Review: Sake and Samurai

Posted by James (admin) on September 29th, 2012

Sake and Samurai is a card-based game where players are each drunk samurai fighting each other to the last man.  In front of each player is a card showing their samurai and there are some wooden blocks in between each player’s samurai to show how far apart they are.  In the centre of the table is a cup holding a limited amount of clear beads (based on number of players) which represent the drink sake.  When the game ends, the goal is to the drunkest remaining Samurai alive.

Players each have a hand of cards (events, weapons, minions, etc.) and each card can be used for any of its 4 values: Attack, Defence, Movement and Drinking.  Players take turns carrying out one of four actions by using a weapon card already laid down or by playing a card from their hand:

  • Attack: Play a card and add its attack rating to the rating of an equipped weapon card to give the total attack strength.  (A samurai must be the right number of steps away to use a weapon.)
  • Move: Play a card and move the samurai a number steps (equal to the card’s move rating) closer to a neighbouring samurai (and further from the other).  This is done by moving the number of wooden markers from one side of the samurai to the other.
  • Iaido: Play a card like a normal attack but also move too.  Samurais start the game sitting and, once during the game, this action allows them to stand-up, move, draw their sword and attack in one go (the art Iaijitsu).  Once standing, players remain standing for the rest of the game.
  • Drink: Play a card and take sake markers equal to the card’s drink rating.

When attacked, a targeted player can play a card from their hand to use its defence value against the attack.  The difference between the attack and defence strength is the points of damage done to the defender.  Players start with four cards on the left side of their samurai (showing their life points) and one gets placed on the right side for each point of damage taken.  If the life point stack is empty, the samurai is dead (and becomes a spirit who can harass the still living samurai).

After playing a card, any minions the player has (played cards which are fighters that go off to attack a neighbouring samurai) are activated.  The player then draws 2 cards and chooses which weapon they want to have equipped.

So far, it seems Sake and Samurai is a relatively straight forwards, card-driven, fighting game, but the sake (drink) aspect adds an unusual aspect.  Being drunk isn’t good for your performance but you can use it to fuel your actions.  When taken, sake counters are placed on the player’s weapon/equipment cards rendering them unusable, or one can be placed on the life point stack and used an extra hit point.  However, a player can voluntarily discard a sake counter to draw an extra card or play as additional card.

When all the sake has been removed from the middle of the table, there is one final round after which the player with the most sake markers on their samurai (most drunk) wins.  If players are tied for most sake, the tied samurai continue to fight one round at a time until there is a clear winner.

Overall, Sake and Samurai was a fun, light game to play once we got going (as the rules were not the clearest).  The event and item cards are quite varied, with actions like throwing chop sticks as ranged attacks or discarding opponent’s cards, so you often found yourself choosing between using them for those effects or using them for their attack/defence/movement values.  It’s easy to identify which one of the values on each card is the most useful, i.e. high attack value as an attack card; however, I did find I had to use some for less efficient effects (such as using a card with a high value attack for its less-effective defence value) and still had to workout which to use and which to keep when their values were similar.

There are some nice, unexpected mechanics in the game such as how sake hinders your samurai but can also be used to fuel them too.  Also, if you feel you need an extra edge, you can voluntarily take cards from your life point stack into your hand, but this means you have less life and can’t heal up as much either.  I always like this sort of tempting choice where short-term gain comes at a more long-term risk.  There wasn’t much downtime either as players’ turns are short.

The win condition is an interesting one as you need lots of sake counters to win,, but these hinder your abilities making it hard to stay alive.  So, you must balance these two factors.

However, there were some negative aspects of the game.  One was that it lasted a bit too long – even though a couple of players went out fairly quickly, if players had cards that were equally matched then they could continue to fight back-and-forth for some time.  So, it seemed a bit too long for the depth of game that it is.  We played with 6 players (it plays to 8) so this may be better with fewer players.

A greater issue for me was that I found the luck of the draw of the cards was too important.  Having the right cards at the right time, i.e. a good defence when an opponent launched a strong attack, was critical but hard to plan for as you don’t have much information on which to base your attacks or defences.  In our game, it came down to me and one other samurai.  We struck back and forth attacking, defending, adding weapons only to be forced to discard them.  However, it really came down to the luck of the card draw when one of us managed to get a good attack as the other failed to have a decent defence in hand.

I liked the idea that players can play on as spirits after they’re dead (and even win the game as a group) as player elimination during a game can be ugly if players are out for some time.  With Sake and Samurai, I felt the spirit players could have a bit too much effect on the remaining players (especially in numbers), so it seemed they could co-ordinate themselves and almost easily win, or decide which surviving Samurai player would be the winner.  So, this seemed a but too powerful for me.

In the end, Sake and Samurai is a fun, light game, but it had too much luck for me (so not enough control) and it was a bit too long.  I would play it again, but for direct card-driven, humorous attacking and grudge-bearing, I would probably play Family Business in preference.


[Played with 6 players]

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