Remark: I have the German version of the game - in the English rules they might use other words - and I hope you understand my English!)
Do you want my wife? This question and the hillarious laughing afterwards may show a little bit whats goin‘ on playing SENJI - you‘re never save of weird situations.
When I first heard of Senji i knew i gotta have this game, the diplomatic possibilities, treachery but also the kind of treaties you can make exchanging the diplomacy cards not knowing where they might go and which player may finally use them got me very excited.
I read the rules and I read a lot of comments on trictrac. Obviously there was a problem: Many people thought, Senji was kind of a „Risk“, or „Game of Thrones“ (me too) or even „Diplomacy“. So there was a big disappointement, when during play, war played a minor role and lots of the requested Honour-Points could be made collecting hanafuda-cards. The game was called luck-based (gotta draw the right cards, many dices in battles etc. etc) in the bad sense of meaning.
On the other hand there were commentaries like: A game like never seen before, something new - a game you have to play at leat 3 times just to realize what it‘s all about: Diplomacy, not war, very exciting to play...
As the duo Laget/Cathalla brought us „Shadow over Camelot“ and I had played Mare Nostrum & Expansion a while ago and liked it quite a lot, i was curious about Senji and got it in my FLGS. That‘s what I got:
Opening the box
- 36 castles in 6 different colors: The castles looks a bit too plastic for my taste and personally i‘d preferred something else. On the other hand, during play, there will be no problem confounding the colors of the castles and even if I do not like the material they‘re made of, they are nicely sculpted.
- 18 Samurai-Figs: I was surprised by the size of the samurais, they were bigger than I expected and they are well sculpted. Still putting the stickers on the samurais was a little fuzzy.
- 6 Point-Marker (1/family) with the symbol of the family printed on them.
- 72 military units - 12/family: The tokens are made of solid cardboard and look ok, but alas, not every symbol chosen looks like traditonal japanese to me, I‘d preferred other symbols (eg like the ones on the dices of „Honour Of The Samurai“ from gamewright).
- 54 order-tokens made of solid cardboard in red (marching) blue (recruit) and green (production). They are very functional.
- 96 hanafuda cards & 72 (12/family) diplomacy cards & 18 samurai cards: The cards are great. Very nice graphics and they are of good quality too. To me in point of view of the game components, they are the masterpiece of the game.
- 9 dices: They‘re white, with one symbol of one faction carved and painted black per side. To me they look awesome, even if the symbols on the dice do not match the color of their faction, what had made it easier to ‚read‘ them. If this should become a major issue, the dices could be replaced easily by dices with coloured dots on each side (the colours are: green, red, blue, yellow, purple, and black ). We had no problem with the dices during the games we played.
- 1 big hour Glass (4Minutes - exactly 3,5 min!!) - it was bigger than expected.
- 1 Gameboard The Gameboard was rather a disappointment first (I had the ‚Shogun‘-Map in mind (Queen Games)), but it‘s simplicity helps to keep a good overview over what‘s going on in ol‘ Japan. The score-track goes around the map. And after a second look I have to say, that it‘s well done, fits the game well and the quality again is very good (as expected nowadays)
- The game comes with 6 coloured Player-aids that show possible combinations of hanafuda-cards and what they give for advantages (mostly honour points).
To resume (personal taste):
-very nice cards
- big hour-glass (4min)
-18 rather big and detailed samurai-figs
-simple but nicel gameboard
-and ok. castles (6/faction)
Everything is of good and durable quality and very functional. Not all the pieces of the game are artwork, but they surely help to keep a very good overview over the game - and finally that‘s what it‘s all about.
I will only give a short overview over the rules, as anyone can download them, if they want to read them.
A game round consists of 5 steps:
1 - Host of the Shogun
The player with the most honour-points welcomes the shogun in his home for the year to come. To welcome the shogun is very important and gives big advantages, as the host of the shogun points one province after the other to resolve it‘s (still hidden) order, and also one player after the other to ‚deal‘ and play his hanafuda-cards in autumn. E.g. it makes a big difference if you‘re attacked before or after you have recruited new troops, or if you only can start dealing, when all the other players have already laid down their hanafuda-combinations and have not many cards left in their hand) Little gifts during the diplomacy-phase may help the host of the shogun to make the right decision :-). Beeing the host of the shogun round after round will end in a clear victory of this player.
2. Winter - Diplomacy
This is where the interaction takes place and the hour-glass limits this phase to 4 minutes. Unlike in many other Diplomacy-games you may (or not...) not only rely on the promises made by different players, but you may also give or get or exchange diplomacy-cards.
There are 3 kinds of them:
- Family cards: To underline the eternal friendship between two families, they can send members of their own family to the other family (by giving or exchanging family cards). These Family-members are considered as guests. The player hosting guests may place them in front of him in autumn and get‘s honour points equal to the number on the family card (1-5).
If he keeps them in his hand-cards they are an insurance not beeing attacked by the player who‘s family-member they are. Because if you‘re attacked by this very family the guests become hostages and may be killed - as defender you still get the amount of honour points written on the card, but the attacker loses twice this number of honour points - and this hurts!
As all the diplomacy-cards have the same backside, you‘ll never really know where your family members are - are they still where you sent them, have they been traded away? Obviously honour and moral virtue have nothing to do with each other
Killed hostages are out of the game - this means, the player also has a little less possibilities in upcoming diplomacy phases.
- Military support: They are played after throwing the dices in a battle where all the dices are thrown at once. As dices are always a matter of luck, the right military support at the very right moment will help you just what you need to win the battle. As battles may provide many victory points (up to 24), having good military support may rocket you to victory.
- Trading cards: The number on the card shows, how many of his hanafuda-cards the player of the family the card belongs to has to show you. You then may choose one of these cards. This may help you to get the one card you needed badly - or at least prevent the opponent player to play a big suit of cards that will give him a lot of points (the best suit (cards gives you 24 points).
Military support cards and trading cards are given back to their original owner after having used them, so they might be used again in the next diplomacy-phase.
You have 12 Diplomacy-Cards at the beginning of the game ( there are different decks for every family/faction). You have to make the best out of these. Diplomatic skills will be very important and as written - sometimes little gifts make life a lot easier.....
There‘s no limit how and what for the cards may be exchanged: a card for another? A card for a promise that might be broken? May be you can make very good deals with players in bad need of something and if you‘re the host of the samuray, as said, the little favours will surely have their price :-) (remark: You may only exchange diplomacy cards and / or promises in this phase)
3 - Spring
Order Placement: Players place one of three orders (marching, production or recriutement) in every province they control.
4 - Summer
The host of the Shogun points a province after the other - in the pointed province the order is turned around to show it‘ and then the order is resolved.
Marching: You may move troops from this province in an neighbouring province or on the sea ore even (a little risky) over the see on another coastal province. If you move troops in a enemy region a battle will take place:
- every unit present in that province gives you 1 point of strength.
- for every samurai you control in that province a dice of the nine is taken and turned with your family symbol up and placed besides the samurai -this means 1 more point for you.
- Remaining dices are thrown. Every dice showing your family-sign gives you 1 more strength.
- After this the military support cards of both players are played face down and revealed at the same time. The dices of the family the support cards belongs to, add strength up to the number written on the card to your strength (if you have a card with 5 written on, but there‘s only one dice showing this family symbol you only will get 1 more strength. If there are 5 dices of this family but the card has a 2 written on it, you‘ll only get 2 more strength).
- If the battle ends in a tie, the dices are thrown again and new military support cards must be played. Cards once used go back to the original owner, as the „contract has been fullfilled“. This cards may of course be used again in the next diplomacy phase by their original owner.
Production: You get 2 hanafuda cards for every province you control with a production order on it.
Recruitemet: You get 2 additional army tokens in this province (up to a max. of 6/province).
5 - Autumn
Autumn is the last phase in a round. The host of the shogun chooses a player who may do following things as long as he can and wants in no specific order:
- use the trading-diplomacy cards to get some hanafuda cards from the other players.
- give back 5 (!) diplomacy-cards to their original owners (at least 1 of every player) to get 10 honour points and make the others all lose 1/card given back)
- Lay down suits of hanafuda cards to get honour points
- Lay down guest-cards to get honour points or take them back into one‘s hand (then you loose honour points equal to the number written on the card)
- And if you have no province left under your control, you may recruit up to 6 mercenary-troups for 3 honour points each, to come back in the game from the sea. If you have no honour points left, and also there‘s no province under your control, you‘re out of the game.
When all the players have made all the actions they wanted in autumn, then the leading player (most victory points) becomes new host of the shogun. In case of a tie, the old host of the shogun chooses, which of those families in front welcomes the shogun for the coming‘ year.
Then a new round begins.
The rules seemed pretty clear to me abd well done. The questions that arised were answered in the example of a round added to the rules. I think the rules are not too complicated and sound for a very exciting game-experience.
So what about playing the game?
The rules were explained rather quickly and there were no questions left - everything was pretty clear.
The game is played quite fast, as all the phases do not take a long time - except may be the autumn, if you have a player that always wants to find a even better combination of hanafuda-cards and starts thinking about it only when it‘s his turn to perform the autumn-actions - this might become annoying, but it did not in our games - so we had nearly no downtime.
The Host of the Shogun still is in a very strong position and being host of the shogun offers you a lot of options.
In the first game I was the host of the shogun most of the time - that‘s how I found out, how one can slow down the progress of a player - do not make any diplomatic exchanges with him. If this happens to you, your out of the game until someone will start new diplomatic relationship with you: Why is this?
1. You have no military support , and so you become an easy target for attacks
2. You have no trading cards - so no additional hanafuda cards in your hand
3. You will not get any honour points by hosting members of other families.
So I dare to say: the diplomatic phase is the heart of the game - good diplomatic deals will help you like nothing else to win the game. The deals you offer must be good - and if your host of the shogun, a little threatening may help.
For the rest, the diplomacy-phase (winter) gives a good amount of interaction without lasting too long (4 min. pass by quickly!!) and is quite enjoyable. As you most of the time deal with cards, and you do not have to explain complex plans, it‘s rather easy to deal one with another.
Placing the orders is done very quickly (average of 3 orders/ Player), and to resolve the orders you‘re very much depending on the host of the Shogun. It might be very important to try to get some influence on his decisions.
The battles were fast and very exciting. I liked the mechansim and the playing of the support cards very much. You never now, who‘s going to win a battle until those darn cards are revealed. And the use of some samurais is sometimes decisive. The bigger the losses the bigger the gain of honour points - sometimes a province is safer without any army - as no attacker will gain honour points by attacking it. As you get a lot more points attacking a big army than a small one, you‘ll probably rather attack the big one, if you see any chances to win the battle. Still: Do not take too big risks, because loosing a batttle gives honour points to your opponent.
This also shows, and this may irritate many Diplomacy- and / or Risk-Players: Armies in Senji are first of all an important way to gain honour-points (the more army-tokens you loose in a battle you win, the more honour points you get) and i suppose they are meant to be aggressive, as you earn double points if you attack (compared to if you defend). This invites to a much more aggressive strategies - on the other side as you loose many of your troups even if you win a battle makes you choose carefully, where you will attack and when. If there are no attacks, because the players fear to loose everything in the next few rounds - then of course the winner of the game is the one that draws the best hanafuda cards. Or in other words - the less battles, the more important the hanafuda cards become.
Unlike most other military-diplomatic games, you loose no victory points or influence when you loose a province - in extreme case you could win the game without possessing any province at all. One must focus on winning honour points and nothing else! If you focus on having a big territory, then you‘re definitely on the wrong train (allthough having provinces is a good thing).
Of course the hanafuda cards are very important, but it‘s far away from playing rummy, as most of the time you have to choose between several options: Will I play my hanafuda cards now to get some points or a Samurai or two, or shall i wait until I have even better cards to make some more points? As you have to play all your actions at once, you have to decide rather quickly, what you want to do. Making 8 points this round instead of 12 next round is a very important question if you could become the host of the shogun.
And finally: The Samurais - do not underestimate them - they are somehow the pepper of the game - in our game the good and sometimes lucky use of samurais was very important!
The ‚Luck‘-thing: Senji is a game with a part of luck needed to win. A good combination of randomly drawn hanafuda-cards, nice dices during battles help you very much. On the other side you have some great possibilitiese to change the odds in your favour, if you have good diplomatic skills and if you're able to make the best of the situation.
Player number : The more the better.
Senji, even if a diplomatic game, has nothing to do with the game „Diplomacy“ - if you‘re looking for a Diplomacy light, DO NOT BUY Senji!!! Senji is also not a heavy game in sense that you could control and overview most of what‘s going on and calculate your best moves - it‘s impossible (at least for me) to plan more than the round youre in, there‘s too much chaos or too many choices. There‘s not much room for long-time strategies, allthough they might be possible. Also you have no direct influence on battles, in which you are neither attacker or defender. And very Important: Strategies that may work in most of ‚military-diplomatic‘ games will fail playing Senji, because Senji definitely has a different approach of the theme!
Conclusion: I like Senji very much, because the game is not very complex concernig the rules - on the other side you have to make more or less important choices all the time: Shall I go for two more hanafuda cards? Shall I attack- and if so, whom shall I attack?... and where have the members of my family gone? Have i enough military support to risk a big battle? Shall I play this Family card in front of me to gain honour enough to become host of the shogun, or shall I keep it to be sure not being attacked by that player?
Allthough collecting cards and fighting battles are also a matter of luck I must say that I was impressed, that the winners in the games I played always could look back on a combination of some great card-suits and successfull battles - you need both to win this game (omly collecting hanafuda cards will slow down your progress - by only attacking other players even if successfull, you will not make enough points).
Short: You need the right combination of hanafuda-cards, battles, good use of your Samurai(s) and some diplomatic skills to win the game - and of course a bit of luck, too. If you do not like this idea, do not play Senji!
Gaming time was about 2 hours - enjoyable light /easy but still with a lot of tension and a lot of laughter round the table, as there were many unexpected situations.
I liked the game a lot, good quality of the material, clear and well done rules, and from time to time a nasty situation, astonishment, the tension when throwing the dices, waiting for the good hanafuda card, clever use of the samurais - well I give Senji a good 8/10.
„... and how comes my wife‘s with YOU now?“
Nice review! This looks like a great game, but probably not one for my collection. It doesn't seem to scale well on the low end, which is where I usually end up.
The bits look awesome and the diplomacy aspect seems well thought out.
- Last edited Sun Jul 6, 2008 4:25 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Sun Jul 6, 2008 4:24 pm
I spend all this time doing a review, a task I can't say I relish, so there will be an English review--and apparently moments after mine is approved, your most excellent review is as well. With a similar title.
- Last edited Sun Jul 6, 2008 5:53 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Sun Jul 6, 2008 5:48 pm
I got the title during play - i think it was a silent moment and suddenly someone asked: Do you want my wife?
For the rest I prepared the review a few days ago and had to wait until I got some more games done.
Your review is may be not as detailed but I enjoyed it and it seems pretty clear you like the game just as I do.