Type: Euro (with a lot of Area Control for points)

Time to play: 60-90 minutes (Teaching: 15-20 minutes)

Best played with: 4/5 Player (3 – 5 Players)

Time for a tea ceremony! That’s right a core part of Rising Sun the Board Game is called the tea ceremony –  a time for pacts, strategies and down right lies. This is a game built on betrayal, conquest and glory in battle. However, to say that this is an area control game would be in my opinion very misleading. Much like it’s spiritual predecessor (Blood Rage), Rising Sun offers players many paths to victory and many non-combative ways to score points. Tactics and not brute force are likely to prevail in this medium-heavy game.

So what is Rising Sun? Well as I have eluded to the game is seen as Eric Lang’s follow up to his hit game Blood Rage. From the Viking / Norse mythology to feudal Japan and the spirits / gods that were feared and revered in that culture. This game brings 3 to 5 (plus more in expansions) warring clans to the table on a beautiful map of Japan and offers players difficult choices on a very constrained player board.

Every turn you will have a series of Mahjong style tiles passed to you and the top four are your choices for an action this round. You will select the action that best suits you from these (even though they may not contain the action you most want to achieve) and then you will allow all other players to take the action, in a minor form, before you play the action. This mechanic right at the heart of the game is an interesting reversal of the “leader-follower” mechanic that was in Puerto Rico and other classic games. It reverses the order to allow the leader to act last – whilst they decide what move everyone is making, they also get the ability to act last and react to the board state.

This clever twist is further developed by the fact that the leader gets a special bonus version of the action – getting more effect than other players. As you play this more, another key mechanic emerges – the ally of the player selecting the tile also gets the bonus action.

So now, when you choose your turn you will need to think about how much that action helps you, how much the minor action helps the other players (if they can even take it) and how much that action helps your ally. Do you want to be a good ally and seek a favour later, or do you want to play an action that restricts your ally so they don’t become to powerful? These difficult choices emerge quite quickly, and it won’t be long before the betrayal action comes in to play.

The types of actions you will get include movement, deployment, the building of fortifications and the selection of bonus cards. These all feel familiar and similar to other war based games, but there are lots of options in these choices. Do you build a defensive position to hold a province or spread across the map to gain more ground? Do you want to win the fights you are in, or will you play a strategy to gain honour (points) from losing fights?

Each game will also feel unique with the bonus cards, mentioned above, which give points to certain strategies varying by the deck chosen at the start. Each deck set up will give a different balance towards players aiming to win battles, summon spirits or gain more cards.

The game will also feel unique if you switch clans – each one with an asymmetric power allowing a different style of play. Some clans allow you to appear in every region with a fight, and others allow you to move freely on the map. These variations seem small, but have significant effects on how you should play the game.

On top of this, you could choose to deploy your warriors to the gods – praying for in game bonuses, that again vary from game to game. Extra movement, a boost to certain military stats during the fighting, or other in game benefits again throw complexity into the game.

If all of that isn’t enough then it must be time to discuss the system of battles. At the start of the round you will randomly select the regions (and order) in which the fights are resolved. For each fight, resolved in order, players will split their tokens between the options of self sacrifice for honour, capturing opponent soldiers, reinforcements, and epic poetry (points for retelling the story of the battle – i.e. points for the number of those who lost their lives). Only one player can win in each category, the player who puts more tokens on that area of their war-board. So each battle is resolved by players taking their stack of chips (determined by earlier actions) and distributing them across the war-board in these four areas. The war is then resolved in order – self-sacrifice, capture, reinforcements, who won/loss by most force and then points for telling the tale of the battle. This is complex because a player who sacrifices his troops will lose the war but gain points – what’s more they might also gain points for the epic poetry. The victor gains the land, but its a small victory as the other player walks away with all the points!

It can be very difficult to know how to balance your tokens, and even harder when Oni and other super powered warriors start to come into play. What’s more the winner, then must split the tokens he used between the losing players while they lose all tokens used. A cunning player will therefore lose a few fights to weaken an enemy before striking in the fights resolved later in the round – perhaps a fight that matters more to them strategically.

There’s a lot going on in this game, and I have not tried to break down the mechanics due to the sheer number of them here. However, this game doesn’t quite fall into the heavy war game set in my opinion as the game choices and actions are simple but the complexity comes from the vast number of interlocking strategic elements. It’s not so much emergent gameplay, but complexity in seeing the knock on effects of your actions.

All of this leads to one of the most enjoyable parts of the game – the tea ceremony. This is where you will pick your ally for the round. Given how hard it is to predict the full set of actions by players, you will be selecting someone you think you can work with but who may well pivot and betray you within the very first turn of the alliance. If for no other reason than the tiles they draw, it may become their best strategy.

Now, whilst this is an incredibly enjoyable experience and a masterful epic with a medium time period, it achieves this by conceding a little bit of randomness and chaos. You will find that sometimes the strategy you are seeking to execute is impossible due to the tiles you draw or the cards available. That turn order, whilst controllable can be subverted. That whilst some players stumble into great alliances, your plans are left shallow when an early lead leaves you stranded without allies and therefore bonus actions.

This game can punish early leads, and encourage players to sacrifice their soldiers and frustrate players rather than battle for supremacy. Whilst this was true of the Loki strategy in Blood Rage it would be less common than the seppuku strategy found in Rising Sun. For some players, that’s just a part of the game, but for others this will leave them chasing shadows across the map.

All in all, this is not an Axis & Allies all out war game and hence falls back towards my view that this is a Euro with an area control mini-game. That said, it deserves the high praise it has received and I continue to look forward to bringing this out in larger groups for a quick but epic conquest.

Last notes,

  • If you like a war game without dice, then this has plenty to dig in to
  • If you don’t need the mini’s to make the game, then stick with the base game and enjoy the depth that already provides
  • If you win, try again with a different clan and starting power