We here at Diary of a Lincoln Geek were privileged to get the opportunity to demo Senjutsu: Battle for Japan at the UK Games Expo this year. Well now we have got our grubby mitts over a preview copy ahead of the Kickstarter launch on 19th October 2021! If you want to get your hands on it too make sure you check out the Kickstarter www.kickstarter.com/projects/stoneswordgames/senjutsu-battle-for-japan
Players: 1-4 Ages: 14+ Game Time: 15-20 Minutes
Summary - Senjutsu
Senjutsu: Battle for Japan is a game from Stone Sword Games designed by Paul Allen and James Faulkner, in which you play as one of four Japanese Samurai in a duel to the death, by drafting ability cards from your hand to perform movements, attacks and blocks.
You can customise your character by building your own deck of 40 ability cards for your character - the Ronin, the Warrior, the Master or the Student.
So are you ready to travel to Japan and fight for honour?
The objective of the game is to be the last Samurai standing, and you will do this by inflicting five or more wounds onto all of your opponents. To do this you will use the 40 ability cards in your deck that represent your character's abilities. Once this deck runs out however you will be exhausted and will take wounds ever time you would need to draw, bringing a swift conclusion to the game so you can't hang around forever.
Each turn you will start by drawing a new ability card to add to your hand, then secretly draft one to play. Once all players have selected a card, they are flipped face-up and effects are activated based on their initiative order, which is indicated in the top left of the card, working down from the highest.
There are various effects that can be used from playing a card:
Forced/optional movement or rotation: This will be indicated on the card by an arrow showing the available directions of movement based on the current orientation of your character, or a rotation symbol indicating the number of times you can rotate your orientation. A forced move will be indicated by a solid arrow while optional moves will show the outline only.
Change Kamae (stance): You can change the kamae of your character according to the text on the card to move between the four Kames: the gateway kamae which has no benefits, a defensive kamae, a balance kamae, or an aggressive kamae. Depending on your kamae, some ability cards will have additional actions available to you.
Attack: The ! symbol in a hex indicates that the hex (based on your orientation) is threatened by your character, and if this attack isn't blocked by an opponent in that hex then they will get a number of wounds equal to the number of ! symbols shown.
Block: the shield symbol indicates that your character will block attacks made within those hexes.
Parry: Some block cards also allow you to parry the attack and make a counter move by playing a suitable attack card in response.
There are also special abilities for some cards that will cause more unique effects that will be explained on those cards. You also have a Samurai ability card that is always available in your hand which can be used instead of carrying out a special ability if you don't have the right abilities available when you are drafting.
Should you accidentally (or on purpose) end up colliding with another character or be forced to leave the arena then you will get stunned, which is represented in the game by taking a stun card into your hand. These stun cards can only be discarded by spending a turn doing nothing and playing the card to have to effect in that round. Also, you don't want too many of these in your hand as should your hand become full of stun cards you are exhausted and instantly die!
The actual mechanics are very simple to learn but take a while to master and this game is certainly one that has a great deal of complexity in the range of tactical and strategic options available to you throughout the game.
As with most of their games, there is an option for solo play with an intuitive AI deck that will act as your opponent, with a unique set of responses for each of the characters based on their personalities. While I've not tried this particular option out yet, previous games from Stone Sword Games have used this same mechanic brilliantly and I have no reason to expect any less in this instance.
While the preview copy of the game we have received is a little rough around the edges, I can say that the the real selling point for me of this game is those beautiful, highly-detailed miniatures, which just jump to life on the table. I can't wait to get my own set when I back this as I am eagerly waiting to paint them for even more wow factor!
The artwork for this game is just stunning and the cards have a clear and consistent theme throughout that is easy to read and understand.
Well it's that time of the review were we leave you with our thoughts... I think they can be most easily summed up with back it now! (www.kickstarter.com/projects/stoneswordgames/senjutsu-battle-for-japan )
6/6 It really is that good folks, I fell in love with this game at the UK Games Expo from a simple demo and have found nothing in the preview copy that would leave me wanting more. It's honest about what it is trying to achieve, and does it brilliantly.
George E Ohh
Senjutsu is unique in its own right! I can see this game captivating the imagination of fans of the miniature combat genre. The system plays well and goes to show that fun can be had with just a single miniature charging into battle! It has certainly charged its way to a top-score in my eyes, and is quite frankly brilliant!
While I respect the opinions of my fellow DoaLG writers, this is not the game for me and I have some balancing points to their enthusiastic top marks.
I was very excited to try this game being a big fan of Japanese culture, and literally anything to do with sword fighting. My first impressions were great, as the visual elements are stunning. The miniatures are particularly good and only suffer from minor styling inconsistencies. However, I found the gameplay a real let-down; far from an elegant but deadly dance, it felt clunky, cumbersome, and slow. The fact that all your moves are limited to your hand of cards and then played blindly is very restrictive, making it feel like trying to hit an opponent with a stick in the dark, rather than a duel.
While this game may be some people's gold standard I don't think it will appeal to all. If you like the theme then give it a go, but check the gameplay first to see if it's a good fit for you. However, for me only this is only a 3/6.
Well I think Sam has a good point and certainly for me this game hits my "ooh shiny" button as an easy entry back into miniature combat gaming, which is something I have always enjoyed. However, he's right that the game doesn't quite translate the duel effectively, with too much dependence on cards drawn and not enough ability to react, making it more of a bluffing game than a duel.
Your friendly DoaLG rules lawyer
George E Ohh
*Images courtesy of Stone Sword Games