This is a review of Samurai Swords (Shogun) by Milton Bradley. As of late I've been going through some of my favorite games, all mostly the Gamemaster line and trying to get my thoughts on them as far as a review goes. This game continues this trend as I write on it. Overall, my preferences are probably more towards the Larry Harris designed Gamemaster games, however, Samurai Swords holds up well and is at least comparable. Some people even have this as their favorite of the Gamemaster line. it's an interesting game which introduces some new dynamics, yet still has the economic situations provided in the other games such as Axis and Allies and Conquest of the Empire where you have to secure your income by conquest, and from that income you buy your armies. However, you also have additional options added on top of that for Samurai Swords. Similarly to Conquest of the Empire where you could build cities, in Samurai Swords you have Fortresses, which add to the defenses of your territories. The game builds upon items that are found in other Gamemaster games and itself is a superb game. It's summary is as follows
Materials - 9
Rules Presentation - 6
Gameplay - 9
Personal Tilt - 9
Replayability - 9
Useability - 6
Final Score - 8
Materials - As with other Gamemaster games, the materials in this game are superb. It has mini swords that are there simply to determine player order, armies of plastic soldiers with archers, gunners, spearmen, and samurai, as well as screens to keep your bidding secret, styrofoam to hold your pieces, cards to mark which territories you won, and plastic coins with holes in them that simulate some oriental currency. All of it is useful, if somewhat extravagent in implementation. You also have cardboard charts where to place your armies and keep track of the maximum numbers you can have in that force, as well as the leaders and their level. The board is well made, if rather colorless, however the design is meant to remind one of the Japanese setting of this game. Overall the materials are excellent, and hold up terrific even in today's standards.
It scores a 9.
Rules Presentation - The rules have many examples and are straightforward, however they may take a little bit to read and understand. I'd plan a little while before play in order to read the rules and understand them. There isn't really anything special about the rules otherwise, though some portions would be harder to understand if not for the examples that are included in the rules.
It scores a 6.
Gameplay - Setup is integrated into the actual gameplay at the beginning as you set up your armies similar to a Risk style of setup. Afterward setup, where you have situated your armies as desired, along with your defenses, you begin the actual gameplay portion. The object in this game is more along the lines of total domination, and in that sense it may take a little longer than some of the other Gamemaster games. You begin as determined with your player order. Before each turn players can place money into player order, building up fortresses and armies, as well as trying to obtain control of a ninja (which is represented by a little plastic Ninja). All bids/payments are blind and done behind your screens. They are then revealed and player order is determined by who paid more to go first. For the remainng players, there is the drawing of straws, or in this case plastic swords which have a number of diamonds on their blades which dictate who goes in what order (if you draw a blade with one diamond you go first, if you draw the one with three diamonds you go third).
The actual buying of armies is very similar to the Games of Axis and Allies or Conquest of the Empire. Each army piece has different strengths and weaknesses. They have different abilities, as well as different attack strengths. They each also cost different amounts of money from the other pieces. Each territory may hold pieces to defend it, however these are different then the normal armies that you have. These armies are led by leaders who can level up as they win battles. In addition, you are limited to only 3 armies each which are able to move around the board and attack, or bolster your defenses as needed. This is similar to the Generals idea in Conquest of the Empire, except that you can also have military forces that defend your territories (like in Axis and Allies, however those defending the territories, unless they are in an army really don't move). Combat is also similar to other Gamemaster games in which your units must roll a certain amount to hit the others, however units act in order during battle, normally with higher costing units and units using missile weapons going first. If you have an army in the battle, and you win with a surviving leader, then that leader or daimyo goes up in level. This can affect how many actions that army really can do, with the higher the level, the more actions.
In the step where you buy and place your armies, you can also buy temporary swordsmen mercenaries which you can have in secret reserve to spring as a surprise on your enemies. This is one other factor that adds to the variability of combat and tactics. These Ronin are highly effective in combat, however they only are with you temporarily.
Finally you have the Ninja, which you may bid on, but not necessarily win. With a Ninja you can spy on another player to see what they are doing in their planning, or you could try to assassinate one of their leaders. This can be particularly brutal and can reduce a leader that you had levelled to a higher level, to death in a matter of a roll. It's a high intensity action that can have both the player who got the Ninja, as well as the player who's facing the Ninja in high action that falls upon a roll of the die.
This game is interesting in that it has facets of both Axis and Allies, Conquest of the Empire, and some other rules tossed into the mix. It has the combat similar to Axis and Allies, along with an buying military in a similar fashion. It has the idea of building fortresses (similar to the city mechanic in Conquest of the Empire) as well as limited armies and leaders of those armies that Conquest of the Empire had, it has a dynamic similar to Risk in setup, and then has it's own dynamics of bidding for player order, mercenary troops, a ninja, and adding to combat itself with troops that have a troop attack order.
Overall, this could be the most rules intensive of ALL the Gamemaster games, and the one with the most available different actions that a player can take. Overall, the gameplay works extremely well with what could be a more complex game.
It scores an 9.
Personal Tilt - I really enjoy this game with all the different and various rules. I think I prefer the varied amounts of income as provided in Conquest of the Empire and Axis and Allies rather than how they present it in this game and I also prefer the a more standard setup than the Risk type of setup they have in this game. However, I truly enjoy the variation in combat, and all the different options such as the bidding mechanic, the levelling of leaders, the ninjas, and all the other ideas that are incorporated into this game. I think that would make it equal if not better for many players who are fans of the Gamemaster series of games, as well as games that are in that same vein of thought. It is truly a gem of a game, and personally I think someone who enjoys Axis & Allies or any game like it would truly be missing out if they didn't try this game.
It scores a 9.
Replayability - Despite how I prefer a different method of setup, the way that it is setup at the beginning of the game makes it so that there is greater replayability in the long run for this game. In addition with so many options and so many different tactical positioning that you can do, the replayability in this game is probably greater than most other lite wargames. For the original price, this game was an excellent value, and if you can find it for the cost of many of the new games now (50 to 80 dollars) it is STILL an excellent value. It is a game that you can play over and over again and still find new tactics and strategies springing up at you. One weakness that some have stated is that for them the people who set up around the edges of the map typically have a FAR better chance to win the game than those who are set up more towards the center. This can be a weakness that also affects replayability, depending if it bothers you or this is a strategy that comes to affect you often.
Overall, it has a great replayability factor and rates highly.
It rates an 9.
Useability - This is one of those which is an iffy game on how easy it will be to use in a group. It has several dynamics that Eurogamers may enjoy, such as varied player order, bidding for order and ninja usage, and building up fortresses and territories, but at the same time they may not be too fond of the massive dice rolling for battles. At the same time it has a lot to offer your typical gamer who enjoys these types of games, or who don't mind that much chance tossed in. It is a LONG game for a game night and because the rules are a little more complex than your normal Gamemaster game, it may take a while to explain. The number of players is more flexible than some of the other Gamemaster lines, and no one will probably feel hosed because they have to play something like Russia (Axis and Allies reference). Overall, a great game with the right groups, but probably not as useable in a game group as some other games. It's about average in that area.
It scores a 6.
Overall this game has great production values, great gameplay with plenty of options and new ideas, and a great amount of replayability. On the downside it is a tad more complex then the other Gamemaster games. It's not as complex as many of the hardcore Wargames by any shot, but for a lite Wargame it has a deeper complexity to it as well as long play time that can make it harder to get to the table occasionally. Overall, it scores very highly.
It's final score is an 8.
HEY!! Who's the archvillain here?
Power equals power!
I think Shogun should be played with 5, and 5 alone. It doesn't hit the table as often as I would like, also due to some of the reasons you mentioned. I now play this game for more than 20 years and I now have a mailing list of about 12 'trained' Shogun players, so whenever I want to play, I mail and the first 4 to answer my mail will have a seat. However, if someone will cancel at the last moment, I'll go to great lengths to see if one of the other 10 might be able to fill the last seat. With 4 the game tends to drag, while with 5 it's (relatively) short&bloody.
Axis&Allies, on the other hand, is a game I'll only play as a 2 layer game, due to the long downtimes. Where in Shogun most of the game is simultanous (bidding, buying, placing armies) in A&A that's all sequential.
As you might suspect, I rated this game a '10', as in BGG's "Outstanding. Always want to play and expect this will never change"
Nice review GreyLord. This is my all-time favorite game with one caveat, I agree with Kael that the playability and spirit of the game are greatly diminshed with fewer players. I will consent to playing with four, but never with two or three. Five, or even six players are optimal. I have extra player colors as I have purchased 2nd and 3rd copies of this great game over the years and have painted additional player colors such as yellow and dark blue. The hard plastic holds paint exceptionally well, and the painted units look no different from the native plastic units, even to my crtical eye.
Kael is also right on, in my opinion, that A&A is really a two player game. Possibly A&A50 might be worth the long down times and limited actions involved in playing a single nation, but I really don't think so.
In my spare time I am working on my own version of "Victory Point Shogun," I just haven't finished yet. The one big drawback to "Last Man Standing" games like Shogun, is the loss of social interaction as the game dwindles down to fewer players...so you're best friend is at your house, but has been eliminated, so what does he do now?...read your book collection in the basement? The one giant conceptual improvement that Eagle Games made to the original MB Gamemaster Series, is the implementation of some "sudden death" type rules where the game ends for everyone simultaneously, and then a victory point system is used to determine the winner. In my opinion, this represented a major conceptual advancement in multi-player cutthroat style games.
Keep on reviewin'!
I definitely agree that this game is something special with 5 players, but I also find it not all that appealing with fewer.
The problem, as I see it, is the Juggernaut Effect. With 4 (or 3 players), a strong faction that reaps the rewards of a faction kill has a practically instant victory.
Such is much less certain with 5 players, therefore the military tactics and political tactics are subtler as 1 or 2 factions appear to start circling the drain. That yields some small political openings for the weakest factions.