Tenka: Shogun Edition by Victory Point Games Review

Publisher: Victory Point Games

Game Designer: Scott Muldoon, Alan Emrich and Stephanie Newland

Artwork: Vinh Ha and Brett Mitchell

Players: 3-8 Players

Ages: 13 and up

Playing Time: 45 minutes

Suggested Retail Price: $34.99

Tenka was first released in 2008 as a 2-4 player game and was followed with an updated version last year under the Victory Point Games Gold Banner, with rule changes and updated art. The changes between the versions were profound, improving the game considerably. Now the ‘little game company that could’ has done it, releasing an expanded and deeper game, the aptly titled Tenka: Shogun Edition.

The basis of the game has you taking on the role of a Daimyo in feudal Japan where you are trying to wrest control of the many provinces and raise yourself up to control the realm. This is all done through a combination of set collection, skillful hand management, area control and a nice mix of bravado, negotiation and manipulation at the table.

Tenka Samurai
Tenka Samurai

The first thing you notice when you open the box are the gorgeous cards, capturing perfectly, the look and feel of authentic Japanese art of the period while blending it seamlessly into the game mechanics. Each piece of art is in the traditional black and white style of the times but is colored effectively to distinguish the individual card types of the game. Victory Point Games continues to impress me with the quality of their in-house printing capabilities which seem to improve with every release.

The player mats that represent each players court, where their alter-ego Daimyo resides and rules from, are brightly colored but intuitively laid out as to where each card is placed.  The game mat goes in the center of the table and holds both the draw and discard piles while also keeping track of the stability of the realm, the number of provinces required for victory which drops as the game goes on.

This new version has been given a massive upgrade over the first two versions, nearly doubling the second edition’s 80 cards to 150. The cards break down as follows; 27 Provinces, 25 Knights (Samurai), 25 Priests, 25 Lords, 3 Regalia and 45 Special cards. With all of these cards, the game scales very well with groups ranging between three and nine although the sweet spot is five or better I think. With a larger group there’s more room for wily players to work their politicking and machinations, allowing for some fun intrigue.

Tenka player mat
Tenka Player Mat

There are three ways you can win Tenka: Shogun Edition; by having the required number of Provinces in your court at the beginning of your turn, having all three Regalia cards in your court or a social collapse victory.

The amount of cards needed for setup is scaled for the number of players in the game, but they will always have an equal number of the base classes you will need in your court, the Knight, Priest and Lord along with the Provinces you will battle over to win.

The three Regalia cards are special versions of the Knight, Priest and Lord that count as double the strength of their counterparts when laid in your court and if you can place all three Regalia cards in your court, you win the game.

Each player begins with an eight card hand then chooses three cards they want to place in their court, these cards are all revealed simultaneously, placed in court and then the regular turns begin.

On each turn you first check for victory, seeing if you have the most Provinces in court and if you have more than the current stability marker. Then you draw one card and take one action, the actions you can take are meditate (do nothing), pitch or place a card and battle. Despite being a medieval Japanese game, pitching in this case does not mean tossing your card at an opponent like a shuriken, however tempting that may be. Placing a card gives you a recurring effect each turn, pitching is a one time, immediate effect.

Cards are placed by matching the suit colors to their respective locations in court, on the player mats. Knights go in front, Priests to the left, Lords to the right and Provinces nearest the player at the bottom. Hold them close to you and protect them fiercely, that’s what wins you the game. The purple Special cards go in the corners of the court.

Each of the cards you place in court gives you different benefits; modeling their real life counterparts and the power and influence they offered a Daimyo. Priests allow you to draw an extra card on your turn, if you have the most or are tied for the most priests in your court. Lords (if you have the most or are tied) allow you an extra action. Knights act as your standing army, used for both defense and attack and give you a +1 for each card in court.

Tenka province
Tenka Province

Provinces are not only a means of victory but each of these placed in your court lets you draw an extra card, but must discard an equal amount of cards as you have drawn for the provinces. Another benefit to placing Provinces is that you can play an additional card, so if you wanted to you could place a string of Province cards in a row. As tempting as that may seem, doing so will surely set the dogs on you, so you better have a strong defensive presence to protect those Provinces!

Pitching a card means to discard it and use its effect immediately. Pitching Priests allows you to draw a card from another player’s hand, pitching a Lord lets you to select a player and have them discard a card of their choice from their court. Pitching a Knight gives you a +2 bonus in combat and pitching a Province lets you search the discard pile and place a card in your hand. Regalia cards cannot be pitched.

There are also Special cards, these 45 purple cards give real depth and open up multiple strategies but need to be used at the proper time for maximum effect. Some of these abilities can be game changing when timed right. With 45 of these Special cards, it will take multiple plays to see all of them in action which is great because you never know when you’ll see them in your hand or used against you.

Attacking in the game is quick and abstract but not without strategy, timing is essential to have the most impact. Combat is a simple numbers game of the attacker needing a greater number of Knights than the defender to win the battle. Neither side loses Knights in battle; casualties are instead satisfied by discarding cards from the hand of the defeated. The victor can choose what they want from the discards or they may take a Regalia card or a Province card from the defeated player’s court.

When a battle is declared, there is a general call to arms. Every player will have the option to join in to support of either side by pitching a Knight to add a +2 bonus to the attacker or defender. There is also a logistical price to pay, of one card from your hand unless you are directly to the right or left of the defending player. It’s a clever way of representing the cost of moving your army great distances to join in the battle, but one you do not have to always pay.

This is where the politicking comes in, you can negotiate that another player “pays” your logistical cost by discarding a card from their hand rather than one from yours to lend your support. This makes for a great dynamic at the table as players will create temporary alliances with others in order to take out another, stronger opponent. Or, you may be the stronger player forcing other players to defend and in doing so, weakening their hands by pitching cards.

Tenka Four Player Game
Tenka Four Player Game

When the draw pile is exhausted, each player discards a card of their choice from court and the stability marker moves down one notch from its starting point of 5. If no winner is decided by Provinces and the stability marker reaches the bottom, Japan falls into social collapse and the winner is decided by whoever has the most cards in their court. So you can win the long game, by building your court while letting others battle each other, as long as you can make sure no one else attains the required Province victory.

I’ve been hard pressed to find anything not to like in this game, there’s no game breaking card or mechanics and even the rule book is very solid and easy to navigate, something that other Victory Point Games titles have had issues with in the past. The one slight drawback I found was with the cards, they’re printed in-house and are of good quality but the game would be better served with a slightly thicker stock and a good coating. I always sleeve cards in games from VPG for this reason, even those that don’t get handled heavily. Since this is a card game, they will get handled a lot and will benefit from sleeving. Each game has been a lot of fun, even losing, because you are always in it and never eliminated. The table side politicking and plotting that can evolve, makes for some good fun on top of the excellent gameplay.

It’s obvious that the third time’s the charm for Tenka: Shogun Edition, that a lot of work went into making sure this game plays tight and balanced, the same balance you will need to show in order to win. Balance is everything, in this game it’s an art.

Tenka: Shogun Edition is a very elegant and balanced game that Victory Point Games has honed to a fine edge. The game is easy to play and teach and will appeal to wargamer’s and card gamers alike with its thematic style, beautiful art and finely designed cards that plays like a lite wargame with some diplomatic wrangling and subterfuge mixed in, just what you’d find in feudal Japan.. Victory Point Games has really stepped up their game, especially in the past year and I’m excited to see what else they have in store with the numerous projects they have in the works.

Company Website: http://www.victorypointgames.com/

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Company Twitter:@vpgame

Note: A review copy of this game was provided to me.

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