War over the Lands
Battle for Rokugan by Fantasy Flight Games takes place in the Legend of the Five Rings setting, home to the popular LCG of the same name. Battle for Rokugan is set in the earlier days of the Emerald Empire where seven clans are fighting for control over the entire empire. You take on the role of a Daimyō, a leader of one of these seven clans with the sole goal of taking Rokugan for your clan and eventually gaining full control of the Emerald Empire itself, for better or worse.
Setting up your Empire
Battle for Rokugan comes with several components needed to run the game, some which we will go over later. First Rokugan needs to be prepared for the war that soon threatens its lands, when setting up the game board it is recommended to follow the steps outlined in the beautifully illustrated rulebook, though overtime you may find ways of speeding up setup so you can dive right into political intrigue and straight up destroying your friendships
To start with, grab the territory cards and set them aside in piles of two of the same corresponding icon, choose one of the two cards or get a friend to pick one all while keeping them face down, then slide the card face down underneath the matching symbol around the bottom or right side of the game board. Place the unused territory cards back into the box whence it came, for it is useless for the rest of the game.
Now that territories have been prepared and ready to go each player may choose one of the seven clans available, these are the Crab, Crane, Dragon, Lion, Phoenix, Scorpion and Unicorn. Each clan comes with a bluff token, a stack of combat and control tokens and a Daiymō screen, which has a unique ability that you must read out to your other players, just so they know how badly there fights with you will get. It is also recommended that all combat tokens, the larger of the two tokens should be placed face down and shuffled to create a random draw pile.
You or another player will then distribute two scout cards, a shugenji card and distribute two secrets to each player. The scouts and shugenji cards have unique one time use abilities that can only be used in a certain phase of gameplay. Secret cards are looked at immediately by the players and you choose one of the two given to you as a secret bonus objective for more points in endgame, the second card that you didn’t choose is returned to the box.
Now you’re going to populate your capital city with one of your control tokens which are the smaller of the two token types you are given. This is placed face down on the board in your respective city states, after this you take a handful of control tokens based on the number of players currently around the table for a later stage.
The first player is decided by shuffling all the Clan symbol cards of the in play clans, after that flip the top card over to reveal the starting player who gains possession of the First player card for that round, their card is then placed back into the box. If you have five players shuffle the remaining clan cards and begin the next phase of setup for those with fewer add the Neutral Initiative cards, noted by the red symbol on the top right of the card, shuffle a number of these into the initiative deck along with the clan cards remaining until you have a total of four cards in the deck.
Finally, starting with the first player and going clockwise, place one of the control tokens you kept aside from earlier in any empty province one at a time until all players have placed their tokens and then place the round tracker token on the number one spot. Now it’s time to take Rokugan for yourself.
This is my Empire (Or how to play)
Battle for Rokugan is played over five rounds, going through three phases of play, starting with the Upkeep Phase. At the start of the upkeep phase you will determine the new first player (Ignored in Round one) if a neutral Initiative card is drawn follow what the card says, in the outcome two people have met the requirements on the card, the closest player of the two sat to the right of the current first player becomes the new first player.
Then drawing from your pool of combat tokens I mentioned earlier, draw five or up until you a total of six including your bluff token in front of you behind your screen. Now flip these tokens face up and you have your starting hand for the round. All players will play their Territory cards if they have any (Again ignored first round) or they can choose to pass this turn, which will rotate from first player and then going clockwise until all territory cards have been played or everyone has passed for this round.
Placement phase is where you start to either play mind games or just carefully plan out your attacks, players will play five out of your six combat tokens in their hand onto the board. These combat tokens are placed face down along the borders or inside provinces based on the type of token it is.
Combat tokens can only be placed once along a border from Province to Province once that round, meaning you can’t place two tokens on the same border to attack the same adjacent province, but if you have two provinces adjacent you can send forces from both into the same province, place your combat tokens in the centre of the border with the arrow pointing to the province you wish to attack for some added tidiness to your conquest of Rokugan.
Each token has a different symbol and certain symbols will have a number beneath it, this is the tokens overall strength, these symbols indicate the Army, Navy, Shinobi, Blessing, Diplomacy, Raid and Bluff. The details of what each token does is also on the inside of your Daiymō screen.
Army tokens are your basic combat tokens, and are used to attack other provinces and defend your own. These tokens can be used in defence along the coastline in case a Navy token is attacking your province, this can only be done if you control that province though. Navy Tokens allow your armies to attack distant shores. These can be placed on any coastal border these act like Army tokens and can be used for attack and defence of Coastal borders only.
Shinobi are used to attack any province and are placed in the centre of that province, it can be used for both attack and defence depending on the province you send your silent assassin to they are also used to initiate raids. Blessing tokens give your already placed tokens a bonus, place these face up on any already place token giving them a boost by that number, blessings and the tokens they are atop of cannot be targeted by card effects or clan abilities.
Diplomacy tokens are placed within a province you own and create a permanent peace on that province protecting them from current attacks and all future attacks. Raid tokens are the opposite and create destruction in the Emerald Empire, these tokens can be placed on any province you do not own and can only be triggered if a shinobi is also in that region or in a province adjacent to one you do have control over. Finally the bluff token, this token is used in place of another combat token you wish to save later, an excellent tool to fool your enemies into wasting their tokens, the bluff token returns the players hand during the resolution phase after it has been revealed.
Finally the Resolution Phase which is completed over seven steps.
First reveal your combat tokens, players flip up their combat tokens that have been placed on the board for all to see, I recommend when going to flip your tokens over go in the turn order to save a mad amount of hands swarming over the table to reveal tokens.
Second discard bluff tokens and any illegally placed tokens, bluff tokens return to the player, while the Illegal tokens are sent to discard pile.
Thirdly resolve any Raid tokens, which involves discarding all combat tokens from that province or along the border, remove all control tokens as well. The Raid token is then replaced by a Scorched earth token, more on them later.
Fourthly you resolve the Diplomacy tokens in the same way you would a raid token, except they don’t require a shinobi to activate, leave the control tokens on the board and place a peace token in the province.
Fifthly resolve any battles that occur doing so one at a time, to resolve these each player adds up their total strength or defence if any and the one with the highest number wins. If two people are attacking a province the one with the highest attacking total takes that region and places a control token face down. If the defender wins they place a control token face up which gives them a boost to future defences. All combat tokens involved in the battle are discarded. In the event a control token is discarded it returns to the players collection instead of being discarded.
Sixthly claim territories, if a player has all the provinces of a region they can take the territory card of the same type ready for use in the next round.
Finally advance the round number.
After five rounds Endgame begins, to determine how much honour you have add up all the flower symbols from each province you control including any honour tokens placed down on the board, you gain an additional 1 honor for every face up control token except from the shadowlands, you gain a number of honour from your secret objective if fulfilled and you gain 5 honour for every full territory you control. The winner is the one with the most honour.
Advanced Shinobi Teachings (Or Additional Rules)
Some additional rules that may or may not come into play during the course of gameplay can be additional defence bonuses provided by provinces, some provinces have a house symbol plus a number next to it, this is a defence bonus in that province. For example a capital always awards +2 so if someone wanted to take it they would need a strength of three to take it over if not met by defence from that province.
Special tokens come into play depending on successful raids, diplomacy or by playing territory cards these tokens are the following, Scorched Earth, Peace, Shrine, Battlefield, Harbour and honour and defence bonus tokens. Scorched earth tokens signify that a raid has taken place in that province and players can no longer attack this region, players can still control the territory of this region as long as they control the provinces without the scorched earth tokens placed on them, peace tokens work in the same way as Scorched earth tokens but the player who owns that province cannot launch an attack from that province, gotta keep up appearances you know, at least in that region, ignore the bloodshed elsewhere.
Shrine tokens stop provinces from being attacked, however the player who controls this province can launch attacks from that province, whoever controls this has that area locked down.
The Battlefield token is used to ensure that only honourable battles will be had in its province, this blocks diplomacy and raid tokens from being placed in this province.
The harbour token must be placed in a landlocked province, while a province contains this token it acts as if it were a coastal province, the player who controls this can defend their province with navy tokens but players can also attack you with Navy tokens on any of its borders.
Honour and Defence bonus tokens, these are added to the board by territory cards, honour bonus tokens provide additional honour in end game, while the defence tokens add additional defence to the province it is placed into.
Territory cards are gained when you own an entire region, comprised of several provinces usually three. These are used once and only once before being returned to the game box, but is not replaced by the second card of the matching type. If a player loses the region before playing the card it is returned to the board where it was picked up from.
The Shadowlands are a pair of two provinces down in the southwest of Rokugan (Or the game board at least) they act as a single Province territory comprised of north and south, unlike the territory cards from other regions you play the Shadowlands Territory card on your turn, they grant you dark powers but at a cost, just like all good evil things do! (Good Evil is a thing trust me) However the shadowlands give the player no honour during endgame even if you successfully defend the province.
Scout and Shugenji cards are single use cards, these allow you to send scouts into battle to gather information about your other players. During the placement phase if you so wish you can play one or both of your scout cards, do so before you place combat tokens, the card(s) are then placed back into the game box for the remainder of the game.
Shugenji cards are single use magical cards that eliminate opposing forces, during the placement phase play this at the start of your turn before tokens like with a scout and return the card back to the box for the remainder of the game.
Finally if you’re unlucky you become a Ronin which happens if you lose all control tokens of your type on the board. During your placement phase you can place an army token on any lands border but you cannot place raid or diplomacy tokens. If the Ronin cannot place any tokens this round, their turn is skipped and they cannot take anymore turns until the next placement phase, if during the upkeep phase a ronin now has a control token on the board the normal rules apply to them again.
Thoughts and Conclusion
Battle for Rokugan is a fun strategy game, trying to outwit your opponents is both a challenge and an engaging way to charge your brain. This challenge is amplified when you’re the first player which is when you have to start thinking two steps ahead of everyone else.
The gorgeous artwork really captures the feeling of Feudal Japan and is stunning to look at, the game board and the tokens are really well made and feel nice to the touch, unfortunately though after opening the game up depending on if you throw the cardboard with the tokens away you’re left with a messy and overflowing amount of tokens to throw into the box.
While not everyone is going to enjoy their foray into the world of the Five Rings setting this way, those looking for a fun bluffing and strategy game will find a neat new board game to add to their collection which plays relatively quickly and is a great start to a long day of strategy board gaming.