Designers: Dirk Henn | Players: 3-5 | Playtime: 150 minutes
Risk was among the games my dad introduced me to when I was a young so it holds a special place in my memories of growing up. I grew up and so did board games so I began looking for a game that provided a similar experience but a bit deeper. The first game I came across was Risk 2210. It added things like commanders that rolled 8 sided dice, sea and moon territories, and event cards that could really impact the game. This game had more depth but was much swingier. Then I played Risk Legacy which obviously gave me the same feeling as Risk, but it grew into a much deeper and better designed experience. Unfortunately, Risk Legacy was locked into playing with only one group. (I realize you can play with different people but that defeated the shared storytelling this game does.) I have now played lots of games of this type and the appeal has never gone away. This led me to Shogun most recently. Before I dive into my thoughts let me give you some context if you are unfamiliar with the game.
In Shogun, players take on the roles of powerful Diamyo competing to become the next Shogun in feudal Japan. You will be gathering your armies to take new provinces under your control, taxing your provinces for money to pay for your expansion and food to keep your people fed. The game progresses through 2 years. In each year you will have 4 rounds – spring, summer, fall, and winter. During the first three, you will be planning and executing your actions. During winter you will be feeding your people and scoring.
There are ten actions that players will take each round. The order of those actions is randomized at the beginning of each round. The first 5 actions for a round are visible at the beginning of the round but the last 5 are hidden until later. This was interesting but didn’t really factor into my planning as much as I’d hoped. It did factor into outcomes as sometimes a the tax action was hidden and at the end of the row when I needed it earlier to pay for other actions I had planned. The random order of actions is interesting. The partially hidden information is interesting. I can see this playing a bigger factor the more time the game is played
ACTION PLANNING AND RESOLUTION
Before any actions are taken, players will decide which of their provinces will do each of the 10 actions. Planning 10 actions at a time seemed on the edge of too many. It’s amazing how quiet the room got when we were planning. I liked the way you plan your actions – that you put province cards on the actions you want them to take.
I really liked how quickly the action resolution was. Many actions could be done simultaneously. The fact that you can only assign one action to each province each round made for a slower feel to the game. I like Forbidden Stars order planning better – where you can assign multiple actions to one area but the order in which they are assigned matter.
Each round an event will turn up that will change something about that round. You may not be able to attack areas with temples, building a theater in a province will calm down your population, or you may only be able to collect a certain amount of rice this round. Players know the four different events that will effect them that year but don’t know the order in which they will come up. This was an interesting system that provided some variability to each round.
SPECIAL CARD BIDDING AND TURN ORDER
Each round players will bid to see in what order they can pick a Special card – cards that give players an advantage in the coming round. The special card a player picks will decide where in the turn order they will be. Turn order didn’t seem to matter as much in the three player game. There were only a couple times that someone going right before me prevented me from doing something. The bonuses didn’t seem quite big enough to make me want to spend much on them. What is one extra bowl of rice when you are facing a potential -7 rice in Winter? I think these bonuses could have been bigger.
This was a very interesting aspect of the game. You cannot over tax or confiscate rice from any single province without eventually causing a revolt. You either had to keep a large force there to keep them under control or risk losing the province.
THE CUBE TOWER
This was the shining star of Shogun. When players go into battle they will take all of the cubes involved and toss them in the cube tower. Some cubes will get stuck in the tower on their way through but the ones that end up coming out determine the victor. I loved that this provided quick resolutions to combat but that combat still had a feeling of weight and consequence to it. I also liked that the cube tower had a sense of memory to it that dice do not. You luck will eventually turn. If you were putting lots of cubes into battle but continued losing you would eventually get a windfall in a future battle. It’s almost like your warriors are more determined to win – Remember the Alamo style.
While I appreciate many other more complex battle systems for their depth and choice, I appreciate equally the brevity and decisiveness of combat using the cube tower. It provides a very interesting form of output randomness. With a die roll what you are getting is truly random. But with the cube tower, what you put into it has a direct impact on the outcome – but it is still random.
Overall I liked the game. It felt a little long but that is pretty typical of a first game. I think it has a lot of replayability built into it through the layering of systems like action order and round events. Shogun could be a perfect next step game for people who like Risk. It combines a lot of interesting ideas and mechanisms into a very thinky planning game with an excellent combat mechanism and component – the cube tower.