Board Game Review: Samurai Battles by GMT (Commands and Colors Series)

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Number of Players: 2
Time: 1 Hour Per Battle
Age: 10+
Game Type: Strategic Wargame
Gamer Type: Wargamer
Complexity: 6
Wargames come in two types: complex and easy. Complex games take days to learn, weeks to play, and a lifetime to master. Easy games take minutes to set up, minutes to learn, and about an hour to play. There is a massive gap in the community that embraces each of these game types. Every once in a while, there is a game that can bridge the gap of these two genres and bring war gamers together to battle it out on the game board, rather than just arguing on the discussion boards. The Commands and Colors series has a reputation for making these types of games, like Samurai Battles.


In this game, you have the chance to play out some of the most interesting battles of Japanese history. The elements of the system allow for players to use the terrain, pre-determined choices, and unit types to their advantage. This allows history to come alive on the battlefield of the game. While the prelude to battle does give you historical notes, the players have the ability to build out games – which makes it fun each time you play it. 6.5 of 10.


Stickers… lots of stickers. Rather than use the little cardboard chits for the units, Samurai Battles uses wooden blocks with stickers on them. Once you have this set up, it is wonderful. However, as there are over 300 stickers, you spend a long time setting up the first time you play. That being said, the stickers make the pieces more relatable than the chits would, so it is worth the time to set it up. The boards are standard wargame boards; they look nice. The add-on pieces (bases, bridges, etc) are also well drawn. This is a standard GMT box size, though it is a little thicker. It will still fit on your shelf well. Overall, the game is well laid out and the artwork adds to the game. 7.5 of 10.


For each scenario, you are given the layout of the troops you start with. This makes sense as it is a historic game. The randomizers then come into effect. You move your forces with command cards, which put a lot of choice into the game. Once you are adjacent or in range, the second randomizer comes into effect: the dice. Once the collective sigh of exasperation ends from the Eurogamers, dice make sense in battle games. On any give day, a peasant can strike down a general. The balance in this game is good as better units have a better chance of being successful, but there is always chance each time you attack.

On top of the randomization system, there is a unique honor and fortune system. This allows for something more than luck to determine the fortunes of your battle. If you do not have enough honor and fortune, you will lose troops; this can happen very quickly, too. This means you need to preserve the morale of your troops, not just throw them at enemy lines. 8 of 10.


This is one of the better strategy games I have played this year. Sometimes in strategy games, complexity is your friend. In this case, it is the simplicity which makes the world go round. You have ample opportunity for offense or a delayed rush (you cannot build new troops, but you can build formations). This can be done by attacking in a bunch, either for offense or rush. Defense is a little tricky, but with the terrain you can play cat and mouse if you have the correct cards. Engine building is getting the right cards in your hands to make a series of moves, sometimes dropping back and drawing opponents into a killing field or making a quick lateral rush to capture a command tent can win you the game. This game rewards good strategy, regardless of the timing. 9 of 10.


The last really good samurai battle game I played was Tenjon. You needed a good military mind, several hours, a calculator, and a large bank account to play that game. Samurai Battles is still a premium game, but it can be played in an hour, can work with different strategies, and can be played among friends. Like most GMT games it can also be left set up so you can come back to finish later. This makes it unique in the genre and earns it 8.5 of 10.


I like this game. It brings people to wargaming who normally would not have time to play. With a score of 39.5, this is a great game to have in your collection. It looks sharp on your shelf, on your table, or when you are playing it. The first set up is almost as tedious as painting minis with the stickers, but it is worth the time, plus you are not ruining the game for anyone who may get it after you. While not as in-depth as some supply-fight-politic games, this game has the depth for hour long skirmishes that can be fun for you and a friend. Definitely pick this one up for your shelf.

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Christopher W Smithmyer
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