We just debuted Rising Sun. The 5 players are all experienced dudes-on-a-map gamers and we have played many titles including a group favourite Chaos in the Old World as well as Inis, Kemet, Blood Rage, Cyclades and Forbidden Stars amongst others.
We were using the Kami expansion (where Kami can appear on the board) and had the following five clans:
The Kami, apologies if I get the spelling wrong were Ameratsu (First place honour) Fujian (+2 movement), Hachiman (+2 ronin) and Tsuki? (+ 2 coins).
The game was dominated form the get go by the alliance between Koi and Lotus which was formed in the first tea ceremony - both noted that they were geographically far apart and would have 4 actions to benefit from. In response Bonsai and Dragonfly also allied. With Marshall, harvest, train all coming up early Koi and Lotus achieved a good headstart with some engine building - 2 strongholds and both had the Shogun +3 coins in the war phase. Koi gained the Path of Light card which meant he tended to win a lot of Kami benefits and both Koi and Lotus were on two provinces at the end of the first season. Bonsai were predictably getting monsters and Turtle was really struggling.
During the Summer season the tea ceremony was somewhat lacklustre in that when looking at the map both Lotus and Koi again realised they were not going to be competing for any of the same provinces. Simultaneously an alliance was formed between Turtle and Bonsai and given neither Lotus or Koi wanted to be with Dragonfly they teamed up again. This just solidified the game's standing as the Pink-Red alliance got another harvest+marshall out such that they were dominating the recruit actions with 3 strongholds and had plenty of money to win more war provinces or buy cards. Lotus let slip that he was burying the Betray tiles. After season 2 Lotus had 4 provinces and Koi 5, the next closest was Bonsai on 2, Turtle 1 and Dragonfly 1.
At this point there was some rumblings about the alliance system which as Koi I shared. The other three clans had little economy and were struggling to compete in battles due to the high resource lead of Koi and Lotus. Still the new cards were laid out for Autumn and the next tea ceremony began. Here the anti-Koi/Lotus alliance determined the agenda, concluding that an alliance between Bonsai and Turtle would have the best albeit slight chances of winning. Bonsai/Dragonfly/Turtle were at this point offering to pool money and acting in concert with their movement and action selection. By default Lotus and Koi again teamed up. Koi was behind Lotus on the scoring track by about 12 points but secured the last strongholdx3 points card which closed the gap by 9 point as Lotus missed out on the other copy. All of the provinces needed by Lotus and Koi were on the map so the Yellow-Blue-Green alliance put large forces in the ones desired by Lotus and Koi. Bonsai assisted by using a Betray action which meant Koi had no figures in one of the three provinces he needed and used the Monster which subtracted honour when moving to great effect taking 4 honour from Koi and 2 from Lotus.
Lotus pulled a swift move on Koi using a 3 way battle in Kansai (the first battle) and the Seppeku tactic to move up to top the honour roll and thereby win a later tied battle in Edo between Koi and Lotus. This gave Lotus 5 provinces to Koi's 6. In the end none of that mattered as Bonsai had cunningly done one selfish move to stop Turtle in Hokkaido, was gifted 2 provinces by Lotus who was focused on Koi and bought the Monsterx3 points card in the last action of the game - Train which gave him an additional 12 points and the win on 56.
Final scores: Bonsai 56, Lotus 48, Koi 44, Turtle 32, Dragonfly 11.
Conclusion: The components are stellar and this copy had all the fruit! The miniatures are some of the best I have held/witnessed - easily the equal or surpassing tabletop miniature games. The game flows well with some nice mechanics like the honour roll determining ties and the blind bidding (it feels better than Cry Havoc's attempt). There is great scope for setting up nice combination moves or Aha! moments. Bonsai admitted that he could easily have been stopped if Lotus or Koi had been paying more attention.
Alliances: The alliance system whilst nicely implemented is definitely troubling. Some players are going to hate it, especially if they never get in an alliance for an entire game or only in Season 3 when the other engines are already in top gear.
As Terry Pratchett had the legendary General Tacticus write:
what to do if one army occupies a well-fortified and superior fortress and the other does not:
"Endeavor to be the one inside."
Words to live by.