Before I begin, I was sent a a prototype of the game and may receive a production copy of the game if it funds. This is not a paid preview. Check out the video of this review below, and get your own copy here.
One of my most pleasant surprises of the past year was previewing Hogs of War from Stone Sword Games. That put the company on my radar and when they asked me if I was interested in checking out their latest I said yes with nary a moment of hesitation. As it turns out, however, this time there was more of an uphill battle for the game as it is not one that was able to grab my nostalgia by the ear and drag it out, this is a new game and one in a genre that I am relatively neutral on: samurai.
In Senjutsu each player will take on the role of a Samurai, or ninja if you claim the early bird pledge bonus, battling it out. Each round you will play a card from your hand that will move you about on the hexes, attack and enemy, block a potential attack, or change your state of mind.
Each player plays their card face down simultaneously, then when flipped the player with the higher speed gets to complete their action first. Sometimes the cards will receive bonuses depending on where your token sits on your Kamae tree (the states of mind I referenced earlier). If the opponent you are attacking managed to block before you struck, they are safe, assuming the blocked in the right direction. However, if they manage to block at the exact same time you attacked, then the get to parry, and counter strike.
Each time you wound a character they take a wound card, and depending on the character you are you will have a different wound threshold and card limit in your hand. Last player standing wins.
So what do I think?
This is a game that knows exactly what it is. If you are looking to beat each other up, and do some deck construction and try to out think you opponent then this will be a killer for you. The card play is quite enjoyable, and the choices you have to make are wonderful. Are you going to block and try to get a counter attack, are you going to try to move yourself to a position to dodge their attack and then, because you have your kamae at the right spot, also strike? Are you going to try to get some distance so you can toss some stun cards? There are so many choices, and there are even more once you start building your own decks.
I also appreciate that SSG has done their due diligence by hiring multiple cultural consultants to make sure they are treating the source material as respectfully as they can.
The solo mode works quite well, though I am curious as to what is also coming for it. I know there is talk of some kind of campaign, and/or terrain that can be added to the board. This will be a huge boon once it is added, but having not gotten to check that out I cannot yet comment on it.
I wish the samurai were more unique. They are slightly different with their hand size, and the wounds they can take, and in the positioning of things on their kamae tree. But I wish there was more to match up with the awesome minis. I wish the pre-constructed decks, for those that do not want to do deck construction. Additionally, it is possible to be out thought on a turn and, as a result wind up completely wasting your turn. You can plan an attack, but the other play might go before you and simply move. So if you are the type of player that hates wasted turns, then this will not be for you.
Bringing it all together
Senjutsu is a very tight and fast fight. Games can play in 15 minutes or less, and the more you put into it the more you will take out of it. If you take the time to build your own custom deck you will find the rewards exponential. If you are not a fan of deck construction then the game is still fun, but it loses some of the asymmetric joy that building your own deck brings. If you are looking for a Samurai fighting game, then this is one to check out for sure.
15 minute game but a 30 minute article? Yeah, that makes sense.
* Lightning fast to play, and very tight rule-set
* If you utilize the deck construction aspect the game becomes hugely replayable
* Wish the samurai were more asymmetric with their pre-constructed decks
* Very much feels like a knife fight in a phone booth
* Could rub some the wrong way if having turns where you do nothing bother you, you can be outplayed and just swing at the air in this game.