Rising Sun Review – Oni, Kami, Warfare and Politics
Rising Sun is fairly fresh on the scene at the moment. The feudal Japan style territory control game has taken the world by storm, boasting some of the most beautiful miniatures on the market. These form the basis of an incredibly strong game, designed by Eric M. Lang, firmly securing his place amongst the greats.
Apparently, Rising Sun is one of a series of games with Lang’s influence that all have the same kind of feel to them – the feel that makes sure you know he had a say in designing the game. The other two were both Kickstarted, like Rising Sun, and yet are about completely different themes. Blood Rage has been covered in a fair amount on this blog already, and, as you play the game, it is easy to see why. Blood Rage is beautiful. As is Rising Sun.
Hate is the other game that has been Kickstarted recently. It has actually been designed by the team behind Zombicide, guided by Lang rather than with him as a lead designer. I won’t go into further detail but suffice to say it is quite a unique game in the current tabletop ecosystem.
Rising Sun is a formidable game that I do want to write more about. That all needs to start however with a breakdown of the game, so this article will be a Rising Sun review to help kick things off.
Rising Sun Review: Overview
The game map is, it has to be said, stunning. It is split into eight regions – Hokkaido, Oshu, Kyoto, Edo, Kansai, Nagato, Shikaku, and Kyushu.
Rising Sun is a game in two parts. Firstly it is a political game – a game where allegiances and grudges have real consequences on how the game plays. Secondly, it is a combat and territory control game. Both offer potential paths to victory, and both are equally fun for different reasons.
At its heart, Rising Sun is all about victory points, and those can be gained in a number of ways. Honour helps facilitate the whole game, with warfare being the most obvious way of gaining points.
The game contains a lot of different aspects, including Kami, Oni, Worship, building Strongholds, and shaping the world with politics. However, during the latter half of each season, it becomes a game of carnage and that is where Eric M. Lang really shines. He knows how to write rules that really pop in moments of combat.
It is with this that you can actually look at the game and split it into two similar sections – preparation for combat, and then the combat itself. What this does is create a really interesting dynamic where the game is a constant building and dispersion of conflict.
Rising Sun: How To Play The Game
I’m not going to go into every intricate part of the rules here, however, let’s cover how to play the game in a little bit of detail.
Firstly, every player picks a clan to play as. There are six in the Kickstarter edition of the game (five in the standard) – Bonsai, Turtle, Koi, Dragonfly, Lotus, and Fox (the Kickstarter Exclusive). Each one has its own ability, ranging from being able to manipulate the politics of the game (Lotus) to being able to sway the combat (Koi) to even being able to move their strongholds (Turtle). Each clan has a set honour level to start the game with, determining the order they play in. Honour is also important from that moment on as it determines how certain game components interact.
The game is split into three seasons – Spring, Summer, and Autumn – before a Winter phase at the end of the game. Each Season is split into three core phases.
The first phase is the Tea phase. In this players can choose their political partners and alliances in the game. These alliances are made official using Yin-Yang symbols that slot together, and can create huge benefits during the game for the players involved.
Once that has happened (and that phase can take as long as it needs to) the players then move onto the Political Mandates phase.
For the Political Mandates, there is a stack of tiles (Majong style tiles in the Kickstarter). There are five mandates, each with an ability. The first player picks the top four mandates up off the pile, picks one, and places it down face up. The other three get replaced on top of the pile. This means the second player picks the top four, including three the previous player has already seen and one new one.
The five Political Mandates are as follows:
- Recruit – All players summon a unit at each one of their strongholds. Shinto may worship. You and your allies summon one extra.
- Marshall – All players can move each one of their units across one border or shipping route. You and your allies may pay 3 coins to build a stronghold.
- Train – Buy one available Season card. These could be upgrades to your faction or they can be Oni or Monsters – giant minis representing angry spirits or creatures who fight on your side. You and your allies spend one less coin.
- Harvest – Everyone gains one coin. You and your allies collect rewards from any province in which you have the most force. These could be coins, victory points, or Ronin.
- Betray – Replace any two figures of your choice (from different players) on the map with your own. If you have an alliance break it and lose honour.
Seven Political Mandates are laid out in total, and these are done in three steps – three, then two, and then two again. These are split up with the Kami looking over the whole battlefield – special abilities that can be bid for in the game using your Shinto (more on this later).
Once those seven are over, the War Phase begins. During this phase, combat occurs in a randomised order (laid out at the beginning of the season).
Combat occurs as a bidding mechanism. Players bid on how they want to get points in private before revealing it to the rest of the players. The person who wants to bid on each section gains those abilities during combat assuming they bid the most. All in all, there are five actions within the combat of each region. These are bid for and then played in order – the actions are:
- Seppuku – You may kill all your figures to gain victory points and honour for each.
- Take a Hostage – You may take 1 hostage. Take one victory point from your opponent.
- Hire Ronin – You may add Ronin Tokens (Ronin) to your force to increase the overall force of your units.
- Battle Outcome – This is determined by the force in each region. It is calculated by all the number of figures in each section (of which each normal figure is 1 force, unless modified. Oni and Monsters have their own rules. Most are worth one unless stated otherwise). The Ronin dedicated to the battle are also added on, worth one force each.
- Imperial Poets – The person who wins this bid gets victory points for every figure killed during the combat.
The person who wins gets the region. Victory points are awarded at the end of the game for the number of regions take over during the game.
The game ends after three seasons have been played, then the end game (winter phase) happens. This denotes the final scoring.
That’s the crux of the game, however, it doesn’t really explain the pieces. Let’s take a look at those in a bit more detail.
Rising Sun Review: The Pieces in the Game
You would expect a game made by a company called Cool Mini or Not to have great miniatures, and Rising Sun does not disappoint. The minis in the game are fantastic.
First, each faction has one Daimyo – an elite leader who cannot be betrayed, taken hostage, or be affected in any other way by your opponents.
The Shinto can worship. Each clan has three Shinto and they can gain additional abilities by worshipping the right Kami during the game.
Bushi are the basic warriors in the game. Rising Sun comes with two sculpts, adding a bit of further variety to the unit.
Finally, if purchased during the Train phase, there are Oni and Monsters. Oni are unique creatures and models in the game that can completely sway the flow of fortune. The Oni, in Japanese lore, are the spirits of the dead. In Rising Sun, there are such Oni as the Oni of Skulls and the Oni of Spite. There are also additional Monsters such as the Water Dragon and Komainu. Oni and Monsters can have fantastic abilities from counting as more force to sapping victory points off opponents.
That’s about it with the breakdown of how the game is played in this Rising Sun review. Now, let’s move on to what it is like playing Rising Sun.
What Is Rising Sun Like?
Summarising how I feel about Rising Sun is not an easy task for all the right reasons. I think, to be blunt, the answer is that this is now probably my favourite Eric M. Lang game. There are a lot of small and intricate details in the game that are amazing additions to the greater whole; however, I think where Rising Sun really shines (no pun intended) is with the sheer variety of the strategies that can be employed.
Games like Blood Rage, the spiritual predecessor to Rising Sun, have a lot of strategy options within them, however, Blood Rage was also a game that was almost solely about combat. Yes, there is a Loki strategy around losing combat; however, in Blood Rage the strategy is very combat focused as a general rule. In Rising Sun, the strategy is far more fluid. You don’t have to rely on the game giving you a lot of specific cards, but instead, the randomness is taken out of a lot of the strategy with the bidding actions.
This means there are both pacifist and combative strategies that can be initiated, with the addition of the further options such as taking hostages or seppuku widening the strategic pool. They add a huge amount of variety to Rising Sun.
In a strange way, it is possible to also see hits of Twilight Imperium in Rising Sun with the Political Mandates. These add an additional dynamic, the likes of which is really welcome because it slows the right moments of the game down, allowing for the focus of the game to be on the strategising rather than on the resolving of combat.
This means the game can be played politically as much as it can be played waging war. It really matters who you forge your allegiances with, as well as how you want to play the game – whether you want to be scheming or destructive.
One of the greatest strengths of the game rests in the characterisation of the individual clans. They each have their own abilities that help dictate the way they are played. Not only does this add for a lot of replayability, but it also means each has their own unique flavour. The Koi Clan, for instance, can be incredibly combative, whilst the Fox Clan can benefit more from killing their own units for victory points.
Need I add, the art is just stunning by Adrian Smith.
The miniatures are beautiful. They scream high quality, and each clan, each monster, and each Oni really has its own personality. In fact, personality (that precise word) seeps through every aspect of the game – from the moment the box is open to the moment you are tallying up your final scores at the end of the game.
Of course, the biggest question about Rising Sun, and the ultimate question any Rising Sun review needs to answer is this: is Rising Sun a fun game?
The response is very clear. Yes, it is a fun game. It is a beautifully fun game. There are a lot of small components to Rising Sun (both literally and mechanically) and yet at its core, it is a remarkably simple game. Rising Sun is just excellent. The political aspect, the warfare, and the mythos of Feudal Japan all merge together to create a game that not only has something for everyone but also something that plays spectacularly well. As such, as easy as it would be to lumber Rising Sun with Blood Rage it is actually a more sophisticated game. Rising Sun is a two-hour epic.
This Rising Sun review has taken a while to write, but I can always tell a game I thoroughly enjoyed because I really don’t mind taking a few hours to write about it. Rising Sun is a game with a lot of complexity, but not in a bad way. It offers the players a hundred different ways to play the game, with all kinds of units and monsters to channel onto the board.
What this means is that Rising Sun is not so much a game but rather an experience. It oozes something unique, something to help satisfy even the most sceptical of players, giving them a way to play the game however they want to play. Allegiances matter, as do the way you decide to expand, how you declare war, what you do to maintain or grow honour, and how you conquer the land.
All in all, out of all the people I have played Rising Sun with, I don’t think there is a single player who would pause for a second about whether they recommend the game or not. It is simply superb.
This was a review of the Kickstarter version of the game; however, the basis is still the same for the non-Kickstarter edition. Some of the content is different in the base game, as the Fox Clan does not exist (for instance), and I believe the Turtle Clan fortresses are different in the base game. Other than that, some of the tokens that are plastic in the Kickstarter version of the game are cardboard in the main game. We haven’t played with any of the exclusive Kickstarter Monsters or Oni yet.
So, that is a relatively in-depth look at Rising Sun, the game by Eric Lang of Cool Mini or Not (CMON) fame. Now, what do you think of the game? Is this the kind of game you want to play? Did you like the games that came before it? Let me know in the comments below.