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Everything that sucks about...



Bushido: The Way Of The Warrior



To read up on the concept of and motivation behind this review series, check up on the first review I posted under the “Everything that sucks about...“-banner.


What is it about?

"Bushido" is a game. Let's keep it at that for now.


Disclaimer:

I usually don't do those, but... There's something I need to get out of my system, so bear with me for a moment. I'm most certain, Michael Nietzer and Oliver Wolf are fine people (their dedication to this game is evident from the awesomly written rulebook and it's admirable), so are all of the guys and gals who like "Bushido", so just to make this perfectly clear, I don't want to damage anyone's reputation or feelings or dog or what have you, but I'm gonna say some pretty mean things in this review. And although I think of myself as a pretty balanced person without any hard feelings for anyone or anything, at the time of writing, I just can't be asked to restrain myself (or my choice of words). It's 1:05 AM at the moment and my alarm is gonna ring in little less than nine hours and I'll have to go to work. And usually I wouldn't take it upon myself to write a review at this time of day, because usually, reviewing a game takes me about an hour or more and I need my sleep. But I'm just so utterly pissed at the moment that I can't contain the vitriol I'm about to spew. Yes, this review might contain explicit language. I don't know yet, but I'm not content with censoring myself for this review, so beware. For the record: I played "Bushido" once. I played it with the expansion "Tanin: The Stranger" included, so take this as a review for both, the base game and the expansion at once. Or don't. I don't care. You don't think that's enough to form an opinion solid enough to write a review that's much longer and more elaborate than planned in the beginning? Bad luck. I just can't be bothered to play this game again. Why? Well... I'll try to explain...


Everything that sucks about it:

- "Bushido" (alongside the "Tanin"-expansion... I'm not gonna bother mentioning that again, I only played the game in its expanded state, so whatever I might say, it only applies to that combination) is a real bitch to teach. The rulebook is sixteen pages long. The expansion's rulebook as well. That doesn't sound like that much, but it is. There's so many rules and exceptions and special cases and what have you... In a sense, that's great. "Bushido" is a pretty heavy, involved game, but it's neither governed by an elegant core-mechanism, neither is it as intricate and deeplay thematic as it should have been. Don't get me wrong, a lot of thought has been put into this game. Perhaps too much? Anyway, explaining the game took us about an hour, because everything HAS to be taught, because of all of those rules and exceptions.

- So there's an hour of foreplay before the real fun begins. What's the first thing that happens during the setup? Shuffling hex-tiles and choosing starting positions at random. Well okay, everything has to start somewhere, but the choice of initial positioning is so fucking arbitrary. In our five player game, there was a total of thirty hexes. We had a rough idea about the contents of those hexes, but then all of those are laid out on the table face-down, so whenever you choose one, you have no idea what you're gonna get. Advantage: After completing the grid, the game could be over, because by pure dumb luck a player could have chosen the five temples awarding him fifty points of Daimyo-honor, winning him the game. Chances are, you're not gonna be that lucky...

- So the game starts. Everyone gets four tactic discs (three of those predetermined, one drawn at random) and ten ressource tokens. When playing without the expansion, all of those drawn from the same bag. When playing with the expansion, there's a choice of bags, one containing all of the weapons tiles, the other one containing all of the political tiles. I don't know which one's worse, the gameplay with a bag containing all of the stuff mixed together (so you just get stuff at random) or the one with two seperate bags full of tokens, from which you have absolutely no idea whether they'll be helpful or not. You just take ten of those, sort them into piles behind your player screen (great material, very sturdy, but too small to hide all of your tokens), consult the rulebook twelve times to have a rough idea about what your possibilities are. But whatever, the game finally starts for real...

- So... Do you think, Daimyo's in medieval Japan sat in front of a board full of tracks and bars full of tokens so indistinguishable and so vacuous at a glance that you have to study them really thoroughly to have an idea how well you're doing in the general scheme of things and how well anyone else is doing? Nah, didn't think so either, but let's roll with it.

- So there's like twelve phases of a round that you have to complete one after the other. Most of those phases have sub-phases. Sub-phases which are very important. If you want to play "Bushido", prepare to consult the rulebook each and every round, because yeah. Twelve phases. No player aids, nothing. On top of that, the core game rulebook mentions about half of the things that are going one during those twelve phases. The expansion-rulebook is a bit better, but it also provides two and a half pages to the turn summary. So yeah, consider playing a full turn of "Bushido" going over a checklist, making sure that nothing is skipped.

- That is, unless a lot of stuff is skipped. See, there are those so-called "political tiles", something like event-tiles that anyone but the Daimyo may play during any given turn. The Sensei may play them at the lowest cost (it's not that easy to describe, the Sensei gets first choice of playing event-tiles in general and plays them at a reduced cost... or rather all of the other players get to play them at an increased cost, except for the Daimyo who doesn't get to play anything at all... yeah, it's hard to explain) and perhaps the Sensei or some other yokel decides that yeah, you've had enough of a turn, let's skip the other seven phases (including the one that actually helps you win the game) and Would you kindly pass the Daimyo token to the player to your right? Thanks. Oh yeah, there's a track on the general board counting the rounds that are still to be played. It goes from one to twelve. If someone plays a tile that skips the rest of your turn, the turn marker isn't advanced. A little bit of spoilers here, after roughly four hours of gameplay, we were in round seven of twelve. There's a rule in the expansion rulebook that sais something along the lines of "If after twelve rounds there's no clear winner, feel free to have a vote whether to continue the game for another four rounds". Yeah. No.

- So yeah, you have one chance of actually scoring a few points during your turn. That is unless someone decides that you really shouldn't do that. Okay, let's imagine that you get to do a real, full turn. You as the Daimyo decide which player is gonna get which role (without the expansion, there are four roles, exactly one for each possible player, with the expansion, there are seven and the way those are handed out is very, very cool... perhaps I'm gonna say a few nice words about this mechanic later on, but don't hold your breath, because there's a lot more shit to be piled up before I'm being nice again) and then the battle for the round starts and that's cool to, except for the fact that if you're in the lead at this point in time and you could win the game, you're just gonna... well... not win the game. Because you'll have to decide who's gonna plan out the battle for you (or rather "half of the battle", but the part of the battle that actually matters) and whoever is gonna do that... Well, if this battle is gonna win you the game, he's gonna lose that battle for you. Yeah, he's gonna get punished afterwards, but then again, you didn't win, so his mission has been accomplished. I'm serious, unless there's something very wrong with my understanding of the rules, it's virtually impossible to win the game via battle. Well, it kind of is, when you're playing with the expansion, because there actually is a way to intervene in a battle when you're the Daimyo, once you've errected the right building. But it's such a crapshoot that you might not even bother. There's also the advanced rule about being able to fight two battles during the same round once per game. It doesn't fucking work. If anyone notices that you'd be able to win the game if you're victorious in two consecutive battles, they're gonna sabotage the crap out of you. So you can use it early on to secure two pretty useless battles. Big deal.

- Okay, so imagine we're still early in the game and the Daimyo chooses you as his loyal Samurai, the guy who leads his troops into battle, and if he wins that battle, not much is gonna happen. Well, if you're doing to well, he has every right (and possibility) to completely screw you over. As in: "Here, lead my army of one ill-equipped guy against this heavily fortfied shrine, filled to the brim with enemy troops, thirsty for your blood. What, you just lost the battle? That's Sepukku for you, imbecile!". Yes, you could skip that treacherous Daimyo's turn altogether if you drew the right tiles at some point far in the past. If you didn't... Tough luck once again.

- Or perhaps you're gonna win that battle, because you were lucky, drew the traitor tactic-disk. Or just possess five times the weapons your opponent has. The battle system is pretty interesting. If it works. And it usually doesn't. The expansion aggravates those issues. Basically it adds a few layers to the whole system with more tactics, ranged combat, mantraps, arsenals, buildings that give special abilities, etc. pp. Which is great. But it also adds five thousand rules ambiguities that aren't adressed by the rulebook at all. Here's two from our game: The traitor-tactic sais that all enemy troops are "killed in battle". It doesn't say that the ranged-combat-phase is skipped (because there was no ranged combat in the core game and they couldn't be bothered to clarify anything concerning the traitor in the expansion booklet), so what if one player plays the traitor but then all of his troops (or weapons) are wiped out by ranged combat? Both rules say that the player suffering the effect is defeated? So which one? Second case: What if we're pitting armies against each other and I'm wipint out all of your weapons via bow and arrow while you kill all of my troops with shurikens? Who's the winner in that combat? Actually, I don't care. Frustrated as we were, in both cases we settled with total army wipeout on both sides and the hex reverting to a neutral state. Might have been the sensible choice, but lead us to the next problem...

- Neutral hexes. Those were created by the two aforementioned situations, but also via Ronin intervention. But what if there's a neutral hex on the map? The rulebook can't be bothered to answer that question (or perhaps it can be, after skimming the badly laid out rulebook for the umpteenth time I was just fed up with it and decided that we were in dire need of a houserule and the Geek helpfully provided one), so the Daimyo de jour just gave Samurai and Bushi to someone at the table and marched into the unoccupied hex with a few units. Great. The thing is... There was such an abundance of neutral hexes at some point or other during the game that battles were the exception rather than the standard. I shit you not, thinking back at the game, I can hardly remember during which turn we had our last real battle. There was a Ronin-uprising once (or perhaps I'm misremembering and a player just threatened to rise up and then decided to collect offerings from the other players instead YET AGAIN) and we had a duel between the guy choosing Musashi and someone else, but apart from that, most turns were spent invading empty hexes, having half the Daimyo's turn cut short by the intrusion of a geisha or both of those (having someone trying to enter an empty hex and being stopped by a geisha). The game turned into a prolonged match of shouting "NO YOU DON'T", whenever someone tried to... I don't know, at some point not even trying to win the game anymore, but just doing SOMETHING.

- So time passed. Turns passed. Nothing happened. The board was completely static for a long time. Some players were intimidated by the presence of hostages (which would cost you Daimyo-honor when attacking the guy having the hostage), some players by the fact that they could grab huge amounts of points now, but not enough to win the game, so between now and their next turn, everything they had worked towards would be reduced to rubble. The board-situation didn't change, everybody... I don't know if it's feasible to call it that, but everybody turtled in plain sight. Not because judging by the situation it'd be impossible to push for... not really the win, but for ANYTHING. It'd be very possible. If it weren't for someone else fighting your battles. Everybody was too afraid to do anything, because winning players knew that they'd never get anyone's support and losing players were already in a bad situation so they didn't stand a chance against those in the lead, without ridiculous luck. Our game stalled (with people going as far as saying something along the lines of "Fuck that, if you push for the win now, I'll have your back, if at least it's over then") until someone won by using one of the buildings introduced in the expansion. I can't fathom how a game would ever end when playing without the expansion.

- Then what's the general problem with "Bushido"? It's hard point a finger at that one thing that kills the game. Because there's not that one thing (except for perhaps the fact that you just can't win the game by conquering anything, because if you're in the lead, you're not gonna conquer anything, period). "Bushido" is a conglomerate of mechanisms that sound fine on paper. That are perhaps fine, partially possibly even great seperatly. But when assembled to a single game, things start to go wrong. The interaction between the roles seems fine, until you notice that you're completely at their mercy. The combat seems to work, until you notice that it is a complete clusterfuck in between total randomness, pointless double-guessing and a general sensation of a combat-system not fully though-out (or if fully thought-out not explained enough in the rules). The political tiles (I might have called them "events" up until now, whatever, I'm too frustrated to check back and correct that) seem intriguing, until you notice that they give all semblance of strategy and tactics a whipping and are too commonplace to count on them (or discount them). The game-ending-mechanisms seem well thought-out, until you notice that they can only be achieved by someone who's incredibly lucky or incredibly patient, because twelve full rounds (discounting the times when someone might use a Kotau to prolong the game - or GOD-FORBID people vote that nope, you haven't won yet, we're playing four more rounds)? No. Fuck no.


Things that especially suck not:

- When looked at the general overview of the game or the seperate mechanisms, this could be mistaken not only for a good, but for an awesome game. Which it is not. As sorry as I am to say this. It is not.


What I think:

My disclaimer might have set the tone for this review, because I'm disappointed by "Bushido". Nah, not really. Not really disappointed, but rather really, really frustrated. I had this game on my shelf for quite some time (a quick analysis tells me that I've added the game to my collection in April 2015 and although I'm not that reliable with my logged plays, my acquisition-dates are pretty thorough) and it took me quite a while to completely wrap my head around the rules. Tonight I subjected my gaming buddies to this game and I'm very, VERY sorry for this, because not since "Siena" has the response to a game been this unanimously negative. Well... At least later one. Because I'm pretty sure, everyone was kind of intrigued when the game began. Not during the lengthy rules-explanation. Because yeah, the explanation is kind of drawn out, but it has to be, because this is a complicated game. But once we had put that behind us, spirits were kind of high. Well, perhaps not high, but carefully optimistic. And for the first one and a half hours. I think all of us kind of enjoyed ourselves. And this might be "Bushidos" ultimate sin. It harbors elements that work incredibly well. The general area control mechanic. The role-selection (or should I say "role-allocation"?) that - I'm wildly speculating here - is even more interesting with the expansions' addition of two more roles. Especially due to the fact how those roles interact with each other. The battle-system is also intriguing. I wouldn't call it "Rock-paper-scissors done right", but perhaps "Rock-paper-scissors approaching an interresting idea" and perhaps that's be enough in a game that's playable in other aspects. The biggest problem "Bushido" has is that it squanders all of its potential the second that you finally notice that you're not gonna win, if either the other players let you win or completely underestimate you (or are generally unlucky). It's too easy to stop someone from doing anything during their turn altogether. It's also too easy to prolong the game (which is VERY long to begin with) in general. See, I like "Senji". I think it's a gloriously stupid game of fierce interaction, backstabbing and general nastiness. Reading the rulebook of "Bushido" I thought that I'd find something comparable, only... deeper. Wider. With more stuff going on. A game of similar magnitude but more strategic. And on paper, that's what "Bushido" is. It just doesn't come together. Like, at all. It has all of the components needed for something like that, but it brings them together in a combination that is nigh unplayable. All of the interesting interactions of the seperate mechanics don't mean shit when they actively work against the gameplay. And perhaps that's "Bushido"'s downfall. The fact that there are some very clever ideas and designs contained in this game, but all the while suffering from a utter hack job from a development point of view. "Bushido" could have been, should have been great. But it is not. And that's tragic. And for me personally, who wasted something in between four and five hours trying to like that game, simultaneously subjecting four poor human beings to that effort, utterly fucking frustrating. Because games like "Bushido" make me weary of trying something new, unknown altogether. Make me weary of looking for hidden games in the world of boardgaming. Because I've got better things to do with my free time than after four hours of gaming being left with the feeling that, man, I really need to play something very good pretty soon, just to cleanse that feeling of what could have been, hadn't "Bushido" turned out to be such an utter disaster because of everything that sucks about it.

So for the protocol, it's 3:10 AM now. Two hours, five minutes. But I feel kind of better. Gotta go to sleep now. Have work in the morning...


If you liked what you read, check out and subscribe to my „Everything that sucks“-geeklist to be notified about new reviews.
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Nick Case
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One of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given is, 'Never write with a hot pen'. And it looks like yours was steaming.

Its OK for you not to like it. However reading your issues with the game play, I do think that you are missing an awful lot of the subtly of the game. For instance, it's an evil tactic to select a Samurai to lead a battle that he cannot possibly win. Allocating roles to players reflecting on turn order is another massive tactical decision.

Unfortunately for you these are not immediately apparent in game one and you have all missed out by not having the game and intrigue being explained by an experienced player who could not just iron out the rules but give insights into the many strategies.

Also, reading your review would be easier if the paragraphs were a bit shorter and punchier.
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Christian Heckmann
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Big Bad Lex wrote:
One of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given is, 'Never write with a hot pen'. And it looks like yours was steaming.

Its OK for you not to like it. However reading your issues with the game play, I do think that you are missing an awful lot of the subtly of the game. For instance, it's an evil tactic to select a Samurai to lead a battle that he cannot possibly win. Allocating roles to players reflecting on turn order is another massive tactical decision.

Unfortunately for you these are not immediately apparent in game one and you have all missed out by not having the game and intrigue being explained by an experienced player who could not just iron out the rules but give insights into the many strategies.

Also, reading your review would be easier if the paragraphs were a bit shorter and punchier.

I respectfully disagree, cause those things you touch on were immediately apparent to us. I don't know if it's because all of us are seasoned gamers, but despite all of the game's complexity (or rather fiddlyness), there's not a lot of deep tactics at play here. On the contrary, the way to win is pretty straightforward, but it's just so very easy to trip another player up in each and every way (i.E. yes, you can screw a designated Samurai over, sending him into a battle that he can't possibly win, but he can screw you over as well, tossing a battle that was a certain victory for you just because). I admit that our game was highly competitive, with everybody begrudging everybody else. And I think that's how the game is supposed to be played. But if played that way, the game can just be prolonged ad infinitum, with the leader constantly being smacked down. And if there's one thing that's worse than a game that squanders its potential, it's a game that squanders its potential and never ever ends.
 
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Nick Case
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Respectful disagreement seems our stand off position then. A samurai would only toss a battle that was an otherwise a certainty if they had nothing to lose and did not fear the consequences. If that were the case The Daimyo did not choose wisely. The 3 & 6 bonus honour tokens exist in order to sweeten the deal as well. Did you use these?

The game cannot be prolonged ad infinitum (so it 'never ever ends') because if a player doesn't reach the 50 point target the second clock is a limit on the number of turns, 12 months (page 13 rules);

If at anytime during the game a player achieves 50 Daimyo honor points, he is immediately appointed Shogun by the Emperor and wins the game. If no player achieves 50 Daimyo honor and the Shogun counter leaves the 12th month, the game ends and the player with the highest Daimyo honor is appointed Shogun and wins the game.

The number of turns can be reduced by player action as well;

12. Kotau - Audience with the Tenno (Emperor) Increasing hostilities (also page 13)

(looks like you missed those rules).

I have only played this 5 times but each play has uncovered new tactical depths. I play with seasoned cut throat bastards and cannot agree that experience in general gaming gives you an automatic back stage pass to the complexity of the game during play #1. A review of your games suggests that Bushido is very different from your preferred favourites. IMHO it's different from ANY other game in my collection.

I'm not going to waste breath evangelising over why you should like this game when clearly that's never going to happen, but mindful that you seem to have missed at least one key rule, and your comments make generalisations that I disagree with on a polar magnitude, I don't think we have played the same game.
 
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Christian Heckmann
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Yes, of course, my statement that the game could be prolonged infinitely was hyperbole. After all, our game did finally end after four hours. And as said, everybody was ready to toss the game then, just to have it finally end. But on the turn track, we were in turn eight. Eight out of twelve. So even if a Kotau would have been played every single turn afterwards, the game would have still lasted three more turns. And since turns were geisha'd left and right, I don't believe that we'd have been that lucky.
And no, we didn't have a Samurai toss a battle, because a) there never was an incentive to do that and b) over the course of the four hours, there were... let me recalculate... if I'm not mistaken four regular battles and one duel initiated by a player picking Musashi. But if a battle would win a player the game, no one would win it for him. Every player would simply toss it. It is virtually impossible to win the game via conquest, unless the chosen Samurai is unaware of the actual gamestate, ready to toss the game, asleep or mind-controlled. The only four ways I can see the game ending (two of them veeeeery unlikely) is via running out of turns and being ahead at that time (which is counteracted by the completely bonkers rule from the expansion, which basically sais "If twelve rounds have passed and the majority of the players doesn't want the game to end, continue for another four months"... I read and re-read that rule like four times and I have no idea how such a vote could ever end in favor of the game end, except for if the majority of players have an exact tie for daimyo-honor...), via tea-ceremony, via honor bought for strength-three-katanas or by building a structure that pushes you over the honor-limit (the two last ones are those that are incredibly unlikely). Every other move can be counteracted by another player (if the Sensei is at 49 honor, the Daimyo simply CAN'T listen to his advise, lest he'd win the game, and vice-versa, if the Daimyo is close to winning, the Samurai HAS to lose the battle). Well, okay, there's a fifth possibility. The Daimyo being able to invade a neutral province on his turn. And while that's theoretically possible, that's also something that doesn't just "happen" but needs a lot of preparation beforehand.

As said, I really wanted to like the game and the first ~90 minutes were pretty good. And then we were at the point when another successful turn could have won the game for any given player, so the two and a half hours of japanese Whack-a-Mole started. There is a competent game hidden within the rules of "Bushido", but sadly (and ironically as well), it's almost completely obliterated by its most intriguing features and its abundance of kingmaking (or rather kingpreventing) mechanisms.

And yes, it's also unlike any game I know (except for maybe "Senji", which not only shares its theme). Another point why I'd love to have loved the game, because there's nothing like that out there. Alas, it wasn't meant to be.
 
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Gordon Watson
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Never a good move to play a game for the first time and include the expansion - that just bumps up the rules explanation.

I have played 4 times with the first three games being great fun but the fourth not so much, as the players, all seasoned gamers, didn't quite grok the game - 2 were expecting a straight-up wargame and one was on the receiving end of a very skewed board set-up - the latter can be an issue.
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domus_ludorum wrote:
Never a good move to play a game for the first time and include the expansion - that just bumps up the rules explanation.

I wouldn't say that it is never a good move, but yeah, there might have been some truth to that. I'm not entirely sure, since the expansion doesn't add that many rules, but changes some of them and generally adds more... stuff. Good stuff (in theory) that helps to counteract some of the problems I perceived when reading the original rules (and which have been echoed by users here on the geek, so it's not just my imagination that there ARE problems with the base game alone), like being stuck with mountains, drawing stuff you don't need from the bag, being stuck with the Hatamoto in a five player game and basically doing nothing but annoying the other players, being able to win the game only if you're the Daimyo, etc. On the other hand, I think the expansion is mainly to blame for the abundance of geishaing, since drawin geisha-tiles from the political bag is much easier now that all of the weapons are seperatly. And then there's also that geisha-building... Basically, what I'm saying is, I don't see the game working either with or without the expansion.

But what I'd like to know from the two of you (since both of you say to have played the game a few times - and yeah, this sentence isn't meant ironically chalenging or something like that, I'm really honestly just curious) is if there's anything I'm missing regarding my point that it is virtually impossible to win the game by anything but a tea ceremony.
 
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