Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Shogun at Manny's

Richard, Manny, Cruz, and I played Shogun last night. It was a fun game, but it ran an hour past the 2.5 hours that it was supposed to take. I need to remember to add in serious time for teaching and for the fact that everyone moves slowly until they figure out what is going on. Additionally, there were several rules questions that came up during the game that I had to try to figure out, and I messed at least two of them up (when dealing with revolts, you do not remove the revolt tokens after a non-winter revolt, and bonuses are given to a defender without tokens, not the attacker going against a territory with tokens).

I can’t help but compare it to Power Grid, which we played last week. The rules for PG were much easier to figure out and easier to learn. Part of the difference is that, with Shogun, you repeat a long set of actions a relatively few times whereas with Power Grid you repeat a short set of actions more times. The mechanics, however, are interesting and create a great playing environment once you figure everything out.

In Shogun, you are a Daimyo controlling all actions and troops in an attempt to become the dominant warlord in Japan’s Sengoku period. Each turn, there is a blind auction in which the player offering the most war chests gets to choose a card that will give a bonus in one of the action phases and which also determines play order for that turn. Then you have the option of taking 10 actions, but each action may only be taken in a single one of your territories with each territory only having one action taken place in it. You may:

Buy a Castle for 3 war chests
Buy a Temple for 2 war chests
Buy a Theater for 1 war chest
Tax for rice
Tax for war chests
Add 5 armies for 3 war chests
Add 3 armies for 2 war chests
Add 1 army for 1 war chest and make a reinforcing move
Attack A
Attack B

The winner of the game (the Shogun) is the one who collects the most victory points. Victory reports are awarded as follows:

1 point for each territory
1 point for each building
1 point for owning the most Theaters in a province
2 points for owning the most Temples in a province
3 points for owning the most Castles in a province

Shogun is a nuanced game that requires great attention to detail. For our session last night, I was the only one who had previously played the game, which gave me a serious advantage. Years of experience playing Risk serves me well in Shogun too.

In Risk, you get bonus armies if you completely control an area. In Shogun, you get bonus points if you own the most of a building type in each province. There are subtle other advantages for establishing a secure home base as well. What happens if you tax a territory for rice or war chests and it gets taken before you get your resources? Basically, you’re screwed since you have no opportunity that turn to get your resources from another source. If your territories are safe behind other territories that you own, your opponents can’t touch them. Therefore, your strategy should be to develop a strong home area with no opponents around and then expand out.

Even having an understanding of this vital point, I still screwed it up. I started with 4 territories on the isolated west side of the board and 4 near the very congested center. Instead of abandoning completely the center ones and consolidating in the west, I reinforced two in the center, including putting 5 on one of them. With 8 armies, I felt like the space was fairly safe, so the next turn I taxed it for war chests. Inexplicably, Manny chose this well defended territory to attack, and, since the battle occurred before the taxing, I lost all money production for the turn and thought that I was sunk.

Having learned an important lesson, I abandoned the remaining center territories and concentrated on the west. Richard was concentrated mainly in the northwest and became my natural target. In the meantime, Cruz, who had a great position in the east, started loading more and more armies into his western territories and going after Richard instead of consolidating his eastern positions. By this point, Manny had firm control of the center but was surrounded by hostile forces. He chose to expand to the north, going head to head against, you guessed it, Richard.

Because Richard had to spend so much of his resources defending himself from both Cruz and Manny, it was no problem at all to take over all his northwest territories, granting me complete control of two provinces. Had Manny and Cruz focused on each other, I think that the game might have been a lot closer. As it was, my dominance was virtually uncontested, especially since Richard exacted his revenge on Cruz, my nearest competitor, by knocking him out of some valuable but poorly defended eastern territories.

A couple of tips:

A key fact to remember about Shogun is that it is a lot like Risk but it has key differences. The most important of these dissimilarities is that Risk allows you to attack as many times as you have armies to attack. Shogun only allows you a maximum of two attacks a turn, meaning only 12 for the entire game. An opponent does not have the ability to lay waste to your entire territory. At most, he can advance one per turn, and that’s assuming that you don’t adequately fortify in the meantime.

My opponents, for the most part, did not realize the importance of the rice. If you do not accumulate one rice per province, you are subject to peasant revolts. The more rice you’re short, the more revolts will happen in your territories. If you have a lot of land in the final winter phase, you’re probably going to have at least 2 or 3 revolts. It is crucial that you have enough armies in your most important territories to survive these attacks.


Chris Norwood said...

I don't really encourage the Risk comparison. Mainly because combat and conquest is NOT the best way to win.

Shogun (and Wallenstein for that matter) is all about the buildings. There just aren't enough attacks in the game to make it a viable strategy, and each building alone is worth as much as a new territory - plus you also get the majority bonuses for the most buildings of each type.

Strengthen your position, build buildings, and make a handful of attacks that get you something valuable.

Brain said...


I understand where you're coming from, but I disagree somewhat. Obviously, you're not going to win Shogun by ignoring the buildings and playing total conquest. On the other hand, conquest is an important piece of the game. It allows you to establish safe havens in which to build your castles, etc.

Establishing complete control of an area, like in Risk, gives you the ability to protect your abilities, especially since your opponents can take, at most, two of your territories a turn and cannot attack for one that they just took. If a territory is two spaces away from an enemy, it is completely guarded for this turn. Therefore, owning huge tracts of land far from enemy forces is a big plus.

That aspect of the game feels a lot like Risk when you're playing it. I do not say this to disparage Shogun at all. It's a great game and far superior to Risk, but it does have a similar vibe at times. I also think that my experience playing Risk helped me out with Shogun, especially playing against opponents who had never played either.