Great news: Samurai Spirit converts Seven Samurai into board game form. Not-so-great news: Samurai Spirit converts Seven Samurai into board game form. If you’ve ever watched the Kurosawa classic, you know that things don’t end well for the samurai in question.
We’ll get back to katana wielding in a minute but first, here’s some info about the game.
The Fiddly Bits
Designer: Antoine Bauza
Date Released: 2014
Number of Players: 1-7
Age Range: 10 and up (9 and up on the box)
Setup Time: About 10 minutes
Play Time: About 30 minutes
Variable Player Powers
There are multiple ways to lose Samurai Spirit and only one way to win.
Each player takes on the role of a samurai sworn to defend a village. The village consists of three family members, six shelters, and barricades. You win by fighting off three days of marauders. You lose the game if all family members die, or if you lose all the shelters (barricades help to defend those), or if any one of the samurai perish.
Overview of a Samurai (Daisuke)
You have four options on your turn: fight a marauder, use your innate ability, share your innate ability with a teammate or pass, which I don’t recommend since you’re a samurai and samurai wouldn’t leave a fight.
If you choose to fight a marauder (and most turns will have you fighting a marauder), flip a marauder card from the draw deck and once revealed, you may choose to fight the marauder and accept the damage he deals, placing him on the right of your samurai, or you may add him to the left of your samurai (placing him in either the hat, family member, or shelter slot) to prove that you defended those sections of your village that day.
You can only take a certain amount of damage (based on your samurai’s health) before you get knocked out. It also behooves you to collect all of the left side’s symbols as you will accrue penalties for not doing so.
Fight a Marauder
For example: Let’s say that you draw a marauder card with a damage level of 2 and a family member symbol.
Overview of Marauder Card
You have the option of accepting two points of damage. If you choose to do this, you place the marauder card to your samurai’s right and move your damage marker down two.
Deal two damage to your samurai
You can also add the marauder card to your family member symbol slot, depicting that you saved a family member that day.
Match like symbols
Note: The penalty for not having a marauder card with a family member symbol to the left of your samurai is that a family member dies. Remember that there are only three family members and everyone in your samurai team has to collect these symbols or face the consequences, so it’s important to save those family members.
Once you deal with your marauder card, play continues with the samurai to your left. Your teammates have the same options as you and they deal with their marauders in turn. Play continues in a clockwise manner and when it’s your turn you’ll have the same options.
Use your Innate Ability
But let’s say that you want to use your innate ability. Using this same samurai as an example, Daisuke has the ability to move a marauder card that he draws to the samurai on his left or right so long as the marauder has a damage rating of 1, 3, or 5.
Overview of Level 1 Marauder
In this case, Daisuke drew into a level one marauder who also has a family member symbol. We know that your teammates have to collect family members too, so Daisuke passes his marauder to the player on his left or right, and his teammate adds the marauder card to their family member slot.
Share your Innate Ability
You can also skip the drawing of a marauder card by passing your innate ability to another player. There are countless reasons why you might want to do this—not the least of which is manipulating damage to you or your teammate(s). If you choose to do this, you hand your ability token to any of your teammates and your turn ends.
Sharing your Innate Ability
One more Ability—Kiai!
If you manage your damage well, you can reach your samurai’s max health points by exact count. When this happens, he goes Super Saiyan. You discard the topmost card in your damage count, reduce the damage your samurai has by the amount on the card, and unleash a powerful attack or ability, a Kiai. Some Kiai discard cards from the marauder draw pile, others construct barricades, and still others can heal you or your teammates.
This is how it could look before you release your Kiai.
Reaching your samurai’s max health by exact count: Kiai!
Ending the Round/Day and Winning
The round ends when you run out of marauder cards in the marauder draw pile. If this is the third round and you survived, congrats, you won. If this isn’t the end of third round/day, you’ll have to tally up who has which symbols.
The Symbols to Your Samurai’s Left and their Penalties
Various things happen if you don’t collect a particular symbol. Here’s a chart that depicts what happens.
Samurai’s Spirit Animals
Finally, we come to the samurais’ spirit animals. If your samurai receives two wounds, your samurai flips over and becomes their spirit animal. This trumps up your samurai’s Kiai power and gives them more damage they can take. But be careful as two more wounds will kill your samurai.
Overview of Daisuke’s Animal Spirit
Samurai Spirit is unbalanced. It plays two-seven players, but the experience is a lot different for a game with few players than it is for a game with a lot.
It plays too easy for two or three players, and it’s close to impossible for six or seven. You’d think four or five players is the game’s sweet spot, but Samurai Spirit could beat you down (and it plays like a six or seven player game) or the game could take it easy on you. The game devolves into simple chance.
More Samurai Cards
Then you have the possibility of an alpha gamer. Alpha gamers are those people who take over a cooperative game because they think they know what’s best. I’ve had more games of Samurai Spirit with alphas than games without them. This could be because of the makeup of my various gaming groups, but I think Samurai Spirit lends itself to this phenomenon.
“If you want to be an alpha,” I say, “go ahead. It’s on you if we lose.” I don’t blame these people actually. I’ve had to assume the alpha gamer role a few times, when my kids couldn’t decide what to do. You can only watch their heads spin like Linda Blair for so long before helping them out.
All the Seven Samurai in Kurosawa’s classic film die. If you have six or seven samurai at the table with this game, you will die.
Samurai Spirit captures the theme, but it’s frustrating.
A rare, uneven game by Antoine Bauza, Samurai Spirit can be fun when you don’t want to pull out your hair, and it’s a lot of game for $25.