Katie's Game Corner: Games Explained: Sekigahara by Matthew Calkins & GMT Games
Sekigahara is a block wargame based on The battle of Sekigahara fought in 1600. It’s a two-player game, that lasts around the 2.5/3 hour mark and is the perfect game to slot into this series. It’s got an interesting theme and is really enjoyable to play, however the rules can be a bit confusing to some. When I first played the game, I awkwardly stumbled through the rules, trying to make sense of them with that ahhh moment halfway through, and now, I’m hooked. The rules aren’t complicated as such but they are wargame rules, which aren’t always as clear or obvious as other rulebooks due to the complexity of the game and it is a game I would very much like you to understand, as I think everybody should be playing it!
So, how does it play? Sekigahara is played over 7 rounds which represent the 7 weeks in the war. One player takes on the role of the Tokugawa Ieyasu which were the most powerful daimyō in Japan. The daimyō were powerful Japanese feudal lords who, until their decline in the early Meiji period, ruled most of Japan from their vast, hereditary land holdings. The other player plays Ishida Mitsunari, champion of the warlord’s child heir. Both leaders assembled a coalition of armies and fought a 7-week contest for control of Japan. The war took place at a crossroads in Japan called Sekigahara, where disloyalty and defections tuned the tide of battle from Ishida to Tokugawa. This theme attracted me to Sekigahara at first, it’s something different to a lot of wargames and takes a look at the conflict in a respectable way. And it’s absolutely gorgeous, those wooden blocks stacked up high on that beautiful board are just something else.
Sekigahara is an asymmetric wargame and both sides have different victory conditions. Victory points are counted at the end of the 7 weeks if tehre has been no instant win however, the Tokugawa player wins instantly if the Ishida Mitsunari is killed, which is a certain block in the game or if the Toyotomi Hideyori is captured which is a golden disk in the game. The Ishida player wins instantly if a certain leader belonging to their rival is killed. These instant wins adds a certain level of excitement to the game. You see, Sekigahara is an elegant game and however overused in wargame reviews that word may be, it’s true. You’ve got simple but frustrating at times card play combined with a solid combat mechanic and room for bundles of strategy.
Throughout the game, you are travelling your armies across roads, claiming locations on the board, building resources and engaging in combat.
As mentioned earlier, the game is played over 7 weeks and each week contains a weekly cycle including the following steps.
A. The first step is the Reinforcement Step where each player will receive new cards and blocks.
B. Then each player will bid for their turn order in the Turn Order Step. They do this by placing a card from their hand face down on the table, and then the cards are simultaneously revealed. The player whose card has the highest number in the bottom corner is the winner and gets to choose who goes first.
C. Finally, there are Turns A and B. This is where each player will conduct movement and combat. I liked how this step created a cat and mouse effect during the game. In Turn A, the first player would take their movement phase and then their combat phase, then it goes to the second player to take theirs. Once they have both done this, it happens again in Turn B. Once this has been done, the Turn marker will keep advancing until it reaches Week 7!
The combat in Sekigahara is simple but clever. Combat occurs after all moment and must be declared in every single location on the board where opposing pieces appear together. This makes the game super challenging and gives you a lot to think about when placing armies on the board. These declarations are made once at a time and are resolved immediately after each declaration. The attacker will start the battle by deploying units onto the board, with the defender being able to respond. Again, adding to that cat and mouse chase feel of the game.
Ofcourse, there is a lot more to the game than my brief overview but I wanted to give you a taste of what the game is like and help you understand a little better. Sekigahara can be deceiving, but in a good a way. It is easy to be distracted by those stunning blocks and gorgeous artwork, or focus on them during the game and while you do have to keep an eye out, it’s the cards in your hand that really matter. The cards in this reminded me slightly of a card driven game like Memoir 44 or Commands and Colors. The cards in your hand control your actions and you might have the best strategy in the world, you just might not have the cards for it.
I also love that Sekigahara gives you that full wargame feel in just a few hours. It’s a perfect introduction into wargames and a theme I haven’t explored much in the past but I have definitely taken an interest now. I’ve said it before and I will probably say it a million times. Wargames are perfect for taking a closer look at conflicts that happened around the world, it’s an interesting way to learn more and explore parts of history you hadn’t thought about before and Sekigahara is a perfect example of that.
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