Friday, October 28, 2011

Solution: The Welfare Program And Energy Security For America

I've heard over the years that poverty is cyclical because people who grow up in poverty tend to be in poverty most of their lives. That the "vicious cycle of history repeats itself" over generations unless something changes. I don't see a problem, I see unrealized opportunity, because I'm a opportunity kind of guy. Where others would throw money at the problem, I throw solutions.

You see, many people think of spending tax money on Welfare checks and food stamps is simply wasting money. I disagree. I see it as investing in our future energy security as well as creating jobs and a healty lifestyle to the empoverished. You see, with General Motors being owned by the taxpayer and General Electric's CEO being 'friendly' with the current White House, I think the time is ripe to capitalize on the amorous relationship between the poor, corporate chronyism, and the Government.

The key to all of this is in putting Welfare recipients back to work. Republicans are always lamenting the fact that men need work to retain dignity and that welfare is a form of modern slavery, so let's put that mentality into action. Let's give those on Welfare a reason to be proud, a sense of national pride, so to speak, knowing that they're contributing to the energy independence and security of the nation.

We feed them healthy foods through the Food Stamp program, we provide them shelter through Section 8 housing, and we provide them cash for everyday needs through the Welfare program. But thus far we don't provide them anything to do in those houses, while eating that food, in their government-subsidized housing. Let's explore how all of these seemingly distant factors I spoke of above can be tied together to create a better future for everyone involved.

First, General Electric should develop portable battery cells for the new Chevy Volt, a taxpayer-funded electric automobile. These batteries should be easily portable and as simple to install as your everyday double A battery. This would allow service station workers to swap out the batteries on-the-fly at newly created swapping stations. This would be the first step in creating jobs, since engineers and United Auto Workers union members would now have a new project to work on, let alone all of the newly-certified Government Auto technicians that would be hired at the swapping stations.

The next step would be to use TARP construction money to build warehouse-sized power generation facilities that have several drive-through bays. This would put unionized construction workers back to work on building thousands of these new buildings. Union electricians, plumbers, carpenters, framers and roofers would have a windfall of newly created jobs to work at. These facilities would be state-of-the-art accomodations, complete with beds, and televisions that are programmed for Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, and Judge Judy. Why, you ask? Let's get into that.

Michelle Obama is all about talking up healthy eating and lifestyles, so let's put her ideas into action. Her husband was keen on mandating health insurance for all, so let's take it a step further and mandate healthy lifesyles and food for those who require government intervention in their lives. You see, every person who receives government assistance through any of the above programs will be required to report to government-controlled medical centers for health testing for the purposes of determining their suitability for exercise. Those deemed unfit for an hour a day of exercise would have their Food Stamp allocation cut if they are too fat, and if they're simply out of shape, they will be sent to the government warehouses for a Richard Simmons exercise program to get them into shape. Those with medical conditions outside that would preclude them from exercise would, of course, be exempt.

Those who are worthy to exercise, though, would report to their assigned warehouse swapping station where they would perform an hour's labor on a stationary bicycle that is mounted with a high output battery charging dynamo. These systems would, of course, be built by General Motors and General Electric, all funded by taxpayers either through the bailout money (GM) or through tax avoidance and tax breaks (GE). Each station will simulate the experience of being at home, on Welfare, where they will have comfortable easy chairs and the aforementioned television shows piping to their station all day. The only noticable difference would be that they would be pumping away on the dynamo pedals for an hour at a time before being offered the opportunity to take a nap in the resting areas.

But what of those who have young children, who need care, and would deny some Welfare recipients from being able to perform an hour of work? Got that covered. In these same warehouses there will be Teacher's Union approved teachers working at the government Day Care centers. This keeps unionized teachers working, and allows those who have several (or several hundred) children to earn their Welfare checks through an honest day's work pumping away on the cycles.

So, you see, this is the perfect solution. It puts "shovel-ready" jobs into the market, spending only TARP money that's already allocated, it makes electric cars viable, and it puts tens of millions of people to work doing labor that not only supports energy independence, but it also creates an entire new industry. The best part is that while the system can be copied in places like China, there won't be any outsourcing of jobs to Mexico, India, or China. It's real Americans doing real work, and it will establish America as a leader in national good health, environmental protection, and the fight against Global Weather Weirdness. Truly, it is a remarkable plan.

But how, do you ask, can you ensure that these Welfare Patriots(TM) will actually show up, since they're often characterized as lazy? It's simple - provide their daily allowance of Welfare cash right there at the service station where they show up to pedal their way to American energy security. The upshot of all of this is that once the entitlement-minded folks that had always received Welfare money for nothing will now understand what it means to have a purpose greater than themselves, to understand national service, and to understand that if they can pedal a bicycle for money, they can go out and start new small businesses such as owning their own bicycle courier companies. This is not even beginning to touch on the national savings on healthcare costs from people getting several hours of exercise a day and seeing doctors regularly.

Long and short: Vote For Pedro.

Note: This is a satire piece. If you can't figure that out, you're probably retarded.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ascending Empires - Proving That Converting Men Makes Both Empires And Trousers Ascend

As pretty much everyone knows by now, I love most dexterity games, but even more than that, I truly love science fiction. Even more than that, I truly love 4X conquest games, so when I heard about Ascending Empires, it immediately folded space into the forefront of games I wanted to buy. Well, now that the remodel is done at Superfly Circus headquarters, I had some spare change lying around, and five clicks later, Ian Cooper's masterpiece was hurtling toward my house at sub-light speed. And by 'sub-light speed', I mean in the back of a U.S. Post Office tractor-trailer, on I-75, at about 65 miles an hour. It was accompanied by Chaos in the Old World, and after many, many lusty nights, Survive! Escape From Atlantis. Oh yes, there would be blood.

Ascending Empires is, at its heart, a 4X empire building game that tells the story of up to four intergalactic peoples exploring, building, advancing, and mercilessly subjugating one another. While the concept is not remotely new, what is new is how the game unfolds, or rather, doesn't. The board itself is made up of nine Swiss cheesy puzzle pieces that lock together less-than-flawlessly, wherein you place toilet paper roll sized discs in the holes, representing planets. The most novel thing about the game, though, is the fact that to move ships, which are represented by small discs, you flick them in a Crokinole-style fashion across the board, hoping not to have a mechanical failure during the flight, which is represented by careening off of one of the seams on the board, which as I mentioned, do not fit together seamlessly as I'm sure the designer intended.

Even with the improperly tested FTL drives, this game is hands-down one of the best games I've played in a long time. I'm totally biased, since not only did I drop the cash to buy it, but I knew going in I'd probably like it because it ties so many things I like into one game. Heck, it could've sucked ass, but luckily, it didn't, not in any way. All but one of the other players I've played with also loved the game based solely on its own merits, none of whom are sci-fi or 4X nuts like I am. The one guy who didn't dig it as much said he liked it, but just didn't understand it. That's understandable, since it was midnight, and he had done both radiation and chemo therapy earlier, let alone the fact he was loaded with enough morphine and percocet to make Timothy Leary seem like a straight-edge kind of guy. Truly, this is an incredibly fun, unique, and challenging game that will most assuredly go down as one of the most unique and remarkable games of the year.

Opening up the box, you're going to be met with nine well illustrated puzzle piece boards, a truly well-written and well-organized rulebook, some plastic men, two pre-cut sticker sheets, and roughly a metric assload of wooden bits in various shapes and sizes. I will note that if you've ever owned a Columbia Games block game before, you'll totally relate to the suffering you'll endure when you place the veritable billions of stickers on the myriad disc-shaped blocks in the game. That being said, the art for the planets is really dope, and the ships, while a little bland, are still decent. On top of this stuff, there's four player boards that track all of your technological advancement as well as how many units you have available at any given time. Finally, there's a bunch of tokens which represent victory points, 16 tokens which stay with the players, four each, for use on the technology track, and four range rulers to determine firing distance in combat. All in all, everything's really nice, with the planets and player boards being the coolest looking of all.

To set up the game, you first have to assemble the nine-piece board, which takes quite a soft touch, and needs to be done in a specific order. Pressing too hard will cause major mangling of the edges, which will truly bollocks your future experiences. I've realized after many plays that the corner pieces are almost identical, but they fit better in certain spots. So, I've marked the back side of the boards with little arrows so that the board gets put together the same way each time, and now I don't have a problem putting them together. I also considered taking a Dremel cutting wheel and shaving the edges so they fit more loosely, which would alleviate a lot of the problems regarding the tight fit, but I'm not sure it would make the problem easier.

To understand why this is important, and a real pisser of a problem, I need to jump ahead a bit. Each piece is almost a foot square, and to move ships in this game, you flick them across the board like a Crokinole disc. If there's ridges that form from repeated misalignment or too much pressure, when ships cross the threshold from one board to another, they can catch the lip and careen off into uncharted space. One current explanation is that while faster-than-light engines exist in the game, they have not perfected their telemetry technology, and thus certain areas of space are littered with more micrometeorites than others. To cross these planes is eternally dangerous, and impacting a stone marble travelling at millions of miles an hour causes near-instant death and dismemberment.

Why does this matter, other than inconvenience? Because if you go off the board, your ship is killed. If you inadvertently, or purposefully, crash into any other spaceship, both are killed. So, these ridges seriously test your manhood because to truly excel at the game, you need to have the balls to attempt very long-distance travel, and over dangerous terrain such as the ridges, it's a 50/50 proposition at best.

Back to setup. Once you've got the board assembled, you refer to a chart and illustration to set the planets into the holes in the board. These are randomly distributed, but there's a set amount of each of the four planet types and asteroids per quarter of the board, so no player has an advantage in their home system. These are set face-down, so you need to explore the galaxy to uncover the planet types, which is a big deal down the road. After this, you need to pull a set amount of VP tokens from the box in accordance with how many people are playing, and these act as the game timer, since once they're gone, the game ends.

Once the stage is set for galactic warfare, you hand out the four player boards, the ships, troops, research stations (cubes), colonies (tiny discs), and cities (rectangles). Here's the catch, though, when it comes to the bits: the structures always stay out of the bag, but you only keep six troops and two ships on your player board to begin with. As the game progresses, you earn more expansion ability, but initially, you have very limited resources to work with. The two ships are immediately put in orbit around your home planet. Each planet has a printed ring around it on the board, and this delineates the planets' orbits. As long as a piece is touching that ring, it's considered to be in orbit.

That's all there is to setup. Provided the bits have been bagged by player color, this should take all of about five minutes. One of the neatest things about the setup of this game is choosing the first player. Unlike German games where the oldest player goes first or American games where it's a roll-off, the game asks the player "with the most compelling reason to go first" to begin. Seeing as my good bud has cancer, he always trumps us by stating, "This may be the last game I ever play, so I'm going first." Can't really argue with that logic.

On each player's turn, they may take almost exactly one action. Of these actions, they can choose to build a structure, advance a technology, mine for VPs, recruit new troops, or make movement actions. Building a structure requires certain things, such as having a certain mix of things on a planet, at which point you remove those things and put a new one down. An example is that you have to have a troop and a colony on a planet to build a city.

This is a huge strategic decision since you may never have more than three items on any planet at any given time. To mine for VPs, you simply remove a certain amount of troops from a planet and take a certain amount of VP. Recruiting troops calls for you to pull a certain amount of troops off of your board and put them onto planets you currently control, meaning there's already something on the planet.

Now movement, well, that's an entirely different animal, hence the reason I noted you get "almost exactly" one action. You get a certain amount of movement actions when you choose the move action, which can consist of any combination of launching ships, landing ships, and navigating ships. The former two actions, launching and landing ships, consist of converting a ship in orbit to a troop on a planet, or vice versa. Hell, pretty much all of the actions in this game consist of converting one thing to another, and almost all of those actions require the conversion of your men.

Movement is simple, really, in theory: pick and flick your ship. If it hits a planet, it's not actually hitting a planet, it's careening off of the atmosphere's gravity well, swooping around the planet and launching off into a different direction per the "Star Trek IV" slingshot move. That being said, if you hit any other ship, be it an enemy or your own, you're not only dead, but you take you're partner in collision with you. While I initially thought this was a bad thing, in reality, my 10 year old successfully had a comeback near victory due to her implementing this "crash and burn" strategy.

At the end of your turn, if you have ships in combat range, which is determined by using the ruler, or if your ships are in orbit of a planet, combat may ensue. In order to blast an enemy ship into atoms, you have to have two of your own ships within firing range. No die roll, no ace pilot defying the odds and winning the battle. You simply cease to be. If you're in orbit of an enemy planet and there are no enemy ships in orbit to defend that planet, you may well be able to free the planet from the tyranny of your opponents.

It is at this point that I should discuss the fact that structures have defense values, and if you want to nuke them from orbit, just to be sure, you have to have a stronger force attacking. Colonies and troops have a defense value of one, and cities have a defense value of two. So, if you wanted to involuntarily vacate an opposing planet with a city and a troop, you'd have to have four ships in orbit to do so. Furthermore, to attack a planet, there cannot be any enemy ships in orbit.

One other thing to note is that ships may only initially attack one ship at a time, so if you have two enemies within range of two of your ships, you can only choose one to decimate. I haven't mentioned it, but anything that is killed, blown up, or converted goes back onto your player board, not back into the box, so you're only temporarily hosed. Also, you get a VP for every ship, unit, or structure you waste, so it's as viable to be a bloodthirsty galactic emperor as much as it is to be a peaceful explorer.

The last little thing about ships and combat I'm going to mention are the battleships. Battleships are twice the size of normal ships, there's only one battleship per player available, and can only be acquired through technology upgrades. These are essentially treated as having two ships in the same space, and having one of these means that you can send them into the far reaches of space to annihilate people more easily. It is also far more immune to bad flicks than their smaller counterparts, so when you get the battleship you are far less susceptible to FTL drive malfunctions and micrometeorite impacts than the little guys.

In addition to being able to blow planets up, if a ship is in orbit of an enemy planet, but can't wipe out all life on the planet for whatever reason, the ship automatically blockades the planet. This means that the player who has units or structures on the planet can't do anything with them, such as launching ships, recruiting, or using research stations. This is a hell of a strategic option if you want to stop enemies from developing technology or building structures, and it also works as a stalling option to allow you some time to get other ships there to bombard the planet into the stone age and don't want the player to launch ships from the surface.

The last aspect of gameplay is the technology tree. There are four planet types, and in order to develop technology, you need to build a research station on whatever type of planet you're hoping to upgrade. There are four levels of each, and in order to increase the level, you need to have research stations on multiple planets of the type. For example, if you want to have level three orange technology, you need to have earned level two as well as have three research stations on orange planets. You can have two research stations on one planet in your entire empire, but beyond that, you have to have multiple planets in order to upgrade your technologies. Once you've developed a technology, though, you can use it even if all of your research stations are destroyed.

Technologies do different things, and the technology trees are pretty linear within each type, although each type is much different than the next. Grey technologies revolve around movement, orange around warfare, purple is devoted primarily to defensive issues, and brown is primarily around troop development. Each of these levels also offer a very important bonus in that the first person to develop any level of technology gets a VP bonus equivalent to the level, not to mention that the first person to develop an entire row of technology through diversification gets a hefty bonus.

After each turn, you may also scan one planet that you're orbiting, which consists of secretly looking at the planet type by flipping it up and then placing it face down again. This is a quick way to determine if it's a planet you'd like to colonize on later turns as well as a way to feint opponents out of wanting the planet with an outburst of "how many damned asteroids are in this game??"

The game ends when the last available victory point is taken, at which point everyone gets one last turn to soak up the gravy as much as they can, taking more VP tokens from the reserves left in the box at the beginning of the game. Players tally their VPs, then add one VP for every occupied planet, one VP for every colony, and two VPs for every city. Finally, players check for some special conditions like having cities in three or four quadrants. The winner is the person with the most VPs at the end of the game, simple as that.

That's pretty much all there is to the game, in a nutshell. Flick, kill, develop, harvest, and win. What makes this game so neat is that there are so many different viable strategies to win, not to mention the base mechanics which absolutely rock. You can spend all your time developing technologies, earning points, or you can spend your time making war. You can develop the technology that allows you to recruit more troops, and then convert them to VPs by mining, thus creating a little economic engine. There's just so many different strategies that you simply cannot get sick of the game. Or, at least, I haven't so far, and I don't anticipate doing so.

Why This Game Has Ascended To My Top Ten:
- Great mechanics and fast turns make this an exceptionally intense and exciting game
- One of the best rulebooks ever, with little left to question
- The ship movement aspect of this game adds all the randomness the game needs
- If you sit for more than a minute between turns, even in a four player game, someone is doing something wrong
- This is one hell of an intense game

Why Ascending Empires Has Failed The Emperor Of Mankind:
- The edges of the puzzle board can really piss you off when your ship catches them and careens off to its death
- The art on the ships is a little on the bland side, and all of them are the same aside from the color
- This game could've really had 8 pre-made races with variable player powers to make it more unique

This is truly one of my new favorites. I've played the piss out of it, and I cannot wait to play it again. Once all of my home repair and remodelling projects are complete, I'm kicking back into the full swing of gaming, and this game will most assuredly be one of the first played. Truly an astoundingly great design, and I recommend it to any gamer, Euro or Ameritrasher. Just an excellent game.

4.5/5 Stars

Check out this awesome game at the Z-Man games site here:

And check out the rulebook too, if you'd like:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

News: Drizzt Release!

The Legend of Drizzt board game, the latest offering from Wizards of the Coast, released today and joins a Neverwinter suite of products and programs that include a new novel from New York Times best-selling author R.A. Salvatore, a comic mini-series, organized play sessions and digital games.
A thrilling cooperative style board game, The Legend of Drizzt is designed for 1–5 players and is based on the Drizzt Do’Urden character – a dark elf created by R.A. Salvatore. Players take on the role of the legendary drow ranger or one of his famous adventuring companions, battle fearsome foes, and win treasure and glory. The game is the next installment in a successful series of board game releases from Wizards of the Coast that include Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon.
In addition to The Legend of Drizzt, Wizards of the Coast will be releasing two additional products in the coming weeks - Brimstone Angels, a Neverwinter novel by Erin Evans due out on November 1st, and the Dragon Collector’s Set, a limited-edition box set containing five of the most iconic evil dragons in D&D, on November 4th.

About Legend of Drizzt

The adventures of Drizzt Do’Urden, as told in the New York Times best-selling Forgotten Realms novels by R.A. Salvatore, come to life in this thrilling board game. Take on the role of the legendary drow ranger or one of his famous adventuring companions, battle fearsome foes, and win treasure and glory.

Designed for 1–5 players, this board game features multiple scenarios, challenging quests, and cooperative game play. The contents of this game can also be combined with other D&D Adventure System Cooperative Play board games, including Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon, to create an even more exciting experience.


• 42 plastic heroes and monsters

• 13 sheets of interlocking cardstock dungeon tiles

• 200 encounter and treasure cards

• Rulebook

• Scenario book

• 20-sided die

For more information, visit

About Wizards of the Coast

Wizards of the Coast LLC, a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc. (NASDAQ:HAS), is the leader in entertaining the lifestyle gamer. The company holds an exclusive patent on trading card games (TCGs) and their method of play and produces the premier trading card game, Magic: The Gathering, among many other trading card games and family card and board games. Wizards is also a leading publisher of roleplaying games, such as Dungeons & Dragons, and publisher of fantasy series fiction with numerous New York Times best-sellers. For more information, visit the Wizards of the Coast Web site at

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Ikusa - "Ronin" Roughly Translates To "Waiting In A Bowl Of Rice To Pop A Cap In Your Ass"

I don't know what's gotten into Hasbro and its subsidiaries lately, but I'm digging it. Maybe there just aren't enough "Dudes on a Map" games on the market or something, but with Avalon Hill's release of Ikusa, the second renaming and reprinting of the epic GameMaster series game Shogun, not to mention the recent release of the awesome Conquest of Nerath and the upcoming release of the groundbreaking Risk: Legacy, they seem to be wanting to be wanting to own the epic conquest game segment. Luckily, they do it really well, and the treatment they did to Shogun to remake it into Ikusa is nothing short of phenomenal. Thanks to Wizards sending me this copy for review, I can tell you all about it.

If you've never played either the original GameMaster series Shogun or the first remake, Samurai Swords, allow me to tell you what they're about. The game is a territory conquest game taking place in feudal Japan, several centuries ago. You command your generals, or daimyo, and provincial soldiers who defend territories, with the goal of expanding your influence to a pre-set number of territories to win, or you can just stomp the brakes off of your opponents and subjugate their armies and cities.

What makes this unique is that there's so many different mechanics that come into play, from blind bidding, hidden resources, variable units, spying, assassination, daimyo experience upgrades for valor, and hidden mercenary reinforcements in the form of Ronin. All the mechanics tie in flawlessly for what can only be called the best depiction of epic warfare in Edo-period, feudal Japan that I've ever played, let alone a very solid war game.

Ikusa has absolutely breathtaking art throughout, and paired with the overall production values this can only be considered to be the ultimate version of the game. While the miniatures are unpainted, and there are almost 500 of them, they are unique looking and come in seven colors to represent the five players, the Ronin, and the ninja. In what can only be an ode to multiculturalism and racial harmony, there are no yellow figures in the box, which pisses me off because I really like to play yellow when I can.

This is due to an injury I suffered long ago, causing dark colors to blend together quite a bit in anything other than bright light; I suspect color blindness is similar. Most of the player colors in Ikusa are of the darker variety, so I wish they'd stuck with the colors used in Shogun, which have bright blues, reds, and a yellow figure that I could most certainly differentiate. Seriously, nobody is going to call Avalon Hill racist for putting one player's worth of yellow figures in the box simply because it's a Japanese themed game.

Another thing changed from the original is the wee katanas that were used to designate player turn order in Shogun. This isn't a big deal because the originals were of a brittle plastic that always broke, and now they're cardboard chits with numbers on them, so I think this is an augmentation rather than a detraction. I guess I can no longer try to stab an opposing player with the little swords, so maybe that could be counted as a downside, but all things considered, I have ample knives around the house so I suppose I could improvise.

Other than those small things, the components are pretty much the same in quantity, although everything is of a better quality. The millions of plastic miniature people are of the same quality and detail as those in Conquest of Nerath, which is awesome, and they're all easily distinguishable from each other when it comes to the model shapes themselves. There's riflemen, archers, spearmen, samurai, and all kinds of other guys.

There's even a ninja in the box, who is my favorite as his sole job in life is to spy on things and murder daimyo as they sleep. On top of that are five player dishes, which are used to house players' forces, money supplies, and to bid and purchase things. It comes with a neat player shield that sits on a groove in the dishes and provides a rules reference as well as little indicators that hover over the depressions in the tray which are used to place coins to take certain actions.

Included also are a bunch of cardboard chits that are all well designed, a bunch of plastic coins which are detailed and durable, a sheet of stickers with which to label your flagbearers, a bunch of cards that match each territory on the board, a bunch of plastic pagoda buildings and fortification pieces that the pagodas sit on to indicate they are fortified, some dice, and finally, a well written rulebook. All in all, you definitely get your money's worth when it comes to the bits and pieces, because everything in this game is absolutely perfect. All other games from here on out should look to this game as a guideline for what game components should look like; they are truly that good.

I'm not going into my usual "how to set up and play" with this because you can look back to any review of Shogun and Samurai Swords, or to the rulebook at the bottom of this page, in order to learn how to play this. Nothing has changed at all from previous versions, aside from inclusion of short game rules in the far back of the book. I may be wrong about this, because I don't recall reading any before, but this version has some neat little rules that allow for shorter games as well as two player games.

Now, by shorter rules, I should mention that this is a relative statement, and shorter in this context means "not five hours". The nature of the game is such that it takes considerable time to develop your strategies to their fullest, and this is a very long game, even by epic conquest game standards. The short version brings it to around three hours, as I noted, which is much more manageable.

I will, since I have more time to waste and more thoughts to confer upon my beloved readers, go into what I really, truly, and unabashedly love about Ikusa. First, I'd like to talk about why the Ronin mechanic is so bad ass. In most conquest games, you buy people, place people on the map, and proceed to slaughter one another wholesale. While I'm fine with that, the Ronin change this substantially and add a huge cool factor due to the fact that Ronin are not simply more dudes to add to a territory, they're invisible, Predator-armor wearing mercenaries for rent, waiting in a bowl of rice to pop a cap in your enemies' asses.

Ronin, essentially, are paid for and temporarily rented by the player during the purchase phase. Instead of putting them on the map, you place them on the cards that represent territories in the map, and the cards are placed face-down, so your vile enemies will never know where you're actually deploying them until it's too late. This adds an awesome surprise attack mechanic that, when well used, can change the game exponentially.

Alternatively, you can use them to feint and have an enemy believe you're augmenting a garrison to make them delay an attack on one of your provinces. To top that off, there's only a set amount of them available at any time, and they're taken out of the pool in the player order for the round, so if you want to be extra nasty, the first two players can conspire to take the lion's share of them to stop another player from taking them. It's brilliant.

The next mechanic that I love is the fact that your daimyo get experience as they win battles. This doesn't change your battle effectiveness in that you get more dice or something, it changes the amount of spaces that the entire army that serves under that daimyo can move. Thus, a battle-hardened daimyo may take several territories in one fell swoop or travel long distances to engage their hated rivals instead of puttering along as they are forced to do before building experience. This also makes them huge targets because they are potentially fragile, since once their army has fallen they are quite easily killed, even by a lowly yari-wielding peasant.

Another cool mechanic is the units and battles system. There are a wide variety of units, from bowmen to samurai, and each has its place in your armies. Bowmen and Gunners fire before all else, and thus players that have diversified well have a decided advantage over those who simply bought piles of foot soldiers to act as chaff.

Finally, the ninja mechanic is a very clever way to keep enemy strong daimyo-led armies in check. The highest bidder in a round is the only one who gets to keep the ninja for that round, with all others losing their money, and the winner may use him to either kill a daimyo by declaring an attack, or they can hold him in reserve until the beginning of the next round where he can peek an an enemy's expenditures and see what that player plans to spend cash on.

For the former, you can declare who you want to kill and roll the die; if you roll a nine or higher, they cannot move, attack, or defend this round. So, it's not really so much killing as maiming, which is actually more valuable in war as time has told. The downside is that if the assassination attempt failed, the opponent can retaliate and, if successful, maim one of your own daimyo in a similar fashion. It's a truly vicious mechanic, and it's yet another thing that makes Ikusa truly unique when weighed against its peers in the epic war game spectrum.

Now there are some things that a people will be turned off by when it comes to any iteration of Shogun, be it Ikusa or Samurai Swords. First, the game phases can be a hair unwieldy to some because while some actions are simultaneous, others go in player order. In short, the gameplay can be viewed as choppy, or not quite streamlined. Second, the game can be very, very long. It's like Risk, in that regard, but with far more complexity. Four player games can run as long as four to five hours, and even longer if you're playing your first game.

Finally, something that may turn new Ikusa players off is the fact that there are none of the "new standards of Dudes on a Map" included in the game, such as variable player powers, mission-based scoring, robust economic models and things of that nature. At its core, it's a game about sending troops down the line, dismembering your enemies, forming and breaking alliances, and capturing their territories.

Beyond the above complaints which have haunted Shogun and Samurai Swords all along, as well as some new ones, I think this is an awesome game. If you had not considered buying this paying the outlandishly high prices that have been spotted on Ebay for Shogun, or less so for Samurai Swords, jump on this. If you dig Japanese culture like I do (so much so that I married into a Japanese family) and love conquest games, this is a no-brainer. I have yet to find anything that captures the spirit of Japanese warfare like Ikusa does.

For some, Ikusa may appear too simple, but in reality there's tremendous strategic options available, so I don't take too many points away from Ikusa for not being "modern" or updated. New stuff might've been nice, but part of the charm of Ikusa is that it is very straightforward to learn and play, without having too much stuff going on in it that it becomes unwieldy or overly complex. Part of me wonders if this was reprinted because the original designer, Mike Gray, who is still with Hasbro, has had some new ideas on how to update this through an expansion down the road.

Why I Want To Be A Feudal Daimyo When I Grow Up:
- This game's art is rivalled only by Cyclades, which I consider to be the pinnacle example of art in a game
- Outstanding production values from the plastics to the cardboard also contribute to the stratospheric "pretty" factor
- The inclusion of game-shortening rules was a smart way to ensure the game will get to a table near you
- The awesome mechanics of experienced daimyos, hidden ronin, and the Ninja aren't found anywhere else I know of
- The player interaction in Ikusa is the equivalent of a katana to the scrotum, which is awesome

Why The Ninja May Disembowel Avalon Hill:
- No yellow player pieces? Seriously? C''s not controversial, even in ultra-liberal suburban Washington
- If you cannot handle sitting in one spot for four hours, this is NOT the game for you
- It may be too simplistic for some people, especially considering some of the more modern epic conquest games

This is, simply put, the finest iteration of one of my favorite conquest games of all time, but if you didn't like the other iterations, you probably won't like it now. It's not for the faint of heart, and it's not for someone who wants to play a game for an hour and be done. This is for armchair generals who wish to tread upon their enemies' bones for hours on end, giving nor accepting mercies, and those who wish to engage in a epic game of strategy, intrigue, and elegant warfare. For me, it's a must-have, but I really like these kinds of games, and with the Japan factor, this is at the very top of my list.

4.25/5 Stars

You can learn more at the Wizards/AH page here, and the rules are at the bottom of the page: