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Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Sekigahara: A Bold New Step in Block Wargames rss

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Paul Franklin-Bihary
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I don't write reviews much. I just don't have time. And most new games that I get or try lately leave me a bit underwhelmed. But Sekigahara, GMTs new block wargame release, has spurred me into action because, well, it is so good. It takes aspects from other block and card-driven war games and both uses them and deconstructs them to create a brand new system that makes this Japanese-themed game the subtle, nuanced, beautiful and chaotic affair that it should be.

RULES

The first glimpse into the excellence of the game came with my first reading of the rules. Oh, how I love a wargame with focused, short and effective rules! It is such a rarity. Designer Matt Calkins and the GMT folks have crafted rules that are concise, easy to understand, and well organized. The rules themselves are only the first 12 pages in the 20-page rulebook, and this includes extensive illustrations and a pretty large font; the remainder is a well-written historical background and a very interesting essay on the design choices in the creation of the game.

The player aid sheets that are included with the game are cross-referenced and indexed so that any questions that arise can be easily found in the book.

The rules are excellent, will get one into playing the game quickly, and deserve much praise.

EQUIPMENT

This game is beautifully produced by GMT. When I think of GMT, I think of counters and thin maps. This game is not like that at all. The mounted map is large, sturdy and has a wonderful linen texture that should hold up well to repeated play. The graphic design of everything is simple and subdued. The black and gold (yes, shiny GOLD) blocks stand out well but blend with the earth tones of the board art wonderfully. And the cards are sturdy yet flexible. Everything has high production values, a bit higher than normal for GMT.

One complaint many people have is that the box doesn't close completely after you put all the blocks into their bags. This is true. It seems that the mounted map pushes everything up a bit so that the lid doesn't close all the way. An annoyance, but if you like this game as much as me you will probably have out out of the box so much that it won't matter anyway.

GAMEPLAY

This is where Sekigahara really shines. The cards run everything in this game, as they do in many other card-driven wargames. But this game is different.

The cards in your hand wind up being your action and influence bank during each turn. Constant hand management is necessary to effectively move your pieces and do battle. Cards are used at the beginning of the turn to bid for turn order, then used to engage troops for movement, THEN used to deploy troops into battle. This means that you will almost constantly be complaining and scrunching up your face when you need to play a card because you don't want to get rid of anything! This creates an excellent tension that makes the game exciting and forces much thought in every phase of the game.

The other factor that makes this system interesting is the chaos and randomness produced by the mechanics for using and discarding the cards. At the beginning of each turn is the reinforcement step. In this step, each player discards half of their cards (rounding down in favor of the player). This means that every turn, your hand will change immensely. Also, after each battle, the cards used in that combat are discarded and replaced (and sometimes increased based on your block losses in the combat). So, between each fight your hand will change quite a bit, too. All of this leads to a very interesting dynamic of managing your resources yet being forced to accept the chaos resulting in burning through cards quickly.

Combat is very interesting in the game. One can only deploy units to fight using cards that have matching symbols, or 'mon'. So, one may have a huge stack of blocks but no cards that match. Each block deployed garners 'Impact' points which are used to determine the winner of the battle and the losses incurred. Play a card with a symbol, and deploy a matching block. The number of symbols on the block is how many Impact points you add to the total. If the block deployed is of the same 'mon' as a previously deployed block, you get +1 impact for each block already deployed with the matching symbol. If you play a card with a sword, a 'Special Attack', and deploy one of the blocks with a gun or cavalry symbol, that block, and all others previously deployed with the matching special attack symbol, get you a +2 point bonus in addition to the +1 for the matching 'mon'. You can see how the order of card play is important, and how these bonus points can start adding up quick! At the end of this process, the person with the most Impact points wins the engagement.

The final interesting dynamic in combat is the use of the 'Loyalty Challenge' cards. Any time the opponent deploys a block (or two, if using a two-'mon' card), one can play a 'Loyalty Challenge' card as an interrupt. If the deploying player cannot show another card from his or her hand with the same 'mon', that block SWITCHES SIDES in the battle, adding its points to the player of the loyalty card rather than the person initially trying to deploy it. This backstabbing technique, again, must be used carefully so that it works, and when it does can change the entire outcome of a battle.

I hope that I'm explaining this well, but if I'm not, the rules do an excellent job (with examples!). Needless to say, this is one of the most innovative combat systems I've played in years. It creates a tension and involves the players in a way that few other games can match. It is brilliant.

The rest of the gameplay holds up well, too; but the combat system is extraordinary.

OVERALL

Honestly, I've been waiting pretty much my entire life for this game. The MB Gamemaster series game Shogun (now titled Ikusa) was the game that really got me into the hobby. I loved it for the Japanese theme and it was relatively easy and fun to play. I've been waiting for another game themed in this era that was engaging, exciting yet simple. This game, although only for two players, is the best one I've played that is set in this time period of Japanese history, even better than Shogun in many regards.

This may mean that I'm over-enthused about it because of my personal past experience in the hobby. But having played many other 'entry-level block wargames' such as Hammer of the Scots, Napoleon, and Richard III, I can say without hesitation that Sekigahara deserves to be held in the same high regard as these titles, if not higher.

I highly recommend this title and hope you will give it a try.




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tom moughan
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thank you for your review. : ) well done.

How would this serve a seasoned gamer that normally does not play block or chit wargames but is really intrigued by this title?
 
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Paul Franklin-Bihary
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Quote:
How would this serve a seasoned gamer that normally does not play block or chit wargames but is really intrigued by this title?


I think it would definitely be approachable for a euro-focused gamer, or someone into abstracts. I think most people would enjoy it, actually. I played with an occasional gamer, and he had a great time.
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Eric Franklin
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lengthtoavoid wrote:
thank you for your review. : ) well done.

How would this serve a seasoned gamer that normally does not play block or chit wargames but is really intrigued by this title?


I'm a Euro gamer, and I like this one a great deal.

Eric
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Delta 5.56
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This reminds me of that old Amiga game Lords of the Rising Sun. I loved that game. I hope this brings back those fond memories. ninja
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Dan Conley
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Good review, Paul! I've been mulling this one over, but I needed a push. This could do it!
 
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dan schnake
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Am intrigued by this. A lot. My only issue is that I usually shy away from 3 plus hour games. Is it really that long? Are there certain starting setups that work in, say, 2 hours?

Oh, and "well done" on the review.
 
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Paul Franklin-Bihary
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danman wrote:
Am intrigued by this. A lot. My only issue is that I usually shy away from 3 plus hour games. Is it really that long? Are there certain starting setups that work in, say, 2 hours?

Oh, and "well done" on the review.


The first game took about 3 hours. I would think that after that, with opponents knowledgeable about the rules, it would normally play in about 2-3.

And thanks for the "well done".
 
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Christopher Donovan
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danman wrote:
Am intrigued by this. A lot. My only issue is that I usually shy away from 3 plus hour games. Is it really that long? Are there certain starting setups that work in, say, 2 hours?

Oh, and "well done" on the review.


In my experience the mechanics of the game play extremely fast - it's the decision-making that takes up most of the time because you must frequently re-evaluate how well the cards in your hand (which refresh after each battle!) align with the clans composing your various armies and their positions on the board. Thankfully, the blocks are large and the clan symbols were tweaked to be reasonably distinguishable. With some familiarity I can see this game going in 2 hours or less.
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Jim Marshall
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I just want my copy to arrive now .... cry
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Adrian Hague
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Jim Marshall wrote:
I just want my copy to arrive now .... cry

Et moi aussi.

Any Brits recieve their copy yet?
 
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Richard Rutten
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AdrianPHague wrote:
Jim Marshall wrote:
I just want my copy to arrive now .... cry

Et moi aussi.

Any Brits recieve their copy yet?

En ik ook!

Seems our copies are still crossing the ocean. But what the heck, it's been over 4 years since I ordered this so I can wait a bit more.

Nice review! I hope I'll be as passionate about the game as you.
 
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Graham Wills
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I played yesterday with my 15 year old son; I started setting up at 4:00 and finished the game just before dinner at 6:10. We didn't rush and the pace seemed reasonable. Now we did play one rule wrong which probably speeded us up, but factoring that in, I would expect my second play to be approximately the same length.

He won, btw. I undervalued the advantage of dominance in resources and castles, and Tokagawa has a couple of castles that are very exposed ...
 
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Michael Sosa
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Good review but you should try incorporating a few pictures for added effect.
 
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