Review: Samurai Spirit

Hard to believe I haven’t sat down and done a review since last November. It seems like it wasn’t that long ago. Time flies, eh? Well, I’m here today to rectify that. Bear with me as I may make some changes to the format I used last time, but we’ll see. And, now, let’s get to it.

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Overview

Samurai Spirit is a cooperative, wave defense, strategy game for 1 – 7 players. ages 9 and up, designed by Antoine Bauza, and published by Funforge. Games are intended to last up to 30 minutes.

Setup

Setting this one up couldn’t be easier. The game board is placed in the middle of all the players (or, if you’re playing solo, place it in front of you), the cardboard tokens are added to the board in their designated areas, and then you build the Raider Deck for round one (this scales with the amount of players). Each player chooses which samurai they will be playing as and place that samurai’s board in front of them along with the samurai’s support token, and a red samurai meeple is placed on the number “0” in the upper righthand corner of the samurai board. And, with that, you’re ready to rumble. Realistically, setup shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes, even with a larger group of players.

Gameplay

The actual gameplay of Samurai Spirit is very straightforward. Each game consists of 3 rounds and each round consists of a varying number of player turns. Each round is also slightly different from the last, in the sense that cards are being added to the Raider Deck at the end of each round. Here’s what a typical round of play looks like:

  • Round of Play
    • The Active Player takes their first turn by either Fighting, Supporting, or Passing.
    • Play passes to the next player who takes their turn. They will (usually) have the same amount of action options open to them.
    • Play continues this way until either all the cards have been drawn from the Raider Deck, all players have passed, or all players have been overcome by the Raiders.

Simple, right? Like I said, the gameplay is straightforward. There are a few things that affect how play happens during a round. For one, each raider card has the potential to disrupt a player’s actions, destroy parts of the village the player(s) are defended, or even wound a player. At the start of a player’s turn, if they have one or more Raiders that they are confronting, the top-most Raider’s penalty is applied if possible.

  • Player Actions
    • Fight – If a player chooses to fight on their turn, they draw the top card from the Raider Deck. From there, they can either Confront the raider or Defend against them. Raiders who are to be confronted are placed to the right of the player’s samurai board. Raiders who are being defended against are placed to the left of the player’s samurai board. (A player can only defend against three raiders in a single round, so the choices must be made carefully. And, only Raiders with a Doll, Hat, or House symbol on their cards can be defended against.)
    • Support – If a player chooses the support action, they can use their samurai’s unique talent on themselves or on another player.
    • Pass – If a player chooses to use the pass action, they are out of play for that round. If a player is ever overcome by raiders, they are forced to immediately pass.

At the end of round 3, as long as the players have at least 1 farmhouse and 1 family member left on the game board, they win the game.

There are a few more aspects of gameplay that need to be covered as far as players are concerned. Each player’s samurai has a “Kiai Meter” located on the right side of their samurai board. When a player confronts a raider, they move their meeple to the number on the Kiai Meter that equals the numbers on the raider card(s) located to the right of their board. If that number ever equals the samurai’s Kiai, they may use their unique Kiai ability immediately. If the numbers on the raider cards ever surpass a samurai’s Kiai Meter, that samurai is overcome by raiders and is forced to pass.

Lastly, if a player’s samuari recieves two wounds, they get to flip their samurai board over and activate that samurai’s animal spirit (you can see this is in the pictures below with Gorobei). Activating your samurai’s animal spirit has its pros and cons; for instance, your Kiai Meter extends and your Kiai ability becomes more powerful, but, if you get wounded twice more, you’re out of the game.

Quality of Game Art and Components

I know that I, for one, am a fan of the art style this game uses. It has vibrant colors, dynamic poses, and an interesting Seven Samurai-esque theme. (Coincidentally, the rulebook states that that very movie influenced the game). There’s nothing that should be scary for younger audiences and any Japanophile gamers you know would probably enjoy it.

The physical components of the game are quite well made. The cards are adequately thick and have a nice glossy sheen. The cardboard used for the tokens and gameboard is a good thickness and the samurai boards are considerably thicker than most cardboard components that I’ve come across.

Hell, everything even fits nicely into the box. The box, by the way, is filled completely by a divider instead of the box being 60 – 80% air and then a tiny amount of actual components. In all honesty, with some adjustments made to the construction of the game board itself, the box could be even smaller, but I’m not complaining as it is fine as is.

Verdict: Yea

I think that Samurai Spirit is a solid enough game to play alone and I can only imagine that it really starts to shine the more players you have playing. If you’re a fan of strategic defense games or of anything Japanese, you’ll probably enjoy this game. I do have a few thoughts before I close, however:

  • This game can be played at very levels of difficulty. The rulebook recommends that you start on the normal difficulty, which I agree is good for your first game so that you can learn the ropes. However (and this could be because I was playing solo and only with two samurai) the normal difficulty feels very easy. I can’t even imagine playing the game on easy difficulty; it would just be a waste of time. The harder difficulties add more penalties into the game, which I’m sure force you to think about your next moves more, but I wouldn’t recommend playing this game on anything, but the two harder difficulty levels.
  • The rulebook feels a lot more confusing as you’re reading through it than it should. Again, maybe this is just me, but I felt like the rulebook really could have benefited from some minor rewrites and formatting. Once I started actually playing, I picked the game up pretty quickly.
  • I never had  a game that went past 10 minute of play times and I played probably 4 – 5 games in a row. This game is very quick once you get going and would, I’m sure, be a great time killer for groups.
  • It’s got a small footprint which makes it ideal for travel as well as the fact that it can be played with only one player. The provided gameboard itself isn’t even all that necessary in terms of gameplay. You could easily make yourself one by drawing on a piece of paper and just taking the remainder of the game components with you.
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