Shogun

Friday nights are usually game nights at our house. This Friday, there were 5 of us and I said we needed to play a J game, since I didn’t have a J post yet for April. Apparently that’s easier said than done. Nobody wanted to play Jenga and we don’t own Jumanji. But we do have a copy of James Clavell’s Shogun Card Game from 1983. Yeah, maybe it’s stretching it a bit for J, but it’s one we’ve enjoyed a lot over the years. It’s a standard for us, even though none of us have seen the movie it’s based on. I did read the book, but that was way back when.

In this card game, 3-7 players in the basic game and 3-8 players in the advanced game try to score points by collecting cards like traditional card games. The artwork features characters from the movie “Shogun”, and the game can be played in a simple (beginner) or an advanced version, which makes use of all the cards.

There are two “colors” of cards, peasants and samurai, which are organized into several subclasses like Farmer, Servant, Samurai Wife, or Hatamoto, which all have different point values. Basically, you try to score points by getting either a complete hand of one color (but no doubles), or several cards of the same type. Furthermore, there are wild cards like the Priest, the Emperor, the Heir and of course the Shogun which all have special values in certain combinations. Several other cards like a Buddha and the Ninja are also part of the deck. Unlike many other card games, you don’t hold the cards in your hand; four of your five cards are displayed face up in front of you, while the fifth lies face down to be kept secret till the end of the turn. This makes bluffing as important a factor as luck and strategy in this game.

But that’s not all. Right before the end (and before revealing their face-down card), players can choose a final strategy, represented by small strategy markers. “Passive” means you get the points your hand is worth (if any), while “Power Play” can double your score (or even turn a zero point hand into 20 points), but only if either you’re the only one to play “Power Play”, or if you’re the player with the highest score this round. For every other “Power Player” there’s a hefty point penalty.

Another noteworthy part of this game is its unique atmosphere. The rules successfully impose a courteous oriental gameplay where cards aren’t simply dealt, but offered, and where Favors can be used to influence a hand. At the same time, there’s always the shadow of the Ninja looming over the table, and even though it rarely strikes, it can re-arrange the whole score sheet.

It’s not a tough game to learn, but it can get annoying when somebody constantly dumps junk cards on you. Yes, they’re only trying to make their hands better, but can’t I get good cards too? David ending up winning, thanks mostly to a hand that included the Emperor, Heir, Shogun and Buddha. Technically, you’re supposed to play to 500 or even 1000, but we find that 350 works better for us.

Here are a couple of photos from our game.

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You’ll notice our card look rather used. In the middle of our game one of the guys got on Ebay and actually found the game, supposedly unopened, for less than $20. Of course, he ordered it then and there. It’s one worth picking up if you run across it.

I actually kind of enjoyed picking a game out by the letter. Choosing what to play can sometimes be a tough decision with our group.

This is my J post for the A to Z Blogging Challenge.