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Shogunate Review

Quick Look: Shogunate

Designer: Adrienne Ezell
Artist: Jarek Nocoń
Publisher: Action Phase Games
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 3-6
Ages: 14+
Playing Time: 20-30 min

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com


tl;dr: Fun twist on an action-programming game, with little randomization and a lot of flavor.

Getting to the Game: Each player is going to get two loyalty cards from the deck of 12. There are two cards for each clan, so it's possible that one player gets both. Each of the six clans have a large-sized leader card, so shuffle those and deal them out in a column. The shriuken token is placed next to the leader in the third position from the top. Shuffle the plot deck, reveal the top card, and set that aside while each player grabs a set of action cards in their preferred color. Hilariously, the rules state that the player who most recently engaged in swordplay should be the first player. I was most recently in a fight captain for a local production of Hamlet, so we counted that. Time to get honorable.

Shogunate has you working behind the scenes as a secret manipulator of politics. The clans are jockeying for honor to be the next Shogun, and your job is to further the agendas of the two that have tapped you to represent them. The first player to accumulate 12 honor across their clans wins. The actual machinations to do this are excellently designed here. Each player has an identical action deck that manipulates the order of leaders on the table in a very specific way, and every turn you will choose one of them to use. One player each round is the Hatamoto, who doesn't get an action but instead chooses the order of the chosen actions by the other players. In one of our games, I suspected that one of the other players and I shared a clan, so I would often choose their action last, so they could move our mutual clan into a beneficial position. We didn't share both clans, though, so they would often use that opportunity to benefit their OTHER clan, which in turn gave me more information about them. It's crazy fun to suss out who's playing for whom, and there's lots of intrigue as leaders move about the column. At the end of each round, the previously-revealed plot card is enacted, further messing with the column and finally assigning honor to the clans based on their position.

Playing the Game: On the table, Shogunate feels more brain-burny than it actually is. Since every player has the same set of actions, and the discard piles are public information, you can do some deduction if you like. However, differing from other action-programming games like Colt Express, everyone chooses and reveals their chosen action together, and only the Hatamoto selects the order each round. This makes the effort of choosing which action you'll take based on which action you think your opponents will take somewhat less important, though still very relevant.

The bulk of the decision making falls to the Hatamoto, which changes every round. Their job is to figure out how to weigh ordering the actions to their advantage without giving away which clans are in their hand. This gives this lighter game just enough hidden information without leaning too heavily on it. The fact that there are two of each clan provides some really great table politics.

The last mechanic I really enjoyed here was the game end trigger is when someone's clans total 12 honor (3-player games end at 10). In practice what this means is that no one is really positive when the last round of the game is going to be, though you may have a good idea. The resulting tension is really fantastic as you pray you'll get one more round, only to find out it's too late.

One of my quibbles with the game is how it's marketed. Indie Boards and Cards / Action Phase Games is selling it as a social deduction game, and I suppose since each person has allegiances to two clans, and it's possible that one other person may share at least one of those allegiances, then there is an element of team-discovery. That's really it, though. There's no j'accuse! when you sort out who's on what team, and even the allegiance cards themselves get turned up through normal game mechanics. It's a minor issue, but I wouldn't call this game a social deduction game to anyone who is familiar with the genre.

Artwork and Components: Shongunate's artwork is tastefully done. It would be particularly easy to fall into racist stereotypes here, but the illustrations are respectful and gorgeous. Even the card backs are simple and striking, leading to a really wonderful table presence.

The actual game components are nothing to write home about. Standard-thickness cardboard chits for honor tokens, though the shinobi token looks nice for being so simple. The hatamoto token is double-sided as well, both in kanji as well as english. Cards will need sleeves, which is a shame because the art on both sides is so good.

The Good: Plays quickly, still manages to be replayable and very fun. Art is top notch. Hatamoto is a great way to facilitate gameplay and adds fantastic stakes.

The Bad: Bills itself as a social deduction game, which... it only sort-of is.

Score: Shogunate is a wonderful example of what can be done with a game that plays in less than 30 minutes. There's enough here to make it feel less like a party game than others in the 5-6 player count, and the attention paid to the aesthetics is evident. This is a solid addition to your collection, brilliant for both the main event, or a palate changer between longer games. I'm giving Shogunate a score of Honorable.

Check out Shogunate on:


About the Author:

Nicholas Leeman has been a board game evangelist for over 10 years now, converting friends and family alike to the hobby. He's also a trained actor and works summers as one of the PA announcers for the St. Paul Saints, a professional baseball team. He lives in Minneapolis, MN with his board gaming wife and son.
Shogunate Review Shogunate Review Reviewed by The Madjai on July 13, 2018 Rating: 5

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