Designer: Satochika Daimon (大門 聖史)
Publisher: Grandoor Games
Times Played: 3
Strategist Strategy was not likely to be a game for me and a two-player only tactical skirmish game was unlikely to hit the table. But one of the things I realized at BGGCON this past year was that I didn’t pack enough two-player games for the occasional convention intermezzo. As I headed to Granite Game Summit recently, I made sure to bring this one along (and also Small Indigo Plant, though that one was so small I forgot I had brought it while I was there!)
Besides, there’s a chance it’s for me. Somewhere inside I have an attraction to such games. It’s the part of me that enjoyed Battlelore that one time and used to own Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. It’s the part of me that remembers that game of Combat Commander as the gaming highlight of the time I went to HeavyCon.
It also has programming. Shenanigans programming? Well, that was my interpretation of the rules. If I plan a card now, that isn’t going to execute for 4 turns…things will…change in the meantime. That will be funny, yes? I do have a penchant for programming games where things spin out of control.
So anyway, I gave it a shot.
Strategist Strategy presents each player with two victory conditions, or, two ways to lose, depending on how you look at it. Option one, is to overrun your opponent by moving sufficient pieces into the back row. Option two, is to capture a specific piece that your opponent has secretly designated as their Shogun during the setup of the game.
We can get further into some rules and things in a bit, but I want to touch on what feels like the core of the game’s system and the promise of grand strategic plans.
Each player has 4 slots in which they can program their actions for the next few turns. Each player has an identical deck of cards, which allow them to recruit additional troops, move troops, rotate/range attack, and build fences. The cards are programmed one face up, one face down, one face up, one down, alternating. On your turn, you’ll reveal the first card and execute. The cards will slide down as a conveyor, and you’ll be able to program additional cards.
Many things in the game will cost a certain number of “strategy points”, such as adding additional troops to the board, or accelerating your plan by moving an order up one slot and combining it with an already present order. The less flexible you are with your plan, that is, by consistently planning ahead the full number of moves, you will earn more “strategy points”.
However, if you plan to have an archer shoot 4 turns from now…how can you make sure there’ll be something there to shoot at!
One of the promises of the game is activating groups of units rather than a single token. If you have 3 cavalry pieces in a row, activate all of them to charge! You can do this with rows or columns, so maybe a whole pile of archers shoot at once.
Anyway, where was I.
So during setup, the players will alternate spending strategy points to place units and fences on the board, and afterwards will secretly designate their Shogun. The 7 programming cards that a player has form a deck, not a hand, which they’ll shuffle and draw 3 to begin their programming with. There won’t be any activating to do on a first turn, but you’ll program 1-3 cards, earn strategy points based upon how far out you programmed, and refill your hand to 3.
Let’s talk a little more in detail about what these cards do. One of the seven cards allows you to add a new troop to the board: an archer, cavalry, infantry, or reinforcement for an infantry. (That’s a limit of one new troop per instance of activating the card.)
One of them builds one fence in an array of positions near an infantry unit.
Three of them move pieces. You choose one piece to move, but as we talked about above, if there are other units of the same type in a row or column, they can also move, provided they move in the same direction. This move is also the melee attack: if your troop lands on top of an opponent, remove that piece. (There are some exceptions here for the reinforced infantry.) The cavalry can move as far forward as you want. (There are some exceptions here for what can be in its path and fences.) If you move a piece in a direction other than forward, it also rotates its facing to that direction.
The last two cards rotate a piece (or grouping) or allow an archer (or grouping) to perform a ranged attack, removing any opponent’s piece(s) in the destination square(s). (There are exceptions here for fences and reinforced infantry.)
So on future turns, you execute the card from the first slot and slide all of your future planned actions down one slot. Then, plan additional cards. Next, you can pay strategy points to move a card one more slot forward, combining it with the already present card. Lastly, you’ll earn strategy points and draw back up to 3 cards.
These turns alternate until one player has achieved either of the victory conditions.
It’s like when you’re at the home goods store shopping for plastic containers to keep your flour in. The marketing for this one subtly includes a picture of the container in your perfect kitchen and it is filled with cookies. Some part of your brain thinks that if you buy this one, you’re more likely to have cookies in the house. Three months later and you actually just have more plastic in the house.
That’s what I mean about the “promise” of group activation. The rules cover at length how you’ll execute at the pivotal moment of battle! But the arc of the games I played never got there. The rulebook sold me on these grand movements I’d execute, but the occasion never rose.
It’s a game of chicken to some extent. Your one card that allows more troops to enter the board you likely won’t be able to activate for at least another 4 turns. This is deterministic battle and you know what it takes for the opponent to remove your pieces from the board. They are precious: your opponent knows that 1 of these 5 or 6 you started the game with is the Shogun they need to capture for victory, and each that they remove narrows that down. You also can add at best 1 piece every 4 turns. You can’t rush into battle as your programming likely won’t allow for a well-controlled escape plan.
It’s a game of sniping. The battles that occur will not be an eye-for-an-eye. They are the sure things.
Mostly, it’s a game of attrition. Your troops slowly dwindle from the 5 or 6 you started with, to the 1 piece which your opponent has determined to be your Shogun, and 2 or 3 that you’ve added as reinforcements. But those reinforcements are over to the side having finished the purely tactical but important reason you added them there. Wheeling them around to move across the board and help save your Shogun is not really something the game’s programming structure allows for.
So that’s what I mean about the promise. The meat of the game seems to be a small handful of scattered, bewildered troops, trying to remain focused, on that singular goal (which at this point is removing the Shogun, as overrunning your opponent involves removing pieces from the board, and we have a shortage of troops for that!) This isn’t a grand organized battalion doing military exercises to demonstrate their discipline and cohesion: I can’t find two archers to put next to each other to try something exotic. I’m left with a dusty plastic bin of flour and nobody has made cookies.
The programming cards give me the same disappointment. Inevitably, the rotate/range attack card comes to the front, and…all my troops are facing as I want and no one is in range to attack. What then? It wasn’t funny, just frustrating. The card count limits are tight. I want to add more troops. I want to do…something else -certainly not what I have available.
Maybe it’s group think. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s inexperience.
I don’t think this game is for me, but now you know more about it and maybe it is for you.
Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers:
Dan Blum (1 play): I agree with the review. I’m sure with more play I could plan a bit better, but I still don’t think the game would do what it wants to do… or at least what I want it to do, which might not be the same thing. Maybe it’s supposed to be this chaotic, but I doubt it. The idea of a programmed light wargame is a good one, but this doesn’t realize the potential. That being said, I suppose I’d try it again given it’s so short, which saves it from the “not for me” category.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!
I like it.
Neutral. Dan Blum
Not for me… James Nathan