SAMURAI is a strategic simulation on a truly epic scale. It is a game for those players who genuinely take the long view of human events. The game covers the period in Japan’s history from the 12th to the 17th centuries; it ends just before European firearms revolutionized the traditional Japanese approach to warfare and, by so doing, undermined the Samurai system that had existed for centuries. Any number from two to four players can play SAMURAI although, in purely game terms, four players is probably best. Each player controls one of the four major clans that, during this period, vied for absolute military and political supremacy in Japan. Each player’s goal is to outwit and outmaneuver his opponents, and, by so doing, gain the coveted role and title of Shogun. To win a player must gain control of at least two Imperial Articles, an accomplishment that will require cunning, diplomacy, success in combat, and luck. A lot can happen in twenty game turns: betrayal by a trusted ally; or unexpected natural disasters such as earthquakes, tidal waves, plagues, and pirates all can upset a player’s best-laid plans, just when victory is in sight.
SAMURAI is played with a variable player turn order: at the beginning of each game turn, each player rolls a die, the result of which determines his player order within the turn (with the player whose die-roll was highest moving first). A typical player turn proceeds as follows: event step (the player rolls a die six times, and announces the result from the event table); movement step (the player moves any of his lords he wishes); combat step (combat may take one of three forms: personal challenge, battle, or siege); and finally, the fate step, during which the phasing player draws an unexposed holding from a cup and either assigns it to an existing lord, creates a lord (if the draw is a province), or holds it for future assignment. Play then moves on to the next player, and the same steps are repeated until all players have completed their turns.
SAMURAI offers not only a standard version of the game, but also two advanced tournament versions for players to try. All versions, in theory, are twenty turns long. In the standard game, the clan (player) that first controls two Imperial Articles wins. In the advanced tournament versions, a clan must control either three, or (in the most challenging version) all four Imperial Articles to achieve victory. Consequently, the advanced games have the potential to run on for far more than twenty game turns. SAMURAI also offers several optional rules that allow players to alter the game, sometimes dramatically. These rules include: additional players (up to four more players may be added, with two players belonging to a single clan); family background (a player may inherit a single, unexposed possession from the holdings of a leader who is eliminated); battle modifiers; naval battles; recovery of garrisons; recovery from wounds; return of Imperial Articles; and relocation of the Emperor.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONSAMURAI is an interesting game that just never managed to generate much interest within the hobby. For my own part, because I have a passing interest in feudal Japanese history, I found the game’s subject appealing; but then, I’m speaking as one who has watched the entire Musashi Trilogy twice, so I might not be the best person to listen to on this subject. In any case, I purchased a copy of the game shortly after it came out and then discovered, much to my dismay, that ownership of Dan Campagna’s design made me unique among my circle of regular opponents. I suppose there are several possible reasons for the game’s lack of popularity. It could be that most players just couldn’t relate to the centuries-long struggle for military and political supremacy in Japan; or perhaps it could be that the game’s pink box and curiously off-putting cover art discouraged most gamers from giving the title a look. For whatever reason, though, the game just never really caught on. That’s too bad because it genuinely is an intriguing simulation.
Of course, the main problem for SAMURAI players, then and now, is that, as is the case with any obscure multi-player game, it is virtually impossible to round up experienced opponents in order to start a game! I know; I had the same problem myself. Nonetheless, based on my admittedly spotty experience with this title, I would say that anyone who likes the KINGMAKER Game System will probably like this game. SAMURAI requires a nice mix of diplomacy, luck, guile, and tactical acumen in order to win. It has the additional advantage of painlessly teaching the players about a historical period in Japan about which most Westerners know extraordinarily little.
- Time Scale: variable (each game turn may represent a period of a few months to a few years, depending on historical events)
- Map Scale: not given (area movement)
- Unit Size: individual ships, Samurai & garrison strength is variable (counters may represent from 10 to 50 samurai troop strength points)
- Unit Types: lords, province holdings, castles, monasteries, troops holdings, ships, titles, ninja, imperial articles, garrisons, and information markers
- Number of Players: two to four (optional rules permit up to eight players)
- Complexity: average
- Solitaire Suitability: low
- Average Playing Time: 1-10 + hours (depending on which version of the game being played)
- One 21½” x 31½” Area Movement Map Board (with Turn Record Track, Map Key/Index/Notes, Special Events Table, Play Set-Up Chart, Play Procedure Outline, and Victory Conditions incorporated)
- 360 ½” cardboard Counters
- One 8” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Personal Combat Table, Siege Table, Samurai Ability Table, Ninja Table, and Battle Tables incorporated)
- Four 5½” x 17” Clan Charts
- One 5½” x 8” Avalon Hill Catalog
- One Avalon Hill Customer Response Card
- One 4¼” x 5½” Game Map Instruction Sheet
- One 8½” x 11½” x 2” bookcase-style Game Box