like the method to determine the winner. First, in order to be the winner candidates, a player must have the most of one type figure (e.g. the most High Helmet) than other players. If a player has the most two type of figure (e.g. the most High Helmet and the most Buddha), than he/she is automatically become the winner.

After determining who has the most of each figure type, now the supporting figures are counted. In example, for the player with the most Rice Field, the supporting figures are Buddha and High Helmet, and for the player with the most Buddha, the supporting figures are the Rice Field and High Helmet. The player with the most supporting figures is the winner, and gets the Samurai title.

Samurai is a solid game. The components are great, the game play is also great. It’s true that the luck factor come in play as we randomly select from the face down tiles to replenish our hand. A house rule can be used to eliminate this luck factor, by having all the 20 tiles behind the screen since the start of the game. A player can use any of these 20 tiles at any time.

A game normally last between 60-90 minutes, depends on the number of players, and how long a player need to think of his move. A veteran player will take less time than a rookie, and thus the game could run faster. Once I had a 3 players game, all veteran players, finished the game in 45 minutes only.

Playing with only 2 players is like playing Chess or Othello, it’s only you and the enemy, watch out those fast tiles! ... With 3 players you might find a dead-lock situation like in the Romance of Three Kingdoms, where if 2 players are at war, the third player might take advantage from it. I think with 4 players is the best, it’s a multi-players war! Two thumbs-up!!

Game Characteristic: (out of 10)
- Complexity: 7 (requires medium works of your grey little cells)
- Interaction: 9 (a lot of ‘evil’ interaction between players)
- Luck factor: 5 (minimum, can be eliminated with house rule)

Game Quality: (out of 10)
- Components: 10 (perfect quality)
- Graphics: 9 (great artwork)
- Game Play: 8 (never turn down an over to play, especially with 4 players)

Note: If you want to try the game prior to buy it, you can download the PC Demo Version from Klear Games, which you can play against the Computer AI (which is good) for 10 plays. Just follow this link:
Thanks to Klear Games for this great PC version.
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