In recent years Reiner Knizia has several of his most prominent board games into card or dice versions. Ten years after his auction / push-your-luck success with Ra, he released Ra: The Dice Game, a refreshing take on the original using dice mechanics and a nearly identical scoring system.
Dr. Knizia turned Lost Cities into his first Spiel des Jahres win with Keltis, a game that he would eventually spin off into a family of games including Keltis: The Card Game.
Samurai: The Card Game is based on one of Dr. Knizia's original tile laying trilogy and is a simplified card game version of its older relative known as Samurai.
Comparing Samurai to Samurai: The Card Game
The three caste types are indicated by symbols of helmets, rice and Buddhas. Most cities on the board offer a single caste to influence, with several cities holding two castes and the largest city, Edo, offering all three castes. At the end of the game if you hold the most influence over two caste types you win the game. Otherwise eliminate anyone who does not hold sole leadership in one type and the remaining players count their minority caste holdings, the largest count wins.
The game ends when all of one caste type are removed from the board or if four pieces are tied in the course of a game. Final scoring commences with the victor claiming the most caste support.
The key to success in Samurai is to assert dominance and then move your focus elsewhere, letting someone else close off a city for capture. The opponents action in this case is usually out of intent to capture a nearby city, but by-product or not, it rewards the patient player with efficiency. I came up with the phrase "play strong and move along" when I see this in board game design, and Samurai is one of the very best at rewarding this tactical element.
|An infrequent outcome displayed for street cred|
The one possible downside to Samurai is that it can pull the analysis paralysis condition out of even the least susceptible players. The game is designed wonderfully as each player has only five of their twenty tiles at any moment in order to eliminate overwhelming decision variables, but over the course of the game it is paramount to notice what tiles each person has played in order to evaluate your own turn.
Samurai: The Card Game Overview
Samurai: TCG is an easy transition from Samurai in that it uses the same ideas in a simpler format. Players are attempting to capture the the three symbols, circles, squares and triangles. Each player has an identical deck of 15 cards, leaving out the special ability tiles used in the board game to streamline the game. Instead of the usual confines of a board, the card game will expand your over the playing surface during the game.
When two an opening emerges after a player places a card, they may place the a city card from the face up deck onto the board to continue the flow of the game.
Once a city is surrounded the players with the most influence of symbols in that city capture those symbols, ties causing no capture.
In Illustration A to the left, after the green player plays the 2● card at the top of the board, scoring occurs for the center ●/■ city. The green player compares their circles influence to their opponents and finds that green's 4● (2 + 2 Samurai) influence is greater than red's 3● (the blue player can only influence ■), therefore green takes the ● for their scoring. Similarly the blue player's 4■ beats green's 2■ (the 2 Samurai) and blue takes the ■.
The game ends when either all of one symbol type are captured, everyone runs out of cards or the deck of city cards runs out.
Samurai: TCG is a very approachable game for the casual gamer even if they are unfamiliar with the board game. It offers the same exquisite player scaling and the same cutthroat scoring system that creates the tense decisions that drive the game.
Samurai: TCG brings the "play strong and move along" aspect that rewards efficient placement, although there is often a rush in the final few turns to close off some of your open conquests. The simpler game flow reduces the analysis paralysis as players can be more focused on capturing and less fearful about what their opponent has yet to play. It even offers an additional strategic element in knowing the next city that comes out and having the ability to determine where it goes.
I don't know why Samurai: The Card Game didn't have commercial success like several of Dr. Knizia's other spin-offs. It compacts everything I like about Samurai into a shorter playing time that can be played with casual players who may not enjoy the early learning curve of Samurai.
Samurai: The Card Game
Originality (0.75/1.0) -
Theme (0.0/0.5) - TCG doesn't offer the little thematic elements its older sibling does
Pure Fun (1.0/1.0) - Decisions are exciting and not agonizingly painful to make
"Re-play-ability" (1.0/1.0) - Offers variety in the order cards are played
Strategy/Luck Ratio (0.5/0.5) - Players adapt and always have a meaningful decision to make
Player Scaling (0.5/0.5) - Two is strategic, four allows for some interesting battles
Parity (0.5/0.5) - Extremely close scoring, its up in the air until the very end
Overall 4.25/5.0 = 8.5 out of 10
I give Samurai is a 6.5 out of 10. I might even call the card game version "Diet Samurai" but it has all the flavor and none of the fat, offering a faster experience of a modern classic and a whole new menu item.