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
Game Flow and Review:
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 seven samurai in question.
Yes. This game is difficult—heck, there are three ways to lose the game (more on that later) and only one way to win—but each time you play it, you get a little more addicted to seeing how far your party can get—or how badly you’ll crash and burn this time. And if you happen to beat the game, you experience a sense of accomplishment and a touch of euphoria.
That would be a picture of the game’s creator, Antoine Bauza, holding up an early review of his game. Believe me. This game is worth the trials it puts you through.
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 lose the game as soon as all family members die, or if you lose all the shelters (barricades help to defend those), or if any one of the samurai perish. You are a team after all. You win if you and your team, at least one family member, and one shelter survive three days of attacks by marauders.
You have four options on your turn: fight a barbarian, use your innate ability (only some innate abilities take up your action for the turn), share your innate ability with a teammate (by handing them your ability token) or pass—which usually isn’t an option I’d recommend since you’re a samurai and samurai wouldn’t leave a fight.
If you choose to fight a barbarian, flip a barbarian card from the draw deck, and once revealed, you may choose to fight the barbarian 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 to prove that you defended your village that day.
Let’s say you want to fight the barbarian you drew. Your samurai will have a specific amount of damage they can take before they either get knocked out or they unlock their Kiai power. If you assume your samurai’s max damage exactly, they perform their Kiai power which greatly shifts the tide of battle. Examples of kiai powers are healing your teammate’s damage, discarding cards from the draw pile (so you don’t have to fight those barbarians), and manipulating the draw pile so you know which barbarians are in the deck. If you take more than your max damage, your samurai gets knocked out and can no longer help in the fight for that round or day. A day ends when you get through the entire barbarian deck.
Now let’s say that you want to add the barbarian card to the left-hand side of your samurai. There are three symbols, a hat, shelter and a family member, to the bottom left of your samurai’s picture. You can only put one of each of these symbols on your samurai, so if there’s already a card sharing the symbol of your current barbarian card to the left of your samurai, you can’t put another one there.
Various things happen if you don’t collect a particular symbol. No hat? You receive one wound, and you only get four before you’re samurai dies. No shelter? A shelter in the village burns to the ground. No family member? One of the family members dies. And the effects of not having the shelter and family member symbols add up with each player who doesn’t have the symbol, so it’s possible that you can die on the first day.
Then, there are innate powers. Some innate powers take up your action for one turn. Examples of these kinds of powers are ones that allow you to pass a barbarian card to one of your neighbors. Other powers allow you to ignore the ability of certain barbarians. There’s even one that loves fighting so much that they can choose to battle two barbarians in one turn. Keep in mind that sharing your innate power always takes up your action for your turn.
Finally, we come to the samurais’ spirit animals. If your samurai assumes a second wound, 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. Be careful as two more wounds will kill your samurai.
Bauza doesn’t miss with his games, and this is no exception. His competitive games leave gamers satisfied because he gives you plenty of ways to win, while his cooperative games also satisfy because you have plenty of ways to lose. Besides, what would a faithful rendition of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai be without hopeless odds?