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Bushido Review



Quick Look: Bushido

Designer: Pedro Mendoza
Artists: Vicente Sivera Catalá, Tyler Myatt, Malcolm Wope
Publisher: Grey Fox Games
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2
Ages: 8+
Playing Time: 30 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

Review:

Bushido board game review box art; grey fox games; image by Benjamin Kocher

There are a number of 2-player fighting games out there, and a lot of them are really good. However, I’ve never come across one as accessible and beautiful as Bushido. I’m not exactly talking about the art when I say it’s beautiful (although the art is nice); rather, I’m speaking in terms of the game’s flow, the back-and-forth actions and reactions of the players. It’s silky smooth, almost like you’d expect a river to flow around rocks and other obstacles in its way, forging ahead regardless of what’s around the next bend.

Welcome to Bushido.

Setup:

Bushido Setup Grey Fox Games

Dump out all the components and separate them into piles/groups according to the tokens and dice. (The armor and torii tokens are double sided, so you can just group those together.) Each player gets a D12, with 12 showing. This is your life. If that die goes below 1, you die.

If you’re playing with the beginner decks, each player chooses one and takes the cards as described in the rule book. If not, be prepared to draft (which is technically part of the gameplay, but that’s fine).

When drafting, shuffle the deck of technique cards and draw four. One player takes one, then the next player takes one. Discard the remaining two. This happens until each player has five cards. Then, they each choose a weapon from their set of weapon cards (which just so happens to be the same as their opponent’s set of weapon cards). Place your weapon on its place on your player boards, block off any token slots (right side of the player board) according to how many tokens your weapon says you’re allowed to have, give yourself as many armor tokens as you’re allowed, and you’re ready to go.

Gameplay:

One health left and going to take one damage. *sigh*
The first player chooses a guard. In other words, will they decide to go on the defensive, offensive, or something in between? There are benefits to all, including bonuses prescribed by the chosen weapon. When in high guard, you get two attack dice (red) by default. If you’re hoping to dodge or block hits while in high guard, you’d better have some good technique cards in your hand that grant you evade (blue) dice. It’s quite thematic, actually.

On a turn, the active/attacking player must either play a technique card or change guard. Technique cards also grant dice, as well as special abilities and bonuses. You’ll start to get a feel pretty early on how balancing guard and technique cards is of the utmost importance. The way the game plays out is quite interesting as well.

Say the first attacker is in mid guard (not to be confused with a game by the same company that sounds oddly similar...), and plays a technique card (Rock Slide; see image on the right). The mid guard grants one attack (red) die and one defense (grey) die. Plus, you also get dice from your Rock Slide—in this case, two attack and one defense. Now that you’ve played your technique card, you roll all dice you’ve collected. Got it?

Good.


At the beginning of the game, you’re more or less stuck with what you roll. However, there are certain results called torii (the gate-looking icon) which allow you to re-roll that die plus another unrolled attack die from the supply. Not bad! But that’s not all. Instead of rolling again instantly, you can activate the torii to gain a token of the same name and symbol. (All tokens gained during  a turn are placed in the holding area, so you can’t use them until your next turn.) On your next turn, you can use the torii token to re-roll any amount of dice you’d like (that you just rolled). So the torii is a great way to mitigate that luck of the dice.

Likewise, armor tokens can be spent to block a hit. More on hits in a moment.

So, back to the dice roll. Activate all dice can and for each stick/hit result, increase your opponent’s hit track by one. Now, a hit doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be taking damage, since damage is resolved at the end of each player’s turn for that player. And this right here is what I love about Bushido. 

This player is at 3 hits, which will deal 6 damage (to health) at the end of his turn unless he manages to bring the hits down through dodges or armor tokens.
Let’s say I dealt my opponent three hits. My turn is now over and it is his turn. His hit marker is still up at 3, but if he can’t move it down by the end of this turn, he’ll take 6 damage (which is half his starting health!). Unfortunately for me, he rolls an evade and activates it to move the marker down one, and then plays an armor token at the end of his turn to move it down one more. He still takes one hit, which deals 1 damage. Not as good as 6, but I’ll take what I can get.

Speaking of taking things, during my opponent’s turn, he dealt me five hits! Lame. If I can’t move my hit token down at least one on the hit track, it’s an insta-kill. Fortunately, I have two armor tokens ready to use after my turn, so I’m not too worried. But, I’m worried enough that I play Graceful Cut, which gives me an attack die and two evade dice. As I’m still in mid guard (ha ha, Midgard..), I will get an attack die and a defense die, but odds of me rolling an evade on the defense die are low—and I can’t use armor tokens from dice on this turn—so I hope the two evade dice on my technique card are enough. 

They are. 


I rolled two evade, so I obviously use them, which brings my hit token down to 2, which will still give me 3 damage. I activate my two attack dice as well, dealing two hits to my opponent. I end my turn and pay two armor tokens, bringing my hits down to 0. Phew! And, I collect the armor token I just gained from this turn and it is now ready to be used on my next turn.

And so it goes, back and forth, until one player is defeated. 

And it feels great! The back-and-forth action is so, so smooth. In fact, Bushido feels more like the capoeira martial art and dance form. One turn, the attacking player deals hits and gathers tokens. The player who just got hit must then roll to attack and decrease the hits assigned. Return to the other player, who must attack, dodge and defend, and gain any bonuses possible. Hits come in sweeping mounds at times, but the dodges mixed with attacks keep both attacker and defender on their toes.



If you’ve ever played Street Fighter or other similar fighting games, the action there is pretty choppy (as in karate chops - hiya!). It’s a constant barrage of beat, beat, beat, one player wailing on another until the other player manages to counter and in turn begins wailing on the other guy. That’s not what Bushido feels like. Like I said, Bushido is smooth.

I was impressed at how easy it was to learn the rules and get into the game. Starting off, both players may use a pre-built deck (each consisting of five cards, plus a weapon). Alternately, a draft is encouraged so you can build your strategy according to what gets drawn. It’s a great way to mix up the cards and thereby strategies of the players.

Theme and Mechanics:


The theme of martial art combat is so good. It’s not one of those tacked-on themes you find in other games, but the theme and mechanics work so well together.  Through the cards, the weapons, and the dice, everything is awesome.

I know some people aren’t a fan of dice and the luck factor they bring, but hear me out. The dice can be mitigated in so many ways. Through dice rolls themselves or the abilities on cards, the dice are just a part to the whole machine. And, with the various schools (indicated by the icon on the top-left each card), you can “boost” your attack by playing one or more cards of the same school underneath the technique card you’re playing, and you gain an extra die of your choice for each boosting card laid down that turn. Your weapon, too, can help mitigate these rolls.


This player played Calm Mind with a boost (Wind Dancer). Being in high guard, this player will get 2 attack dice, plus one die of each type from Calm Mind. Because he boosted (by playing another card of the same school--Air--underneath), he gets to choose one extra die of his choice.
Sure, there’s some luck to the game, but what part of combat doesn’t involve a bit of luck? Slipping on loose gravel is unlucky - that could be considered rolling a blank. See? Thematic.

Artwork and Components:

Bushido Board Game Review Dice and Cards, Grey Fox Games; Image by Benjamin Kochere

The art is very well done and definitely conveys the theme of the game, from the player boards to the cards and everything in between. The components are great, too. If you’ve played Champions of Midgard, that’s pretty much what the dice are like (just with different symbols, of course). The tokens are thick cardboard and everything is nice.

The Good:
  • Rich theme
  • Beautiful, thematic art
  • Quality components
  • Easy to learn yet lots of great strategy (cliché, but true)
  • Scratches that drafting itch without getting too crazy
  • Back-and-forth gameplay feels oh-so good.
The Other:
  • Luck aspect (I guess?)
  • Only for two players
Let me stop you right there. So, yes, it is technically a two-player game, but with two sets of the game (for player boards—I’m sure you could make do with just one set), you can play a 2 vs. 2 team game. I haven’t played it that way, but it’s possible. Is it any good? Hard to know without playing it. If you do so, let me know how it went in the comments!

Final Thoughts:


Don’t even get me started about Bushido. It’s a new favorite. I thought it might be a good game going into it, but I really couldn’t quite grasp how wonderful I found it to be until after I’d played it. The first time was really good, and subsequent plays were even better! The drafting mechanic really gives this game that highly sought after replayability (I know, it’s not even a real word..), since you can build a lot of variations with each draft.

Sometimes we started thinking that the other player had a distinct advantage because such-and-such card is super OP, but by the end of the game, it was usually neck and neck, and more often than not, the player with the “OP” card lost. It’s very well balanced.

Going into Bushido, I thought this game would be one of those, “Hey, neat! That’s fun!” type of games. Instead, it launched itself into one of my top picks. Now, the question I have of you is…

Why haven’t you played this yet?

Players Who Like:
If you like 1 vs. 1 duels, martial arts, or fighting games, you really, really need to give Bushido a try. If you like drafting mechanics, dice chucking, and smooth back-and-forth action, I give you…Bushido! Also, if you just really like rolling the dice from Champions of Midgard but want to branch out from Vikings, here you go. You’re welcome.


Check out Bushido on:

                  




Benjamin Kocher - Editor and Reviewer

Benjamin hails from Canada but now lives in Kentucky with his wife and kids. He's a certified copyeditor through UC San Diego's Copyediting Extension program. He's a freelance writer and editor, and covers everything from board game rule books to novels. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and Instagram @Kocherb, and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

See Benjamin's reviews HERE.
Bushido Review Bushido Review Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on July 17, 2019 Rating: 5

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