Rising Sun toe-dipping

We’re two games in on Rising Sun, and I’m still happily baffled at how to win at that game. Our first game (me, JIM, Ben and Rolland) was a learning experience and Ben ended up romping home to a comfortable victory. Our second time out (me, JIM, Ben and Matt) and it became obvious that just a single (unsuccessful) game under your belt was a big advantage against someone who had not played before. Someone can explain the component parts of the game, but until you see how they interact with each other, it is difficult to grasp the bigger picture. Ben won again, but he had me by only 4 points, JIM not too far behind and Matt, despite coming last (I think) made a good go of it and was at one point doing well.

I had the fearsome Oni of Skulls this game. He was kidnapped and then killed himself, so he’s dangerous… to himself.

The rules of the game are easy. The three phases (Tea Ceremony, Political and War) are simple enough, but how they work together becomes so entertaining as the game goes on.  While you decide who you want to sorta work along with during the diplomatic Tea Ceremony, the Political phase is about getting your Force out onto the bits of the board you want to win, and during the War phase you resolve contested bits of the board.

Quick rundown of how a season goes for people who haven’t played it: You arrange diplomatic alliances in the Tea Ceremony and finalize these by rubbing your teardrop markers together until they release consensus pheromones. In the political phase everyone takes turns choosing a particular action – when it is chosen, everyone typically gets something, but the person who chose it and their official Tea Ceremony buddy gets a special benefit: these mandates are how you get ready for war – putting guys/girls on the map, gaining money, victory points, Ronin tokens or purchasing cards which give you access to monsters, and other special game altering effects. When all that’s done, you resolve conflicts in the War phase, counting up the Force you have present in the province and then bidding coins to win certain stages of the battle. Who survives takes the Victory Points and stays in the province. End of the game, you tally VPs: the more contested provinces you won, the better and the more variety of contested provinces, even better.

The Oni of Spite wanders around stealing VPs from every foe more honourable than his summoner. That axe looks sharp enough to shave VPs off guys, tbh.

But there’s a couple of things that are obvious after a playthrough, although Ben should be writing this part, really:

  • Other than what’s left on the board at the end of the War phase, the seasons are discrete: The Cards available go away, the Shinto leave the mountain shrines and maybe most importantly money goes back in the pile at the end of each season. Since the winner of any battle has to pay reparations to the losers, you have to be careful not to give too much money away in early battles because your foes will use that to hose you in a battle further down the line. Similarly you can manipulate your honour for future battles; ‘winning’ Seppuku in battle A means you’ll go up in honour and win ties in battle B, as well as receiving all those juicy reparations, but you can’t do it too late. Playing knowing that the restart is coming should be important.
  • Be the best or worst that you can be: The advantage of being the most honourable is that you win any ties, which is pretty great and there are plenty of cards you can buy that pay off if you are honourable. But being the most dishonourable means some Oni are considerably better in your employ and you’re already bottom of the heap so who cares if you choose the Betray mandate… your former ally, sure, but whatever. Knowing that this is the case though, other players can play to change their honour and suddenly you’re losing ties or your despicable Oni are hamstrung because you’re not the biggest jerk in the room.
  • It’s not Risk, It’s not Risk, It’s not Risk. Since you start with a Stronghold and two units, its tempting to get more on the board and attempt to hold your own province and sweep a neighbouring one. And that might be fine if those provinces are scoring provinces or can harvest something you really need. But the game has so many more possibilities for movement and scoring that thinking about it like Risk isn’t going to be much help.
  • It’s a good idea to keep your eye on what actually gets you Victory Points and having a plan will probably help (especially early on), but I think, as someone who has never won a game, that the key is adapting to the situation. Maybe that’s my problem, maybe it’s best just to steamroll a plan through.
  • Winning a province doesn’t always feel like winning. If you spent a bunch of money to try to beat an opponent in battle and they successfully outbid you on Seppuku, they win the province, but you get honour and VPs and they end up giving you all that bid cash. If its the first turn, that’s them got 1 VP and a piece of a set bonus, but you may have more VPs, better honour and a bunch of their dough. One of you is going to feel more like a winner than the other.

The different clans and their abilities aren’t so game changing that you get attached to them, “I’m going to be the sneaky/the aggressive/the patient player, so I’ll choose Clan X/Y/Z.” The clan special abilities are all pretty awesome, but don’t seem to lock you into a certain type of play.

  • Koi start off with the highest honour, and have increased flexibility when using Ronin, as their Ronin get turned into coins and then their coins can get used as Ronin.
  • Bonsai never pay much for cards bought with the Train mandate, giving them a deep discount.
  • Dragonfly get to move wherever they like and don’t have to spawn from Strongholds.
  • Turtle gets Strongholds that can move around the board, and count as an army.
  • Lotus gets to choose whatever Mandate they want in the political phase and aren’t restricted to tiles they draw when choosing.
  • Fox clan starts with the lowest honour, and places a Bushi in any province they have no Bushi when the War phase kicks off (so they can choose to be involved in any battle they like).

Koi and Fox obviously have some great possibilities with Ronin, Bonsai can afford those really expensive monsters, Lotus can really throw its weight around in alliances and get what they want an awful lot while Turtle and Dragonfly are the dicks you see coming and the dicks you don’t, respectively.

Recap:

Matt took the red Koi ladies, I took the blue Dragonfly Clan, Ben took yellow Bonsai Clan and JIM opted for the purple Lotus Clan.

The board at the Start of Summer. So, the Spring turn didn’t go well for Matt and his Koi forces have been wiped off the board. Ben, meanwhile ended up winning a few provinces and retains the best force presence on the board, while JIM and I got one, I think. You’ll note that the Oni of Skulls card is out, that’s my guy and he got kidnapped, so that’s why he’s not on the board, dammit.

This is the start of the Autumn Season. The broken alliance symbol down at the bottom was the Summer alliance between Dragonfly and Lotus that I betrayed, allowing me to get some more guys on the board, this worked out well for me. Matt got back on the board too and racked up some VPs in Summer.

This is late in the Autumn turn as the War phase is about to start. JIM’s Shinto camped out Amaterasu, propelling him to the top of the honour rankings, while Ben got Fujin and Hachiman and Matt started a band with Tzukuyomi. To my disappointment, I wasn’t able to Betray Ben after we’d allied. I’m poised to take Kyushu and Shikoku (the 4th and 5th battles) uncontested, but I’m knuckle deep in the 1st and 3rd battles in Edo and the giant four-way in Kyoto respectively. The Onis of Hate, Skulls, Spite and Blood are joined on the board by creepy-af Yurei. So how did the final war phase turn out?

Well that was a lot of War. Matt comfortably takes Edo, after my blue army commits Seppuku in order to leap up the honour rankings and sap the money from the Koi – not sure it was a good stratagem, but it was a stratagem. JIM’s Oni of Hate is stuck in Kansai, not doing anything because it wasn’t up for grabs, but he wins Hokkaido while Ben wins Nagato with his tower of Japanese-Horror-Well-girls. I somehow manage to win my uncontested battles. Ben and I are left standing in Kyoto because we’re allies, but I’m pretty sure that when the Battle of Kyoto went down he had better Honour and so won that province.

As you can see from the VP marker, before we tallied province VPs and set bonuses, Ben was last, with JIM ahead. But Ben had managed to snag enough provinces for the 20 point set bonus and so shot into the lead, ahead of the rest of us. It was a considerably closer game than our first go around and despite the steep learning curve Matt managed to catch up pretty well.

Now excuse me while I go work on planning how I’m going to paint all these miniatures.

One Comment on “Rising Sun toe-dipping

  1. It was actually a 30 point bonus at the end for taking 7 different territories over the course of the game. It wasn’t a firm strategy in Spring but by Autumn I had definitely made up my mind to shoot for that 7 territory benchmark. That entire season was all about positioning my strength in the two war-prone territories up for grabs that I needed and asking politely that you not meddle in them.

    I definitely agree that being a first time player is a huge disadvantage since there are so many different ways to spend your resources and the value of those resources is so variable.

    Also also, I love the “battle winner pays the losers” mechanic. It’s a great, simple way to balance out the war phase over the course of 6 battles.

    One thing that irked me was how few season cards you get to buy over the course of the game. Everyone was focused on buying monsters (mostly because they just look so goddamn awesome) that we left a lot of the virtue cards on the table. I’d like to see what a pile of virtue cards in someone’s possession would do.

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