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A Most Dangerous Time: Japan in Chaos, 1570-1584» Forums » Reviews

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Seth Gunar
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A Most Dangerous Time (hereinafter “AMDT”) covers a subject and a time period which is unfamiliar to many gamers and hard core grognards. It would be a shame if this lack of familiarity leads some of them to eschew the opportunity to play a game that is unique, has enormous strategic depth (without inordinate rules complexity), and is incredibly fun to play.

The Historic Backdrop:

AMDT takes place in Japan between 1570 and 1584, which is in the middle of what historians call the “Sengoku” or “Warring States Period.” During this period assorted Japanese clans led by “Daimyos” (“Great Names”) vied for power and control. Imagine something like the Mafia wars of the 1920s and 1930s. However, unlike Mafia Dons, these Daimyo have armies of thousands of Samurais armed with pikes, katanas (the famed Japanese two handed sword), bows, and the new firearms copied from imports from Portugal (arquebus’s). They have powerful castles to defend their domains when they are not attempting to conquer neighboring territories. AMDT models the intrigues, betrayals, and assassinations with cards and negotiation abilities possessed by some leaders while the military conflicts are modelled more traditionally with counters that represent units of soldiers that can be maneuvered on the map.

In this chaotic and violent period certain individuals rose above the rest. They have an aura in Japanese imagination (according to Adam Starkweather, the game developer) that is similar to how people in the west imagine King Arthur, but with one important exception - we know that these Japanese figures existed.

The foremost of these and the central character in the game is Oda Nobunaga, the first of the three great unifiers. Oda succeeded in building a large power base in the center of Japan by 1570. In the game, one player represents Oda and he is attempting to replicate or surpass Oda’s historical achievements. The other player represents the opposition to Oda, which includes some of the most colorful and powerful warriors in history (not just Japanese history). They include Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen. On the Oda side is Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was destined to be the third and final unifier of Japan after his victory at Sekigahara which takes place 15 years after the conclusion of AMDT.

While this power struggle is playing out, another group (which is part of the Anti-Oda “alliance”) is the “Ikko-Ikki” a polyglot group of fanatical buddhist warrior monks that are immune to intrigues and betrayals.

The Game Mechanics:

The rules are quite simple. Play is divided into turns (10 for the short game and 30 for the full campaign). In each turn, the factions place “chits” into a cup that are randomly drawn. Some factions with special leaders, such as Oda, Takeda, and Kenshin add an extra chit. When a chit is drawn, the player who controls the faction/clan first attempts to negotiate and cause his opponent’s forces to come over to his side. He then rolls for movement (1d6 with +2 if he controls Kyo). With these movement points he can do a combination of moving troops and/or initiating combat (field battle or siege). He then determines whether he has gained control of an area. This process is repeated until the Turn End chit is drawn (yes, if this chit is drawn first then nobody does anything that turn).

The map is point to point, like many of the card-driven games (but AMDT is card “supplemented” not card driven). The forces are represented by counters with each counter representing one “soldier”. Some soldier units are also Samurais or Daimyos with the abilities that go with them.

Field battles consist of a series of rounds that continue until one side retreats or is annihilated. In each round, the players first roll for initiative. If the roll is a tie, both players roll to see if they hit. If one side rolls two points higher, he rolls to see if he hits and the opponent does not. If he rolls one point higher and his side has a commander with a higher bravery rating, the same occurs. If he does not, then both sides roll to hit. Rolling to hit means rolling a number of d6 equal to the number of soldiers that the player has in the battle. On a roll of 6, he hits. Both the initiative rolls and the rolls to hit are modified by leader bravery ratings. A Daimyo gets a +1 on the initiative roll.

Although the action takes place in the 16th Century, supply is crucial. An army without a Line of Communication to his home castle will be half as effective and very vulnerable.

Before a battle, a player can play cards to have a portion of the opposing army defect to his side - which can be a rude surprise.

Overall, the mechanics inject an enormous amount of chaos into the game. They can reward an aggressive player or punish him severely.

Strategy:

The 30 turn game is won by controlling Kyo (which is at the center of the map) at the end of the game. The Oda player starts in a commanding position in the center of the map. However, as time goes by more and more enemy clans enter the game with each being more powerful than the next. The Oda player cannot afford to sit back and wait. His forces are maxed out (there is a strict counter limit) and he can only get stronger by conquering enemy factions. The strategic options are endless when it comes to choosing who to attack and when to attack them. The Anti-Oda player is a like a vulture that gradually turns into a Hawk, hitting Oda where he is weak and trying to contain him until the big Anti-Oda forces arrive on the map (which only represents the center of Honshu around the ancient capital of Kyo/Kyoto). The Oda player has to use his interior lines effectively or risk being overrun.

Overall, because of the mechanics of the game, each player is trying to manage the level of chaos/bad luck/good luck that he is forced to confront. Nothing is certain, but this does not mean that the outcome is based solely on luck. Strategy plays a definite role in the outcome, but like any war there is going to be a large degree of unpredictability.

Components:

The game components are gorgeous - especially the map done by Mark Mahaffey. The color scheme for the spaces makes it easy to see what the situation is at the beginning of the game. The counters clearly give the necessary information. There are separate cards provided as play-aids to assist the players in following the right sequence during different phases of the game.

My only criticism is that the control markers are the same size as the soldier counters, which makes it easy to mix them together accidentally. There was one minor flaw with counters for betrayed units that is very easy to fix.

Conclusion:

Tetsuya Nakamura also designed another popular chit driven game called “A Victory Lost.” Both AVL and AMDT play like great thrillers with each chit draw being like the unfolding of an epic strategic mystery/puzzle. It is impossible not to get drawn in.

The first few times a player tries the game can be very frustrating and infuriating. However, once you understand the nuances (which does not take long) you will find yourself wanting to play this game again and again. Replayability is infinite.

The rules are easy to teach which makes it much easier to find opponents. If you are looking for a game that is easy to learn and very challenging and enjoyable, you will not be disappointed by AMDT.
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Wendell
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Great review. I own it but haven't had a chance to play it yet.
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You evil man. Now I am sorely tempted to try and get it...
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Excellent review! Must try this one soon .
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davide pessach
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Yeah, good review. I own the game and I like it a lot. My only problem is with the rules booklet...
Rules are simple, and the flow of the game perfectly designed but reading the rules make it way much harder than it should be. It needs to be re-written, re-organized.
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patgarret77 wrote:
Yeah, good review. I own the game and I like it a lot. My only problem is with the rules booklet...
Rules are simple, and the flow of the game perfectly designed but reading the rules make it way much harder than it should be. It needs to be re-written, re-organized.
Yeah, I'm sorry to say that you are not alone on that score. However, the developer - Adam Starkweather - is an ace when it comes to quickly answering rules questions and eliminating confusion. He will quickly answer your questions either on the geek, or on Consimworld.com, where he seems to be on the air 24/7. I think the longest I ever had to wait for an answer to my questions was about 45 minutes.

Click this link:

http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?13@816.sbNzfFAscXw.33289143...

You will find clarifications and errata that have removed any obscurities.
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Seth Gunar
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grognard wrote:
You evil man. Now I am sorely tempted to try and get it...
Given the ratings, I wouldn't wait too long. Otherwise you may end up having to pay funny money on e-bay for it.
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    Given your description I'm wondering if it's possible to break this game out across more than two players. That would go a long way to getting it on my table. Can you speak to that?

    I think I'll pick this one up either way.

             Sag.


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There are rules for 3 and 4 players in the rulebook. I played 3-player once, and it worked fine with one caveat (see below). I really should write my own review because it is not as glowing as others. Here is the short version:

1. I really admire MMP's IGS series because the games introduce new ideas that I don't see in other games (especially by the Japanese designers). There is no rehashing here, and I think it's worthwhile to play each one of them at least once.

2. I am critical of MMP's quality control on AMDT. There are errors on the counters, and some people report getting decks with missing cards. I also consider the rulebook to be below average. One must really read the FAQs to play the game right, and I'd recommend also pouring through all forums before putting it on the table.

3. This game has too much luck for my tastes. Sometimes I feel like I have zero control over events, which can be very frustrating. It's just too much for the length of the game. When I look back at a game I've just played and wonder what I could have done different, I think there's a problem if my answer is "roll better dice and draw better cards."

3a. One mechanism that can drive players crazy is the alliances are activated by a chit-pull system. There is an "end turn" chit, and so it's possible that one can play long stretches of turns without getting a go. In my 3-player game, one player did not get a turn until turn 6! It was embarrassing because it was his first game. Then when you do get to go, you roll a d10 to see how many MPs you have. It's quite frustrating to roll a 1 after waiting 6 turns.

3b. Another random element that can be frustrating is combat. When you get into battle, either side might play cards that will cause leaders (with their army) to instantly change sides. Then both players roll "initiative" dice (modified by leader bravery). If a result is 2 better the opponent's roll, your opponent doesn't even get to fire back. I have seen very strong armies attack much weaker ones (both with similar leaders) and watched the stronger army melt away without doing any damage to the other. I have then seen entire factions and alliances disappear as a consequence.

Despite this, I enjoyed the times I played it, but (for me) luck plays too big a role. I probably won't play it again, but I admire the design.
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Seth Gunar
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SpaceButler wrote:
I pretty much agree with Stan on this one, the game can be very luck driven, and to be honest I hate to either win or lose a 20 hour game by sheer luck (which is possible). Maybe it's because my luck tolerance decreases cumulatively with length of play.
This reminds me of some of the complaints made by people about AVL - until they learned how to avoid the pitfalls of bad chit draws. (People also thought that the Russians had an overwhelming advantage, until they figured out how the Germans could turn the tables. Now many believe the Germans have a large advantage.

The same is true of AMDT. Sure, luck is involved - but once you know this and incorporate it into your strategic decision-making, you learn how to limit the damage caused by bad luck and make the best of your good luck.

With regard to large armies melting away, there is definitely the potential for a Kenshin Army to splatter a large Oda force. (If you do create a large Oda Army, you command it with reliable Samurai - the ones who's betrayal cards you have in your hand.)

But this is precisely why you avoid large battles unless you have the cards to cancel or surpass the edge an opponent may have. (Simultaneously, the Anti-Oda player does not know for sure whether you have such a card which is why he cannot afford to casually throw valuable leaders into the fray.) Until you do, you resort to siege warfare that ties down large parts of the enemy forces and gradually wear him down. Then pounce on a weak portion of the enemy forces that is not led by a formidable commander.

There is a reason, after all, why very few major field battles were fought in this era. I can recall only one - Nagashino - that was fought within the game's 15 year time frame.

You must always be considering the possibility that you will not be able to react to an opponent's moves for awhile. This is why you can make aggressive moves if most of your opponent's chits have already been drawn earlier in a turn. The odds are that you will be the one who is able to make "double moves" at your opponent's expense. If you draw early in the turn this gives you the initiative, but it also increases the chances that your opponent will be able to make a lot of moves before you go again.

Over the course of a 30 turn game, what are the chances that your opponent(s) will repeatedly draw in a turn while you do not? The chances are small enough to not have a decisive impact on the outcome (assuming that a player is cautious enough). But if you think about it, this is one of the things that gives the game its tension.

If it still bothers you, you always have the option to put in house rules such as requiring that any chits not drawn in the previous turn be drawn in the current turn before the turn end chit is placed in the cup. This ensures that a chit never goes unplayed in two consecutive turns.

In any event, I hope you play the game again and try different strategies.

Finally, I am puzzled by the remark that the game can last 20 hours. Wow! You must have played the neverending indeterminate finish version. I don't see how a 30 turn game lasts more than 5 hours.
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GameWhore wrote:

This reminds me of some of the complaints made by people about AVL - until they learned how to avoid the pitfalls of bad . . .
    This is a recurring theme with wargames on this site and I think it's largely due to the nature of the people that come here for their gaming information. Most are accustomed to games where the nuance of play can be fully understood in an hour, and what remains is for you to optimize your gameplay. The last 5% of learning is reserved for hours 2+. This is a heavily front-loaded learning curve, which is appropriate for games appealing to the broader market.

    The nature of wargames is longer play and longer, flatter learning curves. The first hour of a war title likely provides an understanding of the basic ruleset and not much more. Perhaps 5% of strategy appears in those first couple of turns. In fact, I've found it pretty common that the first hour (i.e., the first skirmish) in a wargame is a pretty solid education into the biggest mistake available to you and what will happen when you make it.

    What results is people coming to the reviews after a single play and indicating that they were unable to understand how to manage the system. That's likely the case because the game was specifically designed to make that happen -- the designer has succeeded.

    If you don't thrive on that you won't enjoy the play.

             Sag.

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Seth Gunar
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I agree with your description of most wargames. This is especially evident with games about the same kind of subject. There are currently at least 4 separate rules systems that model WWII tactical combat.

Advanced Squad Leader (ASL)
Advanced Tobruk System (ATS)
Combat Commander (CC)
Conflict of Heroes (CH)

They were released in the order listed and each is simpler than the next. ASL has a rulebook that is over 200 pages long. ATS is much "shorter" at around 60 pages. CC is down to about 30 pages. CH brings it down to under 20 pages.

What you see in all the designs is some effort at bringing a measure of unpredictability into the game play. This is obviously because chance is part of the reality of war - especially at the tactical level. The simplicity is achieved with larger and larger doses of abstraction (CH does this brilliantly) that appear arbitrary and capricious to the uninitiated but are essential to the simulation aspect of the game.

CC can be extremely unpredictable given that it is card driven (which makes it unique among the 4). The new player will feel like the game is playing him instead of him playing the game. (Yours truly was one of those people who felt that way about CC at first.) The experienced player knows how to manage his cards to limit the element of chance.

It is interesting how so many of the extremely popular games are seen as too luck oriented when they first come out. This was especially true with Twilight Struggle. But after people have played awhile, they see skillful play determining the outcome. The true measure of whether a game is decided by luck is how often a skilled player will defeat an unskilled player.

I don't want to get too much into strategies simply because I think that part of the fun of a wargame (especially AMDT) is learning the good strategies by playing the game. I'll just promise you that the possibilities are there if you choose to explore them. My advice is to try the short 10 turn game the first few times you play to learn the mechanics and not be stuck with mistakes over a long haul.Then move to the 30 turn game.

And once again - I cannot see how a 30 turn game can last 20 hours.

If you still don't believe me, consider that on average there will probably be 4-5 chits drawn in a turn (with less in the early turns because not all of the clans are in play yet). On some turns no chits are drawn because the Turn End chit comes out. With each chit a player rolls one die for movement points, moves his units, and then has any battles he wants to have. Movement is point to point with only two different kinds of connections. How long should the average chit draw take? Maybe 2-3 minutes? That's about 8-15 minutes per turn. That adds up to about 5 hours for a full 30 turn game.

If it takes you 20 hours to play a game you need to break out a chess clock, or see if your opponent is still alive.
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    So the ten turn game goes 2 hours. That's interesting as well.

             Sag.


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Seth Gunar
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The 10 turn game should actually be shorter than that. The Takeda clan does not come in until Turn 6 and the Mori and Uesugi clans don't come in until after turn 10. So, for the first 5 turns there are only 5 chits and 7 chits from turns 6 to 10. And, of course, the Turn Ender can always come out early.

In a 30 turn game, the maximum amount of chits is 10. So in the 10 turn game there is much less action each turn.
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Over the course of a 30 turn game (which I haven't tried yet), I could see where the various game elements that are luck driven (and there are several) would decrease in severity.

However, over the course of a 10 turn game, I have to say that this game is FAR too subject to wild swings of luck for my tastes. Seen a 10 turn game where the Oda player gets NO activations for 3 turns in a row yet? I have. Now explain to me how the Oda player compensates for that with adjustments to his game play/strategy.

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Papa Khann wrote:
Now explain to me how the Oda player compensates for that with adjustments to his game play/strategy.
    He adjusts the same as always, but he loses. He does the best he can with what he has to work with, and if he plays well with the hand he was dealt he earns the respect of his opponent, regardless of outcome.

    That's wargaming.

    Frankly, I've been out of this part of the hobby since the 70s, short of about two-dozen games in four or five titles in the past year or so. One of the things I've found very surprising is how many people are looking for complete fairness between the sides, and not just in the forces. They want it in every single play of the game, some in every turn. I find that an odd expectation, as it's just not the nature of the genre.

             Sag.


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GameWhore wrote:
The 10 turn game should actually be shorter than that.
    This one is definitely on the "short list" then (excuse the pun). More than two players and a short scenario, even if it means accommodations from the best ruleset, means I can use it to introduce. The occasions when I can play the full game will be a nice treat on top of that.

    Thank you for taking the extra effort to follow up -- this post has been time very well spent.

             Sag.


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Seth Gunar
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Papa Khann wrote:
Seen a 10 turn game where the Oda player gets NO activations for 3 turns in a row yet? I have.
Have you ever seen the movie "A Bronx Tale"? There is a scene where the gangsters are playing craps in the basement and one of the characters who is notorious for his bad luck rolls the dice and one die ends up stacked up on top of the other die.

Well, that is pretty much the kind of luck you are describing. If that happens again, you should check and see if your house was buried on top of some sacred Indian burial ground.

In one of my games, my friend Chris needed a 2 or higher to hit and he rolled 8 dice. 7 of the 8 dice were 1s. I think the chances of that happening are in the realm of 100,000 to 1.

Hey, if you play enough wargames you come to understand that sometimes you're the bug and sometimes your the windshield.
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For my own part, and I suspect for others who comment on the "luck factor" as well, it's not so much "fairness" that we seek. Rather, it's a gaming experience that gives us the sense that, over the course of a game, skillful play will outweigh luck and play a larger part in determining who will win the game.

Of course, there will always be the odd occurrence where someone's luck just goes plain bad and their opponent's is consistently good, even in a finely designed game. However, I'm much more interested in games that are structured to reward decision making to a greater extent than they reward pure luck.

As for A Most Dangerous Time, I'm hopeful that the 30 turn game will offer an experience where the increased number of turns mitigates the wild swings of fate that can happen in the 10 turn game.

And by the way, A Bronx Tale is part of my collection. I like it a lot. ; )
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Seth Gunar
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Bronx Tale
My favorite scene?

The bikers come into the Diner and Chazz tells them, "First, we asked you to leave. Now you can't leave."
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Good stuff. If I buy the game, Mr. Starkweather owes you some small debt I s'pose; It'll be because of your review.
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Great review!! You have convinced me, I am going to get this next payday. It does seem the luck factor is a bit high but that will only add to the chaos.
 
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Great review I'm getting this.

Been reading a book titled Taiko which tells the life of Toyotomi Hideyoshi since he was a kid to becoming the head of all Japan. Hideyoshi was a lowly servant of Oda Nobunaga(his sandal's carrier in fact) which rose to a prominent Nobunaga's general position before becoming the head of Japan itself following Nobunaga murder.

Hideyoshi's rule was eventually toppled by Tokugawa Ieyasu who had been Nobunaga's ally and served under Hideyoshi's rule.

The whole book captivates my imagination soo many events so many characters in its over 1,000 pages content that I cannot avoid forgetting many of these Japanese names.laugh

Anyway the book tells a lot about Hideyoshi's life while serving under Nobunaga and so the book actually tells the story of Nobunaga's rise very well.

After knowing what AMDT is all about I knew it is the perfect game to enjoy the book on my table with a friend.

And I highly recommend the book Taiko whose author died in 1962 to anyone who shares my excitement in feudal Japanese history.



Looking forward to destroying the Imagawa clan, spanking the treacherous Asai clan and my brother in law, destroying the defiant Asakura clan, killing my own treacherous brother Nobuyuki, burning Mt Hiei, toppling the ungrateful Ashikaga shogunate, making life painful for the Mori clan in the west and chasing Takeda Katsuyori to death hence vanguishing his clan to history in AMDT devil

Or trying to oppose this ruthless Nobunaga and send him back to his hole.A friend of mine who is very well versed in feudal Japanese history told me that he was probably a pedophile. More reason to play the anti oda faction arrrh

Is Akachi Mitsuhide included in the game and if so would he rebel against Nobunaga as history tells us?

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Microbadge: Downtown: Air War Over Hanoi, 1965-1972 fanMicrobadge: Devil's Cauldron fanMicrobadge: Operational Combat Series fanMicrobadge: Bunnies & Burrows RPG fanMicrobadge: 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars RPG fan
Just a general comment regarding "luck" in boardgames. Boardgamers tend to be very conservative and tend to like to game systems rather than their opponent - which means they only like systems where luck adds a small bit of variance rather than potentially large swings.

But that doesn't mean a game where luck is significant is poorly designed - or not fun to play - or doesn't reward good strategy. The Napoleonic Wars is a great example of that. If you play it conservatively, luck will largely determine whether you win or lose. But if you play aggressively from the outset - looking to capitalize on the opportunities that luck provides (while minimizing the adverse effects of bad luck) then you are not only in just as much control as most boardgames, but you will have a lot of fun. And it has a lot to do with playing the opponent rather than the system too - just where you and your opponent's tolerance for risk.

A good boardgame that has a lot of luck involved is a game of risk management - just like backgammon.

I haven't played AMDT yet, but you should try looking at it from that standpoint to see how it measures up.
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Brien Martin
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DeKalb
Illinois
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Microbadge: Fire in the Lake fanMicrobadge: Napoleonic WargamerMicrobadge: Washington's War fanMicrobadge: Sherco's Grand Slam Baseball Game fanMicrobadge: Wargamer of 30+ years
There is another dynamic at play in AMDT that you don't find in many other boardgames ... the element of betrayal and counter-betrayal. It was part of the Japanese feudal system that "going with the hot hand" was something that fueled ambition and power. Being in the good graces of the Shogun, or of his most-trusted daiymos was key to maintaining control in one's province, and of one's "wa".

Those elements of betrayal make for chaos. You can plan only so much around the possibility that your own daiymos or samurai may leave you at the crucial moment ... but you can't always prevent it. Multiple turns of inaction, to me, represent careful deliberation of the unfolding situation before committing to a more tangible course of action. Watching carefully, working behind the scenes ... waiting for the right moment to move, attack, or activate the betrayal you've been cultivating.

It's definitely unique ... and frustrating ... but makes for fun.
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