I absolutely love Asian culture. I have the highest respect for it, and I always love finding out more about it, both on modern day culture as well as ancient history. When delving in the Asian past, one of the stories that has always fascinated me was that of the samurai. That ancient warrior caste, with all of it’s customs and legends has been the source of many great movies as well. One of the most famous samurai movies ever made is “Shichinin no Samurai” (Seven Samurai), by legendary director Akira Kurosawa. And that brings me to the game I am about to review, Samurai Spirit, which was inspired by this classic film.
Even though this isn’t a huge gamebox, there are still plenty of components contained within. First up is the gameboard which features the town that the samurai have been entrusted with to protect. The board is small, which is honestly somewhat refreshing, as a lot of games these days take up so much space, that you almost need a second house to lay it all out. Also included are 7 cardboards that feature the 7 samurai whose roles the players will assume. These playing boards are double sided, one side featuring the human form, the other depicting the animal form that the samurai can change into. The raiders that will try to overcome the samurai and destroy the village are shown on 66 playing cards. Rounding out the set are a couple of wooden meeples, some tokens for houses,barricades,villagers and wounds, and ofcourse the rulebook. The components are of a sturdy quality, and the rulebook is written clearly, with a lot of examples to explain the rules.
The objective of Samurai Spirit is to protect a small village from being destroyed by a bunch of bloodthirsty raiders. The players will have to hold out for three rounds of increasing difficulty in order to win the game. The players assume the role(s)of samurai who have special powers to fight and defend against these raiders. Each round is divided into a number of turns in which a player can choose one of three different actions. A player can either choose to fight, use a special power as support or pass. The fight action is the thing you will do the most. As mentioned above the raiders are depicted on a bunch of cards, showing a picture of the attacking raider, and a number ranging from 1-6. The higher the number, the more dangerous the opponent. The samurai fighting the raider either can say he is defending or confronting this enemy.
And this is where the tactical aspect of the game comes into play. Each samurai has a track called the combatline. When confronting enemies you must try not to go over the highest number of your combatline, also known as your Kiai value. When confronting enemies the cards are played to the right side of the track. If the the total value of the raiders goes over your limit, you have to pass and are effectively out of the round. But if you manage to get a value that is equal to your Kiai value, you may activate the special power of your samurai. This power is different for each samurai and range from removing raider cards, to restoring barricades to protect the village.
When a samurai chooses to defend, he can place a raider to the left side of his character board. He can only do this for a maximum of three times, and only to raiders that have special symbols on them. Samurai can also receive wounds, and after getting wounded a second time, it changes the samurai to it’s animal form. This makes him more powerful, but the game also get’s more dangerous for that particular samurai. A round ends after the players have overcome all the raiders. After checking if the village has not been destroyed a new round will be started, but more powerful raiders are added to the deck. If all samurai have passed, one of them is killed, or the village has been destroyed, the game ends, resulting in a loss. But if the players manage to hold out for three rounds, the players are victorious, and ofcourse that is what everybody wants, right?
This game doesn’t take long to learn. As mentioned earlier, the rulebook has been well written and contains enough examples to explain the more difficult rules. However, mastering the game is a whole different matter. I love how this game has a great balance between luck and tactics. Knowing when to attack, and when to defend is definitely key to winning the game. What’s also nice is that the game contains four levels of difficulty. On the higher levels, players get penalties for losing villagers and buildings, making the game a lot tougher. In this way you have a nice learning curve, and when you feel comfortable you can increase the difficulty in order to make the game more of a challenge.
This game was a pleasant surprise. I love games that force you to think about your next move, and not only depend on luck. You really have to plan your strategy, and sometimes take some risks in order to win the game. This makes for some tense gameplay situations, where you might have only one more chance to save the village. Will you risk it all, or play it safe? The game has enough components for replay value and with four modes of difficulty will keep you going for a while. Still, this is one of those games that you won’t play for an entire evening, but is fun enough to play two or three times and than call it quits. A typical gameplay session takes about half an hour for up to three players. When adding more samurai, this time will increase.
If you like heroic games, where you must hold out against impossible odds, this one is definitely worth checking out. The Asian theme for me was an absolute plus as well, and that for me made it worth it even more. All in all this is just a fun little game, which you will definitely bring to the table more than once.
I give Samurai Spirit a 8 out 10 score.