First Impressions of Samurai Battles

Samurai Battles
Designers: Richard Borg, Konstantin Krivenko
Publisher: Zvedza
Players: 2
Time: ~1-2 hours
Ages: 10+

One of the surprises I found at Origins 2012 was Samurai Battles from Zvezda.  I had actually not heard a single thing about it prior to seeing their booth in the Dealer Hall.  Of course, it helped that Will Niebling was yelling at me to come over to check out his newest project…  I’m definitely glad that I went over though – as there is a lot to see in the box.  The art on the box depicts a battle in Feudal Japan, and this is a time period that I’m fairly interested in – both gamewise (Shogun/Samurai Swords), videogame-wise (Nobunaga’s Ambition), books (Clavell’s Shogun) and movies (Shogun).

Samurai Warriors is not my usual sort of game, namely because it’s a war game.  Despite that, the theme and historical setting was enough for me to take a closer look.  I was surprised to find that the box actually had two war games, not just one!  The two completely different games share the same board and plastic miniatures but each has its own rulebook and scenario book.

The two designers, Richard Borg (right) and Konstantin Krivenko (left)

The first game is one that I’m familiar with – it’s a Feudal Japanese themed version of Commands and Colors, the great system designed by Richard Borg.  The second is a new game system to me – called Art of Tactic, and it is designed by Konstantin Krivenko.  I have recently traveled out to California to see my brother, and we got in a few sessions with the game and were able to try out each of the two different games.

I’ll try to give a brief overview of the two game systems – though keep in mind that I’ve only had the chance to play each for a few times.  And, I’ve used pictures of some nicely painted figures – it took us long enough to separate the pieces from the sprues and play with the plain grey pieces!

Seriously, set aside a full weekend to prep the game. courtesy of BGG user jguritza

Art of Tactic
In the Art of Tactic, each of the opposing armies is created out of a bunch of different units – each unit having multiple fighters contained within it.  Each of these units has a corresponding order card which you use to give orders to that particular unit. There are a number of different scenarios included with the base set that allows you to play though a variety of setups.  It should be noted that Samurai Battles serves as only a base set for the Art of Tactic series.  New units can apparently be purchased, and plenty of scenarios are available to be printed out online.

awesome painted units – courtesy of BGG user SammySnijbonen

Each game is setup using a scenario – which tells you which boards to place and what sort of terrain tiles to place on the board.  It also gives you initial placement sites for your units.  Finally, the scenario tells you the objectives of the scenario – completion of these objectives will gain you Glory Points – and the winner of the scenario is the player who has the most Glory Points at the end…

As I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of scenarios for the Art of Tactic which are included in the box.  To further create replayability, there are also three levels of rules which increase the complexity of the game.  The Basic Rules (which are the only set of rules that I played) just stick to the basic movement and fighting parts.  Intermediate rules involve Moral, Honor and combat modifiers for different order types.  The Advanced Rules add in rules for terrain combat modifiers as well as the idea of Fatigue.  Though I haven’t had a chance to try out the Intermediate rules yet, I can see how your decision making process would be much different when you have to take into account possible modifiers based on the type of order you give each unit.

Each unit in the game has a card that corresponds to it – this card tells you what all of the unit’s abilities are and which orders  can be given to that unit.  Abilities include Unit type, attack/defense values, range of attack, etc.  The possible orders are noted on the back side of the card, and these are individualized for the unit.  For instance, if you have an infantry unit, there will not be any ranged attack order because it would be impossible for this unit to follow that sort of order.  Examples of the order choices are: full defense, directional defend, fire and retreat, fire ranged weapons, assault, march, move and fire, retreat, run, ambush, join with other units, supple, reconnaissance and rest.

So how does the game work?  Each round is split into two phases – the planning phase where you give orders to your units and then the execution phase where those orders are all carried out simultaneously.

In the planning phase, each player takes his unit cards and marks each one in the row of the desired column using a dry-erase marker.  (Note to anyone who got a game from Origins – make sure that your copy of the game has DRY ERASE markers, and not permanent markers.  Apparently, some of the initial shipment had the wrong sort of marker included in the box.)  It’s a simple system where you simply check the rightmost box in the row of the order you wish to give.  At the bottom of the order card, there are also a pair of hexes.  If your orders involves movement, you write down the hex numbers of the spaces that your unit will move through.  If you are attacking, you might have to specify the target of the attack on the card as well.  Once all the cards have been marked up, then you move into the Execution phase.

Order cards – courtesy of BGG user SammySnijbonen

There are special unit commanders that can be added to the units – and these are important because units without a commander are limited in which orders they can be given.   These uncommanded units can only defend, rest or march.  However, those units which have a commander can be given any order on the order card.

In the Execution Phase, all orders are done in top to bottom order – thus all units which did the topmost order (Full Defense) do these at the same time. The general order is: Defense, Ranged Attack, Movement, Special Orders (Join Up, Supply, recon) and then Melee Combat.  When you execute your orders, especially movement orders, there are times when the order will be halted partway thru.  If two units try to move into the same spot, or if the moving unit moves into an opposing units defensive area, then movement stops and those units will have combat.  Importantly, once in Melee combat, units will continue to fight each turn unless they are given a specific Retreat order which pulls them out of the fight.

painted infantry – courtesy of BGG user SammySnijbonen

Ranged combat is fairly easy to deal with as well.  First, you have to make sure that you have line of sight to your target.  Hills block line of sight to the hex directly behind them and other units completely block line of sight.  Then, you need to make sure that the target is in Range – you use a chart provided on the unit card to determing this.  Finally, you have to make sure that you have enough ammunition.  Each Ranged unit starts with 7 pieces of ammo, and expends one piece of ammo for each ranged attack.  Ammo refills can be done using the Supply order.  The amount of ammo is marked with actual plastic arrow pieces that fit into the base of the unit.

The game continues in this pattern of giving orders and then executing them until you reach the end-game condition specified in the Scenario setup.  This is usually a maximum number of turns, though the game will also end if one army is completely destroyed.  Some scenarios have an undefined length but end instead when a specific event occurs.  At this point, you count up the Glory points – whichever army amassed more Glory Points wins the game.  The way the scenarios are set up, this could actually be an army that was completely destroyed!  If there is a tie for Glory Points, the player who destroyed a higher value of units during the scenario wins.

In our first play of this game, it did take us a bit of time to go through the rules and make sure we were doing things right.  Most of the delay, though, was not due to the rulebook but was probably more due to the fact that my brother and I don’t play these types of games that often, so we didn’t have a lot of experience to fall back on.  Within 20 minutes of starting though, we pretty much had the hang of the gameflow.

Now, given our lack of experience with this sort of game, I think that our strategies were likely suboptimal.  But, we were evenly matched as a result, and it was a close battle to the end. I think that repeat plays would probably give me the ability to plan more strategic attacks – such as developing a pincer movement with my units or at least having a flanking unit in support of an attack – so hopefully my play will improve with more experience.

For me, the Basic game was enough for me to get a full experience, but I think that gamers more familiar with wargames or miniature games will want to dive into at least the Intermediate ruleset.  Additionally, there are definitely enough scenarios in the included rulebook to give me essentially unlimited replayability, but it’s nice to see that Zvezda has already planned to post extra scenarios online for players who want even more varied experiences.  Of course, they will also be selling additional pieces too!

Command and Colors
The other game in the box is a version of the well-known Command and Colors series.  Like other C&C games, the game is driven by Command Cards which given units their movement orders.  This version of the game also includes some Dragon cards which “represent powerful, mythical, and sometimes unexplainable abilities”.   You gain the ability to play these Dragon cards by collecting and spending Honor & Fortune tokens.

In each scenario, your goal is to capture a number of Victory Banners – the specific number will be outlined in scenario setup.  You gain a Victory Banner when you fully defeat an enemy unit or take out an enemy leader.  You can also acquire Victory Banners by meeting certain in-game objectives as outlined in each scenario. The game is set up similar to other C&C versions – the battlefield is split up into left, center and right sections, and orders to your troops are found on the command cards.  The game uses the same plastic figures, and they are identified by symbols found on their unit standards.

The turn order is unchanged from previous versions:
1) Play a Command card and give orders – play a command card from your hand and read it out loud.  Most of the cards are section cards which limit the command to a particular part of the board (and to a particular number of units as well), though some tactic cards can be played, and these cards can apply to units in different sections of the board.  Once you read the card, you choose which units will be given the orders and then execute that order.

2) Move – Once the order has been completed, then you can move any/all of your pieces.  Each unit can only move once a turn. Base movements for each unit are determined by the symbol found on their battle standard.

3) Battle – Now you consider all of your units and declare battles.  These are resolved sequentially.  For the most part, each unit can only fight once a turn, though there are a few exceptions. The relative strength in battle (i.e. dice rolled) is inversely proportional to their movement ability from the previous phase.

4) Cleanup – at the end of the turn, you draw a new command card.  You also have the choice to take either a Dragon card or 2 honor&fortune (HF) tokens.  If you did not play a Dragon card during this particular turn, you are allowed to discard a Dragon card at this time (could be the one you just chose to draw) and collect a single HF token.

The Dragon Cards and HF tokens are a nice twist to the game – though it’s not entirely novel, the HF system feels a lot like Lore from Battlelore.  You want to collect the HF tokens throughout the game so that you can use them to 1) power your Dragon cards or 2) prevent chaos when you need to retreat.  Some of the powers on the Dragon cards can definitely change the course of the game, and in my one and only game, this was magnified by the fact that we hadn’t looked at the Dragon cards in advance – so each one was particularly surprising!

C+C cards on right – thanks to jguritza

I’ll have to play this more than once to get a better feel for the game and the cards, but I’m hoping I can get it back to the table soon!

Until your next appointment
The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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