Samurai Spirit Review

Samurai Spirit player board human side
Human side of samurai player boards

Overview: Samurai Spirit is a co-operative game in which each player is a unique samurai represented by a game board, selected randomly or individually. The samurai’s goal is defending the families and farmsteads of a village, surrounded by an invasion of bandits. The game plays out over three rounds, and each becomes slightly harder than the last. During a round, each player takes turns drawing bandit cards, then choosing whether they want to confront the bandit, defend the village, or let the bandit pass in order to support the other samurai. Knowing when to take which actions during your turn is critical to your team’s success. Confronting too many bandits (right side of samurai board) will quickly raise your “Kiai” level for a potentially beneficial ability, but you also risk wounds, 2 of which unleashes your “animal spirit” and makes your samurai much more powerful, but 4 wounds kills you and immediately ends the game! Should you instead defend the village (left side of samurai board) or support, which hands your ability marker to a teammate for future use, but also adds an “intruder” bandit to the stack? This course has its own risks, such as remaining human too long and going into the later rounds weaker. The less powerful base abilities will be a problem when encountering the more difficult lieutenant and villain bosses in rounds two and three. Each turn ends with farmsteads and barricades likely being destroyed, and because they aren’t unlimited, you must strike a careful action balance as a team to end the game and win with at least one undamaged farmstead and at least one family to tend it. Fun Fact: Samurai Spirit is based upon the Akira Kurosawa film Seven Samurai; true to this theme, it can accommodate up to 7 players.

Samurai Spirit components
Components: family tokens, bandit cards, wound tokens

Components: Many players may observe the village board and associated pieces to be a little lackluster, but the samurai player boards and bandit cards (front and back) are beautifully illustrated. The artwork is carefully detailed and reinforces the samurai theme in a  very effective way. In terms of efficiency, the components are easily managed, making set-up very fast: add pieces to village board, shuffle bandit deck, choose samurai. This rapid set-up makes Samurai Spirit the ideal co-op “filler” game, especially in the midst of  a game night where the other games are intensely competitive. Everything also fits neatly into the small game box, which is another plus in itself for those with lots of games and little shelving space.

Samurai Spirit village board
Village board with barricades, farmsteads, & families

Game Mechanics: Many people are quick to point out that there is a blackjack element to Samurai Spirit. This parallel isn’t entirely wrong, in that you want to get your combat line to just the right number so you hit your Kiai ability exactly and no more, because more is a sort of “bust,” penalizing a player with a destroyed barricade and the need to pass for the rest of the round. Of course, samurai abilities can offset this threat, and if a player busts very late in a round, it isn’t as damaging to the team’s success chances as an early round bust.

Samurai Spirit player boards animal side
Animal side of samurai player boards

As in most co-op games there’s a careful balance to be found, so that a team has the greatest chance of success possible. One such balance in Samurai Spirit involves willingly taking two wounds and unleashing one’s animal spirit at the right time, thus raising your Kiai number and making your abilities more powerful. You are half-dead when you do this, because two more wounds will kill your samurai and end the game immediately. Defending properly by adding matching symbol bandits (hat, farmstead, or family) to the left side of the samurai board is also important, because a lack of defense by even one player can have devastating results at the penalty phase at each round’s end.

Sample player board with flame symbol penalty

One other overlooked mechanic worth mentioning is the bandit penalty (lower left symbol of bandit card), which is the first step in every player’s turn. This often means receiving wounds and breaking village barricades. The latter penalty can mean a speedy loss, because when barricades run out, farmsteads are destroyed instead. Combined with the occasional overrun when a player gets too confrontational with their bandits, this flame-symbol penalty is something to handle quickly, or become overwhelmed! Note: The rule book is a little vague in advanced instructions. So when you’ve got a unique situation or gray area in rulings, it’s often necessary to consult online sources to get the answer you need.

Samurai Spirit bandit cards
Enemies: boss, lieutenant, and 4 bandits

Final Thoughts: Samurai Spirit achieves its thematic goals and provides a decent team challenge in a short amount of time. Some may see it as merely a brief co-op filler game, but the pace, theme, and artwork elevate Samurai Spirit to a category above filler. There’s also often a desire for immediate rematch after a team’s crushing loss, which is almost guaranteed to happen a few times until all players have learned to navigate the pitfalls of the game.

Verdict: If you enjoy the samurai genre, great artwork, and fast-paced co-op games, then you’ll love Samurai Spirit!

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