Review: Sakura

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Designer: Reiner Knizia

Artist: Kevin Hong

Publisher: Osprey Games

Plays: 2-6 player

Playtime: 20 to 40 minutes (plays best at 3 to 6)

Age:10+

A copy of Sakura can be found on Osprey Publishing for $30.00 MSRP

A copy of Sakura was provided by Osprey Games for review. I want to thank them for supporting my blog.

In Sakura, players are painters following the Emperor as he walks through a garden of cherry blossom trees. You will jockey for position to get as close as possible without bumping into the Emperor. But watch out!you will bring shame to yourself if you accidently bump into him. Sakura is an abstract game that dares you to push your luck and pounce on the perfect opportunity to score the most points. Will you seize the moment and get a chance to paint a once in a lifetime picture or be left behind?

The Recipe

  • Abstract
  • Simultaneous selection
  • Action selection/Action points
  • Knizia Knizia Knizia!

Quick Setup

Each player receives a pawn and five tokens. Tokens are worth one point each and there is a penalty of one token each time a player bumps into the Emperor. Each player receives five cards, which are used for garden and painter actions during each round. All the players start at the gate entrance and it’s the only space that can be shared during the game. On the board, there are four bridge spaces. At the two to four player counts, the bridge is all one space. At the five and six player counts, the bridges is three spaces. Let’s get to the fun part, the actual gameplay.

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Each player starts with five cards and five tokens, each worth one point.

A Bumpy Stroll in the Park

A game of Sakura lasts about 30 to 40 minutes, based off my three, four and five player play sessions. Every round, players will simultaneously play one card from their hand and reveal them all at once. All the cards are placed in a row from least to highest and they are resolved in the same order. The group of cards create a program for the Emperor and players. The garden actions on top of a card, move the Emperor forward and backward across the garden path. He will continue to move until he reaches one of the three Sakura spaces, which immediately stops play and begins scoring. Garden actions also push opponents forward or backward based on how close they are to the Emperor. Below the garden action icon is the painter action icon. The painter and garden actions share the same basic movement options, but there are a couple catch up actions to make things interesting. For example, one of the painter actions allows you to place your pawn on the first empty space ahead of the next painter (player). With one action, you could potentially jump an entire group of players that are bunched together. The biggest issue you will have to deal with is pressing your luck too much and bumping into the Emperor. You can do this by accident or another player may force you to by playing specific actions. Any player that bumps into the Emperor loses one point and gets pushed back three spaces. The player interaction is similar to leapfrog, but with card driven actions. It seems like Sakura was designed for players to be close to each other, but it’s up to you to make the best strategic choices with your card play. I like the moments of tension and unpredictable randomness at some points during the game, but I also experienced some moments stagnant gameplay. I will talk more about that later. Next, let’s talk about scoring.

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Taking in the Sights

(Scoring)

When the Emperor reaches a Sakura space, the player who is closest receives three tokens. Second place receives two and third receives one. Pretty simple stuff. After a Sakura space is scored, everyone is placed in a row like ducks and play continues. The Emperor never scores the same space twice. The end game is triggered when he reaches the fourth Sakura space. The closet player receives four tokens and every place after that receives on less token. You’re not going to have huge scoring games or a high amount runaway scoring situations. I think the most points we had in our 5-player game was about 10 or 11 points. The scores will be super tight and I think that’s a reason why the game is fun. Sometimes you must get your hands dirty for two tokens, fine by me!

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Tokens are awarded based on who is closest to the Emperor. This is the last Sakura space that triggers the end game and on final round of scoring..

Strategy

As in most Kinzia games, players will have no problem creating a simple strategy that will get them by during their first playthrough. You’re going to see more strategy when players purposely stick to the back of the pack and then thrust themselves into first place right before the Emperor gets to the Sakura space. If your card is one of the last ones activated, it may work in your favor or turn out to be a complete disaster. I had a moment or two where I played a card with the intention to move and skip a couple players, but the cards that activated before me moved the Emperor closer than expected. I bumped into the Emperor and moving backwards three spaces placed me behind the entire pack right before the next scoring opportunity. Going backwards at the wrong time can be very frustrating. I have to be honest and say there is a possibility of running into some stagnant gameplay. Depending on the order of card activation, you might run into a set of cards that keep the Emperor from moving forward at an acceptable pace. Maybe acceptable isn’t the best word to use, but the randomness of card activation might pull the Emperor backwards too often amd make the game feel like a crawl. Hey, I just want to get to the scoring part like everyone else. Kind of a pacing issue, but Sakura doesn’t wear out its welcome at all. The best strategy is to pay attention to the turn order you play in and try to keep the Emperor just enough ahead for you to slide in at the right time. The rest is in the hands of the other players.

The Good

  • Simple design with the right amount of strategy
  • Easily digestible version of take that
  • Works at almost every player count
  • The art is soooooooooooooooo beautiful
  • Everything in this game is made with quality and detail

The Not So Good

  • I’m not a fan of dummy player 2 player
  • The cards have a weird slickness to them until you play it a couple games
  • Some people do not like randomness. With each player contributing one card, it’s hard not to have some random results.

The Verdict

Sakura is a neat little game. This another little gem in Kiniza’s catalog of designs and you might want to seek this one out while it’s fresh in your mind. He makes a lot of games and sometimes his best titles get lost in the shuffle of his not so great titles. I don’t want to sound like a promoter, but I’m impressed with new wave Osprey Games releases over the past year or so. I have Samurai Gardner, Star Cartel, and Lost Expedition in my permanent collection games and I’m adding Sakura to my Kallax as well. Any game I can play with a wide range of groups and have the same amount of fun, I want that game in my collection. The game definitely has its flaws, but I don’t see the minor flaws really turning anyone off. I hope Sakura doesn’t get lost in the shuffle, because it deserves your attention. It’s the perfect blend of solid design and quality production. Check it out!

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