09th May2018

‘Rising Sun’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

rising-sun-box

Rising Sun, just in case you’ve missed it, is the latest big-money Kickstarter from Eric Lang and CMON Games. Where Blood Rage was inspired by RiskRising Sun allegedly draws its inspiration from Diplomacy, the classic game of empire building and well timed betrayal.

Like all of CMON’s headline games, Rising Sun features incredible components and offers a table presence that is just jaw dropping. The base game features five different coloured clans, each with ten miniatures in four different sculpts, whilst a sixth clan was available via the Kickstarter. There are also eight oversized monster figures that are incredibly detailed and in most cases, absolutely grotesque.

Aside from the figures, the game features a plethora of exceptional components elsewhere. The board is huge and simply stunningly beautiful, whilst other components like the Kami tokens, the season cards and all of the other pieces are fantastic. The game even comes with plastic coins, which is a feature that rarely makes it to the retail edition of games like this.

Three to five players are supported (or six, with that Kickstarter clan I mentioned earlier)  but there’s no doubt in my mind, Rising Sun is best with four or five players. This is partly because of the alliance mechanic that forms the first phase of each season. The game is split into three seasons (Spring, Summer and Autumn) and each one consists of the Tea Ceremony, the Political Phase and then the War Phase.

The Tea Ceremony is an opportunity for players to form alliances with each other, which can (and should) involve a fair bit of negotiation. Alliances provide a number of benefits during the Political Phase, but it can sometimes be better to go solo. There’s no minimum or maximum number of alliances, but each clan can only ally with one other – this is demonstrated by interlocking the two clan symbols together in the style of a Yin/Yang.

In the Political Phase, the current first player (initially the one with most honour) draws four tiles from a shared deck of actions. She then places the action she wants to take from among them onto the board and places the other three back onto the pile, face down. Now, the next player performs the action, followed by all other players, with the one who chose the action acting last. The player who chose the action (and their ally, if they have one) will be able to take both the main action and gain a bonus.

The actions available are relatively straightforward and quick to execute. They include Harvest, Recruit, Marshal, Train and Betray. Harvest allows each player to draw one coin, whilst the player who activates it and their ally may also score provinces in which they have the most force (which can be powerful.) Recruit allows all players to purchase cards from the current season selection at their cost, whilst the bonus gives a one coin discount for the one who plays it and get ally.

Train allows players to put figures onto the board wherever they have a stronghold, with a bonus additional figure for the alliance that plays it. Betray, which is the final action, has no alliance bonus (unsurprisingly) but it does break any alliance immediately and reduce the honour of the clan that plays it. The upside is that it allows that player to replace any two figures (except Daimyo’s) on the board with their own (of the same type) which makes it very powerful.

Every now and then, the placement of action tiles (known as mandates) pauses for a Kami turn. The Kami are four Gods that are also represented by tiles on the board. Every game features a random selection of Kami, and by using the train action, players can send specific troops to worship them, which in turn provides benefits during the Kami phases. One Kami provides money, another allows an extra move action, whilst others have similar or even more powerful benefits that can be combined with season cards for some very swingy effects.

The War Phase, which occurs once all of the political mandate tiles have been placed, involves resolving battles one at a time based on a further set of tiles that are laid out at the beginning of the season. A battle occurs wherever two rival clans are in the same region. When this happens, each player places coins secretly onto a battle board that offers three options. Those options are Seppuku, Take Hostage and Hire Ronin. All of these affect the units on the board, but it is still the player with the most force in a region that wins the battle and retains the province.

Committing Seppuku simply kills all of the clans figures (effectively ceding the battle) but allowing the player performing Seppuku to gain victory points and honour equal to the number of figures killed, which can be huge. Taking a hostage enables a player to pick up one figure from the province to change the balance of forces and steal a victory point. Finally, hire Ronin allows a player to add any Ronin tokens that they hold to their force, again swinging the tide of battle. The winner then gains victory points equivalent to the value of all figures killed in the fight.

I should mention at this point why honour is important, which is mostly why a player would consider Seppuku. Simply but, honour breaks all ties in the game, with the most honourable player always winning. Elsewhere, it impacts certain cards and other features in the game and it often allows the more honourable player to act first or make a decision that will affect everyone.

Once the phases of all three seasons have been completed, the game ends with final scoring. The player with the most victory points is then declared the winner. Even though alliances will be made and broken several times during a game, only one player will win, so it pays to consider alliance – and betrayal – very carefully. You’ll want to maintain alliances whilst it can help you, but not if it helps a rival clan win.

Rising Sun is surprisingly intuitive to play, with turns that are very fast and almost always simple to resolve. This accessibility hides several layers of strategic depth that only emerge as the seasons pass. Play sequence is a huge factor, as the timing of Political Mandates. Betraying an ally as the last action of the season when you’ve had the benefit of the alliance for some time can be a valuable move – especially if replacing their pieces with yours will result in a strong War Phase.

I’m also surprised how different Rising Sun feels in comparison to other Eric Lang games like The Godfather and Blood Rage. It’s dudes on a map (again) but it is highly individual to play and fabulously well structured. I’d suggest it is midweight because of its depth, but it’s easy enough to pick up and teach that I think I’ll continue to use it with my very casual gaming friends quite happily.

To summarize, Rising Sun is another fantastic effort from one of the worlds leading designers. The components are incredible and the game looks hugely impressive to bring to the table, which makes it even easier to convince players to get involved with. I’m fairly comfortable suggesting that Rising Sun could be among the cornerstones of any gaming collection. If it sounds like your thing, it probably will be.

**** 4/5

You can buy Rising Sun online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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