As James Clavell’s seminal novel Shogun reminds us, “Your enemy is never more polite than when he is planning your destruction!” Seizing power is never a delicate play. On the way to the top you’ll need to cajole, connive, betray and manipulate both friend and foe. Ruthlessness and cunning are intimate bedfellows and assassination is never off the table. Now the Shogun is dead. Long live the Shogun! As long as that is you! Can you pull the puppet strings at just the right moment to eliminate your rivals and secure your position?
How to Play
Shogunate pits players against each other as heads of rival clans in a power play maneuver seeking the emperor’s throne. You’ll need to deceive others as to your true intentions, deduce that of your enemies’ and even eliminate other claimants.
In this quick, social deduction card game each player secretly receives a clan affiliation and five action cards. Cards corresponding to the five clans are then randomly lined up on the table. The goal is to scheme your clan’s way to the head of the succession line by the end of the game. The twist is that someone else gets to resolve the actions you play!
In a round one player serves as the active player. Each other claimant chooses one of their remaining action cards, which are all revealed simultaneously. The active player then decides in which order those are resolved. Actions primarily call for a clan to move ahead in the line, move backwards or switch positions with another family.
Each player also has an assassination card. This deed comes with some conditions, however. If an even number are played, then the act is negated. If an odd number are played, then the active player may only resolve the coup as either the first or last action of the round. If successful, the current leading clan at the head of the succession line is eliminated.
Action cards are then discarded and the game continues a number of rounds equal to the number of players, so that each has performed once as active player. During any round before action cards are revealed, you may also play your Shodai card. Simply placed beneath any clan on the table, this indicates you are supporting that clan with your patronage – or more aptly you’re banking on the hope that family will emerge victorious!
At the end of the game, the player whose clan rises to power earns three points. If your affiliation managed to attain the penultimate position you garner one point. And if the clan you support with Shodai wins – whether or not you’re also secretly aligned with it – you earn an additional two points. For the most satisfying intrigue, play multiple games, because each individual tilt is quick enough. The player with the highest aggregate score gets to choose the next Clavell quote for me to use in an imperial Japanese themed game review.
Social deduction titles have made popular waves in the last few years. Shogunate follows in that wake with a fast-moving and overall quick design that feels quite compact, as well. It’s a small tuckbox game of bluffing and guessing where each decision is critical because there are so few of them made!
There are not many moving parts to this fast paced little card game. It’s simple and can be picked up by almost anyone in a couple minutes. It’s swift enough to encourage several plays in one sitting and can fill in the time for multiple situations. And even though there’s scant strategy, it’s amusing trying to manipulate others into moving pieces for you. The title is also highly conducive to casual socializing. Or if you prefer, you can ratchet up that socialization by adding a bit of negotiation and/or outright lying trying to argue or dissuade certain actions. Strictly speaking though, by design it’s meant to be a rather calculating affair.
Shogunate has one distinct feature setting it apart from other deduction games. It also happens to be its prime mechanic, so if you don’t warm to it, you’re likely not going to enjoy Shogunate. What drives game play is that some one else is always deciding how your actions are resolved. You get to choose what to do, but the active player performs then in the order she wishes. Yes, you are influencing play to a certain degree with the action you select. But it’s an interesting lack of control that seems a tad counter-intuitive to both casual and experienced gamers alike. At least at first.
Since everyone gets their chance, you’ll be collecting a pile of actions once per game to exert your leverage, as well. Which means essentially you get only the one play per game. Like a pistol with a single bullet, you need to make that shot count! Even then you can only work with the bullets the other players hand you. It’s definitely intriguing. But something you may not be used to in gaming. Alas, those players making decisions closer to the endgame generally hold the advantage in exerting more influential maneuvering. But again, games are quick. Multiple rounds are encouraged in which the active player order can be switched and address that issue.
Assassination cards are, however, one way in which early active players can sway the game if they’re dealt. In fact, these provide an interesting cat-and-mouse affair. If the goal is to eliminate a frontrunner, you’re gambling that no one else will enact the same plan – thus only negating your action. However, you might also try playing your card to protect your clan by thwarting another’s similarly bold move…if you think a rival is gunning for you that round! Or would that be “swording” for you…?
There are plenty of situations ripe for small games that you can explain in a minute, play quickly and foster fun, casual interaction. Shogunate fits that bill. This deduction game is compact and is the epitome of accessibility. It’s not deep or strategic. But there’s a mischievous charm in trying to read your opponents in order to mess with their plans…or unwittingly get them to execute yours! With a full complement to ante up the turmoil and unpredictability, Shogunate is a satisfying filler – especially for fans of bluffing and deduction games.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Dreadful Games for providing a review copy of Shogunate.
2 out of 4 Clavell's
Easy and accessible
Quick games, good filler
Can foster hammy interaction
Great choice with 5 players
Not much control for action selection
Last active player has big advantage
Doesn’t scale well, really need 5