Ikusa, formerly known as Samurai Swords and Shogun, is a strategy game for 2-5 players which takes place in 16th century feudal Japan, where you must defend your provinces and eradicate your enemies to become a Shogun. You begin the game as a warlord who must wisely dispense his armies. To do so, you must expand your territories by controlling a multitude of soldiers, each equipped with their own stats and abilities. Ranging from Samurai Bowmen and Swordsmen to Ashigaru Spearmen, your army is well-rounded and at the ready, awaiting orders and prepared to do battle. Although you may control large armies throughout the game, skill and cunning are your most powerful weapons as the gameplay in Ikusa relies more on the subtlety of decisive movements and thoughtful action than brute force.
Koku represents rice and is the currency in Ikusa, and with it you can build fortresses, bolster your army and even hire Ronin and ninja to do your dirty work. Ronin will stick around as long as you are paying them, which lasts for the length of each combat, and they can be employed by any or all of the warlords, waiting in secret to attack alongside an army. The ninja, on the other hand, will only work for the highest bidder and offers a more specialized service. With a ninja on your payroll you will have an agent that can act as either a spy or assassin, the latter of which can cripple an opponent’s army for a round by taking out their Daimyo, or in the instance that your opponent’s Daimyo is their last, you can take your opponent out of the game completely.
The imagery in the game is beautiful, but its color choice, although befitting the 16th century, makes it, at times, difficult to discern your army from your enemies. This also applies to the game board. When uncluttered it looks great, but as the game progresses it is hard to read and will at times slow up the gameplay when it is covered with miniatures. This is a feat that could be easily accomplished with 360 of them at the ready, filling up your theater of war with Samurai ready to fight and die for their master.
As far as strategy games go, the difficulty level is somewhat higher than a game like Conquest of Nerath, which was easy to pick up and play right out of the box. Ikusa has a much higher learning curve and will take a good amount of time to master. I wouldn’t recommend it to those with a short attention span, but if you are a history buff who is a fan of intense planning and the art of war, Ikusa is the game for you.
Ikusa is available now from Avalon Hill/Wizards of The Coast.
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