- Designer: Jerome Demeyere
- Publisher: Game Brewer
- Players: 1-6
- Age: 12+
- Time: 90-120 minutes
From the publisher, the story behind this cooperative or competitive game: “Mount Fuji is on the verge of erupting. Red hot lava will soon consume the three secret Seien-ji (聖煙寺), sacred temples hidden deep in the bowels of the volcano. The Shōgun is determined to preserve the precious heritage and sends his most noble and gifted samurai warriors on a quest inside the volcano to retrieve the valuable goods. After a grueling climb through snowstorms and treacherous rocky terrain the samurai find the entrance that leads down into the cavern. The volcano rumbles and the walls start shaking! The floor underneath their feet crumbles and our brave samurai fall into the huge cavern that contains the three temples, which are slowly sinking into the smoldering lava.
It is now up to our heroes to explore the cavern and find as many of the relics, sacred scrolls, and monks as possible, to bring back safely to the Shogun before the volcano erupts and all is lost forever.”
While the game offers both competitive and cooperative modes of play, the rules start with the rules for the competitive version, so I’ll describe that version below:
Over the course of the game, the Samurai will explore the caldera of Mount Fuji – in a map that is exposed through the game. At the start, there is a large frame that is constructed with a single central tile in the middle and a few bridge tiles and Sacred Temples at the periphery. The tiles themselves are honeycomb hexes, with space for three concentric rings around that central tile. The Imperial Board is also placed on the table (make sure you have a fairly large table!) – this has both the Countdown track as well as the Dragon Health track on it.
Each player is given their own Player board. This has room for resources on a few grids in the center. Space on the sides are reserved for Sacred Scroll tokens on one side and room for Magical Helmets, Magical Weapons and Magical Sandals on the right.
The competitive game is played over a number of rounds, with play simply going clockwise around the board. The end game being triggered when at least one player has scored 30 VPs. At that time, all players have 8 more turns each to escape the volcano. While it is not necessary to actually escape the volcano to win the game, it seems quite unlikely to win without escaping.
On a turn, the active player takes 2 actions from the following choices: Move, Explore, Gather, Rest/Craft. Each player has 3 Action discs at their disposal, and if they have none available, the player must Rest. It is possible to take the same action twice – so long as you have the Action Discs to place for each repetition.
Move: Move your Samurai up to 2 spaces. If you have Sandals, you get an extra space. If you walk over Lava, it damages your Sandals. If you move onto a space with a Dragon, you must fight. (Dragon stats on the token, players roll dice based on the cubes in their weapons. Dragon Health kept on a track on the Imperial board, player health is tracked on their Helmet. Up to one neighboring player can assist in the fight; if the Dragon is defeated, all Samurai still in the fight will get rewards). If you move onto a space with another Samurai, you can either move thru freely, or if either Samurai is feeling frisky, either can cause movement to end and a fight to occur.
Explore: If you are at the edge of a currently placed tile and there is not yet a tile revealed adjacent to your location, you can put the appropriate tile in place and score VP for it. The active player can rotate the new tile to choose its orientation in the board. Fill the new tile with stuff based on the icons seen on that tile. If there were any facedown Resource tokens on adjacent tiles, they are flipped over to the available side again.
Gather: Get stuff from the space that your samurai is on. If there are cubes on a resource tile, take the matching wooden bits and flip the tile over. If there is a Scroll token in your color, take the token and then choose a faceup scroll card from the tableau and slide it under the left side of your board and score 3VP. If you pick up a Monk, place it on your player board and based on its location, you’ll now get an enhanced action. If you are in a Temple, you can get a Sacred Blueprint – this is placed to the right of your board, and it will let you build a Helmet, Weapon or Sandal.
Rest: Return your Action discs back to the holding area. You must have at least one Action disc in play in order to Rest (i.e. you can’t Rest twice in a row). Then, you may Craft one type of gear (helmet, weapon, sandals) by moving Resource cubes from your backpack on your board onto the appropriate Gear area on your board. If you match the pattern exactly on a Gear Card, you can claim the card and place it at the top of your player board. If you have a Magical Blueprint and exactly match the pattern on that, you can equip a Magical thingydingy which is way better than a regular piece of gear.
Once a player has scored 30VP, the final countdown starts. Do your best not to hum the Europe 80s tune in your head. There is a track on the Imperial board to track this. As the rounds continue, things may happen based on the track such as tiles erupting into lava or the Rope tile being placed on the central space of the volcano – this is how the Samurai can escape (well, this or the secret exit which may be revealed). Once your samurai is out of the volcano, you do not take any more actions, instead you place a token on a bonus scoring track and immediately take the score as shown on that track. The player with the most VP wins. Note that you do note have to escape the Volcano to win, but those bonus points really are nice to have.
Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers
Jonathan F: I have only played once and it was with six, so a giant asterisk. That said, I appreciated several aspects of this game and enjoyed it.
It is beautifully produced and has an excellent table presence. The temples that hold the mystical weapons are great. The lava types fit together in a distinctive and solid way. At the same time, the game is not overproduced with unnecessary bits and pieces, so its price point is not north of $100.
Second, the game balances the feel of adventure, construction, and control well. If you have played Minecraft or have an imagination, you feel as if you are really creating weapons, helmets, and shoes. The materials you use to create them determine how much damage they can take. If you get a mystical weapon, you can add a gem (clear green cube). The gem makes the item much better, but if the item is damaged, the gem is lost. More on that later.
The lava tiles create paths for the adventurers to move from the center of the volcano to the mystical temples at the outer edges. The paths are important because movement often offers goodies that will be useful later on. In addition, there is flexibility when adding a new hex, so the alignment can make connections to nearby dragons. Remember that you want to be adjacent to those fighting dragons so you can join in, so connections that facilitate that can surprise an opponent into having to help you.
A note about control. You can build weapons to suit blueprints, you can get bonus tiles to enhance the base actions, and you can enhance your character in different ways depending on where you add your monk. I enjoyed this flexibility quite a bit. Yes, there is some luck when fighting dragons, but honestly, the dragons feel like a way to move the game along rather than an epic battle.
I found two things somewhat surprising, but might have played it wrong. Competitive is semi-coop. If another player is adjacent, you cannot exclude them from fighting the dragon, so people can leach points even when you don’t want them to be able to. At the same time, if you don’t fight dragons, the game runs too long, so you have to do it at some point.
The second surprising thing is that the end game scoring as we played it required completed and undamaged weapons to score after the 30 point threshold triggers the second phase of the game. There are lots of end game points to be earned by having complete mystical weapons and being near the center of the volcano permits you to score lots of points fast. This means you don’t want a damaged weapon, so do you really fight that final dragon, or hang back, let someone else do it so you can score your weapon and helmet ASAP.
These two aspects led to an unusual timing metagame discussion that detracted from the theme and balance between the mechanisms and the setting.
Dale Y: The competitive game plays just fine, and I do like the puzzle-y nature of crafting the items, especially the weapons. There is a neat system of generation (and combat destruction) there, but a lot of things happen in the intervening actions before I get a chance to do the part that I really like. The game is near the upper end of the time frame that I want for this sort of game – 45-60 minutes would be OK, but 2+ hours is not.
The competitive game also can get bogged down with all the fighting between each other. It’s an easy way to get something from the loser’s backpack, and unfortunately, it does allow for a player to get dogpiled on a bit – because once you lose a battle, your weapon and helmet are likely worsened, which then makes you a target for future attacks. Furthermore, there is a weird vibe here with the game wanting samurai to fight each other at times and then work together semi-cooperatively to defeat some of the dragons. This dichotomy just doesn’t work well for me. Sure, you can play the peaceful Variant where the samurai don’t fight – but then if you’re gonna do that, you might as well play the cooperative version.
I should also make some mention of the solo game – though in the rules, this is described as part of the co-operative game. I’m not sure what this says about my personality (personalities) that I can play a solo game cooperatively with myself! Anyways, while most of the rules stay the same, the objectives are a little different in the solo/cooperative mode. Here, players have a set number of objectives which must be achieved in a set number of rounds: A) defeat the Legendary Dragon, B) All players must escape the Volcano via the Secret Exit, C) All players must have at least one completed Magical Item AND the group must have at least one of each Magical Item.
Each Samurai gets a Life Token and starts with 2 lives. If any Samurai die (i.e. run out of lives), the whole group loses. In this version, as all the Samurai are on the same team, they Samurai do not fight each other, they only fight Dragons. Also, as everyone is all friendly-like, Samurai who are on the same space can freely trade Resources, equipment, blueprints and monks to help them work together in the best way possible. And, in this version, the Dragons get their own phase where, starting from the turn after discovery, they will move one tile towards the nearest Samurai and try to start a fight.
The game works fairly well in this setting, and it presents the solo player with a nice puzzle. Not only do you have to explore the game and work to craft the needed equipment; you also have to figure out how to vanquish/avoid the lesser Dragons while trying to get yourself strong enough to beat down the Legendary Dragon.
The solo game gives the single player 25 turns (plus the 8 in the final stage) to do all the things. A true cooperative game gives the team only 20 turns. Though I haven’t played the full cooperative game, I can see that while you have more player turns to accomplish things, you will also uncover more Dragons and have to deal with that higher number of enemies that constantly try to find you to fight.
The solo game was a nice 90 minute way to explore the game and learn the rules; I’m not sure if it’s going to be my preferred way to play the game, but it’s nice to have it as an option.
Patrick Brennan:A mass of rules with fiddly and (seemingly unnecessary) exceptions hides the fact that this turns out to be a simple game of moving around to gather resources which are used to either boost your health points to stay alive in the eventual dragon combats or increase the number of dice you roll in attack to minimise the health points you need. The rules to play-reward payoff just isn’t there. In competitive mode the VPs are rather randomly found so aim to get lucky. Co-op is a race against time, and the wash-rinse-repeat cycle of gathering and rolling dice to defeat dragons doesn’t hold enough interest for 2 hours. Great looking temples and map though.
Erik Arneson: I agree with much of what’s been said above. It’s easy enough to play the competitive game without allowing samurai to attack each other (which is what we did in my one play of the game), but the game overall felt too luck-dependent (for a two-hour strategy game) and too fiddly. I loved the way that weapons, armor, and sandals are built, and how they’re dismantled during battles to show damage taken. There are some excellent ideas here, and I would definitely play again if someone asks me to, but it’s not a game I’m likely to suggest.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:
- I love it!
- I like it. Jonathan F.
- Neutral. Dale Y, Patrick Brennan, Erik Arneson
- Not for me…