Ocean Druen
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A Little about Me and My interest in this Game

I have worked in Japan and consider myself to have more than a passing familiarity with Japanese history. When I first read about this game on the GMT website (years ago) I loved the aspect of a game simulating the conflict between Ishida Mitsunari and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Being a block game seemed another plus. What got me to sign up for the P500 was that it could be played in about three hours; time limits often affect my opponents while personally I don’t mind (crave) long games.

Components

The game comes with a mounted map, blocks, cards, 2 player aids, and an instruction booklet. The map is of central Japan with a point to point system with dots marking play areas, red dots noting the resource areas. Castles are noted by a small picture off to the side. Overall the map is of high quality with enough space for playing the game although the Osaka side of the map can get quite crowded. Overall the map is quite striking with a good amount of detail and nothing distracting from the game.

The blocks represent the armies of the different daimyos of the period. They come in gold and black. At first I thought that the blocks were too large (too much depth) but during gameplay you will accumulate a large stack of these blocks and the size ends up being great for stacking them ten blocks high (just don’t bump the table). The blocks are very attractive and look excellent on the map. My copy had all of the blocks uniform except for one which had a gash on one side (which became the sticker side so there was no problem). My only quibble with the blocks is that the stickers are slightly too large and I had to reposition some so there was no overlap.

Once again GMT has made an excellent instruction booklet. The game rules only take up a few pages with an excellent example of combat. Overall the game play is simple (see below) which has allowed for over half of the book to display art, and a brief history of the Sekigahara campaign. The brief history was well written giving plenty of details without getting bogged down, and excellent and delightful bonus.

My only complaint about the game is that the game box is just the right size, if you have EVERYTHING arranged perfectly. In reality you will have to fidget with the blocks and cards to get everything to fit or the box will not close more than halfway.

Overall the components are way above average, bordering on excellent, and I was quite delighted, my wife and I even take the time to admired the look of the game while in play. Using the daimyo crests on the blocks and the excellent map makes for an immersive experience. When I opened the box and went through the components I felt I got more than enough value for the money I spent, I even though that GMT gave me too much for what I paid! This game proves that an excellent presentation can increase the value of the gameplay experience.

Gameplay

Sekigahara was designed to be an immersive game that can be played in a short amount of time, and with enough detail to fully simulate the battle of Sekigahara. The game establishes all of these points, but does have some flaws.

In short the game is seven turns, each turn with two movement and combat phases. The game was designed to run about three hours, and one game was under two hours. My first game ran just under three hours, and that is with teaching the game. Subsequent games have all been under three hours. Sekigahara rules are simple, with the most complex rules governing combat which is card based; the excellent example of the gameplay in the rulebook should be all one needs to understand this aspect. Unlike some other wargames that I have played there are no exceptions to the rules and only some special rules (which were not a problem). For comparison I was able to teach the game in less than ten minutes.

There is a borderline acceptable amount of randomness as well. Most starting armies are predetermined, but some are random. Every army afterwards is drawn from random. Players draw cards that can be used to activate an army; no card with the matching daimyo symbol means that army block will not fight in this battle. There are also loyalty challenge cards that give a chance to turn an army block against the owner. This does make planning relight more on luck that I would like; while you get to choose which armies are deployed you do not choose the pool of deployable armies. With cards determining who can fight (draw being random) it is possible to pull one daimyo’s armies while pulling cards for other daimyos. There is an option to flush but it takes an action which is too costly. My solution would be to draw some more armies (half of what you are to draw rounded down) choosing your reinforcements and returning the rest.

Ultimately the battles are excellently represented. When forming your armies one need to decide how they are going to be comprised. Armies from the same daimyo get a cumulative bonus which can be devastating. The downside of this strategy is that to deploy your armies you need a matching card. With other daimyos and limited resources (hand size) it depletes the hand of one daimyo and next time it is unlikely that that army will be able to fight back effectively. On the other side, mixing your armies will not prevent this extra bonus but better prepare you for using this army in subsequent combats. This ultimately slants the combats towards the attackers (and rightfully so for this period). The player should have all the cards they need when attacking to use most (if not all) of the units in the army while the defender may be unprepared.

The system of hiding units is employed to great effect. As the defender you can try and psyche your opponent out by massing a large army for defense, but have no cards to actually defend a location (a tactic that both my opponent and I used). On the other side small armies can be devastating and you can set up some good ambushes by massing units of the same daimyo. In one game I defended a position against an army twice the size by luring them to attack a unified force (with firearms!).

The excellent simulation is where the largest problem is with the game. Looking at the starting map one can see why the battle progressed the way it did. Ishida (gold) is prone to defense as they have an advantage in two castles and (with the exception of Uesugi) the daimyos are close together. Tokugawa (Black) has the primary goal of capturing Osaka castle where the Toyotomi is located (and can’t move from) which is Tokugawa’s instant victory condition. The Date and Uesugi skirmish on one side of the map while the Tokugawa host travels the highways towards Osaka for a final showdown (skirmishing along the way). There are some minor variations to this, and it can be fun to try, but with limited movement options (only three paths from one side of the map to the other) there are too few variations to have a good amount of replay value.

Conclusion

This is a beautiful game. The components alone make for one of the most beautiful presentations that add much to the game playing experience. This is a very pleasant game to play visually and when playing in public people will stop to look. My plays of the game have also been quite enjoyable and I look forward to playing again. What fails is the campaign, there is just too little here for me to get a lot of play value out of the game. Where this game will be when it is played out (for me) is as an introductory wargame; all of the excellent strategy and historical aspects are there in easy to explain rules and short playing time.

If you have an interest in Japanese history, particularly anything with samurai, this game will not let you down. It certainly hasn’t let me down.
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Andre Oliveira
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Excellent, review! Thanks.
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Jonathan Kinney
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I think there will be some variability with the random recruitment draws but I see your point on replayability.

I wouldn't be surprised to see so "what if" scenarios in a future C3i.

Great review. I played it once on Wednesday and even with rules review we came in at almost exactly 3 hours.
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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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DarkTori wrote:
The system of hiding units is employed to great effect. As the defender you can try and psyche your opponent out by massing a large army for defense, but have no cards to actually defend a location (a tactic that both my opponent and I used).


Yes! This is the real gem of the game (even solo you can mess yourself up) and I can't wait to see it face to face.

Hey we were typing thoughts at the same time is seems (so sorry to bump you), but it is uncanny how nearly everyone is forming a consensus early on:

1. Great looking components.
2. Smooth, clever engine.
3, Box could be bigger.
4. Things can get crowded in the west.
5. Is one scenario enough for posterity?
6. What are the offensive options for both sides?

Back to the point you made about big stacks, the corollary I found is also, chance for big losses - 1 block lost for every 7 Impact inflicted, plus an extra block lost for the ultimate loser!

I kept forgetting that last bit; but you can get cocky moving a 10 block stack around, to suddenly be left with just 3 after one Battle

Thanks for your post thumbsup
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Ocean Druen
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Adam, your six points nail most of what this game is about, just add "Japanese History" in there and there is all the information anyone really needs to know if they are thinking about buying the game.

I do have to give some more credit for the designers. In this system big battles get resolved fairly quickly and with satisfaction. Big battles are quite fun especially due to the slow build up of blocks that build up and slowly move towards each other.

I’m not sure if I should complain about the crowed Osaka side of the map. This is the area where the big battle is likely and you will have to take your blocks off the board for that battle, but it being crowded does add to the aesthetic of the game.
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J Mathews
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Good review, thank you. Did you find the side-switching during battle too random for the subject, given that the actual defections during the battle were small in number (but decisive), one-sided, and anything but random (Tokugawa spent a lot of time and money paying off the Mori and Kobayakawa clans)? How often did it happen in your games? Thanks.
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DarkTori wrote:
Adam, your six points nail most of what this game is about, just add "Japanese History" in there and there is all the information anyone really needs to know if they are thinking about buying the game.

I do have to give some more credit for the designers. In this system big battles get resolved fairly quickly and with satisfaction. Big battles are quite fun especially due to the slow build up of blocks that build up and slowly move towards each other.

I’m not sure if I should complain about the crowed Osaka side of the map. This is the area where the big battle is likely and you will have to take your blocks off the board for that battle, but it being crowded does add to the aesthetic of the game.


Reading the historical notes also reveals that the starting scenario of the game is very much based on the real life situation this game simulates in terms of where armies are placed and there immediate goals.

I'm halfway through the historical notes now and it's quite a gripping read!
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EventHorizon wrote:
Good review, thank you. Did you find the side-switching during battle too random for the subject, given that the actual defections during the battle were small in number (but decisive), one-sided, and anything but random (Tokugawa spent a lot of time and money paying off the Mori and Kobayakawa clans)? How often did it happen in your games? Thanks.


So far the loyalty card has only been used successfully used only a small minority of times. The fact that the cards are there does cause me to hold back a card for each clan until it is absolutely needed.

To answer your question though, no I don't find that aspect too random. I believe that it simulates the time period well, your hand is the loyalty of your daimyos and if you stretch that loyalty too far then it will break (with the play of a card it seems).
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Brian Workman
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The loyalty card is not like a random event. You can _always_ prevent it's use. Just don't put yourself in a position where it will be effective against you. Of course if you feel the NEED to gamble, well then...

Also, as the game develops, you have to assume that your opponent has one. Eventually he will draw one and if he wants to use it he'll hold on to it waiting for the opportunity. Of course you can always count how many you've seen as your opponent works through his deck, so you have some idea if he might still have one.

There's nothing chaotic about this game.
 
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KillerB wrote:
There's nothing chaotic about this game.


Plenty chaotic. Just not random.
 
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David Bohnenberger
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jrebelo wrote:
KillerB wrote:
There's nothing chaotic about this game.


Plenty chaotic. Just not random.


Cards and reinforcements are drawn randomly, so I would say there is actually a fairly large random element to the game. However, you get to do what you want with what you get.
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Dweeb wrote:
jrebelo wrote:
KillerB wrote:
There's nothing chaotic about this game.


Plenty chaotic. Just not random.


Cards and reinforcements are drawn randomly, so I would say there is actually a fairly large random element to the game. However, you get to do what you want with what you get.


I disagree. To me, dice are random. You can roll a die 100 times and it's theoretically possible for every single roll to be 1 or 2. It's extremely unlikely, but possible, given that it's random.

Card decks in a game like Sekigahara are finely balanced to offer a particular number of potential opportunities to make use of certain game mechanics and there's nothing random at all about the density of particular types of symbols in the deck. Knowing how many cards of each type are in the stack, you can (by process of elimination) fairly reliably predict what types of cards you will be drawing later in the stack since you've seen every card that went through it. Therefore, it's chaotic since you can't control it, but it's not random since it is pre-determined what will eventually come out of the stack.
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jrebelo wrote:
Card decks in a game like Sekigahara are finely balanced to offer a particular number of potential opportunities to make use of certain game mechanics and there's nothing random at all about the density of particular types of symbols in the deck. Knowing how many cards of each type are in the stack, you can (by process of elimination) fairly reliably predict what types of cards you will be drawing later in the stack since you've seen every card that went through it. Therefore, it's chaotic since you can't control it, but it's not random since it is pre-determined what will eventually come out of the stack.


You are explaining the same concept at calculating the probability of a dice roll, in fact this is a little more random for some people who don't count cards - or if they don't know how many of each card is in the deck in the first place.

I understand about what you mean that cards will come up because they are in the deck but the draw is still "random" because you generally don't know what is coming up (except maybe the final two turns).

Personally I do not have much of a problem with randomness. there are plenty of people here at BGG and in my play group that do - who simply will not play a game where there is something in the game that is out of their control. They are the ones I think miss out, but I feel I need to point these things out in my reviews.
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I guess if that's how you define randomness, then that's your prerogative and not really worth arguing about, but I am not explaining the same concept as calculating the probability of a dice roll. That's exactly what I'm differentiating from.

I also don't have a problem with randomness, necessarily, but I simply don't believe it's accurate to call the elements of Sekigahara random. For the benefit of people who are reading reviews with interest in the game, I think it's worth conveying to them that the draws are not actually random because to many people, that's a bonus. A good game needs some variability, but it makes a very big difference to some players whether that variance is controlled or random. Simply put, if the odds arent the same every time, it's not random.
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