All posts by Kyle

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!

Five Tribes Strategy Guide

Five Tribes by Bruno Cathala and Day of Wonder

Overview: Five Tribes is a game set in the age of the 1001 Arabian Nights, designed by Bruno Cathala and published by Days of Wonder. Five Tribes features 90 wooden meeples, a gameboard made up of 30 unique tiles, a deck of resources, and a deck of powerful Djinns. There is also an interesting bid mechanic before each round in determining which players go first (high bidders) and which players go last (low bidders). In a unusual twist on the “worker placement” genre, the game begins with the meeples already in place. Players must pick up all meeples on a chosen tile, and then drop them one by one over the villages, markets, oases, and sacred places tiles that make up Naqala. This meeple movement is commonly referred to as “worker displacement.” How, when, and where you displace these Five Tribes of Assassins (red), Elders (white), Builders (blue), Merchants (green), and Viziers (yellow) determine your total points at the conclusion of a Five Tribes game, which happens when: 1.) one player has claimed all the tiles they can with their camels (aka “cameeples”) or 2.) there are no more legal meeple moves/displacements on the game board.

Five Tribes Meeples on Game Board

 Early Game Focus: As soon as the Five Tribes board tiles are laid out and the meeples are placed (and before bidding begins), take a moment to survey the map of available moves. Some obvious yet advantageous placements to look for:

Five Tribes Builder Meeples
3 builders on oasis tile

1) Tiles with 2 or even 3 of the same meeples ripe for the taking, especially elders (white), which most players will accumulate early regardless of their strategy

Five Tribes Elder Meeples
2 elders on sacred place tile

2) Elder (white) meeple(s) on a sacred place tile, which if used to end a displacement will allow you to summon an early Djinn by spending 2 elders (need to select a starting tile with at least 1 elder for this to work)

Five Tribes Merchant Meeples
2 merchants on large market tile

3) Merchant (green) meeple(s) on a market tile (preferably the 2/6 large market), which really jump starts the merchandise set collection if you end your displacement in this way. Depending on how the resource cards gets dealt, you could have 4 or 5 out of 9 of the merchandise set from this one move/displacement (2 or 3 from merchant meeples and 2 more from the large market after spending 6 gold).

One or more of these hypothetical moves/displacements is likely to be present on the Five Tribes game board right at set-up! But if someone bids more than you, and even worse, performs the same displacement you were planning as their move: don’t worry. In the early game, you’ve got options. Bidding more than 5 gold in the first few rounds is usually a total waste, and only takes away from your total score at the end of the game. Let your opponents throw away their gold in the first few rounds of play! You’ll still have bid money when you most need it in the final rounds, when you won’t have options.

Five Tribes Djinn Cards
Djinns: Ibus, Kandicha, Haurvatat, Enki, and Bouraq
Five Tribes Djinns
Djinns: Sibittis, Shamhat, Jafaar, Sloar, Echidna, and Al-amin

The Djinns of Naqala: Djinns provide powerful bonuses that can be utilized as soon as you summon them, and they also give you raw victory points (indicated in the upper right hand corner of the Djinn card). However, as the Djinn pool isn’t replenished until the “clean-up” of each game round, and only 3 are available for summoning each round, and you must finish a meeple move on a sacred place tile to summon an available Djinn…there will only be a handful of Djinns summoned by players in any Five Tribes game. So choose your Djinns early and wisely! There is a Djinn strategy worth mentioning though, and it involves the Djinn Sibittis, who allows you to scroll through the Djinn deck, choosing 1 of 3 and discarding the rest. The cost for this ability is 2 elders or 1 elder plus one fakir (resource card used to summon Djinns and add to multipliers; not part of the merchandise set collection), and the latter cost means you’ll need less elders to summon more Djinns. In this heavy Djinn strategy, you’ll still need lots of elders and lots of fakirs, but more importantly, Sibittis needs to be drawn, and you need to get him!

The Five Tribes of Naqala

The Five Tribes of Naqala: Are all Five Tribes meeples equal in victory point potential? The short answer is “no.” Without certain Djinn cards to amplify their point values, some meeples have lesser victory point potential than others.

Assassins (red) – are great for a land grab strategy, in which you use your assassins to kill the last meeple in a tile, clearing it and awarding you the ownership of the tile. This opportunity will usually present itself later in a game. You can even create the meeple placement necessary, by dropping meeples on empty, unclaimed tiles, then killing them with your assassins in the same move (can also discard fakirs to amplify the range of your kill). Some useful Djinns for this strategy are Kandicha (keep meeples that you kill or benefit from killing them) and Iblis (kill 2 meeples instead of 1). Assassin meeples can also be used to kill your opponents’ elders and viziers, but do this cautiously. In competitive games, revenge is contagious. Unless you’re in a race to gain the most viziers, killing opponents’ meeples just isn’t worth the backlash.

Builders (blue) – are decent for a side strategy, or for an irresistible move/displacement that can net you 15+ gold (Example: gaining 4 builders on a tile surrounded by 4 blue tiles = 16 gold). Remember that gold coins equal victory points, and having plentiful gold for the last 2 rounds means you can bid high and possibly go first in both rounds. Fakirs can also be discarded to add multipliers to the amount of gold you get when performing a builder displacement. The Djinn Echidna (doubles builder gold awarded, at the cost of 2 elders or a fakir plus an elder) can be used for a Midas heavy builder strategy, assuming she is available for summoning.

Elders (white) – As mentioned above, elders are a high-priority target for most players in the early game, so get them quickly, unless you are sure that you don’t want any of the available Djinns in the pool. They are worth 2 victory points each at the end of a Five Tribes game, and the Djinn Shamhat (elders are worth 4 victory points) can amplify your score if she’s available for summoning.

Five Tribes Merchandise
A merchandise 9 set – 60 points

Merchants (green) – provide players with extreme victory point potential, especially if only 1 or 2 players in a 3 or 4-man game are focused on merchant goods. A full set of 9 different merchandise nets you 60 points, and it doesn’t take much effort to build a healthy set. This merchandise strategy can be paired with other side strategies, as fakirs can also be purchased from the selection of resource cards. The Djinns Sloar (discard a fakir to take the top card of the resource deck) and Al-amin (two fakirs = a wild merchandise at game’s end) are extremely helpful in building merchandise sets. Note: Veteran players may try to block your acquisition of the 3 rare merchandise cards (ivory, jewels, & gold), even if they aren’t using the merchandise strategy, so grab these cards quickly when available!

Viziers (yellow) – are much more valuable in 3 and 4-man games, as the 10 victory point bonus for each opponent is more enticing in larger games (Example: 4-man game = 30 victory points if you have more viziers than everyone else). The Djinn Jafaar (viziers are worth 3 victory points each) makes the vizier army strategy more than just a side strategy, especially in larger games. If this is your plan, using assassins to kill others’ viziers may be necessary, but expect retribution!

Five Tribes Oasis Tiles with Palm Trees
Oasis tile with palm trees

Miscellaneous side strategies:  Other ways to amplify your score under your opponents’ noses is through the accumulation of palm trees (oasis tile) and/or palaces (village tiles). In the palm tree farmer strategy,  drop meeples on oasis tiles with your ownership cameeple for future displacements, then end subsequent moves on these oasis tiles, thus adding multiple palm trees to the tiles you own. The Djinns Enki (add a palm tree to the oasis tile of your choice; cost 1 elder or 1 fakir) and Haurvartat (palm trees are worth 5 victory points) are both very helpful to this strategy and each Djinn is worth an impressive 8 victory points themselves. The palace owner strategy involves similar placement of meeples on the village tiles you own, for use in later moves to multiply your palaces. The Djinn Bouraq (add a palace to the village of your choice; cost 1 elder or 1 fakir) is important to this side strategy: Note: There is a limited number of both palm trees and palaces, and once the supply runs out, you can’t place any more.

Five Tribes Turn Order and Bidding Track

Late Game Focus: When it appears the game is winding down (few visible meeple moves or you or an opponent has claimed nearly all of their tiles via cameeples), you should consider bidding more gold in each round, since in the final rounds the person who bids the least gold may not even get a movement turn. Therefore, the high bidders in the last 2 rounds have a distinct advantage over the low bidders. At this late stage in a Five Tribes game there are very few, if any, elders left to acquire for the summoning of Djinns. There are also less available meeple moves in general, so beggars can’t be choosers! Find the best move you can make and possibly multiply a builder or assassin movement with any fakirs you have, as they are usually worthless in terms of victory points at game’s end. Note: Try to avoid dropping meeples in empty, unclaimed tiles. This novice mistake often shortens the game artificially, as it sets up easy tile grabs, which are especially enticing to opponents who have already claimed nearly their maximum number of tiles. If such an opponent drops their very last cameeple and claims a high victory point tile as a result of your previous meeple displacement, the game is over on their terms, and you’ve given them easy victory points!

7 Wonders Strategy 101: A guide for novices and intermediates

Overview: 7 Wonders is a card-drafting/card development game developed by Antoine Bauza. The game spans three ages/rounds (Ages I, II, & III). In each age, players receive seven cards from the Age deck, choose one of those cards, and pass the remainder to an adjacent player. Each player then chooses another card from the deck they were passed, and the process repeats until players have six cards in play from that Age, discarding the final unused card when their 6th selection has been played. Players reveal and play their drafted cards simultaneously. Some cards have immediate effects, while others award bonuses later in the game. Other cards provide discounts on future purchases, or once played allow for the free construction of later Age “chained” structures. Some cards provide military strength to overpower adjacent players during the military stage at the end of each Age, and other cards simply give victory points. Cards are passed left-right-left over the three Ages, so you need to keep an eye on your closest neighbors in both directions. After three Ages, the game ends and the victory points are calculated. In 7 Wondersthe player with the most victory points wins!

Your Wonder board dictates your very first strategy decisions in any 7 Wonders game. In the 7 Wonders base game, there are 7 possible wonders that are randomly assigned to each player.  In many ways, your Wonder will set the stage for your game.  What resource does your city produce initially, and what are the perks awarded to you as you build each stage of your Wonder? Should you play the safer “A” side of your Wonder or the sometimes more rewarding “B” side? Also, what are your adjacent neighbors’ Wonder boards, and can their starting resources assist you in eventually building your Wonder stages? Any Wonder board can be used to achieve victory, but there are definitely some stronger perks on certain city’s Wonder stages. There isn’t a horrible imbalance in the Wonder design, but it’s clear to see that some cities have an easier path to particular victory points than others. In the 7 Wonders base game, my personal favorite city is Olympia (“A” side). The Statue of Zeus’ second stage Wonder ability to build any card for free once per Age provides an incredible advantage, especially if you’re lucky enough to get something ordinarily difficult to build like the Palace in Age III.

City: Olympia with Wonder: Statue of Zeus

Plan A: After determining the strengths and weaknesses of your Wonder board, and the same for the players to your immediate left and right, choose a more likely path to victory as your “Plan A” during the start of Age I. This initial plan can involve a number of building focus combinations (Ex. military structures/red plus science buildings/green), or heavy production on mono-focused building with “chains” of free construction (commonly civilian buildings/blue). Another possible “Plan A” involves a well-rounded construction approach for Age I, so that your eggs aren’t all in one basket, and you are less a visible target to opponents. Of course, in Age II, it would be best to choose a construction focus as soon the opportunity presents itself.

Age I & Age II resources

Resource Management: In both Ages I & II, the card-drafting selection will include a high volume of resources, but Age III is devoid of them. So by that point in the game, unless one of your Wonder stages provides resources upon construction, you won’t be able to acquire any last minute resources. Thus if you have selected very few resources throughout the first two Ages, you’ll have to rely on the brown and gray resources of your neighbors (and your supply of available gold to purchase them!). Therefore having a balanced resource stack, both for your Wonder stages and whatever structures you intend to build on your path to victory is a sound strategy. This will also likely mean a steady flow of gold from your neighboring opponents, especially if one or both have neglected their resource accumulation. One common resource strategy among veteran players is to build the Glassworks (manufactured good/gray) ASAP, especially if you intend to build up any science structures (green), expensive late game civilian structures (blue), or the Age III guild structures (purple), as many of these require the glass resource. If you have somehow acquired 3 of one resource, you’re going to benefit much more from having 3 stone or clay than from having 3 wood or ore, since stone and clay building costs are typically higher than wood and ore building costs in the later Ages. Of course, the necessity of having 3 of any one resource is usually due to the last stage Wonder costs (sometimes as high as 4 of a single resource) on your Wonder board.

Plan B: Hopefully by the middle of Age II your initial “Plan A” is a success, and you’ve got a strong spread of your desired buildings. But if things aren’t going well by this point in the game, due to an opponent having a similar strategy or a less-than-ideal card-drafting situation, then it’s time for “Plan B!” Part of the beauty of 7 Wonders involves the ability to redirect strategy, or change construction focus, and still have a fighting chance of winning the game. Your “Plan B” should adjust your path to victory with a different building focus, while still using your Wonder’s perks to their fullest. Of course, a successful switch to “Plan B” will rely heavily on your available resources, good timing, and a little luck in the card-drafting selection after you change strategic course.

Altar/Temple/Pantheon Civilian Structure Chain

X number of players: Strategy often depends on the number of players, due to the different distribution of cards. While the main focus remains on your city and those of the players to your right and left, you simply can’t ignore non-neighboring players in larger games of 4-7 players. If a non-neighboring player shares a similar building strategy, you may find yourself with weak selections being passed your way in card drafting. Catching this problem early may help you in a well-timed decision to switch from your “Plan A” to your “Plan B,” rather than competing with a non-neighbor for structures and resources. Militarily, in 6 or 7 player games, attempts to build up a powerful military presence are only going to take points away from a portion of the other players. But in a 3-player game, the military wins and losses of every age affect everybody, and it’s often unwise to ignore your military structures. A 3-player game is also notoriously short on brown resources, so play the ones you need when they are passed to you. In both 3 and 7-player games, it’s wise to get the resources you need for your Wonder as soon as possible, or risk not getting the latter stages built at all. While a 4-player game may be somewhat lacking in gray resources, there are so many added brown resources that Wonder stage building is hardly a concern. Especially in Age II, you get this huge influx of brown resources in the 4-player game. Conversely, only a single Caravansery (commercial resource structure/yellow) is added in each of the 5 and 6-player games, and no additional resources are added for 7-player games.

Workshop Science Structure & Military Structure Chain

Burying cards under wonders & blocking other players: There are more advanced strategies that involve getting certain resources early in Age I, then “burying” those same resources under the next stage of your wonder as they are passed back to you later in the round or in Age II, thus creating a resource monopoly. This almost always nets you more gold from adjacent players in need of that resource, and in some cases can shut an opponent down from building the resource-heavy final stage of their wonder. Another more in-depth strategy involves blocking other players from building highly desirable structures by similarly “burying” these cards under your Wonder stages, or even by discarding these cards for 3 gold, though the latter action should be only used as a last resort, possibly when your Wonder is already fully constructed. Blocking opponents isn’t necessary to achieve victory. But strategically speaking, if you’re going to “bury” 3 or 4 useless cards under the stages of your Wonder anyway, those cards might as well also be the structures your opponents’ most need for their victory!