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Subject: Will Take Its Place With the Seven Greatest GAMES of All Time! rss

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Benjamin Maggi
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Introduction
Unlike my usual pattern, this review will not feature a session report attached but will be a strict review of the game itself. This is for a couple of reasons, but the biggest is that I usually play the game online (http://sdtaulbee.members.winisp.net/Shogun/default.aspx) and when games are played online the usual "interaction" experience that makes a session report so interesting is lost. However, based on the number of times I have played it both online and using the board game, I can interject comments and opinions that are reflective of my gaming experiences.

Before we go on I should state that this is a review of Samurai Swords, which is the reprint of the original 1980's Shogun game. There were minor rules differences between the two but in my opinion nothing that would make or break the game. However, one rumor floating about which had at least a shard of truth is about the German rules translation of the game, which apparently was cobbled together by people who neither spoke English or German very well! (see: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/548624/german-translated-rul...).

This game is very special to me as it was the game that brought me to Boardgamegeek. I am primarily interested in trains and model railroading, and growing up I enjoyed board games with my friend and family (usually simple wargames like Risk, Stratego, Axis and Allies, etc.) but found out about BGG when I was on a train website. There, the web designer had reviewed a bunch of games he enjoyed and one of them was Shogun (to be known as "SS/S" for the rest of this review). It sounded interesting and an online search revealed lots of posting about it from this website. Working as a public servant who frequently had to work long hours into the night waiting for the state legislator gave me free time to read up on BGG. Thus, I joined and became immersed into gaming culture. My life has never been the same!

Note: In the early 1980's, Milton Bradley released five war-games under their "Game Master" series title. I don't think that they originally created all of the games, but when they took over production the games were made with elaborate boards and lots of plastic units. In short, they were beautiful. These games included: Broadsides and Boarding Parties (1982); Axis & Allies (1982); Conquest of the Empire (1984); Fortress America (1986); and Shogun (1986). Since then, several have been rereleased: Shogun was re-titled Samurai Swords and put out in 1995; A&A was put out several times in 2004 and 2008, and CotE in 2005.

Game Components
This game is fantastic in terms of both its production and its utility. Not only do the pieces look great, but they also work well. There are some games that come to mind that have really nice units but they are either too small or too fiddly to maneuver around the board. Likewise, I have sat through enough games with easy to read but boring cardboard chits to really build up a preference for plastic pieces. Some would call this an "Ameri-trash" perspective and I don't disagree with it, but in no way to I consider it a negative thing. The gaming hobby has plenty of room for all types of games, and over-produced plastic-filled ones certainly can co-exist with wooden cube filled Eurogames. I actually think the former sometimes are responsible for introducing new people to the gaming hobby with their visual attractiveness. But enough of that.

The game board here is nice and big, folds up well, and is very easy to read and understand. Though reading Japanese words upside down isn't very easy to do, it doesn't matter at all except for dividing up the cards and determining ownership of the territories which is easily accomplished by the players who can read it. Though it is printed in only a few colors and predominately black and white, the spaces are large enough to hold the units without crowding and the borders are well defined. I will admit that two territories are named the same thing, though they are distinguished by being "north" and "south" and as noted above once you get the right color unit on them the problem is solved. Thin stock cards feature each territory on them and hold up well, and since they are usually played face down on the table and not held in hand they work fine.

The pieces themselves are fantastic! The colors chosen- red, orange, blue, green, and purple- work really well on a crowded board and even in bad light are pretty easy to distinguish. There are four army units- bowmen, gunner, swordsmen, and spearmen- and each has a different mold. The spearmen in particular are easy to break, and some of the others are also prone to bending, but considering that the games that pop up on EBay are 25+ years old and yet are still playable is a testament to the plastic. And, replacements are cheaply found on EBay too. There are also several army leaders called "Daimyos" for each player, with different shaped bases (hexagons, circles, and squares) to keep track of armies #1, #2, and #3. They also have flag stickers to tell them apart, which is probably easier to use then to look at the base all the time. There is also an allusive black ninja figure which looks awesome and frequently is found missing in used sets. Did people take the ninja out to play with separately and forgot to put him back, or did some people hide him to prevent others from using him?

Combat is controlled by rolling dice, but instead of the usual D6 variety you get lots of D10. Frankly, rolling these dice is much cooler then the cube variety even though my luck is just as poor with the multi-faceted ones. At least they give you a bunch of them to share amongst the players.

Really interesting are the special hidden screens which are used for the blind bidding of the money, or "koku," throughout the game. Each player is given a handy Styrofoam divider for his units which has a slot for a folded cardboard screen which not only prevents others from seeing how you are bidding your money but also has a handy player aid printed on the side visible to you! And, cool plastic swords with molded diamonds on them help people to remember the turn order. Finally, money isn't produced in paper format but thick red plastic tokens which actually look like Japanese currency.

Before I go on, let me say this: while many of the things I mentioned (multiple figured units, plastic currency, dividers, screens) aren't really necessary to play the game, they really make it more enjoyable. Part of the reason this game is so expensive used is that the manufacturer took the time to make the components special. When you set this game up people are going to notice it, be drawn to it, and want to play it. That is one of the reasons I like it so much.

Playing the Game
The game has a lengthy rules book that isn't entirely well written, but it is possible to stumble through it without too many questions. My own synopsis of the rules is just under 4 pages, and there isn't much I would eliminate from it. However, not every rule needs to be known at once and after a turn or two most will be easily understood. The two most difficult concepts to grasp are army movement (when can you add and drop troops) and battle combat army attack sequence. For the first few battles just refer to the rules and you will be set. Better yet, ask a seasoned pro to play a game with you in "slow motion" until you get everything down. I bet they will be happy to do this for you, as once you learn the game they will have another opponent to play against.

The game goes in phases, and without trying to bore you with the rules (you can find them online and in the BGG resource section) I will quickly describe what happens on each turn. First, the territories in the game are evenly divided out to all of the players. I say evenly because any extras are not claimed in the beginning. Each person gets three armies to build up, represented on cardboard army cards that show where each unit can be placed. In fact, these units are not placed on the board themselves but on the cards. Only an army marker, placed on the board, serves as a location marker. This is much better then cramming 15 units onto one territory (I am looking at you A&A). Each territory has a 5 unit limit unless there is an army present. Thus, armies become important and without them only small battles can take place.

Each turn begins by having players bid their collected Koku (# of territories divided by 3) to purchase several different things. They can build regular army troops, buy special mercenaries called "Ronin" which are stronger but disappear once the turn is over, build castles and fortresses, select turn order, or try and win the ninja. This is all done behind the screen so that you cannot see what others are doing (unless you possess the ninja... it can be used to peak at someone else's actions.) Then, the screens are removed and everyone reveals their top secret plans.

Throughout the game, armies are controlled by players with the goal of military conquest. However, in the end what determines the winner is board conquest, not military superiority. It is entirely possible that one player will have the largest army but not win, and also entirely possible that another player will have the most land and lose. How can this be? Take into account this scenario. Player #1 attacks Player #2 and eliminates two of player #2's armies, but cannot manage to defeat the third. Player #3, with one of his armies, defeats player #2's remaining army and automatically assumes control of all of player #2's land. This gives player #3 enough to win, even though player #1 did all of the work. Sneaky, huh? This game rewards the bold, but strategy and tactics will also reign over brash military attacks.

What I like about this game:
1.) Experience: I really feel like I am a Japanese feudal lord trying to gain control of the area. Having no real foundation for what this is like, I can only imagine but the game's components and play style make it very immersive. The pieces look like Japanese troops, the castles and fortresses look like the pictures, and the ninja? Wow! This game is usually pretty bloody, but in a plastic and dice sort of way.

2.) Interactive: you cannot go through the game without interacting with other players (it is a "war-game", of course), but since this game doesn't have strict alliances set out in advance it is very advantageous to discuss treaties with other players. If you don't, you will find yourself odd man out. The board is cramped for five players and fortune favors the bold. Since the military units defend and attack at the same value, there are no A&A-style attrition battles.

3.) Deep: this game is long, which is probably one of its biggest faults, but it rewards the players. It isn't long just to be long, and while there can be incredible down-time it doesn't have to be boring. Watching your allies or enemies get pummeled by others is just as thrilling as doing it yourself. Seeing a successful ninja attack will bring cheers or groans, and a good string of dice rolls will makes other immediately jealous. I have found that SS/S players are a devoted lot, and they usually say that it is one of their favorite games.

4.) Open: Players are not dictated into what they must do to survive. They don't have to race for Australia, or build up infantry Russia, or hold on until reinforcements arrive. True, there are some decisions that are best not made (don't leave your back door open, don't leave your army weak, and don't blow all your money on the ninja) but beyond that each person must make different decisions.

5.) Adaptable: I am not sure how to describe this, but I will try. If you have several players who like to be aggressive in wargames this is really for them. If you have players that are more conservative or defensive oriented this game also plays to their strategies with its castles, fortresses, and hidden ronin troops. And, if you have a blend of both there is going to be big fight! This game can work with all sorts of players.

6.) Manageable: Not everyone figures out the best strategies (if they actually exist) on their first turn. You usually have several turns' worth of mistakes before it really hurts you, which makes this game "forgiving" of sorts. While armies battling armies will ultimately decide the game, losing one of yours early doesn't condemn you to losing. You need to build alliances early but nibbling away at other people with your ground troops can be just as devastating as losing an army. And, losing an army doesn't always paint you a victim to pounce as much as it makes the victor look like a bully, who then should be "put in check."

What I don't like about this game:
1.) Luck: Every game with dice has luck, and every game with hidden information has luck. But when I say luck, I am not talking about either here. Just because we cannot see what the other players are bidding for doesn’t mean we can excuse our poor reactions to them as luck. Instead, we must take into account the worst possible scenarios and plan accordingly. Likewise, everyone is equally able to roll good or bad dice values and I don't buy any excuse that it alone can make a person lose. (See my review of A&A Pacific 1940, where dice did cause me to lose: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/495869/how-not-to-play-it).

But, the luck I refer to is starting locations. It is very easy for players situated on the southern island or the northern regions to sit back and let the middle 2 or 3 players fight it out, only to later swoop in and crush the struggling middle armies. This isn't fair, but there is no way around it. Compounding the problem is the number of players, which I discuss next. Still, I have seen middle players win before and experience and strategy (and lucky dice rolls!) can win the day.

2.) Number of players: this game doesn't scale evenly. With an even number of players, undoubtedly alliance partnerships will form and no one will be left without a buddy. With three players, generally the two outside players gang up on the middle one. And with five, it is very bloody and the middle armies are sometimes doomed from the start. However, I love playing with 5 because it forces combat from the start. Any army that is not willing to lay it on the line will never grow, and in the end only hurt themselves.

3.) Time: This is a long game, especially for new players, and there is no way to speed it up. The bidding process occurs at the same time but after that each player can take their own turn in order, sometimes using up 10-20 minutes each. What's worse, many decisions are made based on how battles turn out and so pre-planning doesn't guarantee a quick turn. In my experience a game will last around 4 hours, and if the rules are new an additional 30 minutes should be accounted for. Even if everyone is experienced, unless it is a two-player game expect it to take a minimum of 3 hours.

4.) Elimination: if you are eliminated, you may be bored for a long time. Thankfully, when one player falls it usually makes another player increase in strength which either paints them as the new "target" to get attacked by everyone or else they are so strong as to win. In a five player game, though, usually two armies will fall before things really heat up and players push for the win. And, as elaborated on above, unless you are sure you can completely eliminate a player you won't attack them because to try and fail hands the game to the other player.

5.) Cost: I purchased my game last year used for under $30 on EBay, and it can be easily found for under $50 in great shape. If you are willing to purchase a used copy and then buy replacement pieces as needed expect to bag it for even less. Collector's copies command prices sometimes in excess of $100, but why bother? This game should be played and enjoyed, not stuffed on a shelf. Still, for a game that might not see too much table time because it takes so long to play perhaps your money may be spent elsewhere.

Final Reflections
I usually play this game online but have sat down to the table to play it in person, and have always enjoyed myself. Most of the problems that I have with the game are a reflection of having too much to do or thing about, and not a fault with the game itself. If it were stripped down to take less time or get rid of player elimination, then the game will fall short and not be worth the time to play it.

Consider the game more like an Epic movie then a thirty-minute television show, and you will begin to see what there is to love about SS/S. It doesn't play fast but it rewards those who take the time to learn it, play it, discover the many intricacies in it, and ultimately master it. And when in doubt, bid for the ninja! If someone is going to die because of a ninja wouldn't you rather it be someone else and not you?

Edit #1: Submitted as part of the "New Voices" competition: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/608228/new-voices-winter-201...

Edit #2: results of the "New Voices" Competition - HONORABLE MENTION! YAY! :)
http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/616715/new-voices-winter-201...
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Andrew H
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"Did people take the ninja out to play with separately and forgot to put him back, or did some people hide him to prevent others from using him?"


No, the missing ninja escaped ninja
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Benjamin Maggi
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Regarding missing ninjas, here are a couple of rules I try to live by:

1. If you can't see the ninja, you only have a few moments to live.
2. If you CAN see the ninja, it is too late!
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Great review!
Thanks for taking the time!!
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Joe Maiz
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nice review: I have a Shogun which has lots of deaths in it a 'feet' division (where the guy broke off at his feet..thus the divison marker is just a pair of feet) and some broken spears, but well played.

What I love about this game has yet to make another appearance in others: * The secret bidding on all of your money; why not have that in other games?
* The card system was new- put a map of the board on the card and highlight the territory in question - simple and effective. Lots of games have this now, but the first I saw was in Shogun
* Setup was always interesting - we did a house variant, where the extra troops were placed on your cards as hidden troops - made for interesting scenarios and alliances right from the get go.

In all, its one of my favorites that I break out on occasion, if I have a wargamers weekend and want a fun one to play

Red player: "Im shogun!! "
/stab ninja

Green player: "No your not.."
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I love seeing modern reviews of classic games.
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One of my favorites from the 80's. Although it will always be called 'Shogun' to me, thanks for giving it a solid review.
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Casey Petersen
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I concur! This is gaming nirvana for me. Love the choices, the look, the play. Someone could reissue this.
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CaseyP wrote:
I concur! This is gaming nirvana for me. Love the choices, the look, the play. Someone could reissue this.

It really is a great style for FFG to reissue.
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Benjamin Maggi
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corkysru wrote:
It really is a great style for FFG to reissue.


That scares me! It might become a "monster" game if they did it and consume itself with extra pieces and such. Since it was last re-released in 1995, I would suspect more that we would see Fortress America rereleased before this.

Doing them both would be awesome, though!
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Benjamin Maggi wrote:
corkysru wrote:
It really is a great style for FFG to reissue.


That scares me! It might become a "monster" game if they did it and consume itself with extra pieces and such. Since it was last re-released in 1995, I would suspect more that we would see Fortress America rereleased before this.

Doing them both would be awesome, though!

It scares me too, because I think FFG would do a re-design, and probably screw it up. The Eagle Games re-release of Conquest of the Empire (also from the original GameMaster series) is an example of what I'd like to see in a re-release. They essentially stuck with the original components and provided a cleaned up set of original rules along with a separate rulebook for their re-design

Not that it's an issue for me personally - I still have two copies, one Shogun and one Samurai Swords - but it would be nice if the younger generation of gamers could experience this. If anybody is looking for a game that is currently in print and appeals to the same type of player, I would recommend Warlords of Europe.
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Sphere wrote:
Benjamin Maggi wrote:
corkysru wrote:
It really is a great style for FFG to reissue.


That scares me! It might become a "monster" game if they did it and consume itself with extra pieces and such. Since it was last re-released in 1995, I would suspect more that we would see Fortress America rereleased before this.

Doing them both would be awesome, though!

It scares me too, because I think FFG would do a re-design, and probably screw it up. The Eagle Games re-release of Conquest of the Empire (also from the original GameMaster series) is an example of what I'd like to see in a re-release. They essentially stuck with the original components and provided a cleaned up set of original rules along with a separate rulebook for their re-design

Not that it's an issue for me personally - I still have two copies, one Shogun and one Samurai Swords - but it would be nice if the younger generation of gamers could experience this. If anybody is looking for a game that is currently in print and appeals to the same type of player, I would recommend Warlords of Europe.


I don't think FFG would screw it up. I think they would do a good job of it.
I just wouldn't mind them publishing a version of it because their bits are so well crafted that I think it would add to this great game.
 
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corkysru wrote:
I don't think FFG would screw it up. I think they would do a good job of it.
I just wouldn't mind them publishing a version of it because their bits are so well crafted that I think it would add to this great game.

The bits in the original are well crafted. Hopefully that would just be a matter of putting new plastic in the old moulds. What concerns me is the rules - FFG always wants to redesign. I've seen what they did to Fury of Dracula, and the combat system they saddled Dungeonquest with. You're entitled to your opinion, but I'm in the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" camp. Samurai Swords is a great game, and doesn't require a redesign.
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Sphere wrote:
corkysru wrote:
I don't think FFG would screw it up. I think they would do a good job of it.
I just wouldn't mind them publishing a version of it because their bits are so well crafted that I think it would add to this great game.

The bits in the original are well crafted. Hopefully that would just be a matter of putting new plastic in the old moulds. What concerns me is the rules - FFG always wants to redesign. I've seen what they did to Fury of Dracula, and the combat system they saddled Dungeonquest with. You're entitled to your opinion, but I'm in the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" camp. Samurai Swords is a great game, and doesn't require a redesign.

So many people complain about the combat system in DungeonQuest and honestly it isn't that bad. If I can teach it to my parents in under 5 minutes it can't be complicated.
 
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corkysru wrote:
So many people complain about the combat system in DungeonQuest and honestly it isn't that bad. If I can teach it to my parents

I could teach it to people too, but I wouldn't, because the system in the older version is superior. The new one feels like it was grafted on by somebody who had no feel for what the game is all about. I could say precisely the same thing about the combat system in Fury of Dracula. And Samurai Swords is all about the combat - hence my negative reaction to the idea of an FFG reprint.
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KenToad wrote:
Didn't we already discuss this?

Ah, yes we did.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/3313741#3313741

I wouldn't change a word of what I said in that old thread.

KenToad wrote:
Personally, I felt like the Day/Night roll in the original Fury deserved to be fixed.

No offense, but it truly boggles my mind that anyone would happily accept the bizarre temporal distortion introduced in the FFG version in order to eliminate one die roll, which often didn't happen anyway because of card play. Yet you apparently enjoy Samurai Swords. Does the ninja bug you in the same way, or are you OK with it?

[edit] In answer to your question, no I never played the shortened version of Samurai Swords. Always the full monty.
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Benjamin Maggi
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Can we move your discussion to another thread instead of tying up my review of Samurai Swords?
 
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Benjamin Maggi wrote:
Can we move your discussion to another thread instead of tying up my review of Samurai Swords?

Are you're talking to me, Ben? If you scroll back, you'll note that the way I entered this conversation was replying to one of your posts. And even though we've strayed here and there, I haven't made a single post that didn't refer to Samurai Swords.
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Ian McCarthy
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Benjamin Maggi wrote:
Can we move your discussion to another thread instead of tying up my review of Samurai Swords?


???

surpriseblushcrywhistle

*Removes thumbs and backs away quietly ...*
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Sphere wrote:
Benjamin Maggi wrote:
Can we move your discussion to another thread instead of tying up my review of Samurai Swords?

Are you're talking to me, Ben? If you scroll back, you'll note that the way I entered this conversation was replying to one of your posts. And even though we've strayed here and there, I haven't made a single post that didn't refer to Samurai Swords.


I wasn't talking about your comments about SS/S. I just don't want to see this turn into a bash FFG thread. I don't mind if that occurs but it probably would be better under the "general" or "news" threads where people could spot it easier.

As for the other comment about thumbs.... I don't write what I write for thumbs. I write it to try and serve other gamers who might take something away from reviews (as I do with other people's reviews). I came into this world without BGG thumbs, and I will leave it without BGG thumbs."
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Sphere wrote:
corkysru wrote:
So many people complain about the combat system in DungeonQuest and honestly it isn't that bad. If I can teach it to my parents

I could teach it to people too, but I wouldn't, because the system in the older version is superior. The new one feels like it was grafted on by somebody who had no feel for what the game is all about.

That may be right. They should have used the weapons for Descent. I mean that is at least more thematically correct given the universe it is in.
 
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Benjamin Maggi wrote:
I wasn't talking about your comments about SS/S. I just don't want to see this turn into a bash FFG thread. I don't mind if that occurs but it probably would be better under the "general" or "news" threads where people could spot it easier.

I think you're over-reacting. If you click on "Games Owned by Publisher" in my profile, you'll find a list of over 80 Fantasy Flight titles. That's a bit inflated because it includes many expansions, but it makes clear that I'm a solid Fantasy Flight customer, and I have zero interest in starting a thread to bash them. (I think they are an excellent company, but feel that such a project would play to their weaknesses rather than to their strengths.)

I wasn't discussing Fantasy Flight directly, though, but only in light of whether they would be a suitable publisher for Shogun/Samurai. You commented on that yourself, before I did, and I don't appreciate the suggestion that your view on the matter is germane, while mine (or Patrick's) is not.
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Benjamin Maggi
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Sphere wrote:
You commented on that yourself, before I did, and I don't appreciate the suggestion that your view on the matter is germane, while mine (or Patrick's) is not.


Absolutely your comments are more germane then mine because clearly you and Patrick have more experience with FFG than mine. I made my comment off the cuff, not knowing that it would develop into a full-blown discussion. I find the dicussion interesting, as I think the reintroduction of the game would be timely (though I would rather see Fortress America), and only commented that it might be best served as its own post.

Let it live here then. It is only the web.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Benjamin Maggi wrote:
Absolutely your comments are more germane then mine...

I wasn't suggesting that anyone's opinions are better, only that we should all be at liberty to discuss them. Sharing opinions is the key social element on this site. Pax.
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jrcatania wrote:
Also the reason the name was changed was political or copy right ?

The latter. The rights were sold for James Clavell's Shogun, and lawyers got involved.
 
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