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Open Gates in Japan

March 28th, 2012 by Troy Goodfellow · 2 Comments · Design

Before I got too invested in playing out The Meiji Restoration in the new Shogun 2 expansion, Fall of the Samurai, I realized that I hadn’t played The Rise of the Samurai – the first Shogun 2 expansion. It too deals with a Japanese civil war, this one in the 12th century over who would be the family that pulled the strings of the Emperor in Kyoto. Think of it as a prequel to the Ashikaga Civil Wars that ultimately ended in the Tokugawa Shogunate 400 years later. The Gempei War, as it’s popularly known, pitted the Minamoto against the dominant Taira, and Japanese warfare at this time was really focused on individual heroics and cutting off as many heads as you could.

Think of it as a Japanese Iliad type thing – masses of armies fighting it out, lots of grunt troops, but much of the literature of the period focuses on samurai loudly announcing their names on the battlefield and then knocking off noggins. Occasionally you’d get groups of samurai fighting together before everything descended into a mass melee.

That’s not what Shogun 2: Rise of the Samurai shows of course – it shows organized cadres of soldiers firmly under your command marching in formation and no one giving speeches.

The most fascinating thing about Rise of the Samurai, though, is the land grab at the beginning. Now, land grabs are pretty standard in strategy game openings. In Civilization, you rush to resources. Once you can colonize in Europa Universalis, you dash for Brazil and South Africa. Any game where there is unoccupied or neutral land, you move forward until you are forced to fight for the next territory.

Rise of the Samurai, however, opens by giving you a diplomat unit and the chance to just walk into neighboring territories and convert them to your colour. If a territory is more than 50% leaning to your side and you have the cash on hand, your diplomat unit has a chance to persuade the non-aligned city to just sign on to your Daimyo. If it’s a city that belongs to someone else, you end up in a war with the original master, but that’s another story.

The trick with this diplomatic land grab – this walking across Japan and signing up rich cities to fill your treasury – is that you will not have enough troops to defend them all. At least not for a while. You can’t wait until you have enough soldiers to man the frontier, because your rivals and their allies will either suck up or conquer lands that could be yours. But if you sign up too many willing partners, then you have a wide open gate for an enemy army to swoop in, take a city from you and wreck your prestige or fame.

My most recent game, for example. I was playing the Fujiwara because they are up in Northern Japan and have an economic bonus – money makes the armies move. I was a bit too loose with the coin, though, and my diplomat signed up three or four cities within ten turns. This seemed like a good idea, except these cities have crap forts, and when a very minor power to my southeast, the Chiba, saw that I was distracted by a war of choice on my southwest border, he moved in and quickly swallowed up two crap forts.

This was a blow that I could have easily recovered from if the greedy Minamoto didn’t then swoop in and beat the Chiba like a rented mule, taking what was once mine. (I did recover one city.)

This isn’t really an issue of overextension. It’s not like I was march too far with armies spread too thin. It’s more that the early dynamics of the game encourage you to seduce and plea your way into the hearts of your neighbors while you get the hammer ready to beat more recalcitrant daimyos into submission or vassalage. It’s a relatively cheap way to expand, compared to the cost of losing units in battle, but it can also be a trap if you aren’t ready to back up that expansion with at least the threat of reconquest.

Fall of the Samurai is similar, from the little I have played, in that it too relies on the allegiance dynamic to give an edge to the battle for Japan. But times are tougher and there are really only two sides and you are given better starting forces to work with.

Rise of the Samurai invites you to open doors and then slam them on your fingers if you don’t lock them.

No, that metaphor made no sense.


2 Comments so far ↓

  • Gormongous

    I remember being really impressed by the “influence” model they put in Rise of the Samurai. It makes for a great sense that you have spheres of influence at work, and that expanding beyond them is something that can be overcome only with a lengthy and concerted effort at pacification.

    It certainly surpasses the clumsy and largely inert system of religions that pervaded the original game, so I’m happy to see that it carries over into Fall of the Samurai, albeit more in a form that allows you to cause immense trouble for the opposing side, rather than to consolidate a half dozen territories under your control in the space of a turn. I’m looking forward to more of your thoughts, Troy, especially the end game and its somewhat silly “go your own way” option.

  • Andy

    I too found myself playing more of Rise of the Samurai , and have actually finding myself enjoying it more than the newest offering.