I have long had an interest in Japan and its history and wars. I actually lived in the Kansai Region of Japan for a period of two years residing in cities such as Kyoto, Uji, Maizuru, Sanda, Kobe and Osaka. I loved the culture and history and really enjoyed visiting the temples and shrines but also in taking trips to the few castles there. A few weeks ago, I saw this new upcoming game that purported to take a look at 16th century Japan and the struggle of various Daimyo who are waging wars of conquest to become the next Shogun. I was definitely intrigued and reached out to the designer Nathan Lusk to see if we could get some more information about the design before the game launches its Kickstarter campaign on June 1st.

If you are interested in Daimyo Senso you can check out the Kickstarter preview page for more information: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/warriorwithapen/daimyo-senso?ref=eqgxp7&token=3aa84d02

Grant: First off Nathan please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?

Nathan: I was born and raised in Lubbock, TX, and from a young age had a strong interest in the Crusades. By age 11, I had developed a much deeper interest in 16th century Japanese history (the Age of the Country at War, or Sengoku Jidai) and the Three Kingdoms period of China (189 AD into the 300s). My hobbies are playing games of all types, studying history, designing games (I have developed 24 so far), and hunting and fishing. The job that pays my bills is as the manager of the print shop in the Texas Tech University College of Architecture.

Grant: What motivated you to break into game design? What have you enjoyed most about the experience thus far?

Nathan: I designed my first game, based on the Three Kingdoms, 12 years ago, because I wanted to play a Three Kingdoms game with friends. Then I made a card game about it. Then an RPG. A few years later, I was dissatisfied with the lack of personality in a lot of the games on the market. Every faction was the same, just a different color or symbol. I wanted asymmetrical powers from asymmetrical factions, and figured I should make it happen. My gaming friends and I have played my developed games almost exclusively ever since.

Grant: What designers have influenced your style?

Nathan: I don’t look at particular designers, but do pay attention to myriad styles. Some of my games are influenced by Warhammer, but many share a theme, and sometimes even style, from classic video games, especially Three Kingdoms and the Japanese civil war. More recently, Small Samurai Empires, which is a brilliant game but with generic factions, influenced the makeup of my upcoming Daimyo Senso.

Grant: What do you find most challenging about the design process? What do you feel you do really well?

Nathan: Games flow out of my mind with little effort in most cases. The most difficult part is getting art applied to a game, as even my stick figures aren’t recognizable. Art is simply not something I can do. One of my games coming in the future, called Chiefs, Champs, Brawl, or Ball, was a real challenge. It came to me in a dream, and it took me a month to figure out how to do it on a tabletop. But once I realized how, I had a full playable prototype the same day. My best attributes in game design are balancing asymmetry and developing mechanics.

Grant: What is your upcoming game Daimyo Senso about?

Nathan: Daimyo Senso is set in 16th century Japan, just as the most powerful warlords, called Daimyo, came to the forefront of their civil war. There are no dice, there is no luck, table talk is recommended, and not only are the factions different, but their special abilities are wildly unique. And those abilities are based on 32 actual samurai from the time period. It is for 2-8 players, and even a full 8 player game under the standard rules takes less than 2 hours. There are rules for a longer game if players would prefer a more definitive (last man standing) style of play.

Grant: What does the title mean and what does it convey about the game and the play experience?

Nathan: There isn’t direct translation for many Japanese things. The closest definition of “Daimyo” is warlord, but the term doesn’t connote the difference between samurai who rule land and those who serve in who rules land. “Senso” is Japanese for war. So the name, in a sense, means “Warlords War”.

Grant: What sources did you consult on 16th century Japanese Daimyo? What one source would you recommend as a must read?

Nathan: There are a variety of video games that deal with the time period. Nobunaga’s Ambition (all versions) are excellent, as are many historical books. If reading is one’s preferred method of learning, anything on the time period by author Stephen Turnbull is the way to go. Additionally, “Age of Samurai, Battle for Japan” on Netflix is a great starter, and Stephen Turnbull is one of the narrators.

Grant: The game is designed for 2-8 players. How is the experience different at these player counts?

Nathan: The only difference in the game for less players than the full 8 is that players will fight over a smaller portion of Japan and have less Daimyo to choose from depending on their number. The tactics, strategy, and competitive nature of the game remain intact no matter the player count.

Grant: What is variable about the setup at each player count?

Nathan: As an example of the difference one might see, a three player game involves only the Shimazu, Mori, and Miyoshi clans, and is fought over just 4 regions, rather than the full 8 regions. This three way battle is slightly more difficult for the Mori, but a smooth tongue and flawless tactics can even the odds.

Grant: What does the map look like? How did you define various territories?

Nathan: The map is the four main islands of Japan, but divided into 8 regions. The central 4 regions are heavily populated with cities, which are worth 2 honor and provide additional troops upon deployment. The outer 4 regions are more fortress heavy, which supply only one honor and allow a player to move troops easier. So while the peripheral Daimyo are a bit more secure, their scoring opportunities are more spread out.

Grant: Who is the artist for the game? How important do you think art is to a game on this subject?

Nathan: The artist is a wonderful woman in Alaska named Sara Ristow. I’ve had horrible luck getting artists to produce art for games for years, but Sara has cheerfully created paintings, a font, artistic representations of the mon (clan symbols) for the clans, and everything else I have asked her to make for Daimyo Senso. The art style is sort of a minimalist, austere experience that feels very Japanese.

Grant: What does the action chart look like?

Nathan: The action chart depicts what each clan must do in each season of the game. It has exactly four actions for each clan, but no two clans have those orders in the same sequence. This is an important strategic piece for the standard rules of the game; every Daimyo had spies in each others’ camps. They all knew what the other Daimyo were going to do. But they often did not know how or where. The action chart depicts that perfectly.

Grant: What predetermined commands do players use each turn and how does a turn structure work?

Nathan: The four actions for each Daimyo each year are, in no particular order, Move, Deploy, Attack, and Attack. Yes, two attacks. Each Daimyo performs one of these actions during their turn, according to the clan they have chosen and the current season. And the actions are always taken in the same order: Oda, Uesugi, Takeda, Hojo, Mori, Miyoshi, Date, Shimazu.

Grant: What experience does this predetermined action selection create?

Nathan: The action chart takes weight off the player, particularly when they are first learning the game. It makes the game move faster. Decisions can be planned in advance during other players’ turns because you already know WHAT you must do… You need only decide HOW you want to do it (use a special action or not) and WHERE you want to do it.

Grant: How easy is it to play off what is shown on the chart and game your opponents?

Nathan: There are obviously times when a neighboring Daimyo will have to deploy or move on his turn, so you can be confident that an attack will not be avenged immediately. However, beware the turns where the opposite is true. Additionally, no player is obliged to tell you what special actions they still hold. Players may only see the special actions already played in the game.

Grant: What special actions do Daimyo have access to?

Nathan: The special actions (called General Cards) are all unique. Each Daimyo has one for each of their actions; 1 Move, 1 Deploy, and 2 Attacks. And they are generally far more powerful than regular actions. Each Daimyo is allowed to play one General Card per year. Remember a year is four seasons, and the game is only played for four years, so only 25% of your actions can be amped up by using General Cards.

Grant: How does combat work and how are losses determined?

Nathan: Combat is simple. When it is your turn to attack, you can either move troops from one of your controlled Provinces to an empty Province (however many you like from one land to one land), or attack a neighboring Province controlled by another Daimyo’s troops. When attacking troops, your troops kill 1 enemy for every 2 attackers, rounded down, with a minimum of one kill. If you control a Region that gives you a Regional bonus to round up, then you can round up any remainders rather than rounding them down.

Grant: How can combat be modified? What role do Generals play in combat?

Nathan: Aside from Regional bonuses, combat can also be modified, sometimes heavily, by General Cards. For instance, the Oda clan has a General Card that allows Oda to attack twice in one turn. He may make two attacks on the same Province, or one attack each on two different Provinces. His other General Card for attacking allows him to combine troop numbers from two Provinces that are both adjacent to an enemy Province to attack that enemy Province.

Grant: How are each of the factions General Cards different?

Nathan: The two attacking General Cards of the Oda clan just described contrast greatly with those of the Hojo clan. One of Hojo’s allows him to use the troop counts from any of his Provinces to attack any enemy Province adjacent to any Hojo Province. Hojo’s other attacking General Card allows him to physically move troops from one of his Provinces to the one he’s about to attack from, and then make his attack. There are 32 completely unique General Cards.

Grant: How are regions controlled?

Nathan: To control a Region, a Daimyo must have troops in a majority of the Provinces within that Region.

Grant: What benefits come from control of regions?

Nathan: Regional bonuses can include the following benefits: Move an additional troop during your Move action; Deploy an additional troop during your Deploy action; round up instead of down when Attacking during your Attack action; gain an additional Honor at the end of a year when Honor is calculated.

Grant: What role do Castles, Cities, and Fortresses play in the game?

Nathan: Every Province in the game has either a Fortress, a City, or a Castle on it. They are worth 1, 2, and 3 Honor respectively. Also, the total Castles and Fortresses a Daimyo controls determines how many troops he can move. The total number of Castles and Cities a Daimyo controls also determines how many troops they can deploy.

Grant: How is victory achieved?

Nathan: In the standard rules, the player with the most collective honor after 4 years is the winner and is pronounced the new Shogun. In the optional long play rules, the victor is the last player alive after all other players have been eliminated.

Grant: I understand there are variant rules to allow for a last man standing game. How do these rules change things up?

Nathan: In the standard rules, a Daimyo’s home castle cannot be taken even if he has no troops on it. It is impossible for a player to be eliminated. In the optional rules, a player’s home castle can be taken if he is first limited to 3 or less Provinces total and then attacked at his home castle by a force able to eliminate all troops in his home castle. Honor is not tabulated at the end of each year in this mode, and after four years, all spent General Cards are returned to their owners to be used again. One last great variation: in the variable rules, eliminating a Daimyo allows the Daimyo who destroyed him to select 2 of the conquered Daimyo’s General Cards to add to their hand.

Grant: What is the victory condition in the last man standing game?

Nathan: The way to win the optional rules game is determined by the players beforehand: they can choose a true last man standing victory condition or a set number of Region to control for victory.

Grant: What are you most pleased with about the design?

Nathan: My favorite part of the design is in the General Cards. Their powerful, unique effects on the game greatly enhance the replayability of the game and provide some very interesting and game changing effects.

Grant: What has been the experience of your playtesters?

Nathan:I have a few that took a minute to come around to the pre-set actions of the standard play rules. But once they accepted it, they saw a deeper strategy in working around their opponents actions while trying to use their own as powerfully as possible. They understood that their standard actions were designed to allow them to set up their General Card for far more powerful effects.

Grant: What stretch goals will be included in the Kickstarter campaign?

Nathan: As of now, I am looking at stretch goals to improve the quality of the game components, particularly the token storage. Since each Daimyo has 40 tokens, having better storage for them than plain plastic bags would be fantastic.

Grant: When do you think the game will be fulfilled?

Nathan: I am using an American manufacturer to produce my game, which means my per unit price may be a little higher than it could be. But I will not be worrying about waiting for a cargo boat to cross a giant ocean or possibly get stuck in a jammed canal. Depending on the manufacturer’s load at the time of my order, I hope to have the game in hand within a few months of the Kickstarter campaign ending.

Grant: What other games are you currently working on?

Nathan: Wow. I have over 20 games already designed and play tested. Many of them only need art to be finished. A lot of my games, as I mentioned earlier, deal with either 16th century Japan or the Three Kingdoms era of China, but I don’t want people to think that is all Warrior with a Pen Games can do. So I think my next one may be Food Truck Race, where players each control a unique food truck and have to cook dishes while racing to customers all over a busy downtown, competing to earn the most money in a single, furious night. Among the others that are only waiting for artwork are Yama Yama Tani Tani, which is a deeply strategic battlefield tactics game where generals each can trigger their allies to use tactics and score amazingly powerful combo attacks against their enemies. Hero Valley is a game where players take the role of a fantasy archetype character, like Fighter, Mage, Barbarian, Cleric, etc., and try to become the most famous hero by defeating monsters that have been terrorizing the villagers of towns in a secluded country; using the money gained from the monster bounties to buy epic equipment and malicious magic to make themselves more powerful. I also have Bloodfist Champions, which will be a massive fantasy masterpiece. The box will contain Bloodfist Champions Leagues and Tournaments, Bloodfist Champions Battle Royale, and Bloodfist Champions RPG, allowing 3 different types of gameplay in a sprawling fantasy world, and allowing as few as 2 or as many as 30 players to come together and have a blast battling each other in truly gratifying arena fights. I can explore that one with you for days on end… Don’t get me started.

Thanks for your time Nathan in answering our questions about the design. The concepts here are very interesting and I think will make a very interesting play experience for many different player counts. I look forward to the beautiful final copy and getting it to my table.

If you are interested in Daimyo Senso you can check out the Kickstarter preview page for more information: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/warriorwithapen/daimyo-senso?ref=eqgxp7&token=3aa84d02

The Kickstarter campaign will launch on Tuesday, June 1st.

Here is a link to a full first year of play in a 3-player game from the designer Nathan Lusk: