Good quality board game pieces, if you’re familiar with Zombicide, Massive Darkness, etc from CMON these are very much in line with those.
The models for the clans are quite detailed and interesting, but the monsters and Oni are where it’s really at. Each has a very distinct character and they’re fairly well detailed. My main complaint is that the size is no indication of the force that each one has, you may have a large Oni towering over everything else in the region, but it’s worth no more than a basic bushi.
There are three game rounds, representing Spring, Summer and Autumn, with Winter being the final scoring phase at the end of the game. These rounds are broken down into the Tea Ceremony, Political Phase and War Phase.
The Tea Ceremony is where players bargain and trade to form alliances with each other and noting that alliances can only ever be between two players (no grand alliance here). This phase feels a little awkward, as you’re usually short of resources, having only your starting coins that can be traded and nothing else except the promise of resources or benefits through the following season. In practice, Monkey and I have just allied each time we’ve played as we know how each other plays and so it’s easier to act concertedly without giving the whole plan away.
Alliances feel necessary in the game, as each part of the Political Phase provides the player and their ally a benefit, so without an alliance it feels like you’d only be getting half the advantage of other players. I think I need to play a game without alliances to really get a feel of how it would work without one, but I think it’d be an uphill battle.
Interestingly, there’s also a Betray mandate in the political phase which delivers a benefit (replace two enemy models with your own) but sees your alliance come to an end. I’m not convinced that the downside is worth the model placement, but it could be a swing factor in certain battles late in the season, so more play required to nut that one out.
The Political Phase is where the main meat of the game is. It consists of seven ‘mandates’, with one chosen by a player and resolved (everyone will get to do something except under a Betray mandate) before play passes to the next player who chooses, and so on. There’s ten tiles, possessing two of each of five mandates (Recruit, Marshal, Train, Harvest, Betray), and the player takes four tiles from which to choose from, the remaining three are passed to the next player with a fresh one drawn from the main pile to replenish it to four tiles. Each mandate allows all players to do something (recruit allows placement of figures from reserve, marshal allows figures to move, train allows purchase of upgrades and harvest provides coins) and the player who plays it plus their ally also get an additional benefit (place extra figures, buy strongholds, etc) which is why I consider alliances necessary in the game. There’s an interesting bluff and guessing game at play here as you try and work out what the next player is going to want to do so you can reposition to prevent it, or playing a mandate more to deny them.
There’s also a Kami round after the first three mandates, and then every two thereafter, where players can get a god and it’s avatar on their side. To gain control, you must have Shinto models deploy into the gods temple (via a recruit action) and have more than other players in that temple. The gods provide pretty chunky benefits as well as counting as one force for you where they’re deployed, but you sacrifice some power on board having the Shinto in the temples instead of contesting provinces.
There’s a lot going on throughout this phase, and at points it feels unnecessarily complex with some plays seeming to have seven decisions all of equal strategic and tactical importance. Positioning and movement is vital to prevent significant Harvests and to position for the War Phase.
This is where you win province victory tokens, which are a big way to generate victory points in the game, although by far not the only way. This phase features an interesting bidding mechanic, with four different actions available and all participants allocating coins to those to win them for the effect. Interestingly, the loser/s of each battle get the coins bid by the winner, so you can deliberately lose battles to generate resources to use in later battles during the phase.
I personally found this phase to be a non-event the one (point three) game I played, and happily left it for others to duke it out before stepping in a grabbing up enough provinces to get the 10 bonus VPs in the later seasons. The other thing to note is that the outcomes of battles are fairly set at the start of the phase, with the only ways to swing battles generally via the ‘hire ronin’ action.
- Legitimately multiple paths to victory – can recruit monsters and oni and win off Form of the Monster/Demon, building strongholds, and upgrades that reward taking non-martial upgrades – it did not feel that you were forced to participate in the War Phase or be left behind
- Power and value of cards and victories increases as the game progresses
- Mechanics favour a ‘win more’ approach, with very few cards or upgrades having downsides. Where they do have downsides it’s usually a loss of honour and provides a considerable benefit (e.g. removal of opponents models)
- Some aspects seem overly complex, with a decision on which mandate, then several considerable decisions falling off the back of that initial decision. This is compounded by what seems to be a ridiculous number of different upgrades and monsters as well and whilst this contributes to the multiple paths to victory mentioned, it slows the game down as you have to think through which provides the most immediate and future benefit
- The game does not play in the 120 minutes advertised on the box. I’ve only played one full game, and that saw about 4 hours of solid game time (spread over longer with breaks and such). The complexity point mentioned above sees a high degree of ‘analysis paralysis’ creep in as you try to game out the 615 possible outcomes over the round
- Lastly, this game is a space hog, and took up most of a large dining table to play. Unlike Massive Darkness, which we’ve realised we can cycle cards through as new levels are reached, you need to have all the season cards laid out for players to read and choose from, as well as having space for models and players areas. Something to bear in mind if your play area is limited
A very interesting game here, although some elements feel more complex than entirely necessary which drives a high degree analysis paralysis. CMON have once again upped the level on models, producing almost model quality pieces for a board game, although the plastic is still a board game level. I’m interested to play again time permitting, and am interested to see how my strategy changes based on a developing understanding of how different cards interact over the three seasons.