Salt Lake City
You get my first board game review this week: Shogun. Be Gentle
The game itself comes in a medium-large sized box of sturdy cardboard. Inside is a well thought out insert with space for everything. The board is a two-sided affair depicting part of Japan. Both sides feature identical provinces, though their distribution between the various areas of the board varies. Each player additionally has their own board with a starting army setup on one side, and an action grid on the other. Both boards are very durable and quite handsome. Various sturdy tokens stand for different building types and unrest. The cards in the game are small sized, glossy, and hardy. They will not begin to wear under casual contact for some time. Most interesting of all the components is the large, multi-piece cube tower that makes up the game’s combat mechanic. We will discuss this later, but it suffices me to say that this structure is a blast to use, though a pain in the butt to assemble.
Shogun is played over the course of two years broken into four seasons each. Three of these are play seasons, while winter acts as a scoring and maintenance phase. Players each begin with control of several provinces, which each have three values: rice, money, and cities. The former states how much rice is gained when that province is targeted for confiscation, the second controls the tax revenue generated when taxed, and the latter decides how many buildings may be built in that province. Each is important. Hungry villagers revolt and must be crushed, taxes fund all your actions, and buildings are the heart and soul of the scoring system.
Each season, the ten actions are laid out in random order, the first five visible, the second five secret. Players then place their province cards face down on their own action board to determine where he wishes to perform each action. After all have done so, bids are revealed for turn order, and the actions are taken in the order shown. This repeats through both years, spring, summer, and fall.
Battles are decided via the cube tower. This is my favorite part. When an attack occurs, all the defender’s cubes and as many attacking cubes as desired are thrown together into the top of the tower. The various shelves and levels of the tower will catch some and allow others to pass. Whoever has the most cubes fall out of the tower is the winner. All of the loser’s cubes are destroyed, with a like number of winning cubes, leaving the remainder to occupy the contested space. This leads to some really interesting results. Sometimes cubes that have long been held on a shelf are knocked out, leading to an upset landslide victory, or several cubes get stuck, stacking future battles in your favor. Either way, it is roughly one million times more entertaining than battles in Risk.
At the end of the year, players have a random amount of rice spoil, subtracting it from their total. They compare their new total to the number of their provinces. If they don’t have enough rice, revolts must be quelled before scoring. During scoring, players get points for having territory, having buildings, and having the most of a specific kind of building within a region. Rice and unrest are reset, and time for year two. The player with the most points at the end of the second year wins.
This game sits about middle-weight. It isn’t as time consuming as a game like Arkham Horror, but it has a lot of meat on its bones. There are a lot of decisions to be made. With the randomized, semi-secret nature of the action order, significant thought must be put into your choices. Indeed, even the starting selection of provinces helps to steer your strategy all game. Bunch up and you may be nearly invincible, but you may miss out on a lot of points for regional building dominance. In addition, there isn’t enough money in the game to do everything every turn. Do you build new fortresses for many points, or stockpile your armies first to dissuade opportunists? There is a lot to be said of opportunism in Shogun, as well. A battle between two rivals could leave both depleted, a perfect chance to snatch up that tempting temple or seven tax province. Unrest and rice shortages must also be considered.
Unlike most games of its type, Shogun is less about conquest, and more about management. Certainly, the military aspect is important. The buildings, however, win you the game. Similarly, the cube tower saves SO much time, in addition to being a fun mechanic in and of itself. I’ve often joked about the tendency for more cubes to come out than went in. They must have woken up late for the battle. I can’t stress enough how the tower changes the dynamic of the game in ways a dice-off form of combat couldn’t.
All my raving does not mean that Shogun is without its shortcomings. First of all, the rules layout is not spectacular. It does communicate the correct ideas, but it often requires a bit of searching finding the pertinent area. This can slow down gameplay. That is not to say that this happens often, however. Secondly, any player caught in the middle will be punished severely. Pressure will mount from both sides of a sandwiched empire until little remains.
Overall, Shogun is an excellent medium-weight conquest and empire management game appropriate for most audiences. I would not recommend the game for small children, or those groups without at least one serious gamer to explain and clarify rules. Other than that, I give Shogun a hearty Appoluscore of 8.6.
Excellent, concise, and well-thought out review! I'm hoping to be playing this tonight if we can get 4 people together. Really don't want to play it with 3 players. Good work! Here, have a