Starship Samurai Board Game Review (Plaid Hat Games)


Alright. You have giant mechs. They are Samurai, for reasons. You are fighting epic space battles. You're also trying to influence a multitude of different clans. Pretend it makes sense. It works better if you pretend it makes sense. Nestled within  this absurd premise is a strong game with some interesting mechanics. Unfortunately, wrapped outside of that, is a dense layer inexplicable decision-making; a lot like getting a gift wrapped in an old paper bag. There are a lot of layers here. Let's unpack them.

Starship Samurai Board Game Details

Players: 2 to 4

Game Time: 60 Minutes

Age: 12+

Genre: Area Control / AP

How Do You Play Starship Samurai?

At the beginning of the game, every player chooses two Samurai. They also receive one carrier and a number of small ships. Samurai have special abilities, such as the ability to destroy a weaker ship when moving into a territory. Samurai also have attack ratings. 

Each player gets four numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4. Each player also has a total of four actions they can do on each turn:

  • Move a clan marker up x spaces.
  • Move x units of ships.
  • Get x action cards.
  • Get x income.

During a player's turn, they will play a number on one of these actions. The number fills in the "x". Thus, the numbers aren't the order in which you do things: they are the number of times you complete an action. 

You can:

  • Move a ship 3 times.
  • Get 1 income.
  • Get 2 action cards.
  • Get 4 income.

Or you can:

  • Move 3 ships.
  • Move 2 ships.
  • Move 1 ship.
  • Get 4 action cards.

All that matters is that you use all of your numbers; you can do each action once or you can do any action multiple times. And each action secures a different path to victory.

At the beginning of the game, you get to choose a Space Samurai. 

How Do Clans Work in Starship Samurai?

Starship Samurai has two boards. One tracks influence while the other tracks battles. The clan influence board has a number of clans on it. There are also tracks which represent the players. These clans start at the bottom of the board, but can be moved down and up. During the course of the game, you may be able to move the "yellow" clan down two. That means you can move it away from the track it's currently on, towards yourself. You may also be able to move the "blue" clan up two. That means you can move the blue clan towards yourself, if it is already on your track. 

You start the game with 2 samurai, two action cards, and an arsenal of small but plucky ships.

At the end of a round (when each player has exhausted their four action tokens), clans will be scored. If you have gotten a clan up to 10 influence, you get 5 victory points. If your clan has 9 influence, you get 4 victory points, and so forth. 

How Do Space Battles Work in Starship Samurai?

There are four locations in the game. These locations have cards that are placed to their side each round. These cards give some sort of benefit to whoever controls the space, such as a victory point, the ability to move a clan token, or money. Each location also has nine slots total for ships.

On the left is the clan tracker, on the right is the battle field.

When you move ships as your action, you can move ships into a space. Whoever has the most power controls that space, and so ets the benefit at the beginning of each turn. But at the end of the round, anyone on a given square needs to fight.

Fighting is good: if you win a fight, you get 5 victory points, as well as keeping the location card. Location cards matter at the end of the game; you also get victory points for collecting different types of location. You fight by playing battle cards, which you draw out of the action deck.

How Do Action Cards Work in Starship Samurai?

You can play one action card during each turn you have, which means you can theoretically play four action cards in a single round. However, the actions do cost you money, troops, or victory points, depending on the card. Some of these action cards are significant, such as moving everyone's clan markers down one.

Is Starship Samurai Worth Buying?

You may have noticed I've outlined like, five different mechanics in this game. That's because the mechanics in this game are oddly disparate, and you often feel as though you're playing multiple games at once. But that's hardly a problem; in fact, it's basically the premise of Twilight Imperium. No, the problem is that the game just feels very random and off-kilter.

A game that gives you multiple paths towards victory is a good game, but in Starship Samurai, there are so many paths and so many things you're supposed to be doing and collecting -- in a very short game -- that it's difficult to get ahold of it. The action system, while interesting, made us wonder whether just spamming clan changes could have led to something interesting.

But by far the worst thing about Starship Samurai is something that could be easily fixed: there is no way to tell whose Samurai is on the board at any given time. You have eight samurai on the board. Whose is whose? There's no way to tell, because they aren't marked in any way.

They do look pretty cool, though.

Even worse, their power levels aren't marked, either. We had to constantly ask each other how much attack each Samurai had, because there's just no way of knowing without specifically asking. This really dampened our strategy because we could either talk everything out obsessively or just take a wild guess.

All that needs to happen is that the power levels need to be written on the base of each Samurai, but it's still a bizarre oversight. And it still won't solve the problem of never knowing whose Samurai is whose, because ultimately they're just gray polygons.

Is Starship Samurai worth buying? It's worth playing. The game was dynamic and kept us engaged, and there was enough to do in it that we didn't get bored. But it isn't worth buying unless you just really love the theme.

Starship Samurai Board Game Review
  • PRO: It's Samurai in space. Either you love the idea of giant mech Samurai hovering around space ships or I just don't know what to tell you.
  • CON: It often feels random, and the strategic portions of the game feel oddly disparate, like you're playing a sequence of mini-games.