Review: Samurai – Card Game

Posted by James (admin) on December 3rd, 2009

I admit it – I’ve never played the original Samurai game by Reiner Knizia which is a classic.  I’ve wanted to as I’ve always read that it’s a great game but I’ve just never had the opportunity.  So, I definitely wanted to play the card game version at Spiel 09.

In Samurai, there are two types of cards – a single deck of village cards and each player has their own deck of samurai cards.  The village cards show one, two or three shapes on them: circle, square and triangle.  When a village is placed on the board, matching shaped counters are placed on the card.  Each player is trying to claim these counters by surrounding the villages with samurai cards.

The game starts with a single village card in the centre of the table.  Players then take turns placing one of their samurai cards (they have a hand of 5 at all times) orthogonally next to a village.  Each samurai card shows a number between 1 to 4 as well as one of the shapes or a samurai (which counts as all shapes).

If a village is surrounded by 4 cards, it is assessed.  Each shape on the village card is assessed individually.  Whoever has the highest total of numbers on the cards neighbouring the village that match the symbol being assessed, wins that counter.  For example, a village containing a triangle is surrounded – the cards surrounding it are 1 triangle (yellow), 2 triangle (yellow), 2 samurai (blue) and 4 circle (red) – in this case, yellow wins the triangle counter because they have triangle cards totalling 3 neighbouring the village which beats blue’s 2 triangles (as samurai count as all shapes) and beats red’s zero triangles.

If placing a samurai card means there are two or more samurai cards (of at least two different colours) which now have a common, neighbouring but empty space, a new village is added and placed between them.  See the diagram below – it sounds more complicated than it is.

 Note that there must be at least two different colours, so a single player can not create a new village using their cards alone.  New villages are drawn from the face-up village deck, and if two or more villages are created in the same turn, the player who created them can choose which space gets filled first.  Both of these mechanics mean it is possible to use some tactics when placing village cards as you can try to match new villages with the samurai cards you’ve already placed.

When the village cards, player’s samurai cards, or one type of shape run out, the game ends.  The players assess who has the most counters of each shape.  A player that has more of a shape than any other player has a majority.  If one player has 2 or 3 majorities, they win immediately.  If several players have a majority, they count up the number of other counters they have (so excluding the ones in their majority) and the player with the most wins.

Overall, I enjoyed Samurai a lot.  It’s a simple game but with some really good thinking required.  Placing cards to win one village is relatively obvious but placing the cards so they will win counters from other neighbouring villages as well is the real activity in the game.  Plus, there are lots of things to watch too.  You need to watch the shapes your opponents are accumulating.  Plus, you need to watch what villages are coming next so you can place one that will suit the samurai cards you’ve already played.  This keeps you very active and planning all the time.  The cards others play may change your plans but adapting your plans is a good challenge too.

I liked how the rules meant players couldn’t start new villages on their own.  This forces interaction but also means a player that dominates a village can easily find their samurai cards may not be used for further villages.

Samurai the card game is relatively light and short, has little down time, but still contains lots of thinking in the form of tactical planning.  There has been a large amount of simpler versions of existing games this year, and some have not been satisfying.  However, Samurai the card game is a good game in its own right regardless of being a simplified version of another game.  It does make me even more intrigued to play the full game too but, for now , I look forwards to playing Samurai the card game more.


[Played with 3 players]

Read the thoughts of the other player (my friend Rick) at:

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