Know Thy Enemy

Published 2 September 2015|
Samurai

Know Thy Enemy

A Look at the Tiles and Tactics of Samurai



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“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
–Sun Tzu, The Art of War

In July, we announced the upcoming return of the classic board game Samurai, the beloved tile-placement game by Reiner Knizia. In Samurai, two to four players assume the roles of ambitious daimyo and vie for control of feudal Japan by establishing their leadership among the nation’s militaries, its farmers and merchants, and its religious leaders. All of this is accomplished through the strategic placement of the twenty tiles with which you start your game, and if you hope to rise above your rivals, you will want to begin by learning your tiles.

Accordingly, your tiles are the subject of today’s preview, along with the different tactics they permit. Notably, these tactics may vary considerably as your game scales from two players to four.



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Fall Like a Thunderbolt

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”
–Sun Tzu, The Art of War

As described in the game’s announcement and on its website, there are three castes in Samurai—religion, commerce, and military—each of which is represented by a number of sculpted caste pieces that you and your opponents place atop the game’s settlement spaces and seek to influence to your cause.



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You influence these pieces to your cause by surrounding them with more matching influence than any of your opponents, and this influence all comes from your tiles. Of your twenty tiles, eighteen provide a measure of influence, ranging from one to four.

Nine of your tiles count their influence only toward one of the game’s three different castes. These caste-specific tiles feature an image of one of the sculpted caste pieces on their left sides and the numerical value of their influence on their right side. They are divided evenly between the game’s three castes and boast relatively high influence values of two, three, and four.



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In addition to these caste-specific tiles, you have nine wild tiles that can apply their influence toward any adjacent caste piece. These include five samurai tiles that range in influence from one to three. Three ship tiles boast the red “fast” icon, meaning they don’t count to your limit of one tile placement per round, but they can play only to water spaces. Finally, you have one “fast” ronin tile, and while your ronin offers only a single point of influence, its tactical value is peerless due to the way it allows you to quickly swoop in and surround a critical settlement.



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The trick to the game, then, is to play these tiles in such an order as to ensure that you’ll have the most matching influence whenever the last land space adjacent to a settlement is occupied and its caste pieces are captured.



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The green player places a three-influence religion tile next to the red player’s two-influence religion tile, occupying the last land space adjacent to a settlement containing a religion piece, and surrounding it.

You don’t want to open with a show of strength, only to falter in the final legs. You want to hold your hand for the decisive blow, then fall like a thunderbolt, establishing a presence that no rival can match.

The Way of the Warrior

“In fighting and in everyday life you should be determined though calm. Meet the situation without tenseness yet not recklessly, your spirit settled yet unbiased. An elevated spirit is weak and a low spirit is weak. Do not let the enemy see your spirit.”
–Miyamoto Musashi

Although the basic principles of Samurai are simple enough, they lead to games that are full of layered tactics and strategies. After all, the game’s settlements are only surrounded and their caste pieces captured when the last adjacent land space is occupied, and since most settlements are adjacent to three or more land spaces, that means that your early efforts to surround a settlement and influence its caste pieces only make the settlement and its pieces more vulnerable to your opponents and their efforts.

In a two-player game, you can use this vulnerability to your advantage by deliberately revealing weaknesses in one area in order to distract your opponent from your true intentions. For example, if you open a lead in one caste by two or more figures, you can afford to allow your opponent to capture a piece from that caste, knowing that he needs to capture two before he even contests it. Alternatively, if you don’t see yourself capable of contesting your opponent’s lead in a caste, you may sacrifice your attempts at its pieces in order to focus on winning the two remaining castes. If you find yourself in either situation, you might place a weak, two-influence religion-specific tile in one of the two land spaces surrounding a small settlement with a religion caste piece in order to encourage your opponent to place a religion-specific tile in the remaining land space to surround the settlement and capture its piece.



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The red player places a two-influence religion tile next to a settlement with a religion caste piece, hoping to draw out the blue player’s three or four-influence religion tile.

If your ploy is successful, however, you’ll have lured your opponent into placing a religion-specific caste tile into a space adjoining a settlement with two caste pieces—one commerce and one military. Thus, your opponent will have helped you surround the settlement you were hoping to capture, and he would have done so without placing any influence toward the commerce and military pieces.



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The blue player places a three-influence religion tile in the adjacent land space, surrounding the settlement, and winning its religion caste piece.

In turn, you can follow up with a swift deployment of your ronin and a samurai to close off the final two squares and take the pieces that you had truly desired.



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The red player responds to the blue player’s capture of the religion tile by playing his ronin and a two-influence samurai to capture the commerce and military caste pieces he had been targeting.

As you increase the number of players from two to three or four, you lose the ability to respond to your opponents’ plays one-for-one. Accordingly, there’s more risk with every tile you place, and the game’s tensions are further elevated. For example, if you don’t place a tile in one of the six spaces adjacent to Edo and its all-important three caste pieces at the start of the game, there’s a small chance that your opponents could conspire to surround it and capture its pieces before you take another turn.

However, should you decide to place a tile next to Edo, you only increase the odds that your opponents will maneuver to capture it before you can bid another point of influence toward its caste pieces. Thus, you might shy away from placing tiles adjacent to Edo until you have a better understanding of how your opponents intend to use their ronin tiles.

Or you might force your opponents to bid for pieces by placing a four-influence military tile between Edo and a settlement with a lone military caste piece. If you can both launch a succesful bid for Edo’s military caste piece and spur one of your opponents to play a ronin to win one or both of Edo’s other caste pieces, that might be enough of a victory to suit your long-term goals.



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The blue player places her four-influence military tile between Edo and a settlement with a military caste piece. While she may not be able to win either of Edo’s religion or commerce caste pieces, her bid puts her in good position to seize leadership of the military caste.

Action Tiles

“Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans, the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces, the next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field, and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.”
–Sun Tzu, The Art of War

In addition to your eighteen influence-providing tiles, your Samurai tiles include two action tiles—the switch tile and the move tile. In the hands of a clever daimyo, both of these tiles can greatly disrupt your enemies’ plans. Instead of mustering influence, these tiles reshape the field of battle.

When you play the move tile, you can remove one of your tiles from the gameboard and replace it in another location. You can’t play the move tile to adjust the position of a tile with the “fast” icon, but it does allow you to move a tile away from a settlement and caste piece that you’re concerned your opponent might surround and win on his next turn. Or it can even allow you to replace a high-influence tile with which you surrounded a settlement earlier to win its caste pieces. In this way, your move tile can act like a four-influence tile of any caste you already have down in play.



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Using the move tile, the red player relocates his four-influence religion tile, using it to greatly increase his bid for two religion caste pieces, even after he already used it to win the religion caste piece from another settlement.

The switch tile, meanwhile, enables you to switch the positions of any two caste pieces, so long as the exchange doesn’t result in any settlement having more than one of the same type of caste piece. Additionally, the switch has the “fast” icon, allowing you to play it into some devastating combinations. As an example, you could switch the religion caste piece from one settlement with the commerce caste piece from another settlement. Likely, this results in your opponents having played the wrong caste-specific influence in the tiles they already played adjacent to these settlements.



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The yellow player uses her switch tile to swap the positions of a religion caste piece and a commerce caste piece.



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By adjusting the positions of the commerce and religion caste pieces means, the yellow player devalues the red player’s two-influence commerce tile and the blue player’s three-influence religion tile.

Then you could play your ronin and a samurai to close off the spaces between the caste pieces, winning them both with a mere two influence.



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Since the blue player’s three-influence tile no longer applies toward the settlement’s tiles, the yellow player seizes upon the opportunity to play her ronin tile, followed by a samurai tile worth one influence, to surround the settlement and capture both of its tiles.

Deceive Your Enemies

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.”
–Sun Tzu, The Art of War

If you don’t pay attention, you might think that because Samurai utilizes a short set of straightforward rules it is somehow a simple game. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll likely lose. The victorious daimyo will be the one who understands the game’s tiles and the hidden potential within each. Accordingly, he will use tiles to lure foes into positions of weakness, to feign weakness, to posture with false strength, and to cut deep when the time for the sword blow has arrived.

There are layers upon layers of possibilities to explore, and that is what has made Samurai a Euro Classic and a favorite of gamers around the world. What will you do with the game and its tiles? Your chance to experiment is nearly here. Samurai is on its way, so head to your local retailer to pre-order your copy today!

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