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Subject: My Take on Samurai – Accelerating! rss

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I’ve been playing Samurai recently with my siblings. We chose Samurai because it seemed like a straightforward game with enough depth to keep it interesting over multiple plays. And it certainly does all that.

Samurai is played on an abstracted map of Japan composed of hexagonal spaces. Certain spaces start out with one or more Objects in them (High Hats, Buddhas and Rice Paddies). Players all have the same 20 tiles, most of which have a number and a picture of one of the three Objects on it. Some have pictures of Samurai or Ships on them; these tiles are wild and count toward all Objects. A player has 5 tiles in their hand at a time; the others are shuffled into a draw deck from which played tiles are replenished.

On a player’s turn they play one tile into any free land space on the board.

When all land (as opposed to sea) spaces surrounding an Object are filled with tiles, the player that contributed the highest cumulative number in the surrounding spaces for each Object wins that Object. If there is a tie for an Object it comes off the board and no one gets it.

The game ends when all of one type of Object come off the board, or if 4 Objects come off the board in a tie.

The winner is determined as follows:
1) If one player has more of two types of Objects than any other player then they win.
2) If no one player meets condition 1) then any player who does not have the most of one Object is immediately eliminated and the other players count all their other Objects. The player with the most of these wins.
3) If no one player meets the conditions in 1) or 2) the player with at least the most of one Object and who also has the most total Objects wins.

The game evokes its Japanese theme through its art and playing pieces which are designed to look like they’ve been coated in black lacquer. Additionally the geography of Japan is employed. The board is long and thin and major cities, like Edo, provide more Objects to win and are thus more important. It’s also very much a game of placing your pieces correctly relative to other players’ pieces. In this way it implies a connection to Go and assumes some East Asian street cred.

Many spaces border multiple Objects. Also, every space you place a piece in reduces the number of open spaces surrounding an Object. There is very much an acceleration to the game as it progresses. Spaces get filled and opportunities for completely surrounding Objects increase. Players need to set up their initial tiles so they are easy to capitalize on later or force another player to spend their good tiles where you want them to.

Ideally you want other players to fill in most of the spaces around an object so you can swoop in with a minimal tile expenditure and snatch it up. There are special tiles that encourage this type of play. Several tiles are “free” in that you can play as many of them as you can on your turn in addition to your normal tile. Ships can even be played into the sea spaces. There is a special tile that allows you to swap the location of two Objects and there is one that is worth 0 influence but it can replace a previously played tile allowing that tile to be re-played elsewhere.

These special tiles have many devious ways that they can be played and keep the game from becoming too analytical.

The game is fairly light and quick to play. I typically don’t like the “surround and score” mechanism, especially in multiplayer games because the options available to you on your turn seem somewhat arbitrary and planning for the future is a waste of time. I've often thought of trading my copy of the game for this very reason. What keeps changing my mind is that in Samurai you can see what has been played and what options other players have available as the game accelerates into its final turns. Also, players can attempt to control when the game ends by surrounding certain objects or forcing ties. This makes the finish quite exciting.

There are a number of official and un-official variants that folks use to add strategy to the game. One allows players to choose their opening hand of tiles. Another makes won Objects public knowledge. I’ve never played with the former, but I have played both with and without the latter. With open Objects the end game is more intense because you know exactly what you and your opponents need to win. With hidden Objects players play more from the gut and this speeds up game play but can also make winning or losing feel more arbitrary.
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Lou Seelbach
United States
Huntington
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After playing it the first time on Saturday, I feel that more open information would improve the game.

Specifically, playing with open objects should be a must. Playing with open tiles would really make this an AP'ing game
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Justin
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Creve Coeur
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Lou-Dawg wrote:
After playing it the first time on Saturday, I feel that more open information would improve the game.

Specifically, playing with open objects should be a must.

especially with two players, in my opinion, as it's easy to get perfect object info by counting.
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