Humanity in the Lotus Galaxy has explored and colonized all of the planets rich in resources and those that can support life. While divided into a number of clans, one clan leader, Hoshi, developed Samurai Mechs that gave her armies so great an advantage that she became Galactic Emperor. However, Hoshi has gone the way of the universe and now four of the most powerful clans are fighting to claim the galactic throne. Samurai Mechs are no longer the sole possession of one clan. Will you be able to lead your clan to victory and become the next Galactic Emperor?
What Is Starship Samurai?
Starship Samurai is a game for 2–4 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 60–90 minutes to play. Starship Samurai was designed by Isaac Vega and published by Plaid Hat Games, with illustrations by Gunship Revolution. It’s currently available and can be purchased from Amazon for about $39. You can also purchase it directly from Plaid Hat Games for a bit higher price, but it also includes the newly released Mech Bases for free. The Mech Bases can also be purchased individually from Plaid Hat Games for $4.95 for a set of eight.
Starship Samurai Components
Here is what is included in the game.
- 1 alliance board
- 4 location boards
- 4 player boards
- 48 action cards
- 16 unit cards
- 16 location cards
- 8 Samurai Mech miniatures
- 32 fighter ship miniatures
- 4 carrier ship miniatures
- 44 wealth tokens
- 1 first player token
- 4 player score markers
- 16 order markers
- 8 clan markers
The Samurai Mechs are the most powerful units in the game. Each player controls two of these mechs. The eight Samurai Mechs have different strengths and abilities. As a result, they require unique tactics to maximize their effectiveness. The mech bases come in the four player colors to help designate to whom they belong when deployed to locations. While they are included in purchases of Starship Samurai from Plaid Hat Games website, they can also be purchased individually for those who already own the game.
Each player has one carrier ship and 8 fighter ships. Carriers have two power for battle and when moved, can take two fighters with them for for free. Fighters each have one power.
The alliance board is where players keep track of their honor score as well as their influence with the 8 lesser clans. The honor score track runs around the border of the board while the 8 lesser clan tokens begin in the neutral area. As players gain or lose influence with these clans, the tokens move up and down the player branches. The reward tiers in the center of the board show the rewards for having clan at different levels on the player branches.
Location boards are areas that players want to control. A location card is placed on the left side and ships and mechs can be deployed to the 7 squares around the planet. Each round the location cards are replaced, but the boards remain.
Each player is given their own player board. This lists the four types of orders which can be given, holds their supply of ships and mechs, and has spaces for ship and Samurai Mech cards.
Action cards can be played during the order phase or during battle. They provide special abilities or actions. Each player begins with the same two action cards. However, additional action cards can be obtained through orders or controlling locations. Some action cards can be quite powerful and give a player an advantage, especially in battles. It is a good idea to have several in your hand.
How to Play Starship Samurai
The goal of the game is acquire the most honor score at the end of the game. This is obtained by controlling locations, winning battles, gaining the allegiance of the lesser clans, and by playing action cards.
Each player is given a player board and one location board for each player is placed in the center of the table. Depending on the number of players, some location cards are removed. The remainder are shuffled into a deck and one card is placed on each location board. The clan markers are placed on the alliance board in the neutral area at the bottom. Each player places their score marker to the left of the ‘1’ on the honor score track. Make a pile of wealth tokens in easy reach of all players.
Players collect the carrier and fighter ships in their player color. Each player is given 1 Elite General and 1 Change Strategy action card. Remaining copies of these cards are returned to the box. The rest of the action cards are shuffled to form a deck and placed near the location card deck. After randomly selecting a first player, give that player the first player token. The first player then takes all 8 Samurai Mech cards and selects one. The rest are passed to the player on the left. The last player selects two mechs and then passes the deck to the player on the right. After the first player selects a second mech, any remaining mech cards are returned to the box. Each player then collects the two Samurai Mech miniatures that match their cards and play begins with the first player.
Starship Samurai plays in rounds. Each rounds consists of three phases: the player turns phase, the battle phase, and the resolution phase. The players turn phase is then divided into two parts. Each player claims location rewards and then performs one order on their turn. For the first part, the current player checks each location to see if they have the more power there than the other players. If they do, then they collect the reward listed on the location card. Next the player can perform one of the four orders on their player board. This is accomplished by taking one of their four order tokens, numbered 1-4, and placing it on an order slot. Players can choose to move 1 clan marker up to X spaces, move up to X units, draw up to X action cards, or gain up to X wealth tokens where X is the number on the order token. Wealth tokens may be spent to increase the number on an order token. For example, if a player chooses to play the ‘1’ order token to draw action cards, and spends 2 wealth tokens, they may now draw 3 action cards. Also, players can play an order token on an order they have already used during this round.
Players want to move clan tokens in order to earn the rewards listed on the alliance board. They can even move clan tokens in their opponents’ branches down to the neutral area and then up into their branch. Clan allegiance can earn players wealth tokens as well as honor. When moving units, a player can move them from their supply to one of the locations or from one location to another. This includes Samurai Mechs as well as fighter and carrier ships. If a Samurai Mech is moved to a location where there are no open spaces, the weakest unit at that location is destroyed. Otherwise if a location already has 7 units at it, no other units may be moved to that location. Players can have a hand limit of 5 cards. If they end up with more than 5 cards in their hand, they must immediately discard down to 5 cards. Drawing action cards is a good way to gain extra abilities and advantages during the game and are played either during the orders phase or the battle phase depending on the type of card. Players may play one order action card anytime during their order phase each turn by paying the cost and then resolving the card. Finally, wealth tokens are important to have on hand. Some action cards have a cost in order to play them. Not only can wealth tokens be used to increase the number of orders of an order token, they can also be placed under fighter ships as a free order to increase their power by one for each wealth token.
Once all players have performed all four orders, the game progresses to the battle phase. Each location is considered in order by number. If only one player has units at that location, they automatically win. However if two or more players have units at a location, it is contested and a battle begins. Each player with units at that location may commit a battle action card face down next to the location in turn order. Then in that same order, players resolve their battle action cards after paying the cost for that card. Next each player totals up the amount of power points they have at that location. Some Samurai Mechs affect this number as do some battle action cards. The player with the highest total power is the victor. In case of a tie, the player earliest in the turn order wins. Victors gain 5 honor for each location they win. They also get the location card as well as the reward on that card.
After the battle phase, the resolution phase begins. Players check the alliance board and collect rewards based on the clans in their branch. These rewards are either wealth or honor. Next new location cards are drawn from the deck and placed on the location boards. All units are returned to their player’s unit supply space on their player board and the first player token is passed to the player to the left.
The game ends when at the resolution phase of a round, there are no more location cards in the deck. Players gain additional honor for having won different types of location cards. There are four different types as designated by a symbol in the upper right corner of the card. The more different types a player has, the more honor they receive as a bonus. Finally, the player with the most honor is declared the victor and becomes the Galactic Emperor.
Why You Should Play Starship Samurai
At first look, Starship Samurai is an area control game. However, as you play the game, it becomes quickly apparent that it is so much more. There are three main areas which really impressed me with game. The first is the player orders. There are only four orders from which you can choose. However, the order markers range in value from 1 to 4. Plus you can issue a specific order more than once. This adds a lot of strategy as well as planning ahead to the game. Do you want to use your 4 marker to move four units, pick up 4 wealth tokens, draw four action cards, or move clan markers a total of four spaces? In addition, you have to respond to other players orders as well. Did they use their 4 marker at the start or are they saving it to move a large force to a location during the last turn of the round? The action and reaction gameplay of the orders system keeps players engaged and thinking throughout the game. It also provides a lot of replayability as you can try different strategies each time you play.
The action cards are the next thing I enjoyed about Starship Samurai. You can play one as a free action during your order phase and one at each location during battles. Those you play during the order phase have a variety of effects. Some require your opponent to destroy a unit at a location or discard an action card. Another gives you 3 wealth and 2 honor, but at the cost of sending three of your fighters to the graveyard. Have a lot of ships in your graveyard? Play War Factory and move all of them back into your supply. One even lets you move 6 units. The battle action cards are all focused on helping you win the battle at the current location. Ninja Squad gives you 5 extra power. Advanced Tech gives you one extra power for each unit you have at that location. Samurai Surprise lets you move one Samurai Mech to that location. Most cards have a cost in either wealth, honor, or even sacrificing units. Not only do the action cards keep things interesting, they add an element of ‘take that’ to the game as a great laid plan for a battle can totally turn based on the play of the right card.
Finally, I love the Samurai Mechs. The miniatures look great. Not only is each unique in look, but also in abilities. While everyone has the same number and types of fighters and carriers, each player has two mechs unlike any other. Tametomo has 4 power and once per turn can destroy a unit at any location for the cost of one wealth. When Gozen is in a battle, your opponents have to reveal the battle cards they are playing at that location before you play yours. Others move ships or destroy ships when they move or even move clan markers. Masumune has a power of 6, but you must spend a wealth in order to move it. Your tactics of deploying them really depends on the Samurai Mechs you draft during the game setup.
Starship Samurai offers a great combination of area control, order selection, and card play. While victory in battles is important to winning the game, there are other aspects that can’t be ignored such as clan allegiances or gaining wealth. Those action cards are great, but if you can’t pay the cost, they are worthless. Plus moving clan tokens up the your branch on the alliance board gains you honor each round. I enjoy games with thinking, strategy, and a lot of options. However, I also want games to be fun. Starship Samurai hits all these points. For those who enjoy these types of games, along with cool Samurai Mech miniatures, I recommend Starship Samurai.
If Starship Samurai sounds like a game for you, check it out on Amazon.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.