Samurai Spirit Impressions
Samurai are cool. I often confuse them with ninjas. And shinobi. I’m not very good with Japanese/Chinese/Asian cultural references. But don’t let that sway you from reading my impressions of Samurai Spirit by Antoine Bauza from FunForge Games
NOTE: I’m doing this in the hotel bar, so this post will be imageless until I get back home. Sorry for the wall of text post.
Samurai Spirit is a cooperative game for 1 to 7 players and plays in about 20-45 minutes. Mr. Bauza is the designer of Ghost Stories, another cooperative game. I’m not terribly familiar with Mr. Bauza’s work other than to say he makes hard games. Ok, not hard as in “this sucks! I can’t do this!” But hard as in “mannnn! What should i do?! We’re gonna lose soon! ” wow, those two examples are terrible at getting my point across.
In Samurai Spirit, you play as one of seven samurai (why does that sound familiar?) trying to defend a village from marauders. As you look through the samurai cards to decide who to play as, you should hopefully be struck by how pretty this game is. The character art is fantastic, and when you flip the card over and see their beast modes (BEAST MODE, WHA?!?!) they look even better.
So, back to the game. Each of the samurai has a talent and a special power. The talent can be used each turn by the player or can optionally be shared with other players to support them. The special powers only trigger when their “hadouken” power reaches a certain point without going over.
On your turn, you will be defending or confronting the marauders as they attack the village, you’ll be lending your special talents to your fellow samurai in need, or you’ll be tapping out of the fight for the day. Once all of the marauders have been dealt with or you and your…group..gaggle..herd? of samurai have all tapped out, you survey the lay of the land and see how well you’ve done protecting the village. Barricades may be burned down, families may have been captured, or farmsteads may have been razed. If you were able to protect at least one family and one farmstead, you live to see another day and try again against the same force of marauders but now they’re bringing their lieutenants or bosses along to try and put you down for good. Survive three days and the marauders realize you’re the real deal and back the F off.
The village board has a variable number of barricade tokens, as well as three family tokens, and six farmstead tokens. Mechanically a turn consist of drawing a card from the marauder deck, and choosing to either put it on the left side (defense section) or the right (battle track) of your samurai board. Cards on the left do you no harm, but you’re limited to having three of them there, and they have to have one of three appropriate icons in the upper right corner (a hat, a farmstead, and a doll) Already have a card with one of the three icons or the card doesn’t have an icon? Well, then you have to confront it. I’ll talk more about the icons a little later.
Confronting a card leaves you vulnerable to it. Each card has a power value on it (1-4 at the start, with 5 and 6 point cards added in the later rounds). For each card you have on the right side of your board, you add the power value and compare it to your “hadouken” level. Each samurai can have different “hadouken” levels. If after adjusting your current level you are still below your max, then nothing happens. Hit your level max on the nose, and you can use your special power and also remove a marauder from your pile. Go over your max, and you’re overrun and take a wound. Each samurai can only take 4 wounds before succumbing and if any of your samurai die, you all lose the game. Once a samurai takes a second wound, however, they FREAK OUT and go to beast mode. You flip the samurai card over and now your special power gets better, and your “hadouken” track goes higher.
Another facet of the cards in the battle track is that the topmost card of your stack may give you a penalty for every subsequent turn it stays on top. These penalties could be wounds, the inability to add cards to your defense track, or other nasty things.
One last place cards could end up is in the intruder deck. At the end of the round, any cards in the intruder deck have the potential to destroy barricades within the village.
At the end of a round, if any of the samurai were unable to play cards in all three of the defense slots, the village and samurai both suffer. Each samurai without a hat card played takes a wound. Each one without a farmstead causes a farmstead token to be removed from the board, and each one without a doll causes a family token to be removed. Depending on your difficulty level, surviving family tokens give you bonuses to help keep you in the fight.
The talents and powers for the most part are straightforward, but a few of them weren’t obviously clear when best to use them. Balancing between keeping your samurai healed and letting them get hit just enough to unleash their inner animal power can make or break your game.
Another caveat is your deck of marauders is created at the beginning of the game and only changes when additional tougher cards are added. This can allow you to develop a strategy around knowing the spread of icons and can make your decisions on which side to play a given card easier.
There are also four difficulty levels that allow you to adjust the challenge as you get more acclimated with the game. The game plays very quickly and you can easily get multiple plays in a single game night.
This game feels very much like a streamlined, condensed Ghost Stories-esque experience. You get a lot of game for $30 (Note: The cost I paid for it at GenCon) and for such a small box footprint. The mechanics of the game are simple and straightforward, once you get an understanding for the symbology. All in all, if you enjoy challenging co-op games and don’t mind a quick playtime, I definitely recommend taking a look at Samurai Spirit.