Ramping up my reviewing.
Happily playing games for many, many years.
I haven't played Ikusa/Shogun in 20 years - when it was still called Shogun! Sarah and I have both picked up copies of the recent Wizards reprint of the game, but we'd had several months of being unable to play it, mainly due to the game's length making it infeasible for most of our game sessions.
However, for the Queen's Birthday public holiday here in Australia, Sarah, Daniel, Mark and I were able to gather to play through a complete game of Ikusa. It was a fun experience, though it is unlikely to be played all that much by us.
Sarah and Mark contemplate the board. Merric=green, Mark=purple, Sarah=brown, Daniel=blue.
The set-up saw Mark (purple) concentrating his forces in the upper-right of the board. I kept one of my (green) daimyos in that area, but most of my forces were on the southern (left) island. Sarah (brown) decided to place one of her daimyos against my two there, whilst her other two were in the centre map. Daniel (blue) ended up concentrating his forces between Sarah's and mine - something that he'd shortly find was a bad idea.
So was Sarah's fortifying of the South Island. It was like a red rag to a bull, and I marched in there and destroyed her first army (which wasn't inside the fortification). Otherwise we all manoeuvred for position, taking down the small forces around our armies.
In the second turn, I hired the ninja for the princely sum of one koku, although I just kept him as a spy. The consolidation of forces continued this turn, although I managed to keep a good force in the north (right), even in the face of Mark expanding in that area.
This was the turn that Sarah and Daniel got rid of all my middle-island forces that they'd left the previous turn, whilst I took down Sarah's fortification on the south island.
By the end of the turn, all of us were fairly even for provinces, although Daniel was at a slight disadvantage.
Again, I got the Ninja for just one koku, and employed him merely as a spy. Daniel found himself being squeezed out, and had a poor turn where he attacked my forces, then withdrew to let me take those forces back rather than losing an army to my counterattack.
I used the ninja to blackmail Mark into not attacking me - I ceded him one province, but he mostly moved against Sarah, taking Wakasa from her. Sarah was outraged by this, as they'd had something of an understanding, and Sarah now saw this as an attack against her core provinces. Mark would pay (PAY!) for what he had done!
And so Mark did, with Daniel, Sarah and I launching attacks on him: Daniel took the sea-route, whilst Sarah took back Wakasa and - with the ninja - assassinating one of Mark's daimyos. I took out his lightly-defended castle, whilst also clearing out some of Daniel's forces to the south (left) of the map.
Mark now found himself in some very lightly-defended terrain with hostile armies all around, and he began to talk for his life. I was more receptive to his entreaties than either Sarah or Daniel, but he was still in a perilous state.
Daniel made two landings on Mark's shores, with one taking one of Mark's castles, but it proved a fatal mistake: Mark's counterattack destroying Daniel's army entirely.
We noted the lack of strategic withdrawal: taking territory has its pitfalls in this game! Indeed, Mark had taken a territory from me that, if he'd left it empty, would have prevented me from taking two territories in return. However, his aggression cost him a castle.
As it turned out, it wasn't Mark in major trouble this turn: it was Daniel. Sarah hired the ninja again, and used him to assassinate one of my daimyos, stopping one of my armies from laying waste her provinces.
Mark moved to eliminate Daniel's army in the north (right) of the isle, and though he took some damage doing so was able to bring to bear much more effective forces than Daniel had available.
However, this reduced Daniel to one army, and Sarah took advantage of her experienced forces to move to its position and destroy it. With the loss of his last army, Daniel was out of the game and all of his units and provinces were now Sarah's, who also regained her third daimyo.
This wasn't good. I was, meanwhile, making raids out of my newly fortified castle in Mark's terrain, and then moving back to it at the end of turn. I had 24 provinces by turn's end; Sarah had 27. The game would see one more turn.
With Sarah in such a dominant position, Mark and I confirmed our alliance (with Sarah still furious over the Betrayal at Wakasa by Mark). I hired the Ninja for 5 koku - with Sarah bidding 4 koku. It was a significant moment of the game.
To my astonishment, Mark moved to utterly destroy one of Sarah's generals - a very rough battle, with a lot of losses on both sides, but Sarah was down an army and daimyo by battle's end. Meanwhile, I'd assassinated another of Sarah's daimyos before she could attack me, whilst Sarah's third army had crossed the strait and attacked my well-defended castle; she'd taken it, but with losses.
With Mark's success, I suddenly saw my chance and seized it: I attacked Sarah's force with no daimyo and destroyed it, and also moved my army across a strait I controlled so I could attack Sarah's remaining daimyo (which Mark had threatened with another army) without needing to make a sea attack. Sarah fought, but unsuccessfully. Her third army destroyed, I gained control of her units and provinces.
That was the game: with all of Sarah's and Daniel's provinces added to my own, I had reached the 35 provinces needed for victory. I hadn't expected at all to win in that manner: Mark acted on his own in destroying Sarah's army, but it gave me the chance I needed and I took it.
The game took us about 4 hours to play, with the 6 turns taking between 30 minutes and 1 hour each. This was my first game in 20 years, and Daniel's in a similar period of time (say 10-15 years, he played Samurai Swords). This was Sarah's first full game, and Mark's first game.
The game was enjoyable as a "light" wargame. It's great as a game that can be easily taught and learnt by gamers, but I tend to prefer slightly more complex wargames. It will remain a game I don't play all that much, though I'm very happy to have had the chance today.
Without Mark betraying Sarah at Wakasa, I doubt I would have had such a resounding victory, but the ramifications of that attack (which Sarah never stopped taunting Mark with) were lasting.
Sarah had intended - at the start of the game - to not hire the ninja at all, but initial hiring of him for two turns at 1 koku each turn was too much for her restraint: she took the dark path. Which saw her destroyed by another dark side adept. Such is life in feudal Japan!