Category Archives: Reviews

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!

Pandemic Iberia Review

Pandemic Iberia is a Pandemic game set in the Iberian Peninsula in 1848. This was an important year since it marked the construction of the first railroad in the region. During this time, however,  4 major diseases threatened to outbreak in the peninsula: typhus, cholera, malaria, and yellow fever. Players taking on roles such as the nurse, railwayman, rural doctor, and sailor to help construct the railroad and stop the spread of those diseases.

This game has many of the basic components that players have come to expect from Pandemic games: different colored cubes, player markers, and 2 decks of cards. There are also several tokens that make an appearance that Pandemic players won’t recognize, like the purification tokens and railway markers. 

What really makes Pandemic Iberia shine component-wise, however, is the art. The box insert, cards, and game board all have beautiful art on them! The quality of everything is also amazing though I will probably still sleeve the cards because accidents do happen during game nights! 

Game Mechanics
Many of the basic mechanics in Pandemic Iberia are the same as vanilla Pandemic. Your main goal is to “cure” the four diseases. In this game, however, you cannot cure them, only “research” them. You research a disease by collecting and discarding 5 cards of a particular color. After each turn, you draw 2 cards, and cards may be traded by using an action and being on the same space as another player. Once you successfully research all 4 diseases, the players win!

The main hiccup is the fact that the diseases are spreading rapidly while you are collecting your cards. When the game starts, 9 cities are infected with a mixture of the 4 diseases: 3 cities get 3 cubes, 3 cities get 2 cubes, and 3 cities start with 1 cube. After each turn, the players draw card from the infection deck and add cubes to the cities. If any city gets more than 3 cubes, there is an outbreak that can chain to other cities. Each outbreak moves the outbreak track. If you have 8 outbreaks in a game, players lose. This game also has epidemic cards. When this card is drawn, players must infect the bottom card of the infection deck with three cubes and reshuffle all of the infection cards from the discard pile back into the deck. Epidemics also up the rate of infection after a few from 2 cards to 3 cards.

There are a few things that make Pandemic Iberia more difficult than Pandemic. You cannot research a disease until you build a hospital of the same color. This essentially means that you need 6 cards to research or cure instead of 5. Another thing that adds to the challenge is that this version is missing some of the essential roles from regular Pandemic. 

The rural doctor is similar to the medic, but he can remove a cube from an adjacent space instead of removing all of the cubes. The nurse is similar to the quarantine specialist except that her quarantine marker must be placed on an adjacent area and does not protect all areas surrounding her. Missing from the bunch is the scientist, who can cure with one fewer card, and the dispatcher, who can aid in player movement. Having an extra card requirement and no scientist really does add to the challenge of the game.

Speaking of movement, this board is very spread out and this was before air travel. As such, players cannot discard cards to move freely around the board. Instead, they can use the new travel mechanics of the game. The most important travel change is the railroad. As players move about the map, they can lay railway tokens to connect areas. Doing this allows a player to move from one city to any other city connected by the railroad in 1 action. You can also travel by carriage or by sea from any port city to another port city if you discard a card matching the color of the destination city. 

The final new mechanic is the purify water action. At any time, a player may discard a card matching their region to place 2 purification tokens in an area. The way the may is divided, there are areas in between the lines on the map that form regions. If a purification token is in the center, no cubes need to be added to the cities in that region if it is drawn during the infect step. Instead, you just remove a purification token.

For some added difficulty,  there are also some added challenge modes, but I have not touched those yet so I cannot comment on them.

Final Thoughts

I really like this version of Pandemic! Having already played and loved Pandemic, Pandemic Legacy, and Pandemic Reign of Cthulhu, I kind of suspected I would. Pandemic Iberia is different enough from the other versions of Pandemic that I don’t feel like I am playing the exact same game. The railroad and purification tokens add extra strategy and planning ahead, and having to build hospitals in each region before you can research adds some real difficulty. I had to play 5 times before I finally won! This is exactly what I’ve come to expect and love about cooperative games: the challenge! I love the art and the history built into this game. The naming of the diseases make them blend in seamlessly with the theme whereas letting the players name the diseases detracts from it in some ways (depending on the chose names, I guess). If you think you might like this game, I would go buy it ASAP.  It is a limited edition game, meaning that when this printing is sold out, it will never be reprinted. I don’t think they have ever officially announced the number of games that were printed, but I still wouldn’t wait to buy it. It’s a great game that deserves to be in your collection, and it’s not going to be around forever!

Verdict: Highly recommended!