Theme and What is It?
With the Ashikaga shogunate in decline, Japan is rife with division as the many Daimyo fight for control. Take control of your army and, through an interesting mix of trick-taking and area control mechanisms, defeat every Daimyo standing in your way. March onward to Kyoto – Joraku!
Joraku is a trick-taking area control game for three to four players. Players will assume the role of Daimyo, using their samurai to gain control of areas and build prestige. This is accomplished through tactical card play. To begin, each player will choose a color and take the related pieces and reference card. The six map boards are laid out and players will randomly draw a Daimyo card. The player with the highest numbered card begins with the Kachidoki card and players will place their Daimyo in the correlating space on the map. Play will then unfold over the course of three rounds, each of which has three phases: Recruit, Skirmish, and Prestige.
In the Recruit phase, players are dealt a number of cards based on player count. Players will look at their cards and choose two cards to pass to the player on the left simultaneously, after which the Skirmish phase begins. In the Skirmish phase, players will each play one card from their hand and resolve its effects immediately, either adding Samurai to the board or spending action points equal to the cards value. When adding Samurai, the player adds 0-3 tokens to region matching the number on their played card or to any regions if the card was a Ninja. For a numbered card, they may spend that number of action points to either move troops, move their Daimyo, or remove opposing Samurai from an area containing their Daimyo.
Players must follow the suit of the lead player if possible, but may play a card of a differing suit if necessary. After all players have played a card, the winner of the hand is determined. The Ninja wins if any player played a 6, otherwise, the player who played the highest card is the winner. In the case of a tie, the player who played the last card wins. The winner takes the Kachidoki card. This triggers a minor scoring action for all players in the area of the winning player’s Daimyo based on their influence and identifies that player as the starting player of the next skirmish/hand. These steps are repeated until players are out of cards.
Once all player’s hands have been depleted, the Prestige phase begins. Beginning with area 6 and progressing to the left towards Kyoto, players compare their influence and earn reputation points according to their ranking. Each Daimyo is worth two points of influence while each samurai token is worth one point. If there is a tie, the tied players each receive the lower ranking’s point value. Each region provides a scoring table at the bottom of the tile for each of the game’s three rounds. As the game simulates a march on Kyoto, the point values in each round gradually drive the players left toward Kyoto as the game progresses. There are also six variant rule cards included for players who want to tweak the game.
Joraku aims to fit quite a bit of gameplay into a small package. This can lead to mixed results, but the idea of using trick-taking and having the card play fuel area control, complete with hero units, had me intrigue. Additionally, I was comforted by the publishing tandem of Tasty Minstrel and Moaideas.
Quality of Components and Insert
Joraku comes with four Daimyo tokens, 44 Samurai cubes, four map boards, and a deck of 42 cards. The deck includes six Daimyo cards, 21 Skirmish cards, one Kachidoki card, four reference cards, and six variant rule cards. The Daimyo tokens are nice meeples reminiscent of traditional Samurai mask and helmet, with the Samurai tokens being standard cubes. The map boards are actual boards with good thickness like a traditional game board. The cards are of good quality, not the strongest, but certainly of a medium variety. I expect they will hold up well through repeated shuffling, but, as with many trick-taking games, sleeving them couldn’t hurt.
The art in Joraku has a simplistic elegance. The Daimyo and Skirmish cards feature prominent characters shown in traditional dress and appearance with a subtle background of swirling watercolor. The map boards create an image reminiscent of a historic map, with subtle notations for major landmarks and topography and is again in a soft watercolor style. Each region features the scoring grid for each of the three rounds at the bottom of the card and they are easy to read. The far right of the map board array has the scoring track presented in a four-space wide snaking pattern.
Difficulty and Age Range Suggestion
The box states that Joraku is intended for ages 12 and up, though I would wager that that has as much to do with the small pieces and labeling restrictions as the actual complexity. Joraku was a Moaideas design and if you frequent our site then my love for Mini Rails should be common knowledge. Their games regularly feature simple and streamlined mechanisms with complex applications. The underlying mechanism in Joraku is trick-taking, which I think many children younger than 12 can understand. The added complexity of managing the area control aspects with the trick-taking is not too difficult once you play a few hands and see it in motion. While the theme does see samurai falling in battle, it is all abstracted as you move cubes on and off the board and really does not feel violent. Certainly, younger players may take longer to master the strategic options on hand, but to learn and understand them should not be too hard.
I really enjoyed Joraku. There is a surprising amount of game for such a small package. At first glance, it would appear to be a simple card game as the box is roughly the size of a double deck-box. Then you build the board and get out the pieces and you realize there is quite an intriguing game of area control. Managing getting your forces onto the board vs spending your cards on action points to move your troops around or to power your Daimyo’s abilities is a great balancing act. The changing values of the regions in each round, forces you to move your troops toward Kyoto which clusters troops and really drives player interaction. There is certainly a timing aspect of understanding when and how to position your troops for maximum scoring opportunities. The presence of the Kachidoki card makes winning each hand interesting because if you are winning hands and are not in first position in your Daimyo’s territory, you will be feeding points to your enemies. I do find the snaking scoring track to be an annoying choice, as it feels counter-intuitive, but caution during scoring phases can overcome it and it is admittedly not a deal-breaker for this unique experience. If you enjoy the tactical thought behind trick-taking card play, and enjoy the strategic thinking behind area control games, then Joraku is a game that cannot be missed. It is highly portable and offers a deep experience that is unlike anything else in my collection.
P.S. The three game photos are after the each round of a game in progress