Adam Parker
Australia
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Great game design makes the complex simple, replayability maximum, and abstraction credible.
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It’s not how well you roll that counts but how well the dice suit the game.
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It's the turn of the century, the 21st that is, and I recall fondly the moment I stood at my local Electronics Boutique when on a PC screen placed high on a wall, strange sounds of exotic music could be heard.

The action cut away to a scene of playing pieces akin to chess pawns moving by hand, across a parchment-like map, then a segue depicting ranks of infantry, cavalry and archers in 3D, close quarters crashing into a crescendo, fading out to a marketing blub: Shogun Total War - Coming Soon.

The moment I saw those digitized playing pieces in strategic motion over a map of war, I knew that I'd finally found the PC game I had always dreamed of. And on release, I bought it; played it to death, found a huge bug and reported it, had it fixed - only to see the magic fade away in its sequel: its premise being tweaked away too much.

I'd been looking for a strategic game of warfare during the Sengoku Jidai epoch (the "Waring States Period" of 15th to 17th Century Japan) since that time. It was only in coming across a curious screen shot some months ago, this time of a board game, that my attention turned again.

The game was Sekigahara - titled after the culminating battle of that name in 1600, when Japan gained reunification under the Shogunate of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Instead of pixelated pawns for pieces, it had big, physical, rectangular wooden blocks, stacked like towers as its armies. On that feature alone, sweetened by the grand sweep of its map, I was hooked. Here was a risk I'd be willing to take in hopefully bringing some of that Total War gaming glory back home.

Normally, when a game once seen in real life has a massive impression on me, positively (hopefully), or not, I'm satisfied to post an immediate out of the box review and let that bode for its potential.

Well, Sekigahara has touched my gaming soul! What pleases me greatly is that this game has been so easy to get into, and prep for play, that my typical thoughts can be augmented so soon after unpacking, by experience with the game actually underway.

You see, though Sekigahara is touted as a two-player wargame, I have just come up for air having played it solitaire. The good news is it can be done. The better news derives from the fact that in learning the game this way, some extrapolation for face-face encounters can easily be made. I've also seen it turn a much unexpected head (read spouse) with it unfurled on the table. That rarely happens with board games of mine! So let's see what this all means.


A Brief Look Inside the Bento Box of Glory

A year or so ago, GMT Games began a gutsy experiment. Being a traditional wargame publisher meant that its playing maps were typically of the paper type; some "deluxe" cardboard versions had from time to time, seen the light of day too. To the average wargamer weaned on the hobby somewhere between 1960 and 1990, this practice paid off. A plexiglass sheet easily turned any paper map into a rigid playing surface - but GMT realized that some gamers might want more.

So in a handful of subsequent releases, GMT began to offer fully mounted, linen-feel maps. I nearly own them all (I was a heretic weaned somewhere in the abovementioned era, but on the offerings of a game company called Avalon Hill: the majority of its maps being mounted - and this to me was the benchmark for all gaming).

What an experiment this has been - for this month alone, GMT has released five mounted maps, three of which included with brand new games, and to my gratitude, Sekigahara has been one.

But this is not the first thing you see when opening its box. And a bento offering of variety it is.


Cards Driven Blocks - Don’t Expect to Win without Them

Sekigahara is a game in which one side takes the role of the warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu and the other, his arch rival and champion of a seven year old child with claims to the throne of Japan, Ishida Mitsunari. Each side controls the armies of various other clan leaders (Daimyos) per pre-existing alliances. The two sides thus, are referred in game terms as; "Tokugawa" and "Ishida".

It is the year 1600 and within seven weeks (depicted by a maximum of fourteen game rounds), one leader will rule supreme. Four hundred plus years earlier, having swept the length and breadth of the mainland island of Honshu, splitting forces and sacking castles, a war would culminate at the crossroads of Sekigahara on a wet and misty October 21 - in a tactical situation that grognard wargamers would comfortably recognize as a 1:1 encounter.

This is why, when lifting a lid the first thing that greets you are two decks of playing cards, and a massive, clear plastic zip-loc baggie of blocks. Let's talk for a second about that game box.

There are a few issues here. Firstly, I've applauded in the past some excellent mood-inducing artwork found on some of GMT's game lids. Most recently, I declared that for Nightfighter, to be one of the most "awe inspiring" pieces of marketing I have ever seen. The box art for its new No Retreat, is equally grabbing.

With Sekigahara though, we get a bleak white background, on which is shown part of what looks to be an oriental battle in fruition (a period screen panel depiction of the subject in fact), with two Japanese guys, overlaid in sepia, who appear to be thinking:

"Ah maybe we should paint the pergola again?"
"Mmm, you have a point but I thought that puce would have worked so well."

Now obviously one of these guys is Toku or Ishi... or maybe not. Thing is, I'm not a scholar of the period and I really don’t know of who this picture is meant to be: would the average Gamer-Joe? But what I do know is that box covers help to sell games, and in my opinion, a nice war-like Samurai with sword thrusting and blood spilling, horses galloping and arrows flying, around the vast walls of a castle - for example - may have done the job better. Small thing, but I'm just saying.

The other aspect of the box is its manufacture. It's sturdy, that's for sure, but GMT has also been experimenting with its box styles and some recent games have come furnished with extra thick cardboard and some extra height built for depth.

Sekigahara, with its mounted map, cards and blocks, barely fits into its box out of its shrink wrapping! One of my game’s edges was propped up higher, rightly as I guessed, by the big bag of blocks inside. Yet, once set up for play, getting everything back into the box is near impossible; unless, you bag up the cards into four lots and squash the labelled blocks down - which I don’t feel is all too advisable.

So a bigger box would have worked better here: to at least get the blocks back safely inside. Most of my other card driven games have their cards in plastic deck boxes stored externally; a fact of the "games-with-cards" life, I suppose.

Let's summarize what's in that box though and see how things fit together.


Cards to Drive it All

Each side, Tokugawa and Ishida, receives a personal deck of cards. They're a standard GMT size, round-edged, slightly curved over on their backs to reveal some fine art and game information on their fronts. They're not plastic coated as with casino-style cards, and as always, I would counsel against their thumb-shuffling for this reason. A flat table shuffle works fine. Each deck comprises only 55 cards making this task easy.

Now you can have all the armies you wish on the map, arrayed for the perfect battle - but without these cards - and the right ones, you're not going anywhere, or for that matter, fighting anyone. More on that to come.

One comment about the cards, each side is denoted by a color approximating mostly with its traditional clan livery of the period. Tokugawa is black, with Ishida, yellow/gold. Cards and playing pieces for each side therefore, adopt this color scheme.

So when it comes to Sekigahara's otherwise excellent cards, each deck has been styled on front and rear with a black or yellow edging. Yellow works well. It is a light robust color and will little mark with wear. I'm not a big fan though, of playing cards edged in black... for the obvious reason, that even mint out of their shrink wrapping, they can mark easily.

It is however, essential that these cards be clearly identifiable as belonging to their respective sides. Their fronts will be revealed during game play and keeping them organised amidst what can be moments of temporary chaos really helps to speed things up.

Whilst I don't think that these cards need to be sleeved for their protection, this is just something for players and GMT to keep in mind. Be careful with your decks and they will last a while. As a matter for future production, where black is a required theme - could it be possible to find another way to employ it?

Also don't be put off by another small potential niggle. Many card games have a tendency to round their card corners (which I love) but include rectangular art frames within their periphery. What this can lead to if not registered correctly at the printing press, is a slight off-setting of the rectangular frame made more apparent by its circular edges in contrast.

My cards have this very slight glitch and it would have been a huge issue had only a few cards been effected - card identity is intended to remain hidden from the other side. In my case though, this very minor off-setting is uniform throughout, so there's no chance of spilling the beans to a wily opponent.

Still, this is one more thing for GMT to look out for in design and "gettin' it made".


Biggest Blocks and Labels I've Ever Seen

Well, as you've obviously guessed, that big bag of blocks contains your armies and some extra little pieces to help manage the game. Army blocks are rectangular and evenly dimensioned along their long four large faces, to form a square-shaped log. Those familiar with GMT games like Commands and Colors, Hellenes, PQ17or even the Columbia Games’ Victory Block of War series, will be pleasantly surprised.

These blocks in other words, are intended to be stacked length-wise and moved as towers with their contents hidden from the other side (though blocks can also be maneuvered separately). It's a gorgeous design decision and one that really gives an aura of bellicosity on the march. In my mind, it takes its cue from the towering flags (nobori) that accompanied the pawns of Shogun Total War - an army's size there, reflected by the length of each pawn’s banner.

Each side is fielded with 48 of these beauties. And here’s a nice touch - black again for Tokugawa - but gold for Ishida! And this gold works so well.

Over these blocks are placed stickers, furnished blessedly by just one and a half sheets of labels as opposed to the average Commands and Colors offering of four to six. Black stickers are placed on the black blocks of Tokugawa and yellow on the gold of Ishida. These combinations work very well - and I particularly like the overall effect derived from the Ishida color pairing.

The bag includes a solitary, flat, gold, square block on which a label for each side is placed to act as a turn marker for flipping during play - a nice touch again as a die cut cardboard chit (such as that recently furnished with Commands and Colors Napoleon), would have spoiled the overall aesthetics of the game.

Two gold discs receive a single sticker each; one representing the child Shogun-in-waiting, Toyotomi Hideyori who fears capture by the Tokugawa clans at Osaka Castle and the other, Sanada Masayuki, a fierce general who protects the castle at Ueda. Whilst the Tanada disk depicts an historical bottleneck of tenacity, as occurred in reality during the campaign, Toyotmi serves as a victory objective of the game: Take Osaka Castle and capture Toyotomi - automatic victory goes to the black Togukawa side.

Other routes for automatic victory exist too: Kill the gold Ishida Block in battle and victory goes to Tokugawa. Kill the black Tokugawa block and victory goes to Ishida. Should they both die in the same campaign, Ishida wins. Otherwise, victory is determined by the geographical occupation of Castle spaces and Resource towns.

Sekigahara therefore, is a race of strategic depth. Seven weekly turns, two rounds of movement and combat per side in each - and the challenge is posed: Do I hunt for the kill or do I spread my forces for a geographical win? "Easy game - hard to master", as the saying goes.

Finally, each side receives a handful of black and gold mini cubes to serve as markers and memory aids - no labels required!

Without die cut counters to punch and trim, and given the number of units involved, prepping this menagerie for play took the shortest amount of time for any block game that I own. Two comfortable hours tops, the labels being of a larger than usual size were very easy to coax into place.

And - only one side of each block needs to be labelled! The whole idea of Sekigahara is to create stacks of armies of a hidden-to-murky strength, able to baffle the other side through constant maneuver, amidst a changing scene of fog of war.

Something to note: Unlike Commands and Colors, this game offers NO extra blocks or labels to fix placement errors or replace blatant imperfections in the wood grain (remember that you don't want to advertise your forces too early if playing face-to-face, and a block with a chunk of pine missing from its side will do this).

Thankfully, this did not pose any problem for me. All blocks were edged acceptably, maybe three with a slight imperfection that were easily concealed. Equally, I lost no stickers through clumsy positioning. Just take your time and depending on your level of OCD, you'll do fine! I'm particularly fastidious about the finish of my components, and with fingers alone, mine worked out well.

Though again, as a note to GMT - maybe some "practice" labels and emergency blocks would be a nice addition to future boxes of the game?

Yet, furnishing spare labels is a hard decision here. Unlike Commands and Colors, there are no generic units as such; a spare row of "heavy infantry" stickers would not apply to Sekigahara. That said, a couple of practice labels - maybe some extra Daimyo's would be of help here.

Another observation when it comes to prepping those blocks. You may want to have a black felt-tip pen (not a Sharpie) and a gold pencil handy. These will assist covering the odd paint chip or scratch if that worries you. Despite arriving in a big plastic baggie, I'm surprised how well my blocks held up.


And a Map of Roads Leading to Empire

Of course there’s that beautiful mounted map of a standard 22 by 34 inch GMT size. As a fantastic touch of quality control, it came protected in its own zip-loc bag that I had to cut at the edges to release its goodness inside.

I think that I've mentioned this once before, but GMT's move here is to prevent the black edging of the map from rubbing inside the box during shipping and packing. Further, this map sat sheltered at the bottom of the box, meaning that it was fully safe from the potential of denting by components, particularly that heavy bag of blocks inside. Well done.

Sekigahara's map is a point-to-point affair. Meaning that its armies move not across hexes or through areas or zones; but to and from a series of Locations connected by a system of Secondary Roads and Highways.

These road connections are paramount, for in a given turn segment, only one stack of units per side, may use any single portion of roadway. What a brilliant way to simulate with ease, the logistics and lines of communication challenges of bringing 17th Century armies to bear. Stacks of blocks have no limit in this game, and each unit block represents around 5000 men.

The map's green hues have been chosen to blend into the background. There's no chance of "losing pieces" on this map due to color similarities. Further, for those uninitiated with Japan, the labelling of town names, geographical centers and clan recruitment areas, offers a great education and way to anchor oneself in the meileu.

Map labels are in the main, printed for reading from the south edge. However, the Ishida player it seems, is intended to sit at the north. To assist this player, Ishida recruitment boxes and clan Recruitment Locations are printed to be read from that perspective.

The Tokugawa player is given easy access to the Impact Track at the lower left corner of the map, on which the accumulation of each battle's damage is measured. The Ishida player has easy access to the Turn Track. It all works very well, and for the solitaire gamer, though some upside down reading maybe required, everything rests in manageable reach - just use your abs by lifting your caboose to flip the turn marker every now and then: All the while, no matter how you play, be careful not to knock any of those stacks over. Some can become quite intimidating as the action unfolds.

Rounding the package off are a 20-page rules booklet, and two identical, single-sided play aid charts. Actual game rules only run to page 12 and within that space, ample illustrations and pagination exist making the total reading experience barely 8 pages. Historical commentary and Designer's Notes fill out the rest.


Who Wants Japanese Tonight? The Game in Action

As Tokugawa (black) or Ishida (yellow/gold) your aim is to obtain a strategic holding over the island of Honshu across a map spanning Wakayama and Tanabe in the west, to Yamagata and Sandai in the east. Tokugawa's capital Edo sits in the south, whilst Ishida's capital Kyoto sits in the northwest.

Each side owns three castles at the start, depicted only as icons next to a map location, but color coded to match their starting owner. Tokugawa has his three black castles arrayed in the northwest. Ishida's three yellow castles run a beeline straight across the map's length. Castles are important in game terms:

- They can delay the attacker forcing a siege.
- They add a card to the hand of the side owning their majority.
- In the case of Osaka, it is home to Ishida's Toyotomi Hideyori - who, once lost, loses the game.
- They add 2 Victory Points each to their owner in the case of a non-sudden death game.

Resource Locations dot the map colored in red. Their ownership is significant too:

- They add a block of reinforcements to the side owning their majority.
- They add 1 Victory Point each to their owner in the case of a non-sudden death game.

Recruitment locations abound, one for each clan into which blocks can be mustered during the game (other than Ishida's powerful Mori ally which is given an entire recruitment box of its own, and can jump into battle en masse should Osaka be threatened - read the campaign history as to why).

Blocks largely represent infantry, with some cavalry and arquebusier blocks present too. Whilst the latter two obtain some special combat abilities, it is the clan affiliation of each block that drives its use. Every block shows a "mon", a sign reflecting the clan to which it belongs. A clan is led by a Daimyo - a block showing its mon together with a nobori flag.

As mentioned above, cards run it all in this game. To move a block, bring a block to battle, muster a block from its Recruitment Box onto a map Recruitment Location - you need to play a card or series of cards to do so.

In battle, cards are particularly relevant for here it is the mon of the card that issues an order for a block to fight. In general terms: match a block to a mon on a card, and you can take it to war. Your enemy may then require you to prove that block's affiliation through the immediate play of a Loyalty Card of his own.

Should you then not have another card with your block's mon to reveal, that block switches sides for that particular combat! Very nice - and as it turns out historical too. The battle of Sekigahara hinged on the treachery of a clan. Will the same thing happen to you?

Given these realities and the existence of actual blocks representing Tokugawa and Ishida on the map (the destruction of either ending the game cold), players are offered a sensational potential for constant movement, interaction, challenge, tactical and strategic thinking.


Know Your Enemy and in One Hundred Battles...

So the premise is this, at the game's start certain clans are deployed to preset locations on the map. A square, circle, triangle or star on their lower right matches a shape on the map and that's where you place it, facing away from your opponent. Easy as that.

However, what signals that this game will have a long table life is that only roughly 50% of the game's starting forces are placed in this way. Certain locations, including those already containing blocks, have a plus sign with a number next to them.

What you'll do next, is place all of your side's remaining blocks into a sturdy black pull-string bag supplied with the game. From this, you'll draw the number of blocks required, and place them hidden once again, one location at a time - and without the ability to examine a block before setting it down.

Leftover blocks - and there will be plenty of them, are sealed aside in these bags until drawn as reinforcements.

In this way, despite the best laid plans of the most experienced Sekigahara Daimyo - you will just not know what forces you'll start with and where. Nor will you know whether you'll be able to immediately fight with them, as next up, five cards are dealt to each side - and there is no way that you'll ever be able to predict what you'll get there.


The Scene is Set

So with blocks on the map and cards in hand, the game progresses through its rounds and these are the types of decisions that you'll be forced to make:

The initial card draw is just five cards, immediately you will need to play one in order to determine who moves first in the turn. The side given that honor plays first in each of the turn's four segments: Movement and Combat; Movement and Combat. That side need not be the winner of the initiative draw!

So that leaves just four cards on turn 1, round 1. Do you play up to two of these to move your stacks and/or muster reinforcements onto a clan's Recruitment Location (once placed they cannot move that turn). Playing two cards for example, means that you can move every stack that you have on the map - and conduct one mustering operation.

But that will leave just 2 cards for combat. Do any of your cards match any useful blocks of stacks that you can bring to bear?

Stacks however, don't need to move together.

The base movement rate for a stack is one location per turn segment. Highways, Leaders, Capitals Castles and Force Marching (play of yet another card) can increase this number up to four. Is there some way you can split them off, create more useful armies to match your cards and therefore be able to strike immediately? Remember to manage your road movement carefully; no stack can use the same road segment twice.

On the other hand, are any of the stacks that you want to move larger than four blocks high? If so, you’re going to lose one movement location per multiple thereof. How do you then move your huge shock stacks about efficiently?

On top of this, you have the challenge of maintaining surprise as best you can. Yes, at the start you’ll know the location of some of your enemy's armies and as combat ensues, more blocks become revealed - for a moment - but how much of this can you remember and what deception will you need to keep your opponent's memory off balance?

This is one of the juicy dilemmas largely lost when playing solo, unfortunately.


Smooth as a Silk Kimono Combat

The scale of this game is such, that you really don't notice any of its abstraction. The design focuses play so perfectly on maneuver and strategy that by the time it comes to the fight, the mechanism utilized for combat, just feels so right.

So you've managed to move your units and brought stacks to bear in the same location. Once movement is concluded, all such gatherings must battle.

This is where forward planning (to the degree that it's possible given the unknowns of the cards), and force selection become so important.

The rules state that each side selects a block, matches its mon to a card and reveals this match as proof to the other side. The number of mons on that block (there can be up to four), together with a series of other very simple mechanics, determine how much Impact it inflicts (a card with swords for example, can bring cavalry or arquebusiers into play in a manner that causes exceptionally more Impact than if brought to bear otherwise). Some cards can activate two blocks at a time.

Play runs to and fro in this manner, with a side taking its turn to reveal its blocks based on whether it is currently losing the battle in terms of the Impact it has managed to generate - until eventually both sides declare that they have no more blocks they wish to play.

Reality is, you will usually not have the cards sufficient to bring all of the blocks you desire into combat - and you can bluff on this inability.

At that point, Impact is tallied. During this entire process, players track their impact caused, by means of a black or gold cube on the Impact Track. I've found that these cubes get easily missed at a glance being so small, so I've replaced them with a glossy yellow and black glass stone instead.

For every seven points of Impact inflicted by the enemy, each side will LOSE one block (no reduced sides here)! The overall loser in terms of total Impact, suffers an extra block - and in this way the attrition of the campaign is brought about.

Blocks can also be lost in overruns where a stack of more four times the size of its opponent simply brushes the latter into oblivion. Similarly, a modified version of Impact combat takes place against forces in castles.


Which Brings Us to the Rules

Does any of this sound complex? For I tell you it is not. GMT has a reputation for having some of the best rules writers in the business contributing to its games lately.

In Sekigahara, designer Matt Calkins and rules craftsmen Neil Randall and Mark Simonitch have done a fantastic job in wording and layout. Each time I thought that I had a rules question, its answer jumped out at me with a quick re-read of the section concerned.

More-so, how about a player aid chart that actually aids game-play? Once you have the "8" pages or so of this game read well, you can basically put the rule book away, for in just a single page, the designer has summarized everything you need at an easy, logical glance.

I haven't seen such a useful and concise one-page chart in ages.

As for errata, I've only found one piece and it does not affect game play in any way at all - 8.6.2 states that in order to remind players that two specific blocks can be brought into combat by the play of any mon card, an icon can be found on those blocks' lower right corners. Well, those icons do exist - but they are actually positioned elsewhere! Oh and there is one small typo on page 8 (I’ve probably made much more here).

In other words, perfect components one and all.


Overall Experience and What of the Solo Monk?

With its blocks set up for play, Sekigahara makes it easy for players to see that the vast majority of its map is ungarrisoned and ripe for maneuver.

A huge golden Ishida stack of eight blocks at Osaka looms over its neighbor at the one-stop-away Kyoto. Setting this army upright can be perilous and though not geographically correct, adding some extra space along this busy artery may have assisted here.

In fact, the entirety of the northwest can become one major bottleneck should both sides decide to make a stand in its vicinity - but the wily player will know that in doing so, victory and glory in terms of Resource Locations and Castles, awaits in the east too.

So be aware that whilst areas like this are playable, there will be some clashing of wood until an affinity with the nuances of the topography grows.

"Sawdust" can also raise its head at battle time. The rules suggest that as players reveal their blocks for combat, they lay them down on the map next to their stack. Well, in the tight spots of the northwest corridor, I found that doing so was very clumsy indeed.

My solution was to mark the contested location with another glass stone (I chose red for this purpose) and to have each side take physical hold of its stack. In that manner each side could maintain the hidden nature of its blocks and set each down with its empowering mon card on the table. For me this worked well. See how you go.

Early on, the going may be tough in terms of building a sequence of battles; the required card matchings and quantities may just not be at your disposal. However, as card hands grow (after each turn, each side discards half its hand and then draws a minimum of five replacements), offensive opportunities begin to build.

A perfectly timed Loyalty Card and the employment of cavalry and arquebusier special Impacts can be key to successful conquest. Yet, the solo player will need to find a mechanism to ensure that their equitable and possibly surprise usage can eventuate throughout the game.

Sekigahara is a design that will reward the player seeking a single-scenario battlefield, but one that will never play the same way twice. The variations of pre-start force make up, the whim of the card deck; the wide alternatives for operational direction - all conspire to create a competitive play experience of this type, every time.

The player that favors bluff and hubris, that likes the period feel of a game and relishes solid components with streamlined mechanics, will rejoice at the whole that Sekigahara has to offer.

The game box rates its complexity as a 2 out 9, and this is totally right. Solitaire suitability is rated as a 1 out of 9 - and this I don’t agree with.

Keeping in mind the interactive, constant-for-both-sides fun that Sekigahara seeks to offer its protagonists, the solitaire gamer can still have a blast with this game.

Loyalty Card play may come down to a dice roll (dice not included!) as may the limit placed on blocks committed to a battle: Do I let the other side beat me by over seven Impact this time and take a loss, or should I continue on, foregoing fighting later with the great cards and blocks I still have? Do I risk attacking with a smaller stack knowing that the other side has the cards to employ his larger mass of blocks because I’ve seen them?

Of course, the face-to-face gamer has the innocence of meeting these dilemma’s under the awesomeness of a pure fog of war.

That said, Sekigahara represents a mature wargame offering by the hobby's leader in the field, GMT. It will take a few more plays yet - and I won't forget that look my wife gave those golden blocks - to form a complete opinion, but my gut feel already is, that in Sekigahara, we have a leading contender for wargame of the year.

Happy gaming,
Adam.
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Jay Sheely
United States
Hayward
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I guess the solitaire rating has to do with being able to bluff or not with what a stack of blocks is composed of. I was under the impression that a lot of the game tension derived from the fact that one never knew what blocks of the enemy's would be able to participate in a battle. I haven't played yet so that may not be entirely accurate.

But, if you were able to play it solo, great! I have been highly anticipating that game for... 3 years?!? It's finally here!

Your review made for a fine early morning read, thanks.
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Doug Epperson
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Frederick
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Outstanding review!

Quote:
Sekigahara, we have a leading contender for wargame of the year.


Hear Hear...I toast to that Too!!!
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Darrell Hanning
United States
Jacksonville
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We will meet at the Hour of Scampering.
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Terrific review.

Wish I didn't still have 4 more days to wait for it to show up...
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Mateusz Wilk
Poland
Warsaw
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Morning and evening
Someone waits at Matsushima!
One-sided love.


(A haiku by Bashō).

Whither, oh whither might my preordered copy be?
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Paul Franklin-Bihary
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Great review.

You echo my sentiments almost exactly. I, too, have only worked through half of a game solitaire, but I already 'get it' and can see the elegance of the game mechanics. I would rate solitaire suitability, for most people, at 1 or 2. For me (and you, I suppose), it may be a bit higher. But the simple fact of the matter is that when one plays the game solitaire the FOW is negated immensely. A solitaire run-through of this title is more a practice exercise than a game. Still a lot of fun for me!

Overall, I think that Sekigahara will, in the long run, garner gamer support equal to Hammer of the Scots if it can reach an audience. It is a classic block wargame, but with innovative, creative mechanics. It feels almost like an abstract; hints of Go waft from the game. It is most excellent indeed.
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Michael Gustavsson
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Great review Adam

I hope to see my copy soon.
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Jason Henke
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Maple Grove
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Excellent.
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Fredrik
Sweden
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A very good read - thanks!

Aargh, when does it arrive? I'm lousy at the waiting game... zombie
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Thanks for the review. My copy showed up today, and it is drop dead gorgeous.
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Doug Epperson
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Sphere wrote:
Thanks for the review. My copy showed up today, and it is drop dead gorgeous.


Wait till you get to play it...even better than awesome!
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J Mathews
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Interesting. When I played a playtest version a few years ago, it was more abstract than wargame with a truely awful endgame. It was also not evocative in any way of Sengoku Jidai Japan. It was disappointing to the point that I cancelled my pre-order (first time on a game I have P500ed). What you have described sounds pretty much like the game I played but you obviously enjoyed it much more than I did. I am interested to see what kind of reception this game gets beyond its P500 audience because it sure missed its mark for me. I wonder if I missed something, if things have dramatically changed, or if it is just a difference in game preferences.
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Brian Workman
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Adam,

This is an excellent and thorough review. I received my copy on Monday. It sits, all stickered up and ready to go until this weekend, when I hope to get my first game in.

If you like games from the sengoku jidai and don't mind a little more complexity, I would encourage you to give MMP's "A Most Dangerous Time" a try. A much longer game but one in which treachery also plays a large role. it covers the earlier time when Oda Nobunaga started the process that ended here at Segigahara. Very fun.

One last thing, and this is a nit, you said "one representing the child Shogun-in-waiting, Toyotomi Hideyori". Hideyori lacked the blood line to ever become Shogun as his father Hideyoshi rose through the ranks from a peasant birth. Hideyori, like his father would have been Taiko. (Sort of like a regent to a king Western feudalism.)
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R Larsen
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Cannot afford this game this year.
This is painful...
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Adam Parker wrote:


Sekigahara, with its mounted map, cards and blocks, barely fits into its box out of its shrink wrapping! One of my game’s edges was propped up higher, rightly as I guessed, by the big bag of blocks inside. Yet, once set up for play, getting everything back into the box is near impossible; unless, you bag up the cards into four lots and squash the labelled blocks down - which I don’t feel is all too advisable.


If you line the blocks up in neat rows, in the same direction as the box dimensions (i.e. long side of blocks parallel to long side of box), you can fit all of the blocks in while leaving the cards in the same two decks they came in. In this configuration, the lid fits completely tightly with room to spare, in contrast to how it didn't quite fit while in the shrinkwrap. There are few enough blocks that arranging them this way takes no more than a couple of minutes, so while it's a slight pain and I agree a bigger box would have been welcome, those of us with mild OCD don't need to worry about everything not fitting.

I don't see how everything would fit if you sleaved the cards, though.
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LordHellfury wrote:
andrewgr wrote:
I don't see how everything would fit if you sleaved the cards, though.


Ouch. I hope it is able to fit sleeved cards because with as much shuffling as is needed for this game, sleeves may be necessary for my own tastes.


Not so much. You shuffle the cards at the beginning of the game. In the last game I played, I used the entire deck, once through. I didn't have to shuffle again.

I mean, it's not like it's Dominion or anything.
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Adam Parker
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Great game design makes the complex simple, replayability maximum, and abstraction credible.
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Thank you everyone for the kind words. I just wanted to adjust something that really has a huge impact on the action and only discovered to my chagrin after a few more sessions' play:


Castles

Ishida has 4 of them, not 3 as I posted above - still arrayed in a beeline across the length of the map. But Tokugawa has 5 Castles at the start!

What this means of course, is that if by Turn 2, Tokugawa's Castle superiority has not been equalized or reduced, he will be able to draw an extra card for his hand at each turn's commencement, until that imbalance is rectified.

I only stumbled upon this not just by a more careful study of the map - but by the voluntary introduction of some more play aids that I thought would assist me in keeping count of Castle and Resource Location ownership!

You see, as mentioned above, Castles are painted onto the map and color-coded to their original owner's shade. Upon capture, the designer supplied black and gold cubes for each player to place next to their conquests to reflect their ownership change.

Well, seeing that these cubes were so small and were colored so close to the "big blocks of mon", I decided to bring home, some sets of black and yellow wooden tokens shaped like raised discs (for Resource Locations) and house-like towers (for Castles). And they really do look great.

It was only on setting up a brand new game in this way, by placing the appropriate colored towers next to each Castle (which you wouldn't normally do as the game is designed) - that I realised Ishida has a yellow Castle all the way in the east at Aizu and Tokugawa has Hakone in the south next to his capital Edo, with a fifth at Anotsu - almost confused with the Castle at Okazaki.

That's a big starting advantage the Ishida player may want to address... and one the clever Daimyo can solve.


KillerB wrote:
Adam:... One last thing, and this is a nit, you said "one representing the child Shogun-in-waiting, Toyotomi Hideyori". Hideyori lacked the blood line to ever become Shogun as his father Hideyoshi rose through the ranks from a peasant birth. Hideyori, like his father would have been Taiko. (Sort of like a regent to a king Western feudalism.)


Thanks Brian. I just got my hands on Osprey's Essential Histories War in Japan 1467-1615 and it touches on that. I'm eager to learn more.

And for those who might want a taste of the spirit and feel behind this game's mechanics, I found this excellent dramatisation of the Battle for Sekigahara on You Tube, having watched Joel Toppen's Video Review "Inside the Box":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJgkmov4GqI&feature=related

I can't stop watching it. To me, this is exactly how the game plays in strategy. Beware the Loyalty Card!

Happy gaming all,
Adam.
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Terry K
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great review. Made me go preorder it so i can try!
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Sounds like a "review" from Car and Driver. And despite the giddy breathlessness of the reviewer (like a tween getting a new My Little Pony), I'm not very impressed by the description of the game system, but I'd have to see some AARs to make a better judgement. I love the blocks, the cards are not nearly what they could be, and the map is boring in the extreme.

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Doug Epperson
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Quote:
I love the blocks, the cards are not nearly what they could be, and the map is boring in the extreme.


The Blocks:
The blocks are fantastic as they give the game an unique quality over current block style games. They stack well (6 to 7 high) without much fear of them falling (collapsing) onto the map. More stacking I form two groups of equal height. Japan, known for ink styled paintings/writings were gracefully simplistic in design. The art on the blocks follow flawlessly this type of artistic style. They are easily identifiable when marching your troops into battle. They FIT the game and add a wonderful visual appeal to the game like no other component would in my best opinion. I give them thumbsup!!

The Cards:
Yes these too are overly simplistic, but follow the same philosophy of the aforementioned blocks. They contain just enough information needed in the heat of battle with no loss of unwanted information taking up space on the cards.

There are two major factions depicted in this game with with multiple clans (daimyos) joining war for power of Japan. Each fraction has his own unique deck with each unique "daimyo" depicted on his cards. They are clear and concise. Yes, GMT could have added a little history data on the cards or photos of art capturing this great struggle for power. But IMO, this would have cluttered up the cards and taken away the gracefulness and beauty of the game as a whole.

I like them as they are and give them another thumbsup!!

The MAP:
Wow, all I can say is Wow! The shear elegance of the map pulls the whole game together. I wish I had my copy at WBC this year as I know this game would have drawn a crowd. The map is square-on with no flaws (clutter/CRT's/etc).

The map flawlessly displays the "Point-to-Point" movement system employed in the game. There are two types of roads, Highways (red) and Secondary (faded color) roads employed in Sekigahara (which is also depicted on the map). The map illustrates this precisely - there is no FAQ needed!

The map also has printed symbols for castles, locations, capitol cities, resource points, and recruitment locations. Each location and/or symbol is clearly indicated on the map. They add not take away from the map's elegance.

I like how the turn order, battle impact, and recruitment locations are depicted. They are strategically located and do not effect game play ("I accidentally hit the turn order counter or I knocked over the reinforcement stack over, etc...") whatsoever. They too add to the elegance of the game's map.

Simple, elegant, and beautiful are the words that come to mind regarding the "mounted" map!!

I give the map a huge thumbsup!!!!

Of course, this is just my opinion...you have the right to concur or disagree.

But, having owned many many games of various types and themes, THIS GAME will be tabled often!!

Epp
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I read the post above and I hear a lot about how this game looks Japanese, but nothing about how the gameplay feels Japanese. My issue with the early version that I played was that the game could have been given a map of Europe and a different war setting and played and felt exactly the same. It was an abstract with a beautiful veneer. Having looked into what was released, things don't seem to have changed much from the rules I played with. Being able to move a game wholesale from one setting, map and continent to another without any real loss in feel is not what I want from a wargame and something I associate more with the Ticket to Ride franchise.

Outside of the components, everything seemed a step or two removed from its subject matter and it didn't seem like the game was trying to simulate anything. Is there anything in the box that actually feels like you are playing a samurai wargame? So while the components are undeniably pretty, so are Ninjato's and it isn't trying to pass itself off as a wargame. Where's the wargame here, or is it another example of GMT's forays into other genres with a Japanese theme? I'm ok if it is the latter, but it should then be marketed differently.
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I just ordered the game, so I can’t speak from playing experience. But I can speak from purchasing experience – it was not only the look and feel that attracted me (components, map, etc) but also the game play that I have read about. Most wargames can be transplanted into another era onto another map and play pretty much the same. But the better games also give you some unique “feel” for the period covered. From what little I know about Japanese warfare in the 1600’s, this game offers that.

This has castles, which can only house 2 blocks (the small castles that dot Japanese history), and sieges, which are handled differently from the way most games handle sieges. Japanese warfare in 1600 probably wasn’t all that different from European warfare - bows, cavalry, swords, and the growing use of guns. Samurai did not ride out in front too much anymore, offering personal duels. They led the clans’ forces, which were often made up of local men whose skill and loyalty was suspect - which this games also addresses. You have the critical importance of 3 individuals (the two fighting leaders, and the one disk - I’m sorry, I can’t remember their names off the top of my head). Kill one of them, and the war is over. Certain areas are important for resources, and I presume these are based on historical reality of the importance of those locales. And you have the combat mechanism of never being sure how many of your, or your opponent’s blocks, will actually be able to fight in a battle.

All in all, it sounds to me that it has plenty of 17th century Japanese characteristics. Now if it will arrive quickly, I will put it to my own personal tests!!
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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EventHorizon wrote:
Outside of the components, everything seemed a step or two removed from its subject matter and it didn't seem like the game was trying to simulate anything. Is there anything in the box that actually feels like you are playing a samurai wargame? So while the components are undeniably pretty, so are Ninjato's and it isn't trying to pass itself off as a wargame. Where's the wargame here, or is it another example of GMT's forays into other genres with a Japanese theme? I'm ok if it is the latter, but it should then be marketed differently.

I recommend you start by reading the designer's notes at the back of the rulebook. Presumably that should set your fears to rest.
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Sphere wrote:
I recommend you start by reading the designer's notes at the back of the rulebook. Presumably that should set your fears to rest.

Well, I had contact with the designer a couple of years ago when I played it and he couldn't allay my concerns then, which was why I cancelled my P500 order. I understand the attempt to use cards for motivation and fog of war and how that fits in with the historical Battle of Sekigahara, but there was none of that feel when I played the game (in addition, this is more of a campaign game rather than a game about a single battle- a battle at Sekigahara may not even happen during the game, it didn't when we played). It seemed a step or two removed when compared to games like Combat Commander which attempts to use cards to simulate other kinds of uncertainty and fog of war. I love the card play in CC:E and find it flavorful, but this just didn't work for me.

Edit: Seriously, given my interest in Japanese history and my enjoyment of lighter wargames, I should be the target audience but this was just flat and the theme felt pasted on. I'm just hoping that someone can give me a reason to get back interested in this because I really wanted to like it.
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EventHorizon wrote:
I'm just hoping that someone can give me a reason to get back interested in this because I really wanted to like it.

You don't give the impression that you're open to persuasion - a guy who posts his negative reaction three times on the same thread usually has his mind made up. Hopefully you'll get an opportunity to play the release version, and see whether it impresses you more favorably than the early playtest version that soured you.
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