Review: Starship Samurai

Publisher: Plaid Hat Games

Designer: Isaac Vega

Art: Gunship Revolution

MSRP: $59.95

I found it on Amazon for $47.96

*If you’re more interested in a visual representation of Starship Samurai in action, please scroll down to my strategy video and short video of the minis at the end of this post.*

 

Review: Starship Samurai

As I delve deeper and deeper into this hobby, my taste in board games continues to expanded. Starship Samurai is not the type of game I would seek out or pay attention to for more than a second beyond reading a press release. Area control/influence games are definitely hit or miss with me, but the stars seemed to align for this game. During Origins Game Fair last year, I somehow ended up playing a game of Gorus Maximus (fantastic trick taker) with Isaac Vega, the designer of this game. I quickly went from dismissing the game to 100% interested in less than five minutes. Samurai Starship simply blends together space and samurai. Player’s will use a combination of their fleet of ships and Samurai Mechs to influence locations and score points by winning battles each round. Players will fight over locations and clans to score the most honor points. Expect this review to be mostly positive, but of course this game has its faults and I’ll address that as we go along.

20181007_184940.jpg
Each player will have a fleet of ships, two cards, and two mechs per player. Samurai Mechs are drafted each game

A game of Starship Samurai takes about 45 minutes to 75 minutes once you get familiar with the rules. The gameplay is very streamlined and I’m comfortable suggesting it as a game to teach players area control/influence. I wouldn’t say it’s a light game, but I see it as more of a light/medium weight game. Each round has three phases:

  1. Players Turn Phase – Players place order action tokens to Order actions
  2. Battle Phase- Players fight for control of locations
  3. Resolution Phase- Locations are resolved and points are awarded

Players will start out their turn by receiving the benefit of a location card if they’re in control of any of the available locations. Your rewards include, clan marker movement, money, and points. The lighter strategy in the game is to focus on controlling a location or two where players can’t undo your plans before it becomes your turn again. If you don’t plan properly, it usually ends up where your opponents one by one completely reduce your fleet or completely wipe them out. So player count is not a real issue in the game, but in four player games your going to have points where you feel like everyone is focused on taking a location away from you while a lot is out of your control between turns.

In the turn order phase, players will play one of their four action tokens numbered one to four, during their turn. Each number represents the amount of a specific action you want to take, and you can take multiples of the same action. The moving allegiance order allows the player to move clan markers up and down the track. At the end of every round, players will score points or gain money based on how far up each clan marker is up their column. Move allegiance is sort of a pesky way to pull clan markers from your opponents’ column and into yours. I often try to move clan markers that aren’t important for a specific round to score points. It’s all about the little strategy and timing once again. It’s important to find ways to stop your opponents from building control of multiple clan marks, but that leads to you possibly losing focus on opportunities.  Four actions may not seem like enough. Players can use the move units action to deploy or move their ships and mechs to locations and then trigger their abilities. Each unit that that enters a location has a power level (use for influence) and their own ability. When a large ship is deployed, it brings two small ships with it. Deploying a team of ships at onceis the most common was to create an initial or final presence on a location board. The small ships can be quickly crushed, but they can also be boosted by placing money under them. I like the idea that I can turn a weak unit into a fairly powerful one making it a less likely to be removed by a mech or from card play. Speaking of mechs, these minis are dead sexy and high quality. The moment when they’re deployed is feels so cool when played properly and often new players will deploy them too early. First time players will also struggle with choosing the right mechs combos, so I suggest a setting up new players with a decent combo to work with. Samurai Mechs has more power than any of ships available and their abilities have more impactful results. Take a look at the video below to get a taste of using mechs to see how players can use their mechs properly.

Card play is a huge part of Starship Samurai. I was surprised just how much impact it can have on the gameplay. I get the feeling that card play in some games could be the reason why you lose or win. Like a lot of games where card play is a major part of your success, you can get stuck with a really dull hand and your also wasting valuable actions to get some decent card. If a player spends an action to gain a decent hand of cards early on, they potentially have a tactical advantage over their opponents during the majority of the game. Cards cost honor points, money (gained by taking the gain wealth action), and sometimes ships need to be sacrificed to carry out more devastating orders. Action cards keep mechs out of a location, destroy ships, add movement, and add extra power. Starship Samurai is a low key card game. I may seem like mechs are your always going to save the day, but it ends up being a combination of the two. I show a little bit of card play in the video below where you can see the impact they have on the game.

20190429_004846.jpg

In the Battle Phase, it’s time to settle each location board. You can see the writing on the wall going into the Battle Phase and I have to admit that it sometimes feels like an anti-climatic phase if you’ve decide not to be aggressive during the round. Thankfully, the card play can swing the entire result and create some excitement the phase. At each location, all players involved can reveal one card from their hand. As I mention previously, some of the cards can have a major effect on what other players have set up. Some players may not have a card in their hand to resist anything that’s about to happen. My suggestion for first time players, is to stay close to your hand limit. You can use that to your advantage or save your cards for future battles. I’m glad the Samurai Mechs aren’t the only way to sneak in a victory at each location. I think that’s what won me over in this game. I didn’t feel like there was one way to win and I like the surprise reveal of cards during this phase. You don’t feel totally out of it if you have some decent cards at the ready.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When a player wins a location, they to activate the location cards power and keep the card for end game set collection.  They also receive five points. The winning player removes all of their miniatures from the location and all of the losing player’s minis stay. I like that losing a location isn’t a total bummer and the losers get some kind of advantage moving forward. Collecting Location cards is part of the end game scoring which I will touch on later.

When all the locations are resolved, the Resolution Phase begins. Players receive points or money for each clan marker in their control. The higher the marker is on each player’s track, the more points they receive. New Location cards are added to the board and the game moves to the next round.

End Game

The game ends after there are no Location cards left to start a round. The end game scoring has an interesting set collection element that players definitely need to be aware of before the game starts. This could make a bad last impression if it’s not explained clearly. Your score the most points by collection a set of different Location cards. Scoring is usually tight, so the importance of have a three-card run is huge.

20181007_195758.jpg
Three different cards earns the player 6 points based on three different location number in the top right corner of the card (they look like diamonds)

Strategy

This is a real quick video how you can string together a good round of choices. Hopefully tis helps give you a decent visual of the gameplay.

 

 

Audience

A game like this is hard to pin down to an exact audience. I can recommend this to fans of area control/influence and dude on a map type games, but then I think that doesn’t cover the potential this game. Starship Samurai is the good fit for anyone who plays games casually and more seasoned gamers. I think anyone players will quickly pick up how to play in the first round, but using the cards and mechs to pull off devastating combos is going to be more advanced. I would be worried that experienced games stomping first timers the vast majority of the time. First games are really important and I think sharing some how to win strategies might even the playing field slightly. Other than that I like the range this game has.

Positives

The art is absolutely amazing.

The gameplay is very streamlined and it’s not hard for a casual player to learn.

The mech minis are off the charts. The size, level of detail, and overall quality of the minis is a huge selling point.

There’s a lot more strategy than plopping down minis. The importance of timing, card play, and using the abilities of everything properly makes the gameplay more strategic than expected.

I will be covering the Shattered Alliances expansion, but I think this game has enough staying power to continue to expand its gameplay and lore. After reading the little paragraphs for each clan, I’m thinking there’s an opportunity to build an entirely different game in the same universe.

Negatives

I have one major gripe with this game. Because the minis are grey, it’s a little difficult for me at least, to distinguish which mini is for each person. That could have easily been dealt with by having color bottoms or base covers. The designs for each mech look totally different, but it gets a little confusing visually.

I’m not really fond of the two player experience. The strategy is still there, but it feels like a slap fight. You focus on undoing what the player just did and I felt like there was less focus on creating your own strategy. I like games with high player interaction, but when you add just one more opponent, the game really shines.

The Final Verdict

This review would have never happened if I didn’t bump into the designer of the game I’m happy we crossed paths. I want Starship Samurai to continue to expand its lore with multiple expansions. I can see the potential for more decks that open up more scoring options, mechs, and even faction powers down the line. What we currently have is a game with solid area control, hand management and set collection. Does it bring anything new to the market we haven’t seen before? Not really. What Starship Samurai brings to the market is the round to round tension and enough strategy to hit that light/medium sweet spot I look for in a game night game. The theme doesn’t feel pasted on and the level of detail and quality of components is top notch. Maybe it’s just me, but I definitely think the two player leaves a lot to be desired and that’s about the only missed opportunity I can think of. If you’re not a huge fan of area control/influence games, this MIGHT be a good game to at least give a shot.  This game is staying in my collection and I highly recommend it. It’s crazy how my knowledge of this game started and here I am. My suggestion to you is maybe pick it up on a sale and play it at max player count on your first time if possible for the best experience. I hope this review will help you decide if Starship Samurai is the right game for you.

Review Rating Scale

Highly Recommend- Beyond the amazing minis and stunning art design, lies an easily approachable area control/influence game.

Recommend

On the fence

Not Feeling It

Hard Pass

 

As promised, mini show off time!

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: