Designed by Nathan Lusk, with art by Sara Ristow, Daimyo Senso is an area control game set in 16th Century Japan. Played over four rounds (representing years, each made up of four seasons), players represent feudal warlords who are competing to become the Shogun but each season they are ordinarily only able to issue one command to their armies, and the totality of their commands each game year are two 'attacks', one 'deploy' and one 'move'. Players are seeking to end the game with the most 'honour' but that actually comes down to the territory they seize: players win 3 honour for holding a castle, 2 for a city and 1 for a fortress.
Ostensibly, Daimyo Senso caters for 1-8 players but the solo and even the two- and three-player games feel quite different to the 4-8 player game. With the solo game, you're competing against a 'timer' (number of actions) to conquer territory. With two or three players, this feels like a distilled war game. It's at the higher player counts that Nathan Lusk's game really shines because with four or more players, Daimyo Senso feels like a Diplomacy variant played on a map of Feudal Japan. Like Diplomacy (Gibsons/Avalon Hill), there are no dice: attacks are resolved automatically. That means that to do well and to get the most out of this game, players need to be able negotiate deals with each other. The joy of the game comes in the keeping and the breaking of those deals... And unlike Diplomacy, which is really only designed to be played with a full complement of seven players, Daimyo Senso seems to work very satisfactorily as a Diplomacy variant at all player counts from 4-8.
The rules incorporate several options. You can follow the turn order set out on a table printed on the board. This not only dictates who goes when but also what command each faction issues on each season. Alternatively, you can use the set of four command cards supplied for each faction. In our Board's Eye View plays, we found it overly restrictive to predetermine what commands could be issued by a faction in a particular season. For us, what worked best was allowing players to choose any of their four command action cards on a season but, once played, that card was out of use for the remainder of the year. This gave players a little more flexibility while still maintaining the intriguing dynamic of players knowing which commands their opponents still had available to them as they entered Summer and Fall, the third and fourth seasons.
Tho' all factions start off with the same number of armies, some starting positions are clearly stronger than others. The Oda faction in the north has territory available to it that cannot readily be contested by any other faction, while, for example, the Takeda in the centre of Japan risk coming under pressure from all sides. However, if you're playing the game as a Diplomacy rather than Risk variant, players can weigh the asymmetry in their negotiations...
There's additional asymmetry in the 'General Cards' (named not for their generality but because they represent actions taken historically by the generals or commanders of the period). The General Cards are unique to each faction. They correspond to the four commands and you can choose to substitute one of these cards for an ordinary command once per game year. The General Cards are also single use - once played, the card is not available to you again for the rest of the game. We enjoyed playing with the General Cards: they spice up the game and add to the excitement and anticipation in Summer and Fall when a player hasn't yet played a General Card for that year. Some players complained tho' of the disparity between the cards: some factions' cards are definitely more powerful than others'. As most simulation war gamers will tell you, there's often a conflict between accurately representing history and evenly balancing game play. The General Cards deliver a lot of flavour of this period in Japanese history but if you find them unbalanced, then you can choose to play without them.
Warrior with a Pen Games have done a good job in the production of the game, with its large map board and rules that are commendably short, clear and accessible. Our one disappointment was the flimsy cardboard chits used for the armies. They are fiddly to pick up and, unless you're playing in good light, it can be hard to see how many chits are in a stack. The chits can also obscure the fortress or other buildings printed on the board - and it's important that players know which territories hold buildings as it's these that score the all-important honour points that will determine victory. Our workaround for this was just to borrow coloured wooden cubes from other games and substitute them for the chits: instant upgrade!
If you're looking for an immersive Diplomacy-style game that caters well for different player counts, then Daimyo Senso is definitely worth checking out. If you can't find it at your Friendly Local Games Store, click here to order a copy direct from the publisher.