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Subject: Risk: Japan rss

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Matt Drake
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When you start talking about the game Shogun, you have to clarify which one you mean. There's a sort of Euro game out there called Shogun, whose most identifiable feature is a dice tower that doesn't work right. Then there's an old game called Shogun from Milton Bradley that got renamed and called Samurai Swords, and it's so out of print you can mostly only find it on eBay. This review covers that old one, not the new one with the wacky dice tower.

You may be wondering why I'm reviewing a game that's over 20 years old, out of print and not even called what it used to be called. I've got two reasons - first, some readers were talking about the game and asked what I thought of it, so I figured I would give it a spin and tell them what I thought. The second reason is that I've had the game for two years and haven't had a chance to play it, and a review was the perfect excuse to squeeze in a game.

I've been really lucky recently to get a local game group started (if you're in Arlington, Texas and want to play some games on a Saturday afternoon, drop me a line). The people in this group are awesome, but I've decided that just in case they all like me, I need to give them nicknames so that they'll have a good reason to kick me in the shins next time we meet. For the purpose of this review, I'll only be naming three of them, since those are the guys I played with when I was playing Shogun last weekend.

Rockford is a high-school teacher and a mad gamer, and last time we played he showed up in a Hawaiian print shirt that showed off his gray chest hair like an 80's TV detective, only about 20 years older. He's funny, and tricky, and often pulls out moves you never saw coming. Spaz is an Asian student studying at the local university, and he's smart and shrewd and a tough player. He also throws the dice on the floor about as often as he hits the table. And finally, The Shark is an unassuming, quiet dude that seems like he ought to be an easy mark, but he wins just about anything he plays. I've never won a game when The Shark was playing.

So we sat down to play Shogun last Saturday, and the first thing we had to do was explain the rules. Between explaining the rules and setting up the game, we didn't get started for about 45 minutes. It took Rockford three tries to understand how it works to hire the ninja, and Spaz kept slowing me down to repeat stuff I said too fast. So at the start, I was a little worried, because that's a lot of rules.

Then we started playing, and all worries were set aside (except that once he figured out he could hire that damned ninja to spy on us or assassinate people, Rockford got him every time). Hot damn, Shogun is a fun game.

Basically, Shogun is Risk, but in Japan. You can be the Shogun if you can grab 35 provinces (and then you win). There are about 60 provinces on the board, so that means you'll need to do some pretty hardcore smackdowns to win this one. But unlike Risk, where the board gets really messy with all the armies you build, Shogun has three armies on a separate card that let you see exactly what troops are in your mobile military forces.

There are other differences, like the way turn order is determined by drawing plastic swords with diamonds on them, or how, when you lose a province, you have to give up the card showing it and it sits empty on the board until someone claims it. Attacks all have to be declared at the same time, so you can't go, 'wow, that didn't work like I had hoped, I better send in these other guys.' And sometimes you'll declare an attack that might not do any good, just to hedge your bets.

The amount of strategy in Shogun blows my mind. There's a fantastic mix of strategy and tactics, and lots of room for pulling rabbits out of your sleeve. For instance, when I declared a double attack on Rockford's weakened army, surprise ronin popped up to fight me, and then the ninja killed the general of one of my attacking armies, after which Rockford proceeded to stomp a mudhole in me.

There's also lots of dice rolling. When you fight a battle, you go through step-by-step rolls for each kind of combatant - first the bowmen, then the gunners, then the daimyo, and so on, so the dice just keep rolling. Which means that Spaz has plenty of opportunities to stand up, get excited, and then hurl the dice halfway across the room. The odds still work out so that the better player will win - the dice just make things interesting (and even more interesting if you have to keep hunting for them on the floor).

And the best part is that adequate planning and distribution of your armies will make you a really tough player to beat. The Shark quietly consolidated most of the southern part of the main island, and by the end of the third turn, had three huge armies rolling across the country virtually uncontested. In the meantime, Rockford, Spaz and I just kept smashing into each other, which The Shark used to his advantage by striking a couple diplomatic deals and quickly rising to power.

Unfortunately, I can't tell you how the game ends. We played for about two and a half hours, and then Rockford and Spaz had to leave. And at that point, we had just finished three turns. There's no way we would have finished before dark, and we started at 1:30 in the afternoon. Shogun is a big game, and a ridiculous amount of fun, but this isn't the game you should pick if you're short on time. This is a stay-up-late-with-good-friends game. This is not a quick-afternoon-pickup game.

This is also a really pretty game. There are figures for bowmen, gunners, spearmen, and more. There are little plastic castles and a great big board with great art. The colors are subdued (and I'm not entirely sure part of that isn't a little sun bleach on my copy), and the art works wonderfully. Rockford kept exclaiming how much he liked the setup, and we all agreed. It looks great.

I would love to play Shogun again. I had a blast. It's part cutthroat, part planning, part tactics, and all fun. It's a huge game - the box is bigger than any other game I own - and it can take several hours to finish, even if you know what you're doing. But the whole time you're playing, you'll be having a great time, especially if you can rope Rockford, Spaz and The Shark into playing with you.

Summary

Pros:
Awesome pieces
Great tactics
Intense strategy
Careful diplomacy
Incredibly fun

Cons:
Lots of die-rolling means lots of luck
Really long game
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Bill the Pill
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Is there a reason all games with provinces where you roll to attack are "like Risk"? This game is much too sophisticated in gameplay to be considered Like Risk. Like Axis and Allies would be a more accurate statement.


And "lots of die rolling" should mean luck is mitigated.

Sorry, pet peeve.
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Philip Thomas
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This is Risk:Japan in the same way that Axis and Allies is Risk:WWII, or Fortress America is Risk:USA that is to say, not really. The combat system is very different: in the Milton Bradley games you roll 1 die per combat unit in the fight and need to roll a certain number on the dice, independent of the enemy number. In Risk you roll a fixed number of dice which is related to the number of units you have only for small armies and you need to roll higher than your oppponent's roll. Furthermore each time the dice are rolled in Risk a maximum of 2 units are killed, while in the Milton Bradley Games casualties can be very much higher- which makes for a much faster game.

Moreover, there are different types of combat units which cost different amounts in SS and AA (Fortress America has different types of combat unit but they are not purchased). Plus there are a lot of extra bells and whistles- sea combat in AA, Fortifications and ninjas in SS etc.

There's no doubt Risk had some influence on the development of the Militon Bradley Games, but there's a lot more going on.

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Ken B.
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Samurai Swords/Shogun has probably one of my favorite light wargame combat resolution systems. The long range/short range tiered attack system is awesome and creates tough choices. Do you pay for more elite long range troops, knowing that they cost more and their casualties will hurt tremendously? Or do you swarm with cheaper troops, even though they get shredded by early long-range fire and can't fight worth dirt?

As far as the Risk thing...yes, it's on a map with areas, and has plastic figures, and you take terriroty by dice rolling. That's as far as the similarity goes.

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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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Would agree that it's not Risk. The biggest con with the game that you didn't list (and probably didn't see because you didn't finish) is that the players who start on the edges have a huge advantage over the player(s) who start in the middle. We found that after 20 games or so, the player(s) in the middle never stood a chance of winning. We loved the actual design and combat, but the map was just too brutal.
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Seth
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jschlickbernd wrote:
... The biggest con with the game that you didn't list (and probably didn't see because you didn't finish) is that the players who start on the edges have a huge advantage over the player(s) who start in the middle...


That hasn't happend in our games, quite the opposite, but that might be because we play a variant that is a lot faster. And we haven't played 20 times
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Robert Wesley
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There ARE somewhat similarities as they BOTH have the 'cards' aspects, and "Collecting Armies" is being performed, while you ought to be playing THIS: Samurai and "Battle" on some 'board', while that would BE with an extremely detailed "Advanced" edition no doubt!

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M@tthijs
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As I said here, Shogun takes the best from both Axis & Allies and Risk and combines it in a better game: the sum of Shogun is greater than it's A&A/Risk parts.

We normally try to gather 19:30/ 19:45, so we start at 20:00-20:15. Game normally lasts to 0:00-2:00 so that's a solid 4-6 hours. But we do finish it. I recommend playing with 5 because with 5 the game will, on average, be shorter than when played with 4, due to the player-eliminated effects.
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Joel Blum
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Now that you and your group have some 'practice', it'll take less time. At first my group took about five hours, but now it's about half of that.
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Craig Hebert
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Axis and Allies is a pitiful game - and should NEVER be compared to Shogun - a truly well thought out game that stands the test of time.
 
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David Harrington
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Great review (other than the comparison to Risk which has already been mentioned)!! I got this game as a gift in the late 80's and it immediately became my favorite. Even today, after great experiences with Puerto Rico, Caylas & Catan, it ranks as my #1. The only problem is the amount of time required. Although I've played 40-50 times it has never taken less than 5 hours - - 6 is more like it. As a result, it tends to draw very few players in the family, so we usually go with the 2-player version. However, I believe the 2-player mode is actually the best way to go due to the ability to control multiple armies who can then gang up on the lone damiyo that strays too far.

I strongly recommend the game to anyone looking for a "deep" game with lots of strategy & varied approaches. (Always looking for other players in the Detroit area, too!)
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Jon Karlsson
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VixenTorGames wrote:
Unfortunately, I can't tell you how the game ends.

Very quickly once the daimyos get to level 3 or 4, which they usually do at the same time, if I remember correctly. Because then they get to the high levels they can attack three or four provinces per turn, which means that with three daimyos a player can snatch up up to 12 or 16 new provinces in a turn. Such a swing is often enough to win.

Often there is an enemy daimyo in one or more of those provinces, though, so there is a final battle. The winner is often decided by this battle: if the attacker wins he wins (because then he continues to scoop up lightly defended provinces); if the defender wins it's the next person in turn who gets a chance to go for the win in the same way (but this time one of the armies in the land is gone and another is decimated).
 
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Shane Cagney
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Yes, I agree. It's more dangerous to live in the center of the map, but that's where the game is decided and I have played games where the game is over before those on the edge get involved. The best place to be in this game is in the center with all your 3 armies.

The central "spine" of Honshu is where almost all the best provinces are. These are Shinano, Tamba, Mimasaka, Tamba, Yamashiro etc... Kii and Bungo are good too, but they are more on the periphery. Kii is one of the most important spaces on the board. Anyway, these are all great provinces because they touch many other provinces and you can sit one of your Daimyo Armies and reinforce into them to the maximum. This is the crucial consideration in this game - in my humblest of opinions - the ability to replenish losses when Daimyo Armies battle. Build a castle/fortress there too, and you are well on your way to being the next Shogun.
 
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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laurleen wrote:
It's more dangerous to live in the center of the map, but that's where the game is decided and I have played games where the game is over before those on the edge get involved.



I have a hard time imagining that. What were the folks on the edge doing while you achieved your winning position?


laurleen wrote:
The best place to be in this game is in the center with all your 3 armies.



In a two player game, I'll buy that. With multiple experienced players, you'll be attacked from multiple directions, and will have a very difficult time surviving.

I am not knocking the game - I love it - but my experience is very different from yours. Have you played many times against experienced opponents?
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Shane Cagney
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This is what everyone says: it is madness to be in the center. Indeed, I would agree in a 5 Player game. It would be a form of madness. But in all other game formats, it is perfectly workable, exactly because everyone repeats this mantra, and thus there is room to operate.

From my limited experience of this game I have observed that this is what usually happens in this game. There are battles in the center and whoever loses they run away from the center to lick their wounds - hoping to escape to an island. It rarely works. They are either caught running away by a central army, or walk into an enemy army from the periphery. Other than that situation araising, essentially out of their control, the peripheral players don't really impact the game up to that point. They consolidate their lands, get wealthy, build a few castles and unless a single lone daimyo comes into range, they are of the running for this game.

So long as you can maintain a decent income I think you are better being in the middle. You don't have to be the wealthiest to win this game.

 
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Mister P
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Good to see I am not the only geek irritated by the reference to Risk. I personally feel Risk is a bland flavourless excuse for a wargame and I love Shogun. I have owned a copy for 20 years and other than some wear and tear on the box it is in perfect nick inside.
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Chris Kubik
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I just ordered the reprint of this one, I loved the original, so much in fact that my copy was used so much I have deemed it unplayable (its more tape than game now).

I rank this game as one of the best ever made, right up their with Twilight Imperium 3rd edition.

I do understand the RISK reference but I didn't realize RISK was such a disliked game, I mean sure its simple and luck based but every game has its quirky reason to play it. I mean for me RISK is something you do with family and friends, to burn time during long holidays over a few glasses of wine. It doesn't require your full attention and the fact that its simple to learn with very basic mechanics means we are able to play it with kids as young as 4 years old. So ya RISK is not a serious war game, but whats with all the hate, its a classic and its fun to roll dice.

Anywho, back to Shog.. I mean Samur... eh I mean Ikusa. I think the most defining aspect of this game is the sequence of events that you go through in order to execute your strategies even if the combat mechanic has a considerable luck element. I don't know how other people play it but we do a lot of table talk, diplomacy, threats, alliances, back stabbing and that sort of thing as we play. So the game kind of breaks down into three stages for us. First is the table talk where people make arrangements, promises, threats etc. which happens at the start of a round. Next is the planning in which you kind of commit yourself to certain types of actions, often based on table talk, trust or the lack thereof and finally the execution where everything goes down. Usually the execution phase is where we get a lot of the truths revealed in terms of peoples intentions vs. their promises etc. But because the battles have such a profound impact on the gameboard, after each round, their is a feeling of "ok... now we start from scratch".

It does pay in spades to adjust the winning conditions a bit to prevent silly grudge matches and unusually long games and I was hoping that some of these pretty widely accepted variants would make it into the rules (not sure yet if they did or not but I believe that they did add some optional rules so hopefully some of these made it in).

For example player elimination for as long as I can remember was always a "end game" condition we used. So when a players armies are eliminate the game ends and the player with the most provinces wins. I've been to many gaming conventions and I very often saw this rule being used.

We also always did the 36 provinces to win immediatly, or 30 provinces at the end of the round. This really faucilitated end game and created a lot of tension that didn't require 6 hours to get to most of the time.

These minor changes to winning conditions drastically reduce the play time and make the game far more diplomatic as now players have good reason to make sure weak players aren't eliminated and that grudge matches don't end up handing the game to another player.

We also always played 5, never any less. This was also kind of an important game balancing aspect to Shogun, it just didn't play that well with less players. I'm not sure if any rules where added or changed to faucilitate this, but just like most of the big board games, their is a magic number of players that made the games better. For example Axis and Allies is best with 2. Twilight Imperium best with 6. Most of the big board games kind of have this element to them.
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