Samurai Showdown: A Sixteen Samurai Review

by Corey Whelen
10 July 2019

2-4 Players, 20 Minutes, Medium Complexity, Medium Strategy, Ages 8+

Loosely inspired by the work of legendary director Akira Kurosawa, Sixteen Samurai is a game of epic combat played out across a series of rapid-fire rounds. Blades will ring, heroes will fall, dice will roll, and at the end, the winner will be the last samurai clan left standing!

While there are only six samurai pictured here, rest assured, there are at least 10 more inside the box.

Sixteen Samurai will feel familiar to anyone who’s played an area control or war game. Players will be in control of a small deck of samurai warriors, each with their own unique personality, artwork, and stats like power and speed that will determine the winner of each round. Will it be a contest of endurance, where the samurai with the highest armour wins? Will the fastest ninja snatch the crown, or will the most noble warrior be rewarded for their good karma?

Your samurai stats will guide most of your strategy in the game, but fate plays a role in even the most one-sided battles. Every round, all players will select one of five samurai from their hand, and battle it out with a stat chosen by the last round’s winner. That stat represents how many dice you will roll, and the warrior with the highest roll is declared the winner- all other samurai are removed from the game permanently. Once all the samurai have fought at least once, gameplay proceeds to the “final battle” phase- a winner-take-all showdown where the players take all of their winning samurai from previous rounds and battle it out in an elimination-style showdown. Gameplay proceeds the same, but this time, the winner gets to return their samurai to their hand, instead of removing them from the game like the other players.

You’ll really appreciate the cool design of characters like Grinning Mask, especially when he haunts your dreams for months after you play.

While the crux of gameplay is selecting the right samurai for the job, a lot of the strategy revolves around the battle cards- a set of five unique and useful utility cards that can totally change the trajectory of a round, and sometimes even the game. The powerful Ninjitsu card can force your powerful opponents to roll a single dice for the round, the Medicine card can bring your wounded soldiers back to your hand instead of being eliminated, and the formidable Ronin card can even steal victory (and the victorious samurai card) away from your opponent. It gives the game a lot more depth, and you end up fearing your opponent’s battle cards as much as their warriors.

That said, the warriors are one of the game’s biggest strengths. There are 80 distinct samurai in the game, each with their own gorgeous art and unique personality. It’s easy to personify Vander the Unlucky and Edmund Greybeard, which gives their battle that much more gravitas. While the game itself offers a lot of strategic, number-crunching fun, imaginative players will find the samurai battles that much more engaging.

Just a few of the many brave samurai- although Whit the Fool is my favourite

It’s short, simple, and the rapid-fire rounds will keep you on the edge of your seat for the entire 20-minute playtime. The beautiful art lends itself to amazing imaginary battles, and the simple strategies mix well with a bit of dice luck to make a fantastic light choice for family game night, and a great addition to your shelf.