Samurai Spirit Board Game Review (Funforge)


It's just an ordinary day for a samurai. Wake up, defend your village from raiders, turn into a howling beast with mystical powers, etc. Samurai Spirit is a cooperative game for up to seven players, in which players must take turns fighting off raiders while using their special abilities to ward off damage. If players get injured, they turn into their spirit animal -- and if they die, all is lost. Samurai Spirit is a strategic card drawing game with a surprising amount of challenge. Unfortunately, a terrible manual somewhat dampens its value.

Samurai Spirit Board Game Details

Players: 1 to 7

Game Time: 30 Minutes

Age: 10+

Genre: Cooperative / Set Collection

How Do You Play Samurai Spirit?

Every player gets to select a samurai. Each samurai has a different amount of hit points, a special ability, and a special power. Special abilities are always active for the player and can also be shared with other players. The special power will be activated when a player hits their maximum hit points. If the player goes over that maximum, however, they are going to need to pass their turn for the rest of the game.

At the beginning of the game, the deck is shuffled, and a certain number of "raider" cards are pulled to form a deck. Play begins with a randomly selected active player. Each player will go clockwise choosing one of three actions:

  • Pulling a raider card, which they can use to defend, or use to fight.
  • Sharing their ability, at the expense of putting a raider in the village stack -- to be dealt with at the end of the round.

When a raider card is pulled, a player can either use that card to defend or use that card to fight. On the left hand of the player's board, there is a slot for self-defense, building defense, and family defense. If the raider card has one of those symbols, it can be put in the defense slot instead of being fought.

This character is fighting 7 points worth of raiders, but has managed to fill self-defense, building defense, and family defense slots.

On the right hand of the player's board are the player's hit points. If the raider card cannot be put in a defense slot (or the player does not choose to), they instead need to fight them. The player's hit points go down by the number on the raider's card. Also, as long as that raider is on the top, it may have an active effect that goes off at the beginning of the player's turns.

If the player ever goes over their maximum hit points, they must pass for the rest of the game. This can make things very difficult, because other players are going to need to take more cards individually.

What's the Goal of Samurai Spirit?

In Samurai Spirit, you're trying to get through the deck (with 7 cards for each player, to start) without dying. Some raiders give you wounds each turn. If you get two wounds, you change into an animal spirit. If you get two more wounds, you die, and the game is automatically lost. The game goes for three rounds, which progress in difficulty by adding new raiders. 

At the end of each round, each player takes one wound if they do not have a self-defense card (if that was their last wound, they die, and the game is lost). They burn a building if they do not have a building defense card. And they kill a family if they do not have a family defense card.

When wounded twice, each card will flip over to reveal its spirit animal.

Finally, each raider that was moved into the village stack is turned over. If there's no fire at the bottom, nothing happens. If there is fire at the bottom, a building is destroyed -- if there are no buildings, a family is destroyed. The goal at the end of each round is to have at least one family and one building still standing.

To help, each samurai does have their special ability. Their special ability is usually something like "ignore the abilities of raiders numbered 1, 3, and 5" or "discard any raiders that are identical to a raider that you have already fought."

The Best Defense is... No Defense

"Our problem," said one of us, halfway through the game, "is that we aren't letting enough people burn. If we just let more people burn, we'll be fine."

"You're right," another player responded. "Truly, we must kill them to protect them."

And that's how Samurai Spirit goes. In fact, the first group I played with died miserably right away. The second group I played with got through just fine. Samurai Spirit has the reputation for being a difficult game, but it's actually not that hard on normal mode -- as long as you're strategic about the resources that you're losing. On the extremely high end of difficulty, it can be almost impossible for completely random reasons.

You can increase the difficulty level of Samurai Spirit considerably by playing with advanced variants. 

You have a limited number of hit points and once you exceed them, you have to pass for the rest of the round. On the other hand, you only need to leave one family and one building alive at the end of the game, so self-preservation is actually the main goal. 

The real problem with Samurai Spirit is that it has a horrible and vague manual. It's difficult to find specific information in it, and it's another game -- like Tokaido -- where the symbols mean absolutely nothing, except for "check the manual to see what this does." 

Samurai Spirit is an attractive game overall -- but the manual is a mess.

Samurai Spirit could be a better game than many give it credit for, but the manual is a part of the game. If you're looking for a light game that's fairly hard to win, Samurai Spirit is a good choice -- but be prepared to stumble through the manual a lot during your first couple of playthroughs.

Samurai Spirit Board Game Review
  • PRO: A challenging cooperative game that's easy to learn provided that you learn it from someone else who knows it.
  • CON: A confusing manual and muddled gameplay prevent this game from being as good as it could be. 
  • CON: In higher difficulty levels, success is almost always based on luck.