Finally, I run my own army. It took many weeks, before I was able to convince all clans, that now is the right time to attack. Nobody wants to wait another year, what will out of children’s head of Taikó. He has become our governor, although he is not able to make big decisions in his seven years. Some advisers running our country? I don’t think so! It is time, that a man steps up to the throne. Join hands in the struggle for future of Japan!
Maybe you’d even wanted to become the new Taikó in a seven-week battle around year 1600. Everything is coming up to the final battle and there is no time to waste. So let’s see, what story is told by game Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan. Its author is Matt Calkins and game was published under flag of GMT Games in 2011. It was only in September 2013, when it has gone through a reprint, after it was sold out shortly after it first release.
On the lid of the sturdy box, you will find town Sekigahara and also a general. But the massive surrounding indicates, that it was created to keep really belligerent army inside. And so it truly is. For security reasons, army is not hidden only under the lid, but under the extensive game board. Cities and villages connected by a path will be your battlefield, while there are two scales on the left – counter wheels and impact track.
You will find white and red dots on the map. Ordinary city have a simple white color, while red represents cities, that provide resources for your battle. Board contains also indicated building, which is a castle in the city. This location makes important and valuable goal, when it comes to counting victory points. Each player has recruitment box in his corner of the map, where he will bring new forces each round.
Only beneath map of Japan, which you can also find in excellent Tokaido (review), you will reveal other weapons of war. Twenty small cubes, two round tokens and two bags in the shade cohesive with player colors. And then there are two decks of cards – one for each side of the conflict. Cards do not contain extensive images or text, as we are used to from GMT games, but instead each show its own battle, recruiting and auction capabilities.
The most important of all remain in those bags filled to the brim. There is very large army represented by wooden cubes of yellow (Ishida Mitsunari) and black (Tokugawa Ieyasu) colors. These cubes are accompanied by a massive sheet of stickers and using it, you need to made nameless chips into individual members of your army. It then goes without saying, that everyone will have to stack them back into the bag, which belong to him.
At the beginning of the game, each of the opponents chooses his side of the conflict. He takes that bag with wooden cubes. But first, he must sort out starting cubes, that have a small mark in their lower right corner. These are used to start the game. Each block represents power of one Daimyo equal to five thousand soldiers, so you can easily imagine the huge battle, when the game includes 48 of these blocks for each side! The strength of each graduates from one to four and has written its value on a sticker. Exceptions are leaders, who have their own picture.
Week counter of the whole battle is placed on its spot. Because we know, that whole fight did not exceed seven weeks in reality, it is clear, that even here we can not exceed this historical fact. Seventh round will therefore be your last in case you do not finish your quest sooner. Now players can start placing their troops on game board on exact location, where you can find printed their icons. This preparation is always same and really fast, but same starting positions can also be a minor con.
But then coincidence helps you decide on the initial arrangement. Some places on the map have printed numbers plus symbol by themselves. Such positions requires you to put one to three random blocks of soldiers on them. These will be here awaiting your commands. Each player takes his deck, shuffles it and puts first five cards in his hand. Then prepares first reinforcements by drawing four random pieces, that are placed in the corner of the board on box for recruits.
When we get back to the background story, we know that whole match will take up to seven weeks, which are represented by individual round. At the start of each of them, you manage to get a new unit, change the order of the players and especially play two regular movement and combat phases. But let’s take it from the beginning, when player discards half of his cards from your hand and draws five new cards from the deck. Then both opponents get two randomly drawn reinforcements, which are clearly indicated above the timeline of the game (at first two and later one new piece each turn). One of them also obtains a bonus card or unit, if he controls most castles / recruitment sites.
And since then, starting player will have a significant advantage in the action phase of the turn, because he gets first to act in this fight. To get that first position, player has to sacrifice one card from his hand. Value in the lower right corner decides. Winner does not automatically become starting player – instead he can decide for himself, what the actual order for this round will be. Sometimes may be better to be second.
Now gamers can finally get down to the battle of faith. First player moves and attacks first, and only then the other player will have a chance to respond. It is then repeated a second time in the same sequence. B phase of turn is marked on a time scale with a marker on the spot below the first one.
You can first play any number of cards from your hands to buy movement. The more cards you play, the better you will be able to rearrange your units. Choice is equal to four levels – completely motionless without playing a single card allows you to replace cards in the hand. When you choose minimum movement, it costs you nothing and one army can be moved forward according to its speed. By paying one card from your hand, you are suddenly allowed to move three units, but two sacrificed cards will grant you access to unrestricted movement with each unit up to its range.
Some of these options contain also mustering, which allows unit from a backup to step in, in our case from reinforcements box. You can put them on any friendly recruitment site on the board. At this point, we consider it important to emphasize, that during the whole game, opponent does not know exact identity of your units. He can only approximate their strength based on number of blocks.
All your troops have a base speed of one location per turn. This means, that you can move them from one dot on the road to its neighbor. This is not something to be glad about. But your soldiers can in fact use some bonuses for the road, leader present or marching. On the contrary, game takes into account the fact, that the larger the army is, the more difficult for it is to move. Therefore, you get penalized for every twenty thousand soldiers, who are moving together up to a maximum of -4 for more than 17 blocks. The movement may not be the same for all forces and it is possible to divide the army as it moves.
Mass movements is important tactics in this game and may result in absorption of some small enemy units. You need to have at least four times the power than your opponent. In such a situation, everything happened without a fight, because resistance is pointless against such a force. Opponent’s units are destroyed and you will suffer no damage. Exception to this rule is castles, whose inhabitants can not be destroyed like this. The only major exception, which you must take into accound when moving, is limit of the road. No connection can be passed by more than one army in one round. It is logical constraint based on practical reality, because it is virtually impossible to make two such large forces move at the same time.
At the moment you come across a stronger opponent, you must stop your movement and units will wait for start of fight. First, you complete movement with rest of your units on the board and only then, you begin to send warriors into battle. This is moment, when cards are absolutely necessary. Their symbol (mon) must coincide with token of troops involved in the battle.
Players take turns playing such cards. First, he reveals a picture to his opponent and sets aside the appropriate block, which will attend in that actual confrontation. Each card is wearing from one to four symbols, that determine strength of its impact on the enemy. For using forces from one Daimyo (more cards of the same suit), generals gets bonuses. During your play, adversary can question loyalty of the troops being played. The only way to maintain control over morality of the challenger is to show another card of the same daimyo (suit). When both enemies are satisfied, sum of all cards determines the winner. A draw favors defender this time.
But losses will be suffered by both sides. One unit (block) for every seven points of impact, that was played against them during the fight. In addition, losing side must give up one more stone with 5000 fighters and escape to some of neighboring spots. After resolving battle, both players enrich their hands with cards for same number, that was played. They are now prepared for more battles per round.
Game ends with expiration of seven week time limit. In this case, winner is the player, who earns more points for controlled castles and supply locations. But match can often also end by killing or capturing of generals Ishida Mitsunari or Toyotomi Hideyori.
Sekigahara is the best war game, which we have yet had the opportunity to try out. Before you start protest, please note, we have played only few advanced war games so far. But for all wargame fans, we have really good news: our editors team was joined by specialists in this genre, and you can look forward to more comparative reviews on these games in the future.
But atmosphere offered by Sekigahara along with tactical possibilities are absolutely amazing. Author of the game figured out everything down to the smallest detail and game is very true to its historical nature. Players have to have development totally under their control and can always fulfill their intentions, they only need the right cards in hand.
Very important during the game is element of hidden units. Although players are familiar with raw power of the enemy, but bonus points for friendly units remain a mystery. In addition, all the tactics and proper movements must adapt to status of cards in your hand. You have to know, when to play that card for movement and when to keep it as an important element of combat power.
You can confuse your opponent very well. Move one great army through the obvious route, while you prepare the attack and occupied castle with joining seemingly separated forces on another place. Territories play also a very important role in here, because they give you a better opportunity to support troops in combat. In addition, castle siege has specific rules in the game.
Entire game revolves around loyalty of your army. Battles are not won only by force, but you can engage the enemy at the right moment to reveal a traitor in its ranks. If there is not enough loyal troops to surround such a villain, you will lose these soldeirs and you can get it right only after the battle. Players therefore have opportunity to defeat a stronger army.
The game is for two warring parties only, so more players can not even attend. Whole fight lasts more than two hours of very exciting fun, so time runs really fast. Often battle can even stretch to one hundred and eighty minutes, especially if you play all seven weeks, which seems a little too long.
The only real drawback is, that sum of all variables differing matches from each other is not so strong to outweigh repetition of the situation in the following games. In tenth game, you start to discover some recurring elements. Map is clearly divided and each general is preparing for the final meeting of all the forces somewhere around Sekigahara. Designer succeeded perfectly in capturing the historical fidelity, but unfortunately replayability suffered from this a little. But it has not such a major impact on the gameplay as it could. Despite a recurrence, Sekigahard remains amusing even in these situations. You still have a clear goal to win.
Great advantage of Sekigahara is hidden in its simplicity, allowing it to be played even with less experienced players, who have played no wargame before. There are no complicated rules and all are circling around simply preparing and moving troops. The use of cards is intuitive and everything is clear enough.
Processing of the game is very precise and it is one of the best looking war games on the market. At the beginning, you have to take care, when bringing your units to live with stickers, but your reward will be a game, that looks absolutely delicious on the table in a running match.
Sekigahara is an exceptional war game, that is very different from the others. It is not first about direct conflict, but rather about securing positions. As time goes by, everything points to the inevitable final battle, that will decide the future of Japan. Be careful to be ready by then!
+ beautiful processing
+ excellent game mechanics
+ secret identity
+ playing cards to attack, adapting according cards in hand
+ battle loss on both sides
+ recruiting new units
- high price
- matches are a lot alike