Small Samurai Empire was realized as a crowdfunding project. With his idea, author Milan Tasevski and the publisher Archona Games are practically continuing a series of topics. Previously, Small Star Empires was also a board game in small format. Slimmed-down samurai fights with a reduction to only the most necessary mechanisms need not be feared in the new work: Small Samurai Empires is playfully compressed, but leaves enough room for maneuver to create strategic depth.   

Archona Games had generated around 43.000 euros through a Kickstarter campaign and so successfully brought Small Samurai Empires through crowdfunding. The cost of a pledge was $ 29 plus shipping. In the end, there was a handy box with appealing material and chic samurai meeples. In any case, the optics have not been saved, at most the material processing is in some places in the budget segment. This does not detract from the entertainment value of this strategic board game: Small Samurai Empires plays like one of the great representatives of the genre.

Daimyo, take over!

The story is told quickly because it doesn't actually exist. Two to four players control the fate of their samurai faction in order to conquer or defend provinces. Small Samurai Empires works as a classic duel board game, but due to the interaction factor, the entertainment value is significantly higher with three or even four players.

From a purely technical point of view, the strategic board game is built around action programming: players choose their tactical actions in secret, resolve, choose again and then resolve again. In Small Samurai Empires, two programming phases each ensure that the balance of power on the board - a map of ancient Japan - is constantly changing. Three epochs are played, each of which also consists of four phases - two programming, two resolutions. The decisions made are retained.

The instructions are confusing in places and interspersed with formal errors - the simple rules are nevertheless understandable. Photo: Volkmann

The instructions are confusing in places and interspersed with formal errors - the simple rules are nevertheless understandable. Photo: Volkmann

First, players choose a destiny card that acts as a multiplier for the scoring, and only then can the programming begin. Players place tokens face down on the regions to determine their actions, i.e. to give their samurai orders. Associated with this is a direct bonus. After the first resolution, the same event takes place - this time without a new fate card. Above all, the trick with the bonuses is convincing, because they are linked to the tactical actions and thus become a central component of the strategy. In the individual areas, the battle of the samurai unfolds on the game board from south to north and then vice versa. 

Double programming as a tactical trick

The highlight in the second programming phase is the ability to cover opposing tokens, because the command markers from the first phase remain in place. This not only works well, but also entails new tactics: open markers are eventually triggered again. Of course, there are restrictions so that your own chips must also be covered. Because the individual actions only affect the regions in which they are placed, there is an additional tactical element when it comes to ordering reinforcements or fighting battles.   

A highlight: the samurai meeples that spread across the regions on the game board. Photo: Volkmann

A highlight: the samurai meeples that spread across the regions on the game board. Photo: Volkmann

This creates a simple, but tactically shaped game sequence. Every decision has consequences, sometimes clearly noticeable, sometimes less. In the end, strategy counts, not luck - unless you approach Small Samurai Empires as a duel variant, where chance plays at least a small role. The trick from two successive programming phases stimulates planning, the balance of power shifts again and again - in ancient Japan it is ultimately about majorities and points. This may be a rather simple trick for a tactical board game, but mechanically works extremely well and is a good compromise given the playing time of just under an hour. 

Small Samurai Empires ultimately scores with its manageable, yet diverse tactical options and the number of laps. After three epochs it is over, the player with the most points wins. There is no almost infinite repetition, author Milan Tasevski has shortened the playful concept to such an extent that in the end a thoroughly demanding, but not overwhelming and certainly not protracted game principle emerges. You can like Small Samurai Empires even if you don't actually like majority mechanics. Simply because you always have an end - and therefore a goal - in mind. Instead of getting lost in endless strategic options, the focus is on several basic options, but all of them have an impact. 

The fate cards are a qualitative tip on the scales in terms of game balancing. Photo: Volkmann

The fate cards are a qualitative tip on the scales in terms of game balancing. Photo: Volkmann

Incidentally, effects are also one of the bigger points of criticism, namely those caused by the cards of fate. Because players program their actions covertly, one has to anticipate, not infrequently guess. However, because those fate maps have multiplicative effects, it is relatively late to find out which regions are actually valuable. So if you had the right nose from the start, you get an advantage that runs through the game. This reduces the fun of the game somewhat, but not in a dramatic way against the background of the game time limit.   


Small Samurai Empires is tactics light. You are constantly weighing between a handful of options, programming your actions, weighting the actions and always keeping an eye on the majority ratios on the game board. It's all fun, especially when there are more than two players in a game. That's when the system around the - admittedly sometimes disadvantageous - fate cards and order markers comes into play. 

Due to the manageable tactics and the always fixed end of the game, a game of Small Samurai Empires remains exciting for a long time. There is potential in the handy box at a low price, but not a perfect tactical board game. If you are looking for epic battles and sprawling game enjoyment over many hours, you can turn to other genre representatives. If you are looking for a strategic board game reduced to the essence of area control games, you will find a suitable match in Small Samurai Empires.  

The mix of mechanics on which the author Milan Tasevski bases this game works well, is always understandable and is based on a noticeable need for interaction. The approximately 13-page manual is understandable, but editorial needs to be revised. Here, more care would have been desirable for a good first impression - formal errors are noticeable. An example: It is said that you can find further explanations in the action overview on page 7; however, the localized part of the instructions begins on page 30. Yes, it is a detailed error, but an avoidable one. There are also misleading formulations that are annoying if you stick to them literally. So it is said: you can place your command marker next to the one you placed in round one - which is wrong, because you put the markers on top and you cannot trigger the programming twice. Of course you often know what is meant, but a little more commitment to the rule localization would not have harmed the project.

What remains in the end is an entertaining board game with numerous strategic options that does not have to hide behind the genre giants, neither visually nor playfully.  


Last updated on 27.01.2023/XNUMX/XNUMX / Affiliate Links / Images from the Amazon Product Advertising API. * = Affiliate links. Images from Amazon PA API