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Battle for Rokugan: Crab Strategy

Battle for Rokugan is a simple and superb game. A game of martial tactics and warfare, Battle for Rokugan puts players in the role of warlords, controlling clans in Feudal Japan. Those clans battle in what becomes a fantastic game of armies, navies, shinobi, raiding, blessing, and creating peace.

I won’t go into too much detail about how the game plays here, as we actually reviewed it back in 2018 (you can read our Battle for Rokugan review here); however, we have only gone a little way into exploring the full potential of the game. In Battle for Rokugan, each clan is slightly asymmetrical, starting out controlling their own capital city. They then choose territories, dividing up the board accordingly. Each clan also starts with one different combat token (which can sometimes feel like a bit of a damp squib, granted), and then they have a special ability.

Battle for Rokugan: Crab vs Phoenix
Crab vs Phoenix

There are seven clans in Battle for Rokugan, each one based on a clan from The Legend of Five Rings. Those clans are Unicorn, Dragon, Lion, Scorpion, Phoenix, Crane, and, the mighty and illusive, Crab.

I like the Crab clan, and they are one of my all time favourite clans to play. Back in 2018, we looked at the various different provinces in the game, and what they mean in regards to territory control. Crab are the only clan to have four provinces in their territory, making them super interesting, and they also have some of the riskiest provinces in the game. It’s nut. Crabs deliver the most points, but they also have a super boat load of risk.

At the end of the last strategy article we wrote about Battle for Rokugan I asked a question. How do you support the Crab with so many entrance points? There are so many ways to invade the Crab territory, so how do you make sure you keep it safe?

Well, today (18 months later), and having played as the Crab Clan almost exclusively since, I think we have an answer.

Battle for Rokugan: Crab Strategy

Depending on the player count, the Crab Clan in Battle for Rokugan have a few options in how they behave. First though, the Crab Clan get one Navy 3 combat token to use during the game. This is their special token. Secondly, the Crab Clan have the ability that, when they defend, their control token is worth +2 rather than +1 defence. Yes, the Crab Clan are really good at sea combat and defence.

This means there are two immediate strategy types, with a few additional sub types to those strategies, available for super effective strategies.

These we’ll be exploring over the next few paragraphs as we delve deeper into the Battle for Rokugan Crab strategy.

Defensible Positions

#1: Mastering Defence

Looking at the Crab Clan in Battle for Rokugan, there is one thing that immediately stands out. They have a power that is, for all intents and purposed, the best defensive power in the game – with the ability to gain a +2 on provinces they defend in.  What really makes this ability good is that you don’t need to be attacked in order to defend a province, giving the ability to build up incredible amounts of defence in small pockets around the board.

What this leads to, in and of itself, are several interesting options on how to play. Firstly, when placing at the beginning, try to gain as much as possible from the mountain and Crab territories as possible. The Shadowlands are also worth considering namely because, although they cannot score points at the end, the Shadowlands have some incredible cards. Controlling the abilities the Shadowlands give can be incredible.

Controlling a foothold at the bottom of the board is a powerful position to be in, and (in lower player count games) it is possible to fortify up enough provinces to create a line that is difficult for your opponents to break through.

Battle for Rokugan: Crab Strategy
Creating a band across the map in a two player game – using Raid and Diplomacy.

One point worth considering is trying to divide the board up. Where this can paint a target on you, or exacerbate the targeting that is already on you (hey, it is that kind of game) it is possible to draw an impassable line across the board. I personally like to do this across the top of the Crab territory, going into the Mountain, and just underneath where Crab/Mountain meet Scorpion/Crane. This provides plenty of expansion opportunity whilst also keeping opponents at bay.

The reason this works is because most clans start off around their own Capital, bar maybe one or two random rogue provinces being owned. It can be relatively easy to cut off the bottom of the map and keep it as your own. That is especially the case if you take ownership of the Badlands, as they have no draw points wise.

In larger games, taking over a line across the board can be hard, and it can paint a giant target on your back. If you are in a defensible position, it can be a massive lure to other players to try and take the throne from you.

Taking over the bottom of the board.

This is why, using the Diplomacy and Raid tokens well is essential. Use either in the right place, and it can help defend your line. Use a shinobi to gain a footing elsewhere and you can draw the fire away from your high point provinces.

That is where Tactic B comes in.

Tactic B, or Strategy B, is the “stay out of other peoples’ way” strategy. For this, what you do is hug the edge of the board, and fortify. Each time you fortify you gain points, and so this helps build points up for the end of the game. Now, in a low player count game, this won’t work. There are simply too many other territories for the other player to nab. That being said, in a game with a higher player count (let’s say 5 people) it can be opportune to simply stand to one side and bolster.

Choose your starting positions wisely, and you may only need to do minimum expansion as the game progresses.

Now, this kind of strategy only works if you choose your positions well at the start of the game, and then you just need to defend.

A favourite of some players is to take the Island Provinces. The reason for this is the maximum strength of a Navy is +2 without doubling up on tokens and being super inefficient (bar with the Crab Clan…who are you…so you don’t need to worry about them). Defend once on each and they can become almost impossible to take away from you, assuming you start with all three. Give another clan an inch, and they will take an island.

#2 Mastering Offence

Mastering offense as the Crab Clan is difficult, due to the nature of the clan; however, it can still be done. Creating a stronghold on a Clan Capital (preferably not your own but rather a more central one like Lion or Scorpion) and then using that to branch out is one potential option. This creates a ripple effect through the board; however, you need to be aware of the fact that your forces will generally get weaker the further out you go. They will be more vulnerable and open to attack. It will work for a few turns, but it doesn’t necessarily help with expansion.

Owning the Coast

One of the better strategies is to use the Navy 3 and positioning of the Crab/Mountain relationship to your advantage, working up the board. Through moving through Crane and up to Dragon, it is possible to use land troops to move up the board. Not only does this subvert the expectation that players tend to work for completed Territories (an important end-game factor, but not the be all and end all) but it also means you can support with Navy. The Navy can easily give a foothold in Phoenix territory, as well as support with Crane, meaning it is relatively easy to expand fast along a coast (assuming the right tokens are in your hand).

By expanding fast, it means your next turn can be focused on defence of those positions. One turn of defence makes your territories twice as defended as other people.

One of the biggest aspects of the Crab Clan strategy, when playing offensively, is that you need to make it so your Provinces are as unattractive as possible. This is relatively easily done by defending, as (hopefully) it’ll encourage players to go for an easier province.

Crab Clan Strategy: Hints and Tips

The Crab Clan, in Battle for Rokugan, can actually be summarised pretty easily.

  • Defence is always good.
  • Attacking up the coast is where you are physically strongest.

Okay, that is oversimplifying, but you get the idea. For the Crab Clan, defence really is a huge aspect of the game because they do it so well. The Navy 3 also means that they are easy to underestimate when it comes to coastal combat, and where relatively easy to defend against, that element of surprise really helps add to their strategy. Have a base in the south, with the Crab and Mountain territories, but you can also pay the Phoenix and Crane clans a visit they may grow to regret.

This article has been an exploration and a bit of an overview of the Crab Clan strategy. They’re not one of the easier clans to play, but they are also not one of the hardest. Definitely one of the favourites though.

So, over to you. Have you played Battle for Rokugan? What’s your favourite Clan to play as? Let me know in the comments below.


  1. Another interesting article. I always meant to ask, how much do your regular gaming group contribute to your articles? Do they know you are looking to write on a specific game and this generates discussions on tactics on that subject (such as for Crab Clan in the instance)?

    Liked by 1 person

    • A very interesting question 🙂 obviously we play a lot of the games together. We’ll occasionally discuss strategy, but we more discuss the analysis aspect. Several of the more analytical articles have been created to answer specific questions we have as a group (especially the Gloomhaven ones). They don’t directly contribute though, if that is what you mean.

      Liked by 1 person

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