Published by Gamewright Inc
Designed by Scott Kimball
Reviewed by Kurt Adam
about 90 minutes
Honor of the Samurai is one of Gamewright's two larger box games (the other being Quests of the Round Table). The small games are generally short little card games that are often based on traditional games. The two larger games are more complex and generally more satisfying.
Honor of the Samurai comes with a deck of cards of varying types, a set of six dice (with nifty traditional Japanese clan symbols in place of pips) and some chits to punch out. The chits are used to keep track of the honor that you collect throughout the game. The object being to be the first to collect 400 points of honor.
The cards represent different aspects of life in feudal Japan. They include possessions (Castles, Weapons, etc.), armies of varying strength, Daimyos (lords), house guards, wives, ninjas, and various other cards that allow you to screw with other players or prevent you from being screwed. Each card has a set of stats for honor, ki and strength. Honor designates how much honor the card contributes to your total at the beginning of your turn. Ki designates how many things you can do during your turn, and strength figures into battles. There is one other special card which is the Shogun. This is the big honor winner in the game. Grabbing the Shogunate and holding it as long as you can (before being killed off) is the heart of the game.
In the game, each player takes on the role of a Samurai in feudal Japan. Each player is given a Samurai card to represent them. This card is always in play. Should your Samurai get killed, another member of the family immediately takes over his place. The Daimyos are shuffled and one is given to each player. The Daimyo is placed above the Samurai to form two lines (houses). Cards can be played on each line depending on which house you wish to have them contained in. There are limits on the number of different cards you can have in a line, but within those you can build up each house to strengthen yourself against attack and help increase your honor.
Once each player has a Daimyo, the others are shuffled back into the deck and each player is dealt a hand. The deck is placed nearby for draws. During their turn a player will collect their honor (provided they have a Daimyo), determine their card actions (based on their ki total), perform their card actions and then make an optional declaration.
The number of card actions a player has is determined by taking the total ki for all cards in their two houses and dividing by three (rounded down) to a maximum of five. A card action can be used to draw a card, play a card or discard a card. This is a nice little mechanism in that you need to effectively manage your actions in order to do what you want and will often need to make decisions between different actions due to a lack of sufficient card actions.
After the player has performed their card actions, they may make a declaration. The declarations can be declaring their Daimyo Shogun (provided that no other Daimyo is Shogun), attacking another Daimyo (if they are either Shogun or have a castle on the table), allying their Daimyo-less Samurai to another Daimyo or breaking an alliance. The alliance declaration would come about if the player's Daimyo is killed either in battle or through the play of a ninja assassin.
If a player declares themselves Shogun, they take the Shogun card and can hope to begin racking up big honor points (most cards provide 5-10 honor points whereas the Shogun provides a variable number of point depending on the number of players - 75 points in a four player game). This action draws a big target on the Daimyo, since all the other players will want to kill off the Daimyo before the turn comes back around (and allows the player to score for the Shogun). Doing this early in the game can ensure the death of your Daimyo since you probably won't have many armies in place or other safeguards.
If a player declares an attack, then each player takes their strength total from their cards played, divides by three and rounds down to give the number of dice they roll in combat. Each player rolls the dice, determines the total and the higher value wins. The loser's Daimyo is killed unless the Save Face card is played, and all cards in the killed Daimyo's house are discarded. The Samurai's house is unaffected. If the losing Daimyo was the Shogun, Save Face may not be played. Also, the winning Daimyo becomes Shogun (whether they want to or not) if the loser was Shogun.
Should a player's Daimyo be killed (either in battle as above or through a ninja assassin), then the player's Samurai becomes Ronin. The player may not score any honor until they get a new Daimyo. This new Daimyo can come from the player's hand or through declaring fealty to another player's Daimyo. If a Samurai is attached, he receives half of his honor and half of the honor from the Daimyo's house. No honor is scored from the other player's Samurai. In addition, the Daimyo with a second Samurai can use that Samurai's strength in battle. A player wishing to rid themselves of a second Samurai can give the Samurai a Daimyo from their hand and send them on their way.
That's the gist of the game. The ninja cards can allow you to steal things from other players or kill off Samurais or Daimyos at the expense of honor. There's also the Dishonor card that can force another player to either kill off their Samurai (i.e. discard all the cards from the Samurai's house) or lose a hefty amount of honor. Save Face can also be used in this instance to lower the amount of the penalty.
I've played the game with four, five and six players. In general, I've enjoyed it. However, it does end up taking a while to play, since you have the situation where players get close to the requisite total honor and the other players take them down. A new leader emerges and the cycle continues until someone inevitably breaks the bank. Additionally, we made a modification to the setup. The Daimyos range in honor value from 5 points to 30 points. There's a whole bunch of 5s and 10s and only one of the higher values. If you use the original, scheme one of the players could get a 30 point Daimyo and the others all 5s. The player with the 30, can then sit back and rack up honor while everyone else is struggling. If they don't declare themselves Shogun and don't put down a castle, then they can't be attacked. In that case, all you can do is play a ninja assassin, which results in you taking a hit in honor. We decided to only shuffle together the five and ten point Daimyos to compensate for this. It seemed to make things much more even.
Aside from the setup problem above, I've had an enjoyable time playing Honor of the Samurai. The artwork on the cards is very evocative, and the quality of the production is high. The cards are nicely varied and interact well. It's a good execution of an interesting idea. Hopefully, Gamewright will see fit to keep producing these more complex games in the future. Time will tell.
The Game Cabinet - firstname.lastname@example.org - Kurt Adam