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Subject: Reiner Knizia's Samurai rss

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Tim Kilgore
United States
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A Review of Reiner Knizia's Samurai

Samurai is a game for 2-4 players which plays in 20 to 60 minutes. The number of players increases the play time, with games finishing in 20 to 30 minutes for two players and 45 to 60 minutes for four players.


When you first open the box, you will immediately be struck by quality of the components. The glossy, heavy black playing piecse feel good in the hand while the interlocking map pieces are made of thick stock and form a large map representing Japanese islands.

As you take the components from the box to play a game, the simple, elegant beauty of the components start to come together, forming an atmosphere that fits the theme wonderfully. The atmosphere of the game, old Japan, starts to come to life as the pieces are placed on the map. Of all of the games that I own, Samurai has recieved the most positive comments about the beauty and harmony of the components.

Game Play

The goal of Samurai is to gain control of each of the three castes in the game; peasant, religious, and noble castes. The castes are represented by pieces representing rice for the peasant caste, buddhas for the religious caste, and high hats for the noble caste. The game starts by each player going in turn placing a piece from one of the castes into the towns and villages on the map until all of the towns and villages have been filled.

Once the castes have been placed on the map, the game begins. During a players turn, the player may place a tile on the board. The tile can exert influence on a particular caste or it can exert influence on all castes (these being the Samurai tiles). The amount of influence each tile exerts varies from 1-4 and once a town or village has been completely surrounded, the player exerting the most influence wins that caste.

Each player has same pieces as the other players. Tiles are drawn, so the random effect in the game is the order by which players get tiles. Since the pieces are the same for all players, the order by which tiles are drawn has an effect (i.e. luck), but it usually isn't significant.

The tiles also have pieces that can be played for free (i.e. you can lay another tile). The gamers part of the game is here as several of these tiles allow you to surprise your opponent or to gain an upper hand in a caste when it is unexpected. Using several of these in sequence can be devastating to you opponents, but waiting for the "right moment" to use them can also cost you the game, so the special pieces add a great deal of strategy and interest to the game.

As the board fills with tiles and caste support becomes increasingly harder to earn, the game develops growing tension that I really enjoy. Each turn is like stretching a rubber band tighter and tighter, with caste support being increasingly hard to earn.

Another thing that I appreciate is that Samurai scales very nicely from 2 to 4 players. I prefer it with 3, but I will gladly play with 2 or 4 players.

PC Version

Klear makes a PC version of the game that can be played alone or online against other players. The online game community is rather weak, so you can expect to primarily play the game against the PC. The computer plays a fairly good game, but never plays to make support for a particular caste piece neutral. Creating neutral caste support for a given piece can be the same as winning that piece if you have the lead for support in that caste, so the AI opponents are good to learn the game with, but a human opponent is a lot harder to beat.

Anyhow, the download will allow you to play 10 games for free. This is super way to evaluate the game play and you should be able to tell if you like the game by playing the computer a few times.

In Closing

Samurai is a fairly abstract game, but it is very approachable and easy enough to learn. Unlike many abstract games, the theme doesn't feel as tacked on, thanks largely to the excellent components and artwork. The fast game play combined with a growing sense of tension makes it a joy to play.

My Rating: 9 of 10

Samurai is one of my favorite games and I can see myself still playing this game a decade from now. I enjoy it visually, at a tactile level, and the game play is excellent.
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