Review – Sake & Samurai from Albe Pavo
Designer – Matteo Santus
Artist – Jocularis
Back in August, I had great fun interviewing the 2 wild and crazy guys from Italian publishers Albe Pavo, Matteo Santus and Jocularis, for the G*M*S* Magazine podcast where they told me about their upcoming new game, Sake & Samurai.
In case you missed the podcast, find it here –
Let me say that I was more than intrigued about Sake & Samurai as it sounded absolutely mad and really good fun. So, I was fortunate enough to go to Essen last month and grabbed myself a copy.
Here is the setting…
A few samurai warriors are sitting at a table in a small inn, talking and bragging about swords, women and honour. Sake flows freely, but not even the cellars of Bishamon, the God of War, could quench the thirst of Japan’s greatest swordsmen. Servants run for cover, knowing full well where all this is going. Suddenly an eerie silence fills the common room. On the table, only one full cup remains. Who will get the last drink? Will it be the elder of the group, or shall the greatest warrior have it? Time seems to stretch to infinity, until one hand makes a move towards the cup. Such insolence! This insult shall not be tolerated! The elder goes for his sword…
We shall never know whether the bold samurai was taking the cup for himself or only to hand it over to his venerable companion. It does not matter: all warriors take offense and draw their katanas, joining the fight at the call of “SAAKEEE!”
If you have ever seen an old samurai film, this could sound like pretty familiar and silly stuff but before you get all excited about a combat skirmish game with lots of blood flowing from severed heads and limbs, or not, as the case may be, let me state right up front that this is a light party game.
The first thing that you notice is the high quality of the artwork which is simply outstanding. Jocularis has produced 8 lush Samurai boards and 102 game cards with wonderful images which brings a strongly evocative theme to the game. The cards are of good quality and will stand up well to numerous plays.
The 8 lovely and glossy Samurai boards (above) are double sided with a “living” side and a “Spirit of Enma” side. These boards indicate the player’s special ability and also where to place a wielded weapon, Life point cards, Wounds and stance marker (if seated).
A deck of very nice playing cards are at the heart of the game and they represent – Events, Minions, Weapons/Items, Interrupts and Locations. You also get 8 reference cards.
Other components include Sitting stance counters, Step counters (cubes used to show the distance and range between players) 20 Sake drink counters (glass beads) and a paper and instructions to fold it origami style into a Masu to hold the Sake counters. Clever idea that last one…
A great start with the components which are well thought out and of high quality.
A game for 3-8 players (it actually worked ok as a 2-player game with each of us taking 2 Samurai) ages 13+, Sake & Samurai is meant to be a lighter, fun social experience. A filler between meatier games. It worked reasonably well in a 2-player game I played. However, although fairly easy to understand in its individual parts, there are a lot of things to remember in4 pages of rules. This made it kinda hard to teach/learn and play although we did get there in the 6-player game. But even then, we found that we were unclear about a few things although we eventually sorted these out.
The object of the game is to be the player with the most Sake counters once all the dust has settled. Each player starts with Samurai board on which he places a “Sitting”counter indicating that this jolly bunch of Samurai are all sitting down together for a nice brunch. Yeah right. Players also start with 1 Katana card as their wielded weapon placed in their defense area of their Samurai board. The cards are shuffled and each player is given 1 card per Life point indicated on their board, plus 4 cards. The players then randomly choose 4 cards from these for their hand and puts the rest face down as their life point pile. 3 step counter cubes are then placed between each Samurai and each of his adjacent opponents to indicated the starting distance between each. All remaining cards are placed as a draw pile in the center of the table and next to the Masu which then has to contain 2.5 sake counters, representing drinks, per player. The rest are put aside out of the game. The oldest player starts and must be referred to by the other players adding “san” at the end of his name. There are a couple of things like that in the rules which are there to encourage the right atmosphere for the fun.
The turn order is as follows in four phases:
1- Playing cards -You can play up to 2 cards, each of which has 4 actions to choose from or the card text, making 5 ways to play a card. The actions include Attack, Defense, Movement and Drinking Sake. Icons on the cards show you which choices are available to you.
Attack/Defense – This is about combat with another samurai. Each weapon has a range in steps that must be met. Also a samurai may attack from their initial sitting position and then must remain standing.
Move – Players can move closer or farther away from a neighboring samurai and this in turn, will move them closer or further away from the samurai on their other side.
Drinking Sake – Players call out SAKE! and take the amount of drinks from the Masu as indicating by the corresponding action box on an action card. Sake is used to help you get cards from your Life point stack into your hand but this burns your soul and this decreases your survival chances. Also Sake can be placed on your weapon or item cards (although you are then prevented from using them) or on your Life Point stack to soak up hits and lastly, place Sake on your Samurai board which stops you using your special ability. Sake can also be burned up by removing Sake counters. This allows you to draw another card or play a 3rd card from your hand. You will need to free cards from Sake counters in order to keep the other Samurais at bay. An example of one thing that isn’t totally clear is whether you can place more than one sake counter on your life points which could prolong someone’s life unfairly. We opted for a maximum of 1.
There are 4 different kinds of card text: Events, Weapons & Items, Minions and Interrupt. Events and weapons are self- explanatory. Minions are great as you can push them in front of you to take hits. Interrupts are played during other player’s turns.
Once your Life points are done, you then become a Spirit of Enma which neither uses weapons nor items. Your objective then is solely to steal Sake counters and have fun tormenting other Samurai along the way in a heavily “take that” sense as you use the power of Elation against other players. Spirit players can still be attacked and caused to fade.
When the last Sake drink counter is taken from the Masu, a sudden death round begins. Players have one last turn to kill off their opponents. Once every player has had their last go, the player with the most Sake counters left wins. There are sudden death rules which indicate a number of possible scenarios but the trouble is, we had a very prolonged sudden death round as we kept ending up in a situation where people were still tied. I think there should be a rule which says if still tied after the 1st sudden death round the game ends in a draw.
The mechanics of Sake & Samurai work generally but we checked back on the rules a number of times, to make sure we understood it and still there were questions. The rules are laid out pretty well although the print is small and have examples to help your understanding but I think this is the kind of game that will take a number of plays to really get a proper understanding just because there are a lot of individual bits to remember and it was a little too easy to misunderstand.
This is meant to be a relatively fast game and it should be but struggling with the rules made it last too long, at least for 6 players. I think that a maximum of 4 players should be optimum and as previously noted, I played a 2 player version where we both had 2 samurai each and it actually worked reasonably well.
The information on the cards is clear enough to understand and follow along. Added to this, the artwork is just excellent and the theme comes out very well. I really like the unusual movement mechanism and the Sake counters elements add a sense of craziness and fun. The trick is to not get so caught up in the fighting and take that stuff that you forget that the object is to have the most Sake drinks. This did slow down the 6 player game as well. Having said this, the Sake can make it difficult to survive so there is a choice as to how much you have, and when to burn Sake. There there is a little danger from players who die and become Spirits of Enma as they will be trying to steal Sake counters. And they can work as a team too so I am thinking that you want to try and get the sake counters out of the masu as soon as you can to minimize the additional danger posed by the spirits.
Did it work for me?
A mixed review really. In spite of the rules struggle because there are a lot of bits to remember and get right, the guys at Albe Pavo have created a fun thematic game which works better with less players on the one hand and is probably too long for more than 4. There is a lot of humor in the cards and the actions should be fast and furious, and it was with less players, but not so with 6 and the constant interaction is fun yet ruthless.
Its clearly not for everybody, least of all players who prefer heavy thinking games. And players expecting a fast paced social game will need to get a number of plays in before this happens. The rules could be tighter and simpler. A 1-page reference card on the key mechanics would be useful to speed up the learning. I think that it actually could have been a bit simpler and probably tries to do a bit too much. You do need to approach this game with a sense of fun and not take it seriously to really enjoy it and be prepared to play it fast without looking for the optimum card to play as I think this goes against the spirit of the game. The visual aspect of the artwork is outstanding and the crazy and funny setting and theme is brilliant. Sake & Samurai is a madcap game with a bunch of crazy samurai violence as they down the Sake and all hell breaks lose. It has the potential to be better if it were simplified a little I think. As it stands, I want to play again as I generally like it but only with up to 4 maximum and it will take more plays to really get the rules down as it needs replays to really understand the mechanics in full.
Boardgames in Blighty rating – 6 out of 10
No this game isn’t aimed at a family audience
For more information go to – http://www.albepavo.com/