I’ve been quite excited to cover this one as I love board games with Japanese themes. Rising Sun, Tokaido and Age of War are a few of the titles that have that appeal, so when Small Samurai Empires came to my attention I knew I had to add it as one of my Hidden Gems.
In Small Samurai Empires, 2-4 players play Daimyo attempting to assert their dominance over the islands of Japan during the course of 3 eras. Points are calculated at the end of each era with players gaining victory points for regions under their control. These scores are then affected by the regions each player controls at the end of the final era to determine the winner.
For a small box game, Small Samurai Empires certainly packs in a lot of content with dozens of wooden samurai, temple and shrine meeples, cards, boards and other accessories resulting in a weighty box. The gameplay itself feels more akin to it’s bigger brothers too, each game taking between 45-90 minutes, so if you’re looking for a filler game or something light, you might want to try elsewhere. The game depicts a fascinating time in Japanese history and the artwork reflects this era with soft tone watercolours adorning most key components. When set up on the table, it makes for impressive viewing, with the bright colours standing out against the papyrus white backgrounds.
In terms of gameplay, Small Samurai Empires is rich in depth and strategy. I liken it most closely to Rising Sun as a play experience, which likewise portrays the dominance of feudal Japan, albeit with more supernatural elements. Here, the game is more rooted in war and political intrigue. The game utilises action programming mechanics, with worker placement which further sets it apart from the aforementioned Rising Sun. Regions will change hands as the game progresses and it’s up to each Daimyo to ensure they are the one in control by the end of each era.
Small Samurai Empires provides an epic experience in an understated package. Whether or not you’re a fan of the theme, I believe this little gem has many facets worth exploring.