Shogunate Game Review

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The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up (publisher suggests 10+)
  • For 3 to 5 players
  • Approximately 15 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Bluffing and Misdirection

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Honor and sacrifice are the same thing

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek mixed!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

Your duty and honor are without question. What remains to be tested is your loyalty. The Shogun is dead and old feuds and past insults are causing strife between the clans. A successor must be named and it’s up to you, the clan leader, to ensure that justice is done to right old wrongs and claim the title of the next Shogun.

Shogunate, designed by Adrienne Ezell and published by Dreadful Games, is comprised of 30 Action cards (6 per player), 5 Clan cards, and 5 Clan Leader cards. The cards are as thick and as durable as your standard playing card. The illustrations and card layout by Adrienne Ezell and Mariusz Szmerdt are clean and give the game just the hint of Japan in the feudal era. The card box is purposely larger than the cards it contains to account for the extra space needed when adding protective covers to the cards. Not included with the game, but possibly necessary to play, is a pen or pencil and a piece of paper to keep track of players’ scores.

A Ridged Code of Honor

To set up the game, first give each player their 6 Action cards. The back of each of the Action cards has a color, making it easy to quickly divide the cards by color type. All players start with the same number and type of Action cards. Players place their Action cards in front of them, face-down. Any Action cards not dealt are returned to the game box.

Second, place each Clan card next to its matching Clan Leader card to create a set. Keep 1 set per player, plus 1 more. For example, if playing with 3 players, you would keep 4 sets. If playing with 4 or 5 players, use all the cards. Remove the sets not used from the game.

Third, shuffle the Clan Leader cards and deal them out in a line, face-up. This is referred to as the “Succession Line”. Identify which card on the ends of the row is at the top-most position. Then shuffle the Clan cards and deal 1 to each player, face-down. Players should look at their Clan card, but keep it hidden from their opponents at all times. The Clan card tells the player which Clan Leader they want to win. Without looking at the extra Clan card, return it to the game box.

That’s it for game set up. Time to take steps to ensure your clan rises to the top.

Power and Politics

Shogunate is played in rounds with no more than 5 rounds per game. A game round is summarized here.

Step 1: Call for Cards

Each round will have a new player who will not participate in the game by providing a card, but will facilitate all the card timing. This player, referred to as the “Active” player, calls for all players to select 1 card from their hand and play it in front of them. The only player not to place a card in front of themselves is the Active player. They can set their hand of cards to the side for now.

Once all players have played their Action cards, the Active player calls for them to be revealed. At which time, all players can now flip over their cards to show their opponents what they selected.

Step 2: Take Actions

The Active player now takes a look at all the cards and decides in which order they should be resolved. The Active player is not the one to resolve the cards, however. The player who owns the card gets to decide how it’s resolved, moving cards exactly the number of positions as indicated on their Action card. The Active player only gets to decide when. The cards are as follows.

Assassinate

This Action card allows the player to remove the top-most Clan Leader card in the Succession Line and out of the game. Maybe. Assassination is a risky and dangerous business.  If 2 or 4 “Assassinate” Action cards are revealed, none of the assassination attempts are successful. If 1 or 3 “Assassinate” Action cards are played, the assassination is successful. The Active player will announce if the assassination will occur as the first action or the last action. In which case, the Active player gets to decide which of the 2 opponents who played the “Assassination” Action card will carry out the order and when.

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Blossom of the Heart

This Action card allows the player to move 1 Clan Leader of their choice to the next forward position in the Succession Line. The Clean Leader that is displaced from the move takes the now vacant position left by the other Clan Leader card. In short, the Clan Leader cards swap positions.

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Shadow of Leaves

This Action card allows the player to move 1 Clan Leader 2 positions forward in the Succession Line. Just like “Blossom of the Heart”, those Clan Leaders that are passed by the acceding Clan Leader fall back to fill in the vacant positions.

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Cloaked in Dishonor

This Action card is the mirror image of the “Blossom of the Heart” Action card. The Clan Leader selected by the player moves back 1 position in the Succession line.

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Storms to Flowers

This Action card allows the player to swap the positions of any 2 Clan Leader cards in the Succession Line. They need not be adjacent to each other. For example, the player could ascend the Clan Leader at the very bottom to the very top, knocking the top-most Clan Leader to the very bottom. Very powerful and very telling, too. A player’s opponents will begin to make some assumptions regarding which Clan the player is championing.

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Shodai (Declaring Patronage)

The 6th Action card in each player’s hand is the “Shodai” Action card. This is not played like the other 5 (as described above). Instead, this card can be played at anytime during the round before the Action cards are revealed. Once a player declares their patronage, they place their “Shodai” Action card underneath any of the Clan Leaders in the Succession Line.

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The Clan Leader selected need not be associated with the Clan card the player has hidden, but they certainly can if they like. Declaring patronage to your own clan will earn the player additional points and declaring patronage to others will reward the player points, as well.

If the Clan Leader is assassinated, any “Shodai” Action cards must be reassigned by the players going in clockwise order starting with the Active player.

The “Shodai” and any other Action card can be played during the same round. Only 2 “Shodai” Action cards can be attached to a Clan Leader card at a time.

Closing the Round, Reducing the Line of Succession, and Selecting the Shogun

After all the Actions have been resolved, the used Action cards for the round are discarded with any other Action cards used in the previous rounds. The round then comes to a close. The next round begins with the player to the Active player’s left becoming the new Active player.

After all players have had a chance to be the Active player once, the game comes to an end. The Clan Leader at the front of the Succession Line is the new Shogun. Players reveal their Clan cards to see who has the matching card. This player is the winner of the game.

Extending the Succession Process

If a single game is too short, players can play as many games as their are players. At the end of each game, players record the following points.

  • 3 points awarded to the player who won the game (Shogun)
  • 2 points awarded to any player who provided “Shodai” to the winning Clan Leader card
  • 1 point awarded to the player who is associated with the Clan Leader directly under the Shogun

After playing the games, tally up all the points. The player with the most points is the Emperor.

To learn more about Shogunate, visit the game’s web page.

Final Word

The Child Geeks jumped right into the game, but had difficulty understanding how to play the game. That is to say, having someone else decide when they could play their cards threw them off their game, figuratively speaking. According to one Child Geek, “It can be frustrating. I want to play this card right now, but then the active person keeps messing up the timing.” Which is a matter of perspective, since the Active player uses the cards to further their own goals. Another Child Geek said, “Once you figure out how to play the game, you have to think first about what cards you want to play, when to play them, and finally who you are going to give them too. That’s hard!” It most certainly can be, but the Child Geeks took the game play in stride and found that they really enjoyed it. When all the Clan Leaders were assassinated, the Child Geeks gave Shogunate their full approval.

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The game kept the Child Geeks engaged from the very first card to the last

The Parent Geeks were also just as frustrated and just as infatuated as the Child Geeks. More so, even. According to one Parent Geek, “I didn’t think this game would be that hard, but things can go really wrong if you don’t play the right card at the right time. I found myself trying to navigate player personalities more than cards.” Which is exactly the point of the game. When a player hands over their card, the action they want to take place is clear, but never the intent. The Active player gets to decide only the timing, but is just as limited as the other players when it comes to understanding the big picture. As one Parent Geek put it, “The most interesting part of the game is being the Active player. You get to decide the fate of the other clans, but you are still limited by the cards. Order becomes all important, but you don’t know how it will play out.” Order and timing. The Active player must use the cards they are given, but it’s up to them to determine the order in which they should be played. The Parent Geeks loved this and voted to approve Shogunate.

The Gamer Geeks liked the game, but not as much as the Child Geeks and the Parent Geeks. Some found the game to be too random, with little in the way of player control or decision making. According to one Gamer Geek, “I understand what the designer was intending, but the game fails to achieve the kind of subtle manipulation being hoped for. I can only pick a card that I think will work and hope that the Active player picks it at the right time. I am essentially just playing a card blindly, which is no fun.” What it really boiled down to for those who did not enjoy the game was lack of control. On the other hand, there were a number of Gamer Geeks who found this type of game to be refreshing and perfect for when a quick game was necessary. As one of these Gamer Geeks put it, “It’s not a game anyone should take too seriously, but it does provide some very interesting game play and lots of surprises. Just when you think things are going well or bad for you, everything can go the other way.” For this group, it was the challenge of attempting to navigate assumptions and hidden agendas they enjoyed most. When the games were over, the Gamer Geeks could not agree, resulting in a mixed approval from the gaming elitists.

This game reminded me immediately of Tiki Topple. In that board game, players have a hidden objective and everyone has the same cards that shift the Tiki pieces up and down a line. There are 3 scoring locations and players make points at the end of the round based on Tiki’s position and their hidden objective. There is even a card that removes (i.e. “assassinates”) a Tiki piece from the round. There are many similarities between Tiki Topple and Shogunate, and yet I found Shogunate to be a unique game in and of itself. Mostly because you depend a great deal on people to play half the game for you.

I don’t think some of the Parent Geeks understood how powerful the Active player was and I know for certain the Child Geeks did not. It may at first seem that the Active player has no real say in the game, since they do not get to play an Action card on their turn, but this is completely false. If anything, the Active player has the most say. From the cards made available by their opponents, the Active player gets to decide when they are activated. This allows them to manipulate the Succession Line from afar as many times as the cards allow. They can even leverage a successful “Assassination” Action card to take out exactly who they want if they activate the cards in the right order. To put it bluntly, the Active Player is a storm, but not an unstoppable one. The Action cards they are given and the timing in which they are played gives them a great deal of leverage, but the player who owns the card gets the final say.

The Active player is also limited and placed in a precarious position. They must play the cards and it’s possible that the cards provided force them to make choices they do not want. The roles are perfectly matched in this case. The Active player gets to decide the timing of the actions, but all other players get to decide what actions those will be. Very interesting and a bit chaotic. Because players do not have full control over their move, they must play the game differently, resulting in creative problem solving and some swearing.

If you enjoy games where motives are hidden, agendas are apparent, and one must manipulate from afar to achieve their goals, then do play Shogunate. It’s a game that will challenge you to feel comfortable putting control in the hands of someone else. All the while, there a number of strings made available to manipulation. An excellent game for the family and those Gamer Geeks who don’t have control issues.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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