Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Reiner Knizia's Samurai Challenges Your Head

Reiner Knizia's SamuriNot everyone in the United States is familiar with his name, but they soon will be. Reiner Knizia is a prolific board game designer who developed his first game at the age of six. He turned full-time professional game designer in 1997.

Everyone in Europe knows him (as do a few Americans). More than 500 of his games have been published and he has won the Deutscher Spiele Preis (German Game Prize) four times (since 1990). And now that many of his games are finding their way to the iPhone, you can expect some great ones. Thirteen games have already made the migration, but it's the newest one that deserves attention.

What Is Reiner Knizia's Samurai?

Reiner Knizia's Samurai is a German-style board game invented in 1999. It won fourth place in the Deutscher Spiele Preis that year. Game play occurs across four major Japanese islands with the objective being to capture figurines — rice fields (peasants on the iPhone), Buddhas, and high helmets — that are located in villages, towns, and cities across the map.

Reiner Knizia's Samuri for the iPhoneCapturing takes place when players surround a town and city with tokens. Each player receives 20, which the player draws randomly throughout the game, replacing played pieces much like replacing letters in Scrabble. Players generally lay down one token at a time, with several exceptions. Those include a Ronin token (horse), ship token, and swap token. They can be played at any time.

The winner of each figurine is based on the points of every surrounding figure-specific token (matching peasants, Buddhas, or helmets) or special tokens (Ronin, samurai, and ships). Winning the game is trickier. There are several possibilities, with two being the most common.

Any player with a majority of figurines (the most peasants, Buddhas, and high helmets) wins. Or, when more than one player has a majority, the winner is determined by how many figurines they have won outside their majority. This variable makes the game interesting in that sometimes it might pay to block an opponent rather than to capture the figurine.

On the iPhone, the game can be played against up to three AIs, as a pass-and-play game (with AIs or not), and online (much like Words With Friends). With fewer players, the maps are smaller. The full map comes in to play with four players (even if three are AIs).

Reiner Knizia's Samurai Scores A 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Reiner KniziaEntertainment Weekly described it as a Risk-like game. It's not. It's much more similar to a cross between Scrabble, Othello, Connect Four, and a hex-based strategy game. Play time is short, about 20 to 30 minutes per game. Reiner Knizia's Samurai is available on iTunes for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.

The graphics are perfect. The game is smart. The complexity is excellently delivered in its simplicity. Publisher Rio Grande did a brilliant job rendering it as an application. For people who know Knizia, this was the application everyone wanted and raises the bar on all feature releases bearing his name.
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