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Gunkimono Review

Quick Look:

Designer: Jeffrey D. Allers
Artist:  Michelle Garrett, Melanie Graham, George Sellas
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2-5
Ages: 10+
Playing Time: 45-60

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

From the publisher: In war-torn feudal Japan, the soldiers are restless. The endless battles, betrayals, and broken promises have the soldiers questioning where their loyalties lie. Meanwhile, the daimyo are strategizing, marshaling their troops, and erecting strongholds to bolster the strength of their armies, all in pursuit of honor and ultimate victory.

For as long as I can remember, I have practiced (whether by compulsion or otherwise) a mental exercise: I create lists in my mind and then put the information into Venn diagrams. More often than not, this exercise has served no other benefit than to satisfy a natural(?) curiosity of overlaying some sort of categorical information over another and thinking about potential overlap.

But it was during one of these exercises that I was able to map out exactly what I liked and wanted to highlight about Gunkimono.

I was thinking of the following lists in my head:
  • Games of mediumish complexity
  • Games that can be taught and played in roughly an hour
  • Games that used to be known as Heartland

This left only one gameGunkimono.

Ok, the last bullet was included in jest, but I was thinking about "next step" type games that I would use to lift someone into a higher level of board gaming complexity (e.g. taking them from a single scoring mechanism, to a game that had multiple ways of scoring and progress to track), and of those games which could I realistically teach and play on a lunch break. This overlap is somewhat of a sweet spot as they are games that I most frequently play with coworkers. 

And Gunkimono was on this listlike, the dead center of the Venn diagram. It fit this sweet spot so well, that it may become the game that I base other next-step-lunch-break games against.

First, Gunkimono is a great "next step" game. In the game, players take turns placing military troop tiles on the board creating formations of troops that score points based on the number of each troop type in the formation. Or, instead of scoring based on the troop type, players can elect to score a number of honor points as shown on the tiles iconography.

These two points to consider are scored on two separate tracksthe Honor Track and Victory Point Track. The Victory Point Track is ultimately the track that is going to decide the winner of the game, but the Honor Track supplies players with strongholds and war banner tilesboth of which will result in greater victory points than if a player focused on victory points alone. It requires a balanced approach that may not exist in many single-scoring track games that you may use to introduce someone to the hobby.

Players moving down the Honor Track. Moving down the Honor Track unlocks strongholds and allows the players to obtain War Banner Tiles worth 1 to 15 victory points.

It is the simplicity of laying a tile, mixed with a greater complexity of multiple scoring tracks that makes Gunkimono such a good "next step" game.

Second, Gunkimono can be taught and played during a lunch break. This, of course, is going to vary from group to group, but it was my experience that, teaching two people on separate occasions to play with me for a two-player game, and then a teaching group of five, both games came in at, or below, an hour. So, tip of the cap to rule book editor, Dustin Schwartz (*tips cap*) for a clear rule book and the "gameplay reference" for easy review during play.

The stronghold iconography on the army tiles display how many honor points a player could potentially score (1 or 2).
 So while there are several games that fit in the "next-step, mediumish-complexity" circle, and several more that are listed in as "games that can be taught and played in an hour," I believe there are very few that fit within both, and maybe none as well as Gunkimono.    


For those that have grown accustomed to the usual format, here is a high-level overview, including critique, of the above information and further explanation of rules and game play.

Gunkimono is an area-control game consisting of the following:
  • 25 Small Army Tiles
  • 60 Large Army Tiles
  • 15 War Banner Tiles
  • 5 Daimyo Tiles
  • 25 Honor Markers
  • 1 Start Player Sword
  • 1 End-of-Game Tile
  • 1 Cover tile
  • 1 Game Board
All of the components are top-notch and what you would expect from a Renegade Game Studios title.

Custom meeples. Note: the gray (far left), and black (far right), are easier to differentiate than the photo appears.
Rules and Gameplay:
Here is a link to the rule book if you want to read about step-by-step game play. If you want a brief, bulleted description, keep reading. For everyone else, imagine a combination of Kingdomino and NMBR 9.

Players take the following actions on their turn:

Place Army Tile: You can place a small or large army tile anywhere on the board, or on top of previously played tiles, so long as it is:
  • not hanging off the side of the board
  • not covering a troop of the same type (e.g. can't place a blue troop over an existing blue troop)
  • not leaving troops on different levels (note: players can place one of their small army tiles face-down on the board prior to playing a large army tile so that both sides of the large army tile are on the same level)
Four steps: Place tiles, score points, assess strongholds, then refill your hand.

Score Points:
When a tile is played players must choose between scoring victory or honor points (or both).
  • Victory points are determined by the the size of the formation after the tile is played, such as a contiguous troop formation of a single type. For example, playing a blue troop tile that connects horizontally or vertically to two other blue troops could be worth three victory points.
  • Honor points are determined by the number of stronghold symbols on the played tile (one or two). Instead of taking victory points for the aforementioned blue troop, a player can elect to score honor points on the blue troop honor track equal to the number of stronghold icons on the blue troop. Moving up the honor track allows players to secure strongholds, and war banner tiles worth victory points at the end of the game.
  • Since large army tiles have two different troop types, players can choose to score victory points for both, victory points for one troop type and honor points for the other, or honor points for both.
Assess Strongholds: When a player secures a stronghold piece (by moving five stronghold markers up the honor track a number of spaces equal to the placement of a stronghold), they place the stronghold on the board and this becomes their turf, so to speak. Strongholds cannot be moved, nor can a new tile be placed beneath them. When a player assess stronghold points, they score one victory point for each troop in that stronghold's formation (e.g. if the stronghold is placed on a blue troop, and that troop is connected to two other blue troops, the player would score three victory points).

Refill Your Hand: Draw another large army tile so that you have three army tiles in hand.

Overview of board: Honor track on the left, army tiles area on the right.
These steps are repeated until the end-of-game tile is drawn, then play continues until the last player in turn order has finished their turn. Players then score any additional victory points for war banner tiles and the player with the most victory points wins.

The Good:
As stated above, I think this game neatly fills a need for a "next-step-in-complexity" game that can also be taught and played within an hour. The rule book is clear and components are high-quality. If you skipped it, my introduction is pretty-much 10+ paragraphs of "good."

First player marker (red meeple for scale).
The (potentially) Bad:
Every play has the potential for analysis paralysis (AP). On any turn, there are several spaces that any tile could be played. After the tile is played, there are still multiple ways in which one has to decide to score points.

In my plays this wasn't a problem (and I don't think this is a problem with the game), but know your audience. If you have someone in your group susceptible to AP, be forewarned that you may not enjoy the downtime between plays.

Also, there is a dash of take-that in the game. That isn't a problem with me (and again, not a problem with the game itself). In my plays I never noticed it getting out of hand, or anyone getting frustrated by it, but it is there. Again, know your audience.

End-of-Game tile.

The Other:

This would be best fully expressed in a commentary about board games in general rather than this specific title, so I am not going to go full-on soapbox mode, but I really wish that they hadn't gone with the Asian theme. As the only non-Asian in my house, I am probably a little more sensitive to this than most, but it's a frustrating trend in the hobby to see cultures (whether it be Asian, American Indian, Pacific Islanders, or others) represented in a game without those cultures being represented in the design or creation of that game. That being said, my wife's name, especially when coupled with my last name, does not sound Asian at allso there may be some Japanese representation in the game that is not evident in the credits. If that is the case, I apologize, but if not I must ask, why not?

EDIT:  Upon posting this review onto BGG, I received the following response from Renegade:

"...We want to clarify the point about Japanese culture not accurately being represented in the game's creation. It's an easy assumption to make that only non-Asian people had influence over the game. However, this is not the case.

The graphic designer is Japanese. She uses a western name and married an American so her last name is her married name. Her family is still in Japan and her father consulted on design as well.

The artist was referred to us by an art expert in Japan while doing research and is trained in traditional woodblock printing techniques.

Our two partners in Japan both approved of the name/theme/art/gameplay and said they would make no changes.

A Japanese language expert worked on the name and translations.

Overall many native Japanese saw different aspects of the work during the process. Ultimately we feel very good about the work and diligence that went into the game and hope this clears up any concerns you have!"


If I am going to be bold enough to jump on a soapbox, I need to be humble enough to admit when I make a mistake. I made some assumptions and I was wrong - thankfully wrong - but wrong nonetheless. As stated initially in "The Other" section, I said I would apologize if I was wrong and here it is:

To Renegade Game Studios, Jeffrey Allers, et al. - I'm sorry. I am also grateful for the steps you took to make certain that this was done right from the beginning.    

Final Thoughts:
At the risk of beating a dead horse, I'll say again that Gunkimono hits dead center in a Venn diagram of mediumish weight games that can also be taught and played in an hour. I enjoy the juxtaposition of the ease of simply laying a tile down on the board coupled with the more complex decisions of scoring once the card is laid. It makes the game very easy to teach, and deep enough in strategy that the gamer that prefers heavier titles won't quickly bore of it.

So if you know of some budding gamers that are ready or looking for a higher level of complexity in games, then Gunkimono is worth a look.

Players Who Like: Heartland, Kingdomino, Carcassonne.

Check out Gunkimono on:

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/251890/gunkimono   https://www.renegadegamestudios.com/gunkimono   https://www.facebook.com/PlayRGS/?fref=ts&ref=br_tf   https://twitter.com/PlayRenegade  https://www.instagram.com/renegade_game_studios/   https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKwDYsOyitZAQFS76KBj1vQ   

About the Author:
Nick is a compliance consultant by day, a board gamer at night, and a husband and father always. When he is not bringing a game to the table, he is running (most often to or from his kids) or watching the New York Yankees. You can follow what Nick is playing on Twitter at @ndshipley
Gunkimono Review Gunkimono Review Reviewed by Nick Shipley on September 06, 2018 Rating: 5

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