Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Cardboard Corner: Review of 7 Ronin

Based on what I see on Youtube, I am far-far from a board game nerd. Closer to casual gamer, our house does not have massive shelves packed to the gills with hundreds of games. Zero offence to others, but our extra-curricular activities are more varied—to each their own. It will thus be a long time before I ever feel comfortable comprising a list of “Underrated Boardgames”. Such a list implying I’ve played the majority of games and am thus able to distinguish under-the-radar from on-the-radar, it’s going to be an epoch before I consider myself such an expert. But there is one thing I do know: if/when that list is made, 7 Ronin (2013) will likely be on it <wink>.

A 2-player only, area control game, 7 Ronin focuses on a small Japanese village in Kurosawa style. Banditry afoot, the village sees a large group of ninja descending upon it and a small group of ronin rising up to defend it. An asymmetrical game, one side controls the seven ronin, while the other controls the band of ninja. Each turn, players deploy forces behind a screen on their own board, then simultaneously reveal. The deployment choices are then resolved on the main village board. Each of the ronin having a special power, and each of the village areas granting the ninja special abilities, players use their knowledge of the game state to bluff, outwit, and outguess their opponent. Such as it goes for eight rounds. At the end, if all seven ronin are killed, or if certain area-control conditions are met, the ninja win. If all ninja are defeated, or at least one ronin survives to the end of the eighth round, the ronin win.

I would not say 7 Ronin is dripping with theme, rather that it simply and elegantly balances theme with gameplay. It is Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai brought to board game life. The art, the components, the game setup, all fit together in a nice package that feels good from all angles. Given the hidden deployment and simultaneous reveal, it’s also a game that will have players in each others’ heads—intense and silent while deploying, and smiling and interested after revealing. I thought you were going to do this, so I went here. Ha ha! Samurai smarts! We’ll see who gets the better of who next round!

The games which some players may know that I think compare most closely to 7 Ronin are Raptor or Mr. Jack. These games are on different worlds in terms of theme and game mechanisms, each, however, is a two-player-only game that requires a couple of playthroughs to become comfortable and semi-confident with the rules before the games truly become satisfying. Once over that small learning hurdle, the games become immensely satisfying. Yes, this means that the game requires re-learning after it’s been put down for a while. But at +/- 30 minutes per game, several games can be played in a couple of hours, each, of course, more satisfying than the last as the mind games escalate with each bit of knowledge gained.

I have only one small niggle with 7 Ronin: the ninja “meeples”. Tiny wooden shurikens, they look nice but are far too small. Difficult to pick up with thumb and forefinger and easily lost, I’ve replaced mine with a slightly larger, more easy to pick up alternative. I’ve seen people uses small coins, which also work well.

In the end, 7 Ronin is a very tight, satisfying package. There is a slight learning curve as both players become accustomed to the rules, but once on board (har har), the game features the right amount of complexity—not war game sophisticated and not children’s game simple. This allows players satisfying mind games in an attempt to outsmart their opponent—like chess if players revealed their moves at the same time. As mentioned, if you like Mr. Jack or Raptor, 7 Ronin is in that vein without being a copycat. Probably you’ve never heard of 7 Ronin, so psst, try it. It’s underrated.

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