This is the pre-production version of Samurai Brothers, so the art, rules and mechanics may change over the next couple of months. Therefore please treat this as a first thoughts piece, based on version of the game that we were provided with. We have not been paid for the preview. We also do not provide a full play by play explanation of the game.
So you want to be a Shogun do you? Well one doesn't simply walk into the kingdom, pick up a couple of heirlooms, use some ninjas and defeat the opposing Samurai. It takes a lot longer, and you'll have to pay your dues, and that will be in the form of hearts and steel, and the limbs and bodies of your ninjas and your enemies. If you get lucky, the temple guards might also fall to your might, and then you can claim the title and stand unopposed serving the empire.
Samurai Brothers is a mixture of Tableau building and Take That, smart and fast and clever and trying to grab your attention from the plethora of other card carrying games out there. You'll assemble a squad and depending on the number of players you'll end up with a mixture of ninjas, temple guard and a Sensei to provide you with additional talents, and an heirloom to give you a one off ability to help you in those tight squeezes.
Your squad of ninjas act as your currency, using their life points to pay for your attacks on Action Cards that you play against your enemies, as you charge in to take down their Samurai. Alternatively you can match the ninja level with the appropriate element which might cheapen the cost but cause you to possibly trade in more expensive ninjas. In some situations you might not have the choice, as unlike similar games where you are often holding on to your team for as long as you can, in Samurai Brothers, churning through the ninjas in order to keep the higher levels safe is the order of the day. Temple Guards can deflect attacks and counter if required, and other item cards can let you steal you opponents heirlooms or their Sensei, which will abandon them into exile, taking them out of play for you until you can bring them back in again to the fracas.
Every round you are bringing in more allies to add to the war of attrition, and the phrase is apt, because this is not a game to sit back a passively weigh up you options for the opportune moment, as that will end up with cut up body parts all over your side of the table. Samurai Brothers also has that small chance of slowing down and growing stale unless you are willing to be fully committed to the Take That element. It rewards aggressive and bold play with buckets of fun.
It's interesting that on first impressions this appears to be a lot deeper that how it actually plays, as after a few rounds the game becomes more and more straightforward and you might even consider playing it on a more casual basis.
There's a lot to like here, as the art is varied, detailed as wonderfully kinetic in all the character drawings. There is some fantastic line work and colouring throughout the deck, and it was no surprise to learn that Moon Rock Games is part of Moon Rock Comics, and so the standard of presentation is extremely high. The characters are stunning, especially the temple guards, and when you have the game set up on the table, the range of colours and designs is something to behold, and will certainly catch the eyes. I think the individual text on the cards could do with being larger, as scanning the set in front of you to make some quick decisions often result in you having to inspect them more closely, which is a bit of a pain as it can at times give away what you are planning to do with your next move.
With the art work being so strong, I'm surprised that the rule book is a bit of a formatting mess, and I mean that as much as the admiration that I have for the art. The Samurai Brothers rule book suffers immensely from the 'style over substance' approach that served the rest of the game so well. I rarely include pictures of rule books in any Kickstarter preview pieces, but it will help illustrate my point. There is iconography everywhere within the rule book, which directly replaces the words the icons represent, so your brain when reading needs to take that one extra step when you are trying to decipher what you are doing in a particular term.
This is made worse because a key of the icons isn't included in the rule book in any form. So a sentence that should read "A combined ninjas attack can either be blocked or counter attacked using the temple guards, but remember to add the spent cards into exile", ends up reading as
" A combined ICON attack can either be ICON or Counter Attacked using ICON, but remember to add the spent cards into ICON". There is no easy place to even reference what the icons mean, unless you have the cards in front of you. Ironically the cards all give titles to the characters next to the icon, so this approach in the rule book to me is a bit baffling. I'm really hoping the Moon Rock team dial things down a bit, because it kind of increased the set up time, rules explanation time, and jaded the experience a bit when it came to learning. It really needs a little box with a glossary at the beginning, and that would really help or to ditch the icons in the text as it adds unnecessary complexity.
Baring that in mind, once you manage to battle your way through the rule book, the overall presentation, combat system and potential speed of the game will be enough to entice people to at least give it a couple of plays at the table. It's easy to play once you've learned it, it looks lovely on the table, and it give enough depth without being overwhelming. In its current form, I would advise you to certainly keep an eye on Samurai Brothers.
2 - 6 players
Plays in 30 to 60 minutes
Designed by Kerry King and Craig Morris
You can find out more about the project that launches on August 1st by visiting their website
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