A majority of the original reviews were submitted by Charles Bahl and Robert Waters...Thanks!!!
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Game: Samurai (Rio Grande/Hans im Gluck) (Rio Grande Games)
Submitted By: Charles Bahl (The Quake Coast Game Club, San Jose, CA)
This is one of my favorite games of the past couple years. Note, however, that this is not really a Japanese Territorial conquest game in the mold of Milton Bradley's Samurai Swords, so if you are looking for something along those lines, Samurai is likely to leave you disappointed. The game is, however, a completely compelling combination of the two genres for which Knizia is justifiably famous: tile laying and set collecting.
he game board is a map of Japan divided into hexes (a la Avalon Hill). Certain hexes contains cities or villages, and at the beginning of the game players take turns placing game figures in each of these hexes (one per village, two per city, and three in the capital city of Edo). There are three types of figures: High Helmets, Buddhas, and Rice Fields. The basic idea of Samurai is to amass a winning collection of these figures.
Players begin the game with identical sets of twenty hexagonal tiles (called tokens). A player's hand consists of five of these tokens. (As tokens are played, they are replaced from the player's stock.) Players take turns placing a token on any vacant hex. Usually a player plays one token per turn but any number of certain "special" tokens may also be placed on the board. In fact, much of the strategy of the game involves picking the right moment to play these special tokens. Once a city/village is completely surrounded (on land}by tokens, the figure it contains is captured. The figure is taken by the player who has the most influence over it as determined by the tokens in the hexes around the city (including water hexes, which may be occupied by ship tokens). Some tokens have influence over only a certain type of figure, others have influence over all figures. Players sum the numbers printed on the influencing tokens and the one with the highest total wins the figure. When the last figure of any one particular type is captured the game ends and players calculate their scores.
Some people have commented that the scoring system is too complex. I don't echo this sentiment, however. Once you get the hang of the scoring rules, they present no problem at all. Basically, players first set aside the type of figure they have the most of. Then they total their remaining figures. The player with the highest total wins.