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SEKIGAHARA  Matthew Calkins

GMT are now the leading publishers of tabletop/board wargames, yet because of their intense desire to please gamers they are constantly revising, updating and bringing new ideas to the table. Reading up in SEKIGAHARA I discovered it was one of the most important battles in Japan during the 17th Century (actually right at the turn of the Century - 1600). The battle at Sekigahara is between two  factions, ruled by Ishida Mitsunari and the current master of Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who took power of Japan some two years after the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the man whose Capitol City EDO was to become known as Tokyo.

When one thinks of fighting and Japan the first thing generally that comes to mind is honour, the Japanese are always renowned for their honour towards each other. Honour is then linked to loyalty which is another famed Japanese trait. Finally we link honour and loyalty to the last and most fun (at least to play) trait treachery. Matthew Calkins has managed to incorporate every one of these traits into his game.

This is not just another GMT block based war game. Yes it uses blocks, gold and black (each has a sticker of information on it), and yes it uses cards (one specific deck for each of the two sides) but it doesn’t use dice.  There is a large, four-fold, map board on which the battle is played out. Unlike many wargames this map is not overlaid with hexes, instead the unit stacks move along roads between the locations, dropping units off so they can obey other orders along the way. Illogically though, stacks cannot pick up units on their journey. I could understand this if the unit to be picked up had just moved into position for the pick up as it would be exhausted, but if it was already at an en route location there is no reason why it cannot join the march.

Another rule to mention that makes sense in reality but may cause awkwardness in play is that no road segment may be used twice in the same turn. The blocks are designed so that they can stack, literally, one on top of the previous, with all information facing the player. After movement the opposing player can play a Loyalty Challenge Card (this is the treachery part I mentioned earlier) but this can be blocked itself by a loyalty card. The author really has captured the essence of this 17th Century Japanese conflict. The battle was over 7 weeks and the game is over 14 turns, taking roughly 10 minutes per turn.

Matthew Calkins wanted to design a game that had substance, some complexity, but that could be played in one sitting of around 2-3 hours. He managed this with the only random part of the game mechanic being the card decks, much is placed on the skill and tactics of the players themselves.

Feudal Japan has never been one of my favourite historical periods, but even with my ignorance of the era, being allowed the freedom for strategy and tactics this game gives makes for great challenges with different opponents.


© Chris Baylis 2011-2015