Dale Yu: Review of Joraku (Tasty Minstrel Games)



  • Designer: Iori Tsukinami
  • Publisher: Moaideas Game Design / Tasty Minstrel Games
  • Players: 3-4
  • Ages: 14+
  • Time: ~60 minutes
  • Times played: 5 total, 2 with original version from Moaideas, 3 with new version from TMG

Joraku is a new release from Tasty Minstrel Games.  The game was originally produced by Moaideas, a publishing house which has had a lot of interesting games in the past few years: Guns & Steel, Flip City, League of Hackers – just to name a few.  There is a budding partnership between the two companies as TMG has also released new versions of Guns & Steel and Flip City in the past.

The game can be described as a “trick taking card game with a strong area-control aspect”.  In this game, players are trying to march their armies to Kyoto.  This version of the game has a four part board (made of smallish tiles)  that shows a stylized map of Japan that is split up into 7 segments – the left most column is un-numbered (representing Kyoto), and then the next six are numbered from 1 to 6, increasing as you go to the right.  At the bottom of each section is a chart that shows the scoring for each of the three rounds in the game.  In general, the highest scoring areas in the first round are on the right, the highest scoring areas in the second round are in the middle, and the highest scoring areas in the third round are on the left.

In the game setup, each player is dealt a daimyo card, numbered 1 to 6, and each player places his daimyo figure in the column matching the number drawn.   Each player gets 10 Samurai cubes, but these all start off the board.  A start player is chosen, and this player receives the Kachidoki card.

The game is played over 3 rounds.  Each round follows the same three phases:  1) Recruitment (dealing cards), 2) Skirmish (playing cards), 3) Prestige (scoring)

In the Recruitment phase, the battle deck is shuffled, and each player is dealt 5 cards.  The battle deck is 21 cards, made up of 3 suits, each numbered 1 thru 6 as well as a un-numbered Ninja card.  Once the hands are dealt, each player examines his hand and each player simultaneously passes two cards to his left hand neighbor.

The game then moves to the Skirmish phase.  The starting player chooses any card from his hand to start the trick.  Following players must match the suit of the lead card if possible.  If they cannot match, they are free to play any card.  After you play your card, you immediately resolve it – this is slightly different depending on what sort of card you played.

If you played a numbered card (1-6): you either take 0-3 Samurai cubes from your supply and place them on the board area that matches the number of the play OR you get action points equal to the number of the card to use.  (2 AP = move your Daimyo token to an adjacent area; 1 AP = move a Samurai cube to an adjacent area; 1 AP = remove an opponent’s Samurai cube from the area where your Daimyo is.)

If you played a Ninja card: you may place 0-3 Samurai cubes from your supply and may place them in any area or areas on the board.  You do not get any AP though.

Once all players have played, the trick is resolved.  The winner of the trick is the player who played the highest number, regardless of suit.  If there is a tie for the highest number, the winner is the most recently played card.  There is one exception though – if a Ninja is played, it automatically wins the trick if and only if someone else played a 6 value card.  Whichever player wins the trick is given the Kachidoki card.  The new holder of this card immediately looks at the area where his Daimyo is – and scores VPs for his control of the area.  If he is in first place (1 control point per samurai cube and 2 points per daimyo) – he scores 3VP.  2VP for being in second place, 1 VP for being in third place.  If there is a tie, the player scores for the lower rank.

The holder of the Kachidoki card then leads a card to start the next trick, and this continues until players have played all five cards in their hand.  Then the game moves to the Prestige phase.

Starting at the right of the board, each of the seven regions of the board are scored.  Each player’s control for each region is calculated – again 1 control point per samurai cube and 2 points per daimyo.  Points are awarded per the chart at the bottom of the board.  If there are ties, all tied players score for the next lower rank – so, if two players tie for the lead, they both score second place points.  At the end of the round, all cubes and Daimyos stay where they are on the board.

The game continues for two more rounds following the same pattern of phases.  At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins.  If there is a tie, the player who was dealt the Daimyo card with the higher value wins the game.

My thoughts on the game

Joraku is a fascinatingly complex game – I felt like I understood the rules after my first two games, but I definitely did not think that I understood the strategies needed to be successful at it.  Is it better to always be fighting for the highest scoring areas?  Or should you just focus on second tier areas where it might be easier to lock in points?  Further plays have honestly not shown me a consistently successful strategy yet, and this is one of the things that I really love in a game.

There is an interesting flow to board play – as the the highest scoring areas in the first round are on the right, the highest scoring areas in the second round are in the middle, and the highest scoring areas in the third round are on the left.  There are enough points in the first round to make it worth placing cubes on the right, but if you do, then you have to figure out how to get them to the left of the board by the end of the game!

Also, you have to decide how quickly you want to introduce your cubes to the game.  You are limited to a total of ten cubes for the whole game – and if you put them all on the board in the first round, you’ll not have the ability to drop them in where you want in later turns.  Of course, you could get some cubes returned to you as people kick your cubes out of areas on the board – but managing your cubes is a big part of your success here.

As in many card games, you will tend to do better if you are dealt good cards – but the interesting thing with Joraku is that all of the cards can be useful to you.  The higher numbered cards will give you more AP, but there are definitely times when you’d rather be able to drop your Samurai cubes into the lower numbered board areas.  The Ninja cards give you no action points, but a smart play can win you a trick and possibly lead to 3 victory points from the Kachidoki bonus scoring – and in this game, 3 VP is nothing to sneeze at.  The Ninja card is also the only way to directly place one of your cubes in the left most area on the board.  There is a bit more strategy than I had initially thought when trying to figure out which cards you want to pass at the start of the round because you not only need to consider what cards you want for the trick taking portion of the round, but you also need to consider the possible actions that you’ll get from those cards.

There are also six advanced rule cards included in the game which provide special rules on them which supercede the regular rules…  If you choose to play with them, you draw two of these cards at random to start the game.  Using these different rules for scoring or movement will help keep the game from feeling same-y, and they will provide you with different challenges in each game depending on which ones come up.

I really liked the original version of the game, and it had been added to the permanent game collection when I first acquired it.  However, TMG has done the nearly impossible – they have taken a compact game from the Far East and managed to make it even smaller!  The new box for Joraku is tiny – only 6” x 4” x 1.25”.  (They have also managed to do some similar magic with their version of Guns & Steel).   By putting the board onto the four tiles, they are able to make the game seriously more compact.  The overall size of the board is a bit smaller, but there is still enough space to see what cubes are in what area as well as giving you enough space to maneuver them around.  The only thing which seems to be a little compromised by the miniaturization is the scoring track, but it hasn’t been that big of an issue.  We just make sure the player with the smallest hands/fingers is in charge of moving the scoring cubes, and we’ve had no issues…

If you’re a fan of quality strategy games, this is a must try.  If you are also looking for such quality games in a small package, this is a must have.  It belongs in your tiny house game collection with other high gameplay to volume ratio leaders such as Sail to India, the TMG Guns & Steel, Eight Epics, the mint-tin version of Heckmeck and Dungeon of Mandom.  Those six games alone wouldn’t even fill a child’s paper lunch sack and could give you an entire night of gaming fun.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Craig V: Joraku is a really interesting mashup of trick taking and area control, and it works! The game is strategic, tactical, and has a lot of complexity. It may take a game or two to understand the flow and how to manipulate the system, but even then I’m still not sure of the best way to win at this game! Overall, I enjoyed Joraku and would definitely play it more.


Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Dale Y
  • I like it. Craig V
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…


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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2 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Joraku (Tasty Minstrel Games)

  1. Trick-taking and area control, now I’ve seen everything.

  2. ericwedens says:

    I wanted to comment when this was written but I needed to play it again first. Got it played a couple days ago and it was still as good as when I played it a year or two ago. I love this game a lot.

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