Designer: Trip Gauntt
Artist: Benjamin Seyler
Publisher: Houseplant Games
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2
Playing Time: 20-30 Minutes
WARNING: This is a preview of Shoudo. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.
Rules and Setup:
In Shoudo, players assume one of four clans, each with three armed forces: Daimyo, Heir, and Samurai. Players use these armies to wage war against their opponent's forces or to burn enemy territory, which decreases their opponents strength. The game ends when a player successfully attacks and burns their opponent's Daimyo Castle or beats all of the opposing team's armies in combat.
Samurai, Daimyo, and Heir army pieces.
Play begins with players selecting, competing for, or being randomly assigned one of four clans: Uesugi, Mori, Tokugawa, or Shimazu. Each of the four clans is equipped with a different special ability that can benefit the player throughout the game.
Uesugi, Mori, Tokugawa, and Shimazu clan cards.
Once the clans are chosen, the 40 double-sided (unburned and burned) terrain cards are used to create a 5x8 grid. The terrain cards come in three varieties: Castles (twelve total, three for each player and six neutral castles), Shrines (four total, one for each player and two neutral shrines), and Territories (24 total, six for each player and twelve neutral territories).
Unburned Uesugi territory cards (left and right) and shrine card (middle).
Castles are the embodiment of each different army and serve as the army's starting point. Castles should be protected; when a castle goes down to an opponent's attack, the correlating army is destroyed with it. Shrines are the morale of all of a player's armies, and losing a shrine to an opponent decreases the strength all of your armies. Territory cards give a strength bonus in combat but are the easiest to be burned by an opponent.
Unburned Uesugi Heir, Samurai, and Daimyo castle cards.
After the grid is prepared, players have the option of swapping the location of their Daimyo castle (and Daimyo army with it) with one of their other castles.
Once the grid is prepared and the castles' locations decided, each player is given army tokens representing the strength of their three armies. The Daimyo is the strongest, receiving five strength tokens, followed by the Heir (four strength tokens) and Samurai (three strength tokens). With the disbursement of strength tokens, setup is complete and game play can begin.
Players alternate turns, spending three movements (shared between the three armies) and three actions (one per army). Movements and actions do not follow a specific order (i.e. actions can occur before, during, or after movements). The movements can be used entirely by one army, or spread out among the three. Movement can only be vertical or horizontal.
Players cannot move an army to a card occupied by an opponent, nor can they end their turn on a tile occupied by one of their other armies; however, they can move through their own armies as long as the movement doesn't end on the same card. The other movement restriction is that players cannot move through a castle that does not belong to their clan unless that castle is first burned.
Each army is allowed one action per turn. These actions include burning, attacking, and restoring shrines.
Burning: An army located on an enemy territory card can burn the territory, flipping the card to the burned side. When the territory is burned, the corresponding army (identified by iconography on the card) loses one strength. If an army burns the shrine card, all of the opponents' armies lose one strength. Castles cannot be burned as an action and must be defeated in combat. When defeated, the castle is immediately burned.
Attacking: A player can attack an opposing army or unburned castle on an adjacent card. This combat is fought over three rounds, with each player rolling a combat die and adding any strength bonuses associated with their army. The highest total roll wins the round. The strength bonuses are determined by the number of strength tokens for the specific army, plus the terrain bonus of the card the army is on. For example, if the Daimyo have four strength tokens, are located on a territory card with a bonus of two, and the player rolls a one, the player's combat roll would be seven. Round ties are considered draws. If no player wins two of the three rounds, the combat ends without a victor, and play moves to the next player.
Castles use the strength of their corresponding army and individual terrain bonus to avoid being burned during the attack. However, if an enemy castle is bested in combat and subsequently burned, the army associated with that castle is also destroyed and out of the game. Burning a neutral castle gives players the ability to move through the space.
The loser of combat loses that army and must continue the game with their remaining forces. If no armies remain, the game is over regardless of whether or not the Daimyo castle is unburned. The attacker may retreat any time before combat is over by moving to an adjacent tile as long as the player has at least one of their three movement remaining. However, if the adjacent tiles are occupied by opposing armies or unburned castles the player cannot retreat and must continue the fight.
Restore Shrine: If a player's shrine has been burned by their opponent, they can restore the shrine by moving an army to the space and flipping the card back to the unburned side. Restoring a shrine allows the player to regain a strength token to each of its remaining armies.
The first player to either burn the Daimyo castle or defeat each of their opponent's three armies wins.
Theme and Mechanics:
The theme is heavily influenced by Japanese culture, specifically the Sengoku Jidai era of Japan. I admittedly know nothing of Japanese culture or history, so I will not comment on the accuracy or authenticity of the clan names, kanji, or any of the other iconography, nor will I pretend that a quick Google search would make me an authority on such things. However, I will say that I have seen games that are Asian themed for seemingly no other reason than to just add "Asian stuff," not giving a second thought to what Asian influences were being used or what it represented.
I do not think that is the case with Shoudo. There appears to be, at the very least, a familiarity with the iconography and historical significance of the theme. I could be wrong, but Shoudo appears to be more of an homage than a parody.
As for mechanics, Shoudo is an area control, action point allowance filler game with a dose of push-your-luck dice rolling during combat. The game may be light on components and play time, but I would not describe it as light on strategy. The amount (and usefulness) of your strategy is related to the skill level of your opponent, but the push-your-luck aspect during combat still keeps things balanced. I enjoyed facing the need to be offensive and aggressive to win, while still needing to be patient and defend the castles. The mechanics fit the theme, and the push-your-luck aspect can quickly turn what appears to be a rout in the making into a close game.
Strength tokens and combat dice.
Artwork and Components:
There are not many components in Shoudo: 44 cards, 24 chits, two dice, and six player tokens. The cards are quality stock but would probably still benefit from sleeves. The other components are solid enough to withstand several trips to the table.
The artwork is nothing like I normally like, but for this game, I love it. The art is simple, black-and-white drawings relying on shading and shadow, rather than vibrant colors; to me, it is perfect. The only colors on the card are to designate the different clans (the different clans are also differentiated by iconography, so color-blind players should not have difficulty distinguishing between the clans on the cards). The difference between a burned and unburned card is clear without it being distracting. The artist struck the perfect "same but different" balance between the the two.
Burned Uesugi territory cards (left and right) and shrine (middle).
Shoudo is a a quick filler that is easy to learn and easy to teach. The game has a luck element in the combat phase, but the luck factor can be mitigated by good strategy throughout gameplay by a careful combination of offense and defense. The game seems well balanced so that a player cannot solely rely on luck.
I appreciate the timing of gameplay, not only in terms of time spent from setup to completion but also the minimal downtime between turns. Shoudo seems to be good introduction into the movement-into-combat genre for those that would bristle at a similar game with a much longer play time.
The game also seems to have better than average replay ability as game play is changed each time by the layout of the cards and the special ability of the clan.
While the designer was careful to make the cards easily distinguishable to those with color blindness, the same cannot be said about the player tokens. One set of player tokens is black, while the other is gray. I do not have any visual impairments, but I still had trouble distinguishing between the two colors at first glance. I imagine that for someone who had trouble distinguishing grayscale, differentiating between the player tokens would be a challenge.
There is one clan whose special ability seems to be less beneficial as the others. The Uesugi are allowed to switch the location of a castle with their shrine prior to the start of the game, and that is it. The rest of the clans' abilities continue on throughout game play and add bonuses that impact combat and end-game conditions. I could see someone feeling slighted for getting stuck with the Uesugi when the other clans seem to offer more in terms of a bonus.
For the game type and introduction into the genre, I think Shoudo is great. It is mechanically simple yet visually and thematically satisfying. Gameplay is generally quick and does not require remembering a list of bonuses to add during combat. I think this would satisfy a player's desire to play something in the genre that did not want to invest two or more hours on a heavier roll-for-combat game. However, someone looking for a replacement for the genre rather than a lighter version is going be turned off by the limited actions and quick gameplay.
In short, if you want a roll-for-combat filler, this is great. If you are growing tired of Risk and looking for something that will fill that Risk-sized (and, more importantly, duration) void, this is going to seem too light. But at only a $20 price point for the game, you may want to pull the trigger anyway. I would.
Heir army approaches the Daimyo for battle.
Players Who Like:
Risk and any similar area control/roll-for-combat games.
I am giving Shoudo 7.5 out of 10 super meeples.
See more reviews from Nick S and EBG at http://www.everythingboardgames.com/p/reviews.html