Welcome to the Proud Mammal Chronicle

Welcome to the Proud Mammal Chronicle, a place where all of the Proud Mammal Family and Friends gather to share their insights into game playing, game designing, our various hobbies and even some shameless self-promotion. Some shameless self-promotion? Probably more like a lot, but you know you like it.

My name is Kane and I’ll be your constant companion here in the PMC. You can expect a new article from me every week on Friday. I’ll be doing a game review every month, along with a development blog to show you what Proud Mammal has been working on; past, present and future. The other two or three weeks out of the month? Who knows, maybe I’ll indulge in some video game appraisals, book reviews or film recommendations. Maybe I’ll just do a few more board game reviews! At the moment, the whole schedule thing is up in the air, just be expecting something new every Friday (Starting today!).

I appreciate comments, counter points and critiques of my critiques. Any contribution is welcome in the Proud Mammal Chronicle.

Game Review #1: Ikusa

Hello everyone, and welcome to the very first Proud Mammal Chronicles review.  Be forewarned, take everything I say with a grain of salt, because I’m only presenting my own opinion (except where stated) and I won’t be posting any sources (except for direct quotes and images). This month I’m focusing on a war game that attempts to mix equal parts luck and strategy, did it succeed? No. Well… Sort of. Depends.

In 1984 Milton Bradley started their Gamemaster series of board games with a re-release of a 1981 game that most people will at least recognize, Axis & Allies. I don’t think anyone would argue that Axis & Allies has a reputation for complexity. Not necessarily in mechanics, though first timers may have issues with figuring out how everything works in time to save their own life, and not necessarily in strategy either because someone should be able to help you plan at least a basic tactic. The complexity of Axis & Allies really comes from finding someone to play it with (HarHar, just kidding). Seriously though, it’s a game that can last all day, literally from sunrise to sunset, and you have to be hardcore and have hardcore friends to finish a game. This seems to be the common theme for the Gamemaster series (he says speculatively due to his never having played Conquest of the Empire, Broadsides and Boarding Parties, or Fortress America). But that hardcore attitude is certainly true for the final game released under the Gamemaster heading; the game that I played recently. Originally called Shogun and later changed to Samurai Swords, and currently, due to naming rights, the game goes by Ikusa.

Image sourced from magisterrex Retro Games

72 hours worth of game, in 3 boxes.

Ikusa is the anglicized version of the Japanese word for battle, and boy is it appropriate seeing as most of your time playing the game will be working your way through the protracted combat system.

Whoa whoa, hold up, I’m getting ahead of myself; I really don’t want to shit on Ikusa because I actually had fun playing this beautifully produced board game. The first thing you’ll notice when you open the box is how wonderful the artwork is. The board itself is a nice period representation of Japan, the secrecy screens are all fantastic illustrations and even the little plastic soldiers have nice detail.

Image sourced from Vintage Ninja

Just look at the attention paid to that itty-bitty castle

Now that you’ve seen what’s in the box, it’s time to play, and as with the other Gamemaster games, it has quite a lot of set-up for you to do. But actually, it’s very smooth during the set-up phase. Ikusa starts you off by passing out territory cards in much the same way that certain version of Risk will have you do. Then you just take turns setting out your armies and provincial forces. It’s slick and it’s fast and gets everyone to the game quickly. So I like it.

Ikusa also has a money allocation system that is both intuitive and flexible. There are quite a few ways to spend your money and they’re all useful at some point during gameplay. That’s all fine and dandy, but I particularly appreciate the mind games you can play with the other people at the table. Some of the things you can put money towards, only one player can use each round, and the players that don’t put the most money towards those items (i.e. win) just lose the coinage that they bid towards it. The bluffing, low balling and outright lies could get pretty fun to work around in this section of the game.

That’s not to say that the money allocation system is infallible. The actual way that you gain money in the game is based on how many territories you hold. Which ends up just kicking a guy when they’re down. One strategic mistake or a streak of bad luck can put you out of the running as early as the first player’s turn. The game is supposed to take a long time to play, about four hours according to the box, and it just isn’t fun to get knocked out of contention for victory immediately. If you’re on the defensive and losing, there is just no way to come back except through an incredible string of lucky combat rolls, or by having everyone else take pity on you and just ignore the crippled guy in the corner of the map.

Speaking of lucky combat rolls. Lets talk about the combat, the part of the game that I liked the least. The entire game is spent rolling the dice, not because you’re constantly making progress or having a fun back and forth but because you’re being forced to drudge your way through 6 different sequences of combat for each player. And not to sound entitled, but if you pay as much for Ikusa as they charge, they could include a few more dice; just so each player could roll at the same time. Doubling the amount of dice in the box would cut the playtime of the game by a third.

The way that combat works is, first your ranged units attack each other, and then your melee units attack each other. Sides take simultaneous casualties and correct unit removal can make the difference between winning and losing a skirmish. All good so far, right? The problem is that every class of soldier attacks at a different time, they must attack in a specific order, and they all have different die values that you’ll, likely, have to keep checking on a regular basis (at least at the beginning). The worst part is that only two people can do this at any one time. Who knows how long you’ll be sitting, just waiting, while a battle an entire board away is fought between two players you never interact with. It’s not poorly designed; it’s just needlessly long and convoluted when everything else in the game is so smooth and easy.

Image sourced from W. Eric Martin @ Board Game Geek

Combat Sequence is listed on the right. I’m not exaggerating.

The game has so much going for it that despite these problems just about anyone could have a good time with Ikusa, and with the right group of people and the right setting it could be a blast. In fact, I’m going to give you some recommendations on how best to enjoy Ikusa. First off, pick yourself up some samurai movies. Get something classic like Roshomon or something more modern, like my personal favorite samurai inspired movie, Ghost Dog. The movie you pick to show will give everyone something to do with all of their downtime. It’ll fight boredom of having to wait for people to finish their excessively long dice rolls. Next, get something to eat that everyone can enjoy. Something thematic and satisfying. Pick up some Wasabi Peas and some Sake, maybe some gas station Sushi if you think you have enough sake to make your guests brave. Just go with the theme of Ikusa, it’s the best part of the game, and it’ll be the best part of your game night as well. It won’t fail you.

Final Thoughts: Ikusa is a good game with issues that will cause some players to hate it. But don’t let those party-poopers dissuade you, because if you like feudal Japan, beautiful art and a mostly fun strategy game. Then Ikusa was made just for you.

 

Rating

  • Luck Aspects                  C+
  • Strategy Aspects            B
  • Production Value            A
  • Fun                                B-
  • Theme Quality                A

 

  • Overall                            B