Gunkimono: Building Armies for Honor!

Gunkimono game

In war-torn feudal Japan, the soldiers are restless. The endless battles, betrayals, and broken promises have the soldiers questioning where their loyalties lie. Meanwhile, the daimyo are strategizing, marshaling their troops, and erecting strongholds to bolster the strength of their armies, all in pursuit of honor and ultimate victory.

In Gunkimono, created by Jeffrey Allers and published by Renegade Game Studios, you are a daimyo warlord, building armies and gaining honor to establish your strongholds. Gunkimono is an area control, tile drafting and placement game for 2-5 players ages 10 and up. It takes about an hour to play. Is Gunkimono a Feudal Masterpiece, or a Futile Mess?

Setup

Gunkimono setup

Begin by placing the war banner tiles at the top of the honor tracks. Shuffle and stack the tiles so each track has a lotus tile, then a crane tile, and finally a dragon tile on top. Place these stacks on the appropriate location denoted for the player count.

Shuffle the large rectangular army tiles together and remove a certain number depending on player count. Draw five tiles, shuffle them with the end of game tile, and set them to the side with the cover tile on top.

Draw three army tiles from the stack and place them face up.

Choose a color and place your pieces. The daimyo figure goes on the victory point track, honor markers go at the bottom of each of the honor tracks, and your two strongholds go next to the honor track (exact positioning depends on player count). Finally, take your daimyo tile and place it in front of you, 100 side down, and draw three tiles from the army tile stack.

Each player takes a set of small (square) army tiles, one in each color. Finally, the player who has most recently been in Japan gets the start marker, and the game begins!

Gameplay

Tile Placement

Gunkimono tile: orange and yellow, being placed over brown and blue tiles on the board
Placing a large army tile

A turn in Gunkimono is simple. First, place one of your tiles on the battlefield area of the game board. There are a few placement rules:

  1. Soldiers cannot cover another soldier of the same color.
  2. You cannot place a tile so that both sides are on different levels.
  3. Tiles must be completely in the battlefield area.
  4. You cannot place a tile that would link two formations that each have a stronghold.

You can use the “Extra Support” rule to place a small army tile face-down on the board before placing a large army tile. Extra Support can resolve both rules 1 and 2 above. The large tile still cannot match the solider shown, but any color can be placed on top of the face-down small army tile.

Gunkimono extra support - place a small tile face down to support one side of a large tile
Extra support keeps this large tile on a single level

Scoring

Score all armies present on the placed army tile. For each army, you must decide if you want victory points or honor points.

Use honor points to move markers up on the honor track in the placed army’s color. You use the honor track to unlock your strongholds and also to capture war banner tiles for additional victory points. When choosing to score a tile for honor, count the number of stronghold icons on that side of the tile (one or two). Then move your honor marker up by that number.

Yellow stronghold on an outlined field of 5 blue armies
This stronghold scores 5 points every round

When choosing to score victory points, count the number of squares of the same color connected orthogonally to your tile. These squares create a “formation”. Score this number of points, as long as that formation does not contain a stronghold.

Strongholds

After unlocking a stronghold, place it on an existing formation of your choice that doesn’t currently have a stronghold on it. After normal formation scoring, score your stronghold(s) with the same rules as formation scoring. Formation scoring never happens on a formation that contains a stronghold, even if it is yours.

Note: You may score the tile you placed in a round in either order. You can “double up” scoring of a formation by scoring victory points for a formation first, then scoring honor points, placing a stronghold on the formation you just scored, and scoring stronghold points.

Other players may place tiles to shrink the formation, but your stronghold can never be removed.

Cleanup

Gunkimono end stack, with a cover tile stating 5+1
Almost the end

After scoring, if you played a large tile (two soldiers), replace that tile in your hand with one from the face up tiles, or draw a face-down tile. Replace a face up tile from the stacks if necessary.

When all of the face-down tiles are revealed or drawn, begin to draw from the five tiles with the “End” tile mixed in. Once a player draws the end-of-game tile, finish the round, and the game is over.

Impressions

Mechanics

Gunkimono‘s primary mechanics force players into choosing between immediate (formation scoring) and delayed (honor track) gratification. The balance between these two is critical to success. All players benefit early in a game by contributing to the same growing formation, but there’s a danger there.

We found being too gentle was an easy mistake to make. Cooperating to make a single large formation early in the game seems obvious, but allows the player who grabbed the first stronghold to quickly vault over the competition. A better strategy is to make several small, unconnected formations, then secure one with a stronghold, even if you aren’t the first.

The war banner tiles have a scoring range mechanic like Deep Sea Adventure which keeps the point values of the tiles hidden. This kept players motivated to acquire the dragon crests (highest point range) even after some had been removed. You never know if the tile you get might grant you more points than your neighbor.

A line of war banner tiles stating 11-15. Fingers holding a flipped tile with the number 13 showing.
Values remain hidden, even after taking a banner tile.

Using solders to shrink existing stronghold formations was an excellent mechanic when playing with kids. The erosion of a player’s formation wasn’t as upsetting to our younger gamers as classic “take-that” mechanics. Despite the visually busy board, Gunkimono was easy for our 8-and-10-year-olds to pick up.

Placing a green and orange tile to cut a large yellow formation in half
One tile can cut the size of this yellow formation from 10 armies down to 5.

Art

The Japanese styled art is interesting and engaging. The soldiers on the tiles and the background art are beautiful. At game end, the topographic nature of the stacked tiles on the battlefield made for an interesting tableau that was fun to reflect upon.

The only misstep with the art came in the font used for the victory point track. It was fairly difficult to read as the numbers rotated around the board. This was a case where adherence to the theme actually hurt. It would have been easier to have traditionally styled Arabic numerals.

Yellow and gray daimyo meeples on the scoretrack
The rotating numbers on the track aren’t easy to interpret

Summary

Despite the headaches with the scoring track, Gunkimono remains a fun and engaging game with a low barrier to entry and high artistic interest. The mechanics were just the right complexity: enough to interest adults and kids alike. The strategy was simple enough that mixed ages could compete together successfully.

Pick up a copy of Gunkimono today from your local friendly local game store or from Amazon, today!

Gunkimono board complete, showing strongholds in yellow, blue, gray, and red

Renegade Game Studios provided The Family Gamers with a promotional copy of Gunkimono for this review.

Gunkimono
  • 8/10
    Art - 8/10
  • 9/10
    Mechanics - 9/10
  • 7/10
    Family Fun - 7/10
8/10

Summary

Age Range: 10+

Number of Players: 2-5

Playtime: 45-60 minutes

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