See the person next to you? Kill! Kill!!! KILLL!!!!
I'm your baby! Can you feel it?
Helloa once again for a new review of mine! I don’t write these as regularly as I’d like to (this is just my 13th) but I have come to enjoy writing about long since forgotten games! I do have a few on more recent ones, but since I really enjoy playing all my games and often feel like smacking some oldies on the table, I feel that it is a nice thing to write reviews on these older games, hoping to keep gamers talking about them. So, here goes!
Honor of the Samurai
So what’s it all about?
Well, in Honor of the Samurai players assume the role of a Samurai eager to serve a powerful Daimyo (warlord) in the hopes to aid him turning into the powerful Shogun, so to earn loads of Honor and thus winning the game!
So what? You build stuff?
Sort of... the game comes in a very small box in which you’ll find a deck of 110 cards, 6 dies and 60 little chits in values of 5, 25, 50 and 100 points, these are the honor. So there is no board with places to build "stuff" on, or things to fight over.
It’s a card game then...
Yep! It’s a card game with a bit of (but important) dice rolling. Basically, what players do is building two rows of cards. Each row is a "house" the upper row is the Daimyo house and the lower row is the Samurai house. You can play different cards in each of these houses, such as warriors, artefacts, bodyguards, wives and there’s even a few castles to be had.
Now, you don’t just play them of course; there are rules! For example: each house may have only one wife (duh!), each house may have a max of 5 warriors, only 1 bodyguard per house and only the honorable Daimyo may have a castle.
So during the game, you just build up your houses in the attempt to gain lots of honor and become sufficiently powerful in order to win battles.
AHA!! So there ARE battles in this game! ACTION!!!
Yes, there are battles! And assassinations! And thefts! And betrayals! Everything you like about a theme involving honor! BUT you don’t just simply attack!
First of all, let’s explain the cards. There are two different kind of cards. There are permanent cards, and there are one time effect cards.
The most common permanent cards show you 3 stats on the left side, these are Honor, Ki and Streangth.
Honor = VPs. At the start of your turn, you add up all the values in this section of all the cards in both your houses and get the respective number of chits.
Ki = actions. The Ki represents "determination", during your round you add up all the Ki values of your cards in both houses and divide that number by 3! Now you know how many actions you can do. 5 is the max number of actions allowed per turn though. There are 3 different actions you can do: draw a card, play a card, discard a card. These actions you can do in any combination, as long as you don’t exceed the max number of 7 cards in your hand.
Strength = dice. During your turn, you add up all the strength values of your cards in both houses, divide that number by 3, and you just obtained the number of dices you may roll for attack or defence! 6 dices being the max in this game.
One time effect cards: these ones are cards that do not add to any of your Honor, Ki or Str. stats, instead, you play them in order to use different abilities that may harm your opponents and/or benefit you in different ways. So for example, you may play a ninja thief in order to steal a card from your opponent, or the elite ninja thief to steal 2 cards from any of your opponents. There is also the ninja assassin. This is a particularly nasty card, since it aims to kill either the Samurai or the Daimyo. By using this card, the player rolls a die and depending on the result succeeds or misses (the bodyguard lowers the chances for success). Anyhow, for each ninja card played, the player not only uses up one of his precious actions, as does that player also have to pay honor (yep, using those is very dishonorable), discarding chits for that.
You can also use a shame card on your opponents (uses up 2 actions!! This is the only card costing more than 1 action), this will have him either discard honor chits or commit Seppuku (suicide) in order to avoid loss of honor.
So you see, there is quite a bit to do here.
Yeah right! But we want battles! BATTLES!!!!
Right... battles. First, though, a few words on the most important card in this game: Shogun. Any player may proclaim himself the Shogun whenever he wants. Depending on the number of players, the Shogun card awards different number of Honor points, so if you play a 5-player game for example, this card will net you whopping 100 honor points! Since the game ends at 400 points... well do the maths!
Now the thing is, per rule, players are not allowed to attack other players. There are two exceptions to this rule: a player owns a castle, a player is currently Shogun.
So, as tempting as it might seem to get that Shogun card, fact is: once you do, you’re game! Everybody wants to kill you. So the tendency is, just play your cards and try to have better cards than your opponents that net you good points without making yourself a legal target. And there are some pretty good cards which, if combined, can easily net you 60+ points.
So now you think "ok... so just keep those and don’t get the Shogun... right?" Not right! The first player to achieve accumulated honor of 100 is instantly declared Shogun per decree! No turning round this thing! You WILL be attacked! And the problem now is: once the Shogunate has been attacked and defeated, the winning player gets the Shogun card for himself! Oh and no turning round this thing! Now there’s a new target to be taken down! So once the Shogun card comes into play, it stays in play!
It IS fun. It’s like hot potato! On one hand, you really want that potato, cause it gives lots of points, on the other hand you really don’t want it, cause it makes you get killed! So the rules have been written in a way that there is no avoiding the Shogun card. Sooner or later, the card comes into play, and once it does, it just won’t stop jumping back and forth, and it’s actually rare that it manages to stay a whole round in the possession of the same player so that he may actually benefit from that card! Cause everybody will want to take that player down in order to stop that player from winning the game.
So once you got the Shogun card or a castle, that’s when fighting begins. And here the first twists in the game!
Oh NOW come the twists?
Yep, and a few of ‘em. You thought the Shogun card was a nice twist? Right... You are Shogun, so I attack you! We both determine how many dice we may roll, let’s say 6 dice each (max). I roll first cause I attack and result is, say 25, now you (shogun) roll ‘em and get 26. You win!
Normally, if a player looses a battle, that player also looses his Daimyo and all the cards in his house! BUT! Any player may play a safe-face card for free out of turn on that player in order to avoid that loss! It’s as if battle never took place! This way, players avoid Shogun taking out competition and hot potato continues!
BUT!! Let’s say I won and you (Shogun) lost! No safe-face for you Mr.! Shogun has no right to safe-face! So you not only loose Shogun but also Daimyo plus all the cards in the same row! OUCH!
And now a new twist!
YET ANOTHER TWIST??
Oh yes Sir! You see, players are the Samurai! Not the Daimyos. So players serve the Daimyos. If the Daimyo is lost in battle, the Samurai turns Ronin, this means the Samurai has no lord to serve, which is very dishonorable indeed! So, as long as a player is Ronin (flip card to its Ronin side), that player will not receive ANY honor points, nor will that player be able to attack or declare himself Shogun.
On top of that! The Samurai card is just about one of the lamest card in game! It has only 6 Ki to ensure that you may take 2 actions each turn!! Nothing else!
Ready for the next twist?
Oh boy! Bring on them twists!
Each Daimyo may have 2 Samurais! So, if you happen to have no Daimyo card in your hand when you’re Ronin, you may choose to declare yourself 2nd Samurai to any one Daimyo still in play! Even to the Shogun! As long as you are 2nd Samurai, no player is able to attack you and you receive Honor equal to Daimyo’s house you're serving under (so that's actually another player's Daimyo) added to your Samurai house divided by 2! So only half the honor.
BUT!!! Here’s your chance! You may plunge yourself into the most dishonorable act of all: High treason! While second Samurai, you may attempt an assassination on the 1st Samurai! If successful, you will become 1st Samurai, this means that the player who’s Samurai you just assassinated will have to hand his Daimyo plus all his cards over to you, and discard all his cards in Samurai house! This beacuse players are the Samurai, not the Daimyo, so now that Daimyo has a new 1st Samurai, who happens to be another player!
It is VERY brutal. One turn you may be earning 100+ honor, and the next turn it’s all over and you are left with nothing but a puny Ronin card in front of you! This can be VERY frustrating.
There are a few ways to avoid this though. Say you have a hand of 7 cards, you are a mighty Samurai serving under an even mightier Shogun. You happen to have a really weak Daimyo in you hand though. So this really smart guy on your left, a Ronin, decided that he’s going to be your 2nd Samurai. Just give him a smile and watch him sweat as he figures out what’s coming. When it’s your turn, first thing you do is throwing him this really weak Daimyo on the tableau which he is not allowed to refuse! So you just got rid of a potential threat making him serve a lowlife Daimyo.
Sometimes though, having a 2nd Samurai is very useful! If you’re weak and the current Shogun is just about to win the game, you really need a 2nd Samurai! Why? Because if you decide to attack the current Shogun in a desperate attempt to avoid his victory, you may add the strength of your 2nd Samurai to that of your Samurai and your Daimyo, that may just give you that extra die you need to improve your chances on winning this ultimate, desperate battle.
Honor of the Samurai is very exciting! There is a lot of things you can do: attack other players, become Shogun, become 2nd Samurai to join forces, become 2nd Samurai to commit high treason, steal cards, shame other players, try to safe face etc.
It is very rewarding to build up your little private army, get very honorable wives, a good castle which adds to defence, valuable artefacts, etc. And it feels great to see those things amass into one big honor netting structure. But you also quickly become aware of the danger, so it’s particularly rewarding if you manage to resist all the attempts of other players to throw you down.
You will eventually loose everything you got though, so as great as it feels to build up your riches, it will be very painful when all is taken from you! But ultimately it’s this thrilling feeling of having all and just about to loose it that makes this game unique! Also, all players draw from the same deck, and once the deck is depleted, reshuffle the discard pile and restart, so you know, that nice card will come again! You will kill, you will steal, you will attack!
So you say it’s good then?
I say it’s very good! This game is a very thrilling experience. I can understand that some players might be put off though, by the fact that it will happen a lot that players will fall from mighty power to lowlife nobody. Other players though will appreciate the rush that this knowledge proves them! For these kinds of players, this is just the game to get! Cheap, nice design on cards, original game play, and easy to grasp (especially if you’re familiar with CCG), it just might not be so easy to get anymore! So keep an eye open and if you find a copy of this game, get it!
Honor of the Samurai is a very clever and exciting little card game. Due to the potential high frustration factor, it may not be everybody’s cup of tea though. Nevertheless, for its constant thrill of "gain everything, loose everything", the hot potato mechanic of the Shogun card, the possibility to commit hight treason, and use cheap tricks on your opponents, I think this game well deserves a good round nice 8 out of 10!
Very nice indeed!
- Last edited Mon Sep 12, 2011 1:13 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Sun Sep 11, 2011 10:44 pm
Great Review Pedro!
I own this game and I haven't played it in maybe 10 years. I do remember that the dice were excellent and I used to roll them all the time just for fun, I think the faces are nearly worn off. As for the game, I think it was a bit confusing to get my head around, but since you have written such a glowing review I think I will give it another play in the near future to see how I feel about it now.
A very informative and funny review with just the right amount of rules explanations required for a review. I will check out some of your other reviews!
See the person next to you? Kill! Kill!!! KILLL!!!!
I'm your baby! Can you feel it?
Thank you so much for your very positive feedback James!
As for the dice, unfortunately I got the shallow boring regular ones. I think only the English edition had those fancy custom dice which I really like from the pics, although I imagine you have to do some counting before you get familiar with the symbols.
Anyway, I hope you'll enjoy playing this game, I certainly do. Really glad you enjoyed the review! Thanks again!
Look Up! Stay Alive!
Thanks for the great review. You've convinced me to purchae the game.
Great review Pedro!
I think you hit on a lot of what makes Honor of the Samurai so great.
And some of what makes it so hard for others to see what is so great about it.
I personally love this game, but some other players have had no grasp of the gameplay. One opponent played ninjas every turn, so he was constantly in negative honor. I kept trying to point out you need honor to win, but that was beyond him.
Great review! I have to wonder if the low average rating is due to too many wimps (sorry, players) disliking 'take that' mechanics or the interplayer conflict....because this game sounds great!
Tremendous review Pedro thank you. I've owned this game for ages and just going through games to sell to make space, but you've convinced me to reread the rules, and take it to this weekend's con!
My BIL found this at a local second hand so we gave it a spin. Thanks for your review to add to our understanding of the rules before play.
But I wish I could share the enthusiasm. We all hated it. The cards felt like they mostly played themselves—very little strategic or tactical choices of interest. I even generally like games with randomizing elements like dice. I don't even mind a "gotcha" design either—say Guillotine I think is better in its payback mechanism vs player tactical investiture. But a big win here just didn't feel satisfying—even a big Shogun defeat—because again it didn't feel like there were much for decision points to provide interesting options for what to play when and how.
- Last edited Wed Jan 17, 2018 4:11 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Wed Jan 17, 2018 4:04 am
I will admit, I went out and traded for this game and regretted it pretty much right away after my first play too. Pretty dated mechanics and just wasnt alot of fun. Shame.