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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Sekigahara: Unification of Japan
A game for 2 players designed by Matt Calkins


Introduction

A little over centuries ago, Japan was a nation in flux. Two factions vied for power and this eventually erupted into open warfare with the decisive battle happening in October 1600.

The pivotal outcome set Japan's course for the next two and a half centuries. This game represents the six week conflagration that ended with victory by Tokugawa.

Components

Sekigahara is quite possibly the longest game anyone has had to wait for from GMT, but its long tenure on their P500 list has also meant that it was printed with the top notch production values that GMT has become known for recently. The box comes absolutely packed with beautiful black and gold blocks, stickers for same, rules and a beautiful mounted board that is both simple and elegant at the same time. There are also two black bags to hold the blocks that aren't part of the set up.

The box is so full that the lid barely fits flat with the bottom of the box - care must be taken when putting everything back in.

The box is just packed! Image courtesy of BGG user tomg

The rule and scenario books are both printed in full colour on glossy paper and the player aids are on sturdy cardstock.

Rules and Game Play

The Basics
Sekigahara is actually a relatively low complexity game, and the rules are only about 10 pages. The rest of the rulebook covers some examples of play and also has a very detailed set of historical and designer notes to explain why certain aspects of the games were emphasized.

The game uses blocks in order to create a fog of war. You won't know which units of your opponent that you'll be facing, nor how strong they are. However, unlike most block games, the strength of the units facing you is actually less important than the cards your opponent holds in their hand!

Winning
There are two ways of winning. Tokugowa wins instantly if either Mitsunari is killed or Toyotomi Hideyori is captured. Mitsunari wins instantly if Tokugawa is killed.

If neither of the above happens, then the player with the most victory points at the end of the game wins. You earn 2VP for each castle you control and 1VP for each resource location. The player with the most victory points wins.

Set Up
The location of units to start the game are marked on the unit blocks themselves, which correspond to symbols on the map. In addition, randomly selected blocks are placed in the reinforcement pool for each player. This means that each game will be slightly different, so what worked well in one game may not work well in another.

Sorting out set up units.

Each player also starts with a hand of cards. The cards will have symbols matching a specific unit type. Having the right unit type in your hand is vital for success in combat.

Playing
The game, assuming no instant victory occurs, lasts six weeks. Each week, both players bid to determine who will decide the start player for that week, and then each player will play two turns before the week ends.

On each player's turn, they move units, followed by resolving combat. Then their opponent does the same thing. Both players then repeat this to complete the week.

Movement is limited by how many cards (if any) that you play. If you play no cards, you can either move one group (or muster reinforcements) or you can discard any number of cards and draw replacements. Playing one card allows you three move actions (or two moves and one mustering of reinforcements). Playing two cards lets you move all your groups and muster reinforcements.

Movement is also affected by the presence of leaders and also of roads. Generally speaking leaders and roads give you movement bonuses. Size of your stack also matters. Stacks of more than four units have movement penalties.

Combat
Combat is the place where this game is significantly different from most wargames. The designer notes speak in detail about the design-for-effect here and are worth reading before proceeding with a game. In essence, and this is both thematic and historically accurate, units wouldn't necessarily obey orders unless their leader ordered them in. So, in game terms, units might be in a battle, but if you don't have cards matching the symbol of the units you have, they won't be effective in battle. Worse, it's possible a unit might walk over to the enemy side (for the duration of the battle only).

The casualties mount.

Battles are resolved with cards and the player with the higher impact wins. For every seven points of impact you can generate, you eliminate one enemy block in the battle (which can be of any size). Having multiple units of the same symbol in the battle has a net additive effect, so being able to coordinate cards in hand to units in battle can be a particularly sweet experience. The losing side of the battle loses one additional block.

All eliminated blocks are permanently removed from the game, which makes it a real tragedy to lose a lot of units of the same type.

There are also two other ways of eliminating enemy blocks. One is by sieging them in their castles, and the other is by using overrun attacks, where having four times as many blocks in your group automatically eliminates the foe in your path. It can be pretty devastating to lose a single strength three block to a stack of four strength one blocks, but this game isn't about the size of the blocks, but rather the sheer number of them.

Conclusions

Sekigahara is a game of misdirection and indirect threats. You can use more traditionally blunt attack methods, but more often than not it seems that it's much more important and effective to manoeuvre your units and jockey for position in anticipation of grabbing resource locations and unattended castles than it is to spill blood.

The western part of the map is also more likely to see large military actions as Osaka and Kyoto are there along with the bulk of Mitsunari's troops.

Osaka is well defended.

I've been playing block games for over a quarter of a century now and this one is definitely a different experience from what I'm used to. For starters, although the size of any given unit matters in terms of how much impact it delivers in combat, it is also true that it's irrelevant in terms of choosing units to be eliminated. You might have nothing but strength three blocks in your stack, but if your opponent had the right cards, many small units of the same type can be used to devastating effect.

However, the game really captures the key essence of the warfare of this era and culture; make no mistake, they are inextricably intertwined here. For someone used to the more direct motivations of the troops on the board, it definitely takes some getting used to.

That said, this game is visually very attractive, not exceedingly complex, and can be played in an evening (allow about three hours). It's a great introductory wargame, and yet has enough substance behind it to stand up to repeated plays.


Thank you for reading this latest installment of Roger's Reviews. I've been an avid board gamer all my life and a wargamer for over thirty years. I have a strong preference for games that are light on rules but heavy on purposeful decisions.

Among my favorites I include Twilight Struggle, the Combat Commander Series, the Musket & Pike Battle Series, Julius Caesar, Maria, EastFront, Here I Stand, Napoleon's Triumph and Unhappy King Charles!

You can subscribe to my reviews at this geeklist: [Roger's Reviews] The Complete Collection and I also encourage you to purchase this very stylish microbadge: mb
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tom moughan
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good review and light affirmation that I read the rules correctly. This is my first block war game (or war game really) I ever purchased and I am really looking forward to playing it soon. Cards sleeved, blocks labeled, rules read, opponent acquired. : )

I like the card driven nature, area control for pts, and easy to understand non-dice driven battle system.

If this was right up my alley, what would you suggest as a next step purchase?




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Wendell
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Nice review Roger, of an interesting game. I'm guessing solo prospects for this would be pretty minimal, right?
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tom moughan
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wifwendell wrote:
Nice review Roger, of an interesting game. I'm guessing solo prospects for this would be pretty minimal, right?


It was rated a 1 for solitaire suitability. It would likely need a hefty ruleset to automate an army and even then, you'd have to give the dummy player new cards every round. with movement, initiative, and activating units all coming from your hand it seems it would be completely random at best for that. sadly. : (
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lengthtoavoid wrote:
I like the card driven nature, area control for pts, and easy to understand non-dice driven battle system.

If this was right up my alley, what would you suggest as a next step purchase?
Notwithstanding the "non-dice driven battle system", I'd highly recommend Julius Caesar. It's one of my favorite games from last year and has become one of my go to "teach me a wargame" games. It also has a lot of emphasis on movement and jockeying for position over charging in and attacking.
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wifwendell wrote:
Nice review Roger, of an interesting game. I'm guessing solo prospects for this would be pretty minimal, right?
Sadly the solitaire options for this game would be pretty slim because so much of the combat hinges on bluff. Moving a big stack next to your guys looks pretty daunting, but I might not have the cards to use my units effectively and that's something you can't know unless you engage me. I suppose you could do it if you you discarded both hands at the moment of engagement, but in short, it would be a lot of work.
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leroy43 wrote:
lengthtoavoid wrote:
I like the card driven nature, area control for pts, and easy to understand non-dice driven battle system.

If this was right up my alley, what would you suggest as a next step purchase?
Notwithstanding the "non-dice driven battle system", I'd highly recommend Julius Caesar. It's one of my favorite games from last year and has become one of my go to "teach me a wargame" games. It also has a lot of emphasis on movement and jockeying for position over charging in and attacking.


I have looked at it a few times. : )

Thanks for your recommendation - Lack of dice is not a prerequisite. I'll look into it more closely!
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Chris B
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Thanks Roger. I also ordered this from GMT via their Fall Sale. My hope is that I'll be able to "lure" some of my non wargamer buddies to try this.
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Jay Sheely
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I've been excited for this game for ... what 3 years? It has been on P500 at GMT forever but it's here and looks gorgeous. I just picked it up on the 50% off sale. Please be here Monday! Can't wait to play it!

Thanks for the thoughts on the game.
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Michel Sorbet
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lengthtoavoid wrote:
wifwendell wrote:
Nice review Roger, of an interesting game. I'm guessing solo prospects for this would be pretty minimal, right?


It was rated a 1 for solitaire suitability.


So was Nightfighter and just look at it now! From a game impossible to be played solo it became a solitaire pearl!
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David
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A very elegant game explained in a very elegant way.
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Andrew Laws
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leroy43 wrote:

The game, assuming no instant victory occurs, lasts six weeks.


When I read this my heart sank. I passed over Normandy'44 in favour of this because I thought it had a shorter playing time.
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David
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Roger, I see you have rated Sekigahara a 6 and traded it. Any new thoughts on the game since the review?
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Snowman wrote:
Roger, I see you have rated Sekigahara a 6 and traded it. Any new thoughts on the game since the review?

I went through a ratings exercise to re-examine every game I've rated and I pushed most of them down. Here the 6 from me should not be seen as any indicator that this is a bad game, because it most assuredly is not. Rather, although I enjoy the game, it's from a period of history that I have a low level of interest in. A friend of mine, who's a big history of Japan buff, how has possession of it.
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