Shogun, aka Samurai Swords (Milton Bradley), 1986, 2-5 players, ages 12 and up. Another entry in the classic Gamemaster series that came out of Milton Bradley in the mid-1980s. Like the other games in the series, Shogun has very nice playing pieces, interesting game mechanics, a simple but elegant combat system and nicely written and easy to follow rules. In Shogun, players manage armies in feudal Japan. The basic game play is very similar to Conquest of the Empire (or the grandaddy of all these games, Risk) inasmuch as you start out with armies on a number of randomly chosen territories and use them to capture more territories in order to earn more revenue in order to purchase more armies in order to capture more territories, etc.

Unlike Conquest, however, it has a number of interesting game mechanisms. Each turn you earn a number of "koku" coins equal to the number of territories you control divided by three (rounding down). These must all be spent during the upcoming turn, there is no holding back for later. You divide your coins depending on what you want to do that turn. You can spend money to influence turn order (should you absolutely want to go first or last or whatever), build fixed fortifications, purchase troops, hire Ronin (temporary but powerful troops that go away at the end of the turn) or hire "The Ninja" (who can temporarily disable one of your enemies' armies or spy on another player's koku allotment). Naturally you can never quite do everything you want to do (always a good way to design a game). Combat is accomplished pretty much like the other games in the series; each troop type has a combat value and players take turns rolling dice for their various troop types trying to eliminate the other guys' forces. I think this game plays best with three people. To win you need to control 35 provinces, which generally happens when one player knocks another player entirely out of the game. When you kill a player's last (of three) commanders, you automtically win control of all his provinces, which in a three player game is usually going to be enough to win. It makes for some very interesting strategy on the final turn as it's not always the most powerful player who will necessarily win. This is a great game that we've been playing for years, and I expect we'll continue playing for years to come.

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