Sunday, 29 April 2018

Rising Sun

Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

Rising Sun is brought to you by the same team as Blood Rage. The designer is Eric Lang. It is a Euro-style conflict game with low granularity. The first similarity between these two games you will notice is how amazing the sculptures are:

The backdrop is a mythical Japan, with gods and monsters. You are great clans competing for supremacy. You play through three seasons, scoring victory points by winning battles and various other means. Whoever scores the highest after three seasons wins the game.

There are only 8 provinces on the map. The structure of the game is 3 seasons, each consisting of 7 rounds - only 21 rounds in total. Every round an active player draws 4 action tiles, picks one to execute and return the rest to the deck. Every player gets to perform the selected action, and the active player and his ally also gain a small bonus. This is a little like Puerto Rico. The active player, having seen those three tiles returned to the deck, knows 3 of the 4 options the next player will have, and can strategise accordingly. The actions you get to execute are mainly for positioning your fighters for the battles which will occur at the end of a season. Actions include raising troops, moving troops, levying taxes and triggering betrayals. The number of battles to be fought at the end of a season depends on the number of players. The provinces to be fought over are randomly determined before a season starts, so you can plan where to fight. The winner of each battle gains a war province token, which is worth points. At game end, you also score points based on how many tokens of different provinces you own. This means you are encouraged to fight in different provinces and not turtle in one or two.

The large tiles in the first row are the gods. When the raise troops action is being performed, you may train monks and assign them to pray to these gods. At 3 junctures during a season, after the 3rd, 5th and 7th rounds, god powers are triggered. For each god, only the clan with the most monks get to use the god power. God powers include moving troops, gaining mercenaries and gaining honour. Honour is the tiebreaker for all situations.

The second row is the procedures of a full season. The large boxes are for placing action tiles. Two tiles have been placed, which means two rounds have been played. That character after the 3rd, 5th and 7th rounds is the character for "god". That's when god powers are triggered. The red bordered box at the end means war time. The yin-yang icon at the start means alliances. At the start of a season there is a free negotiation session for forming alliances. An alliance must have exactly two members. The main benefit of alliances is you get to enjoy the bonus too when it is your ally's turn to pick an action. During battle, allies don't merge their armies. Only one clan can win a province. In the photo above, Allen (blue) and I (green) have formed an alliance. You can see on the far right that our alliance tokens form a complete yin-yang circle. With only three players, Han (red) is left without any ally.

Player unit sculptures are unique for each clan. I play the green clan. The leftmost is my monk. The middle two are both soldiers. Different sculptures but same function. The rightmost is my castle. One unique ability of the green clan is castles may move, thus those giant turtles. This is the mythical feudal era version of Howl's Moving Castle.

This is the player screen. It lists the unique abilities of your clan and also show your starting province. That table at the bottom right shows how many victory points you score depending how many different provinces you collected war province tokens for. Below this screen are the coins used in the game, which are beautiful.

One of the actions in the game lets you buy special abilities cards like these, which augment your clan. Some give you monsters, and the monsters all have unique abilities. Some give you money. These two give an extra soldier whenever you raise troops. I had two of these, which meant getting two extra soldiers every time the raise troops action was taken. I was going for quantity.

This reference card is double-sided. This side shows the procedures of a battle. Before a battle starts, participants bid any numbers of coins on the four big boxes here. If you win a bid, you get to use the ability written in the box. The first step is seppuku (ritual suicide). You ask your fighters to kill themselves even before battle starts, and earn 1 victory point and 1 honour per suicide. If you don't think you will win anyway, this is actually not as stupid an idea as it sounds. The second step is taking one hostage and stealing one victory point from an opponent. This doesn't sound like much, but sometimes the difference of one unit can change the outcome of a battle. The third step is winning the rights to deploy mercenaries. Mercenaries can completely change the course of a battle, but of course you need to have recruited some in the first place. The fourth step is the battle itself, which is a simple comparison of numbers. Losers all die, winners all live. The final step is earning 1 victory point per fighter killed in battle. Despite the battle step itself being simple, bidding for and winning the rights to the other four steps can greatly affect the outcome of the battle and how many victory points you earn.

The token at the bottom left is a mercenary token. These are ronin, or masterless samurai. The token at the bottom right is a war province token. This is from the first season, the spring season, and is worth 1 victory point.

Overall you can think of Rising Sun as a victory point scoring game. The story unfolds through the manoeuvring in the 7 rounds of each season, culminating in the end-of-season battles. Winning these battles and claiming war province tokens are a big part of scoring, but there are many other ways to score points too. During the battle themselves you can score points. In the normal rounds it is also possible to score points when you levy taxes.

The Play

I did a 3-player game with Allen and Han, and we were all new to the game.

This was early in the game, and our forces were still mostly in our starting provinces. My green clan started in the Kyoto province at the centre of Honshu. Han's red clan started in the Edo province, to my east. Allen's blue clan started in the Hokkaido province in the far north. Han was first to go. Since there were only 7 actions per season, as first player he would be picking 3 actions this season, while Allen and I would only be picking 2 each. Han opened the offer for alliance, pointing out that his ally would enjoy more bonuses. However this only made Allen and I more wary, and we ended up allying with each other, agreeing to join forces to subdue Han.

As the spring season came to a close, things didn't look good for Allen and I. So much for ganging up on Han. Han's forces (red) had spread out to many provinces. One thing that he used effectively was the Betrayal action. He could convert an opponent's unit to his own. Later during the game, Han's clan unique ability also proved very powerful. For his clan, money and mercenaries were interchangeable. He had a strong economy, and could easily win the bid for deploying mercenaries. He would then spend more money as mercenaries, allowing him to win the battle. Money talks! Han had an amazing spring season, winning many provinces and sprinting far ahead of Allen and I.

In the summer season, it was even more important for Allen and I to work together. We became allies again. Han was too strong! Most war provinces in the second season overlapped with those in the first, so there was less incentive for Han to win them. It was more important for him to deny us than to win those provinces for himself. In summer, Allen (blue) and I (green) were better able to march our forces to other provinces.

Each province has a hexagon next to it. The symbols in the hexagon are what you gain when you levy taxes. When the levy tax action is chosen, the clan which has the strongest presence in a province levies taxes. So positioning your troops is not only for the end-of-season battles. Levying taxes during the normal rounds can be very lucrative. E.g. for the Kyoto province (green), you earn 4 victory points when you levy taxes.

The black-and-white lines are shipping routes which connect provinces. Province interconnectivity is high. You can move from any province to any other province within 3 steps.

This was autumn, the third and last season. Han (red) was still far ahead. Allen's (blue) and my (green) alliance was not effective in reining him in at all. Come autumn, Allen decided to abandon me, and took up Han's alliance offer. At the time my score on the score track was near Han's, but Allen's was still near zero. Reaching out to Allen was the best move for Han, because he wanted to make sure the second place (me) would not threaten him. Allen knew it was impossible to win, so he changed his goal - he just wanted to not come last. I did look like I wasn't doing too poorly, but it was an illusion. The points for collecting different war province tokens were not calculated yet, and I was far behind Han in this.

The war provinces in autumn turned out to be completely overlapping those in spring and summer. For Han, who had already collected all possible colours, it was less about collecting more, and more about preventing us from collecting more. In this photo you can easily tell which provinces would have battles. We completely ignored the other provinces.

This was the fifth and last battle for the autumn season. I (green) did have many fighters, but this was no guarantee for victory. Han had a presence, and being flush with cash, he might still win the bid for mercenaries and then deploy enough mercenaries to win. Despite the actual fighting being a simple comparison of numbers, the bidding mechanism often makes the battle outcomes uncertain and exciting. A correct reading of your opponent's intentions can turn a seemingly hopeless situation into a victory.

In the end, I fell from second place to last. Han secured his victory without breaking a sweat. Allen made great advances in autumn and overtook me comfortably. Both of us were still far far behind Han.

The Thoughts

Rising Sun has lavish production and is a very Euro-style multiplayer conflict game. It has low granularity. It has high player interaction. Your end goal is to score points, so you should not fight for the sake of fighting. It's not a hot-blooded battle game. It's more the cold, calculative, bean-counting type. Many mechanisms are deterministic. Much information is open - the gods available, the special ability cards available, where battles will occur. It's all laid out and you can strategise and plan accordingly. It actually feels a little like chess. Everyone has the same information. It is the secret bidding which throws a wrench in the works. This is where you become psychological. There's some double guessing and risk assessment. There is some luck in whether you guess your opponent's intentions right. The order of action tiles coming up is also a random factor and a luck factor. That is somewhat mitigated since you do have 4 options.

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