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HEROCARD: RISE OF THE SHOGUN

Reviewed by Herb Levy

HEROCARD: RISE OF THE SHOGUN (Tablestar Games, 2 players, ages 12 and up, 60 minutes; $24.95)

 

Tablestar Games has come up with an intriguing concept: a series of games all using a battle/duel card game imbedded into a boardgame. Each game in this series use a different setting. In HeroCard: Rise of the Shogun, designed by Alexei Othenin-Girard, the setting is feudal Japan as players vie for the honor of Shogun.

The rather small HeroCard: Rise of the Shogun box belies the large amount of components contained within. There is a four-folded mounted map, 2 molded plastic figures along with nice plastic castles, shrines and sets of peasants (that look like mini-pagodas). There is also a set of 13 Treasure cards, 6 Mission cards and two unique decks for each player for use with the HeroCard duel system.herocardshogunbox

The board depicts feudal Japan divided into irregular provinces and Heian, site of the Emperor’s court, in the approximate center. Each player, in turn, places one castle on the board with the stipulation that a castle must be at least two spaces away from any other piece (and Heian). Now, shrines are placed in a similar manner (although they need only be one space away from any other piece). With the board seeded, the player placing last, claims any castle for his home base, placing one of his colored peasant pieces on top of the castle with his opponent then claiming his own home base in the same manner. With the Treasure and Mission cards shuffled separately and placed close by, the game begins.

Each player’s deck represents that player’s character and contains three cards that make up the starting “array” of three facets of that character’s power: Body, Mind and Attribute X (some special or unique ability or quality). In addition, each of these cards has an “Attribute Score”, quantifying the basic power of the character. After shuffling his own deck of Action cards, each player draws 7 as his starting hand.

Action cards, both for offense and defense, fall into the categories of Base, Mods (modifiers) and Special. Generally, Action cards played cost a certain number of Attribute points (linked by color to the Attribute needed) as well as an attack or defense value. Played cards “use up” Attribute points and these points will not be available for use again until the card is “cleared” (removed) from the array. When a player battles, attack and defense cards are played, often back and forth, as players compare attack and defense totals. If the attacker has a higher value, he wins the attack. The defender wins if he manages to have a higher or equal value in defense.

A turn in Rise of the Shogun consists of six basic phases. Stemming from the HeroCard portion of the game, on turn, a player may discard from his hand as many cards as he wishes, then draw up to three new cards from his deck and clear (remove) up to three already played cards from his array. (Or, simply discard ALL the cards in your hand and draw a new, equal, amount.) Then, his Hero may move up to three spaces and then perform ONE action from a varied menu: claim a mission/castle, search a shrine, attack, summon a monster, use an item, exchange prisoners or abandon a mission.

Claiming a mission/castle involves moving your Hero next to an unclaimed castle, placing a peasant there to show the castle is being “courted” and drawing a Mission card. Mission cards give the Hero a quest of one sort or another (from capturing an enemy peasant to controlling Heian, to defeating your opponent in a battle and more). Complete the Mission and your peasant “crowns” the castle and the castle is now under your control (and earning you 4 Victory Points).

Searching a shrine is less taxing. All a Hero need do is enter a space where the shrine is located. He then draws TWO Treasure cards and takes his pick of one, returning the other to the deck. The shrine itself is taken off the board, given to his opponent who then replaces the shrine, in accordance with placement rules, anywhere else on the board.

Heroes may attack other Heroes or peasants when enemy pieces occupy adjacent spaces. Battles are resolved through the use of HeroCards. Defeated peasants can be captured and removed from the board by the victorious player. At game’s end, each captured peasant is worth 1 VP. A player can force a prisoner exchange, however, by trading prisoners under his control for his own men, on a one to one basis. (An interesting twist here is that, in three or four player games, you can exchange prisoners of ANY player you hold for your own peasants.) You can, if you have one at your command, summon a monster to inflict harm on your enemy. Finally, if you have drawn a Mission card that seems unlikely to be completed, you may abandon that Mission (and remove your peasant from the courted castle).

The final phase of the game turn is the Court Phase. Here, once again, a player has a choice and may perform ONE of four possible actions: recruit peasants, move his Hero another three spaces, convert peasants/castles or reorganize his peasants.

A player may recruit (place) up to two peasants on the board. Peasants must be connected, somehow, to a castle under that player’s control. Converting peasants or castles involves attacking those units. Win the battle and the peasants or castles CHANGE SIDES! (Peasants connected to a converted castle are removed from the board.) Reorganization simply means moving peasants to a different legal position, basically, to regroup and claim a better position.

The goal of the game is get enough Victory Points (from 20 to 24 depending on the number of players) to earn the title of Shogun. As mentioned, the capture/conversion of castles earn Victory Points at the rate of 4 each. You also get VPs for capturing enemy peasants (1 per peasant). Recruiting peasants becomes important since peasants linked from one friendly castle to another create a line called, in game terms, a trading route. Trading routes score 1 VP per peasant in the shortest link between two castles.

The card dueling elements and territorial competition of the game meld together nicely, leaving room for maneuvering and planning. But there are a few questionable elements here.

Within the Treasure card deck, there is a card called “The Heir”. This card is worth 5 Victory Points! What this does is encourage “looting” of shrines as much as possible early in the game as players search for that extremely valuable card before the opposition finds it. This tends to be bit unbalancing as one card, drawn at random, accounts for 20 to 25% of a winning total! There is also a gimmick with the “Emperor”.

Whichever player manages to place a peasant in Heian becomes the Emperor. It is good to be king but it’s great to be Emperor. The Emperor declares which ONE of the four possible actions in the Court phase a player is allowed to do. This power remains until the Emperor is “deposed” (by defeating the peasant situated in Heian in battle). I can see the reasoning behind this: it gives players another reason to congregate in the “capital” area and to fight. Still, it seems a bit much as the Emperor can (and will) seriously cripple an opponent by severely restricting him. I would rather give the Emperor the ability to prohibit ONE action so that his opponent has a limited choice but still a choice.

While the game box specifies two players, the rules stipulate and encourage expanding the game to three or four. An understandable marketing idea but, perhaps, an idea not fully explored in development as situations arose with four players that were not covered in the rules. For example, in a 4 player game, what happens when a player loses his last castle? That major point is missing from the rulebook. (According to the designer, a player’s last castle is off limits and may not be attacked or taken over. This bit of information will be added to the game’s FAQ.)

Finally, you have to give credit to Tablestar for the high quality card decks and nicely molded plastic castles and shrines which make for an attractive game. (However, the board, at least in our copy, warped badly, a problem not unknown to several games printed in China. Whether this is an isolated case or a problem remains to be seen.)

The project of incorporating a card game as the engine powering a whole series of board games is an ambitious and challenging one. Despite a few flaws, you have to respect the effort and, bottom line, with HeroCard: Rise of the Shogun, this ambitious undertaking rises to the challenge rather well. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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