After sitting on this review for a while now, I’m finally convinced that Samurai is a great strategy game and a must buy for iPad and iPhone owners. The rules are easy enough to understand, but I initially had trouble figuring out winning strategies.
Played out on a hexagonal series of islands, each player attempts to capture key figures in the game by surrounding them by influential pieces. Once a key figure has been fully surrounded, whoever is exerting the most influence captures that piece.
There are 3 different types of figures to influence in the game – warriors, buddhas, and wanderers. You can influence them with one of your pieces of the same type, or with your samurai pieces. Your pieces also have various influential values, from 1-4.
Each turn you can lay just one piece down, with the exception of some rare samurai pieces that can be played in addition to that, but these are rare. You have 5 pieces in your hand to choose from at any one time, and replace the used ones each turn to keep the total at 5 – until you run out, that is.
The game end conditions are a little confusing, but basically: if someone captures two majorities, or all the pieces of one type are captured, or you have no pieces to play. The player with the most majorities wins, or the most captures in the event of a tie.
As I mentioned, the difficultly lies in developing winning strategies, and that can only be learnt by watching how the computer AI players inevitably beat you time and time again in your initial plays. A lot of it comes down to sneaking in your fast samurai pieces and stealing a capture at the last minute. There are also some special pieces that are pivotal to the game – specifically those that let you swap two different types of figures (your opponent might have a monk figure almost entirely surrounded by monk influencers, but you can swap it out for a warrior figure, play a single low level fast samurai piece and capture the warrior because the opponents monks have no influence over the warrior), or the piece that lets you re-play a single one of your pieces already on the board (in the case that you have already captured something and wish to reuse a high ranking piece played there, for instance).
The graphics struck me as a little amateur to be honest – certainly not quite as clean as they could be – but still perfectly functional. The interface itself is great – buttons respond the way they should, placing pieces is frustration free.
The multiplayer aspect of the game is perhaps one of the most impressive I’ve seen so far though – paralleled only Carcassonne (maybe even a little better). The game features the usual local pass’n'play option, with game turns quick enough that no play is left waiting too long. But where it shines is in the online play. Having logged into the online menu with either a registered username to keep track of score or simply as a guest player, you are presented with all the games awaiting players, as well as the maximum turn time set for that game. If you have a pre-arranged game with some friends then you can simply create your game and let them join for instant action that simply works. If however, you don’t mind playing slowly with opponents who take their time, then there’s always a good selection of games waiting for you. Not only that, but you can participate in a number of games at the same time. Since you probably don’t want to sit around in the game screen waiting for the opponent half way across the world to make their move, you can safely multitask to something else because the game will provide you with an instant notification when it’s your turn again. While this particular style of play doesn’t appeal to me, it did remind me of the old “play by email” games that involved intense strategic decisions played out sometimes over the space of a year, and I’m sure there’s a niche scene that will love this functionality. It makes a great change to the instant gratification that we usually demand from our phones. While the slow pace of strategic internet play may not suit every game, it simply works really well in Samurai.
For those who shun the social aspect of gaming though, the AI isn’t half bad either – after a good number of practice games and at the point where I feel confident, I win about 50% of the time against the AI. Even with just one difficulty level, I still feel like the level of challenge is appropriate.
One final point I wanted to mention – sometimes it’s difficult for beginners to understand why they lost, and the game final score screen has a helpful little button that tells you exactly why – paying close attention to this will help you to understand how to win and force a game end early if you wish. It’s a nice solution to the problem inherent in the difficult game rules, so I wanted to commend them on that.
Samurai is available now as a universal app, with optimized graphic sets for both the iPad and iPhone.
VERDICT: 8/10 – this one will be on my home screen for a long time to come, and I strongly recommend it for any pure strategy board game fans.Samurai,