Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Rolls 3&4
I mentioned last week that I feel surprised when people send me free games. And, for the most part, I do. But there is an exception to that: People I know.

See, I have friends all over the place and at a variety of levels in the industry. I know designers, publishers, and distributors.  I don't often ask for favors from them, because they're my friends - they're not vending machines filled with games. And I never want to think of them as such, because - again - they are my friends.

But occasionally, they will send a gift or two my way.

A few weeks ago, Alex (a friend of mine who was part of the Asmodee Demo Team for a few years) e-mailed me to see if I was interested in checking out a couple of games. See, he and another member of the team are now distributors. With access to games not otherwise available.

He sent two games, and the first one I had a chance to try was Shitenno.

When I was a kid, and my brother and I both wanted the last sandwich/cookie/piece of cake/whatever, my mom had a simple solution: one of us would cut it in half and the other would decide which half they wanted.

That is the essence of this game.  Each turn, a number of cards are turned face up. One player uses those cards (and four roles) to assemble bundles which are then offered to the other players.  If no-one accepts the bundle, then the offering player is stuck with it at which point the ability to create bundles with the remaining cards moves to the next player in terms of rank.

After all players have a bundle, you use the cards in the bundle to influence territories. When you influence a territory, you score points and the first few players gain a bonus tile.  In addition, there are four roles which do something special.  The picture above shows the Hatamoto, who can gain an additional troop once per turn, and who acts last.  The Daimyo and the Shomyo get bonus points when they place an influence marker. The Sensei increases your influence in an area you have previously influenced, which is important for the end of the game.

The game continues until one player has placed all of their influence markers or the deck of money runs out. At this point, whoever has most influenced each territory scores bonus points. If there is a tie, then whoever influenced that territory first wins the tie. This "first in" rule means that players who spend time building up their hand instead of influencing territory are at a potential disadvantage.

It's a tightly-constructed game, and it's the most polite cutthroat game I own. Because you want to assemble bundles that people will take, but you also want to make sure you won't get stuck with a bundle you can't use. It's a tricky balance, as is the rest of the game.

And the game pulls it off admirably.

I like it with four players, but I actually prefer it with three - it makes assembling the bundles that much more difficult, as one role will not be used each turn. And the player assembling the bundles decides which role will go unclaimed. It's just one more layer added to an already well-layered game.

At the time I write this, the game does not have a US supplier. It's not available on Amazon, it's not on the BGG marketplace, and none of the usual online retailers I check have it listed. In fact, I'm the only person in the US who has it in their BGG collection. Although I'm fairly certain a few copies made it back from Essen.

I guess what I'm saying is that - if you want this game (and why wouldn't you?), you should encourage your local game store to see if they can get an account with a relatively new distributor.

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