Wednesday, August 25, 2010

App O' The Mornin': Reiner Knizia’s Samurai Review

Samurai is one of Knizia’s more popular designs. Along with Tigris and Euphrates and Through the Desert, it’s part of his “tile-laying trilogy,” all published in 1997 and 1998. Although some of his other games featured similar tile-laying mechanics (most notably Ingenious), these three had a different feel to them, if only because they replace abstract design with historical themes.

In fact, theme doesn’t matter all that much in Samurai, except to lend the game some flavor. This is a pure area control game, with up to four players taking turns laying hexagonal tiles on a map of medieval Japan. The goal is to exert the most influence on map areas bearing figures representing religion (a Buddha), the military (a helmet), and labor (a peasant). It works this way:

Players get a selection of tiles, and draw more as they expend this selection. Each tile has an image and a number from 1 to 4. The image represents the kind of influence that tile exerts (religious, military, or labor), and the number represents the strength of that influence. Samurai tiles are wild cards that can influence all three types of figure.

There are also “fast play” tiles, depicting a ship for control of sea hexes, a ronin to act as another (albeit weaker) wild card, and a “figure-exchange” tile to move figures on the map. You can place one standard tile per turn, and any number of number of fast move tiles.

The goal is to place tiles to surround the figures. When the figure is totally surrounded, the person with the most influence captures that figure. Influence is measured by the total value of matching or wildcard tiles that are surrounding that figure.

For instance, you place a samurai worth 3 and a ronin worth 1 next to a helmet figure. Your enemy places a samurai worth 2 and a ship worth 1 next to the same figure. Since you have more influence on that figure, you capture it and add it to your final total.

The game is played until all of one type of figure are captured, or there are four ties for figure control.

If all of that sounds a little fussy and complicated, have no fear. The App comes with a terrific little three-part tutorial that explains everything, as well as complete rules. Since it sets everything up and helps direct you towards legal moves, it’s all very easy to learn.

The graphics are quite nice, and the interface manages to compress a lot of control and information into a limited space. Four players can compete, either a single player with 2-3 AI opponents, or humans. The app has a full range of multiplayer features, including pass-and-play and turn-based online with push notifications.

All-in-all, a great new addition to the Knizia library.


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