Welcome to the second installment of Martial Reviews. Last time we looked at the Warrior TV series, and today we’ll be looking at Bushido, a board game by Pedro Mendoza and published by Grey Fox Games.
I was recently wandering aimlessly in a board game store (yes, that’s something I, as a grown man with a family, do) and I saw this one on the shelf. Since I’m a sucker for anything martial arts themed I had to buy it.
Bushido is set in “kind of, sort of” feudal Japan. The artwork isn’t exactly anime style – it has more of a western comic book feel to it – but it’s top notch and fun to look at. A lot of care and thought clearly went into this game, as every component looks great and is of good quality.
So what is it? Bushido is a Samurai dueling game where you learn techniques, choose your weapon, and fight head to head with your opponent! The game takes place over 3* phases: training, arming, and the duel. So let’s take a look at the gameplay and break down what works and what doesn’t in this game.
*A beginner variant skips right to the duel using 2 premade decks of cards.
When playing the full game, players start off with no cards (techniques, aka attacks) and must draft the ones they want to use during the duel. This is accomplished by laying out four cards of which player one gets the first choice, then player two. You then discard the two leftovers and lay out for more. This time player two picks first. This repeats until both players have 5 cards in hand.
Cards are divided into families (Earth, Fire, Wind, Water and Shadow) with each family of cards focusing on something different (like offense or defense). This is a fun and fast mini draft that let’s players try to form a strategy, or guess their opponent’s strategy and try to take their favorite card! For example, if you want to be aggressive you would draft every Fire card you can.
I enjoy deckbuilding games like Dominion or Seven Wonders, and I believe that the idea of using that mechanic to represent studying different styles of martial arts is a good fit (so much so I made a little home-made game using that theme back in 2014…).
This is the shortest of the three phases. After forming their deck, each player gets to choose from six weapon cards. The weapons all have different strengths and weakness, and should be chosen to synergize with the deck the player has built. If you picked a lot of defensive cards, you could either pick a defensive weapon to maximize that, or an offensive one to balance out your character. It all comes down to your strategy. This phase is quick, but important.
This is the bulk of the game. Players take turns picking one of their drafted cards, playing it, rolling dice, and dealing (or blocking) damage. There are a lot of decisions to make beyond choosing a card, as players can discard an extra card of the same family to add a die to their attack roll. You can also switch your guard position to change what dice you roll in the future, as well as place played cards back in your hand.
Timing is a huge factor in this game. You need to decide when to go all-in with offense, when to defend, when it’s a safe time to change your guard and refill your hand, and when to spend resource tokens you acquire throughout the battle. There are a lot of moving parts, and it took at least a full playthrough to understand all the nuances.
Overall, I like this game a lot. It’s fun and the theme is reflected well in the mechanics. You can tell the designer put a lot of thought into how each element would make the players feel like they’re in an epic samurai duel. The components are high quality, and the game board has a lot of labeled areas for keeping track of cards and tokens.
I enjoy games that let me choose how I want to play, and this game excels at that. You can draft your way into decks that could theoretically KO your opponent in one mighty swing, or you can learn the sneaky art of the shadow and deal little bits of unblockable damage to your opponent while evading their strikes. The drafting mechanic ensures that no two games will be the same.
By far the biggest strength of this game has to be it’s theme. I love martial arts, and this just plain feels like a samurai duel.
As much as I liked it, the game is not without some flaws. While the game is divided into three phases, the first phase is just picking five cards, the second phase is literally just picking one card, and the final phase is the majority of the game. Dividing the game into thirds makes me think that each phase should be more evenly weighted. There are a few mechanics like this one that feel unpolished.
The terminology is a little confusing as well: all of the cards have offensive titles, some with “strike” in the name. However, there is a die roll result called “strike” that doesn’t refer to cards at all. Also there’s a clunky “hold” mechanic where cards give you tokens, but you must place them in one spot on your board to signify you own them, but you can’t use them until your next turn.
Damage is dealt in a strange way as well: you deal damage to your opponent on your turn, and it goes into a “pending damage” bar on your opponent’s board. They can then react to it on their turn, attempting to reduce it while simultaneously hitting back. Any of that pending damage is dealt after their turn has ended.
Another area lacking polish is the resolution of dice. There are effects on dice that trigger before resolving dice (like rerolling) and effects that trigger after resolving. The confusing part is there are “after” effects that trigger rerolls that normally only occur “before” resolving. I found myself rereading the manual and googling answers a lot in my first few playthroughs.
I’d say the biggest problem with this game is that the longest phase, the duel phase, can be completely one-sided if one player drafts poorly. If you try a strategy and it doesn’t come together in the draft, you have to just get destroyed by your opponent knowing you’ve lost before the duel even began.
I know I pointed out a lot of flaws in the game, but they really just amount to some confusion on the first playthrough. Once you figure out the quirks, the game is fun, exciting, and will make you feel like you’re in a samurai battle. If the publishers did a second printing where they fine tuned a few awkward card interactions, or even just printed a revised manual, then this game would get a perfect score. As-is, I’d call this game an 8.5 out of 10.
Pros: Theme, Fun, Replayability, Artwork
Cons: A Few Clunky Mechanics, Unhelpful Manual
Bushido was designed by Pedro Mendoza and published by Grey Fox Games. MyMartialArts101.com is too small and insignificant to have any financial stake in the products it reviews. No company knows I exist and therefore no one has bribed me to write a positive review. I just liked this game overall and felt like writing about it. Are you still reading this fine print? Why? Just go buy the game if this made you want to, or don’t if it doesn’t. Either way this text is meaningless.