It is a hard life for the traveling Samurai warrior. Moving from village to village looking for work worthy of your talents. Today is different. Today you have stumbled across a village truly in need of the skills of you and your fellow Samurai companions. For months the peaceful villagers have been terrorized by the Plunderers, Lieutenants and Bosses of the evil Oni-Musha Clan. It is up to the 1-7 of you to defend the townsfolk, drive back the raiders and restore peace to the countryside.
Atoine Bauza’s Samurai Spirit allows players to take on the roles of seven different warriors, each with their own talents, Kiais and strengths. Within each Samurai also beats the heart of an animal. In the heat of battle the animal side may take over increasing the players life force and battle skills. You will be working as a team to try and defeat the invaders and save the village.
Samurai Spirit is played over three rounds, getting increasingly more difficult as you progress. At the end of each round if there is at least one farmhouse still standing and one villager left alive you continue (hey, there has to be someone left to pay you in the end, right?).
The Oni-Musha clan sends waves of Plunderers, with a strength of 1-4, at you in the first round. They are joined by the 5 strength Lieutenants in round two. Finally the 6 strength Bosses enter the fray, if you know…you survive that long. There are flimsy barricades to help with the defence, but they won’t survive the onslaught for long.
On their turns players carry out one of three possible actions.
They can Fight, which means drawing the top card of the Raider Deck and either confronting or defending against the clan member they reveal. If they confront them, the raider is added to right side of the player’s board increasing their combat line. A Samurai token marks the progression of the combat line as raiders join and leave combat. If a Samurai’s combat level ever reaches their Kiai value (marked on the combat level) exactly, the players Kiai ability is activated. They can perform their special action and then remove the first raider from their combat line decreasing the combat line accordingly. If their combat line is ever exceeded they are overrun and a barricade is removed. You can choose to defend against the raiders if they have a either a Hat, Farmhouse or Villager symbol on the top right of the card. If you defend, the raider card goes down on the left side of the player board beside the appropriate symbol. There is only space for one card of each of the three symbols, so players may only defend a maximum of three times per round. You’ll want to get those three defence actions in though, or suffer punishments at the end of the round.
Samurais may choose to Support on their turn. This means passing their Support Token to another player. The token represents that Samurai’s talent. It can be used by the other player on their upcoming turn and then returned to the owner. Players can receive multiple support tokens from different players and use each of them during their turn. Whether a token is used or not they are reclaimed by the owner at the end of the turn. Supporting other players can be critically important, but also comes with a cost. While you’re supporting your ally the top card of the Raider Deck slips by you and is added to the Intruder stack to be dealt with at the end of the round.
Finally a player can Pass. This removes them from play until the end of the round.
Rounds end when the Raider Deck is exhausted or when all the players have passed. At that time if there are any cards in the Raider Deck they are added to the Intruder Deck. For each player that did not Defend a card with a hat symbol they take a wound token, each player without a farmhouse symbol removes one of the six farmhouses from the village and for each player without a Villager card defended, one of the three villager tokens are removed. Finally, one-by-one you flip over the cards from the Intruder Deck. If they contain a Flame Icon in the lower right than another barricade is burned to the ground. No barricades left? Then a farmhouse takes it’s place.
The Samurai talents allow players to do things like pass cards to the left or right, ignore the punishments on some cards or even take some actions twice. Kiai abilities include discarding cards from the Raider Deck, manipulating combat lines and rebuilding barricades. No single one is game changing, but used wisely and as a team they can be the difference in the survival of the village…and you!
If a player receives two wounds they flip their player board to the opposite animal side. The ferocious battle has released the animal spirit inside and now their combat line and Kiai ability are stronger. However if a player receives a second wound on their animal side they are defeated and the team loses.
Samurai Spirit is a deceptively difficult game crammed into a little box. Learning how best to use your and your abilities to advantage of the group is key. It’s painful to allow a Raider to slip into the Intruder deck, but Supporting other players is often the only move you can make. Making moves that will allow other players to release their Kiai is key. Not only will it give access to their Kiai ability, but it will remove a Raider from their combat line, decreasing it and giving the player the chance at hitting their Kiai again. Those familiar with Ghost Stories will have a reminiscent feeling of being increasingly overrun by the game. You often have to make sacrifices for the greater good.
If you’ve read this article then it shouldn’t be a big surprise that I really enjoyed Samurai Spirit. However, it’s not just because it’s by one of my favourite designers. It is a challenging co-operative game that plays up to seven players in about 45 minutes. The art by Victor Pérez Corbella is beautiful. You really feel the pain as the barricades are stripped away, the farmhouses are burned and the family members are killed. It is not just about winning it is about the code of the Samurai.