There’s a continuum of game designs ranging from total strategy with zero randomness to completely random where strategy and tactics are pointless. For the former, chess and go are good examples, and for the latter a game like craps or Killer Bunnies demonstrate that fun can be had even when things aren’t predictable. Landing somewhere in the middle is a lovely new game from Osprey Games called Sakura. Sakura means “cherry blossom” and that defines the theme: Players compete to win the favor of the Emperor as he tours the royal gardens in what seems like must be feudal Japan.
Based on a simple board, each player controls the movement of the Emperor, themselves or one of the other players as the Emperor strolls through the gardens and stops to admit the sakura (cherry blossoms) at specific spots along the path. Here’s the board:
See the spot with the three flower petals on the left? That’s one of three sakura spots on the board. The tall purple token is the Emperor, while the shorter pawns are individual players. We played with four, though the game is for 3-7 [with optional 2 player rules]. In the photo above you’ll also notice I’m holding a set of cards. Each card controls movement and is played top, then bottom icon. The leftmost card, for example, will let me move the Emperor forward or backward one (yellow square = Emperor) and below it the “+” and pawn icons combine to then let me move the number of spaces equal to the number of players between me and the Emperor. The rightmost card is more tricky: The top triangle moves the furthest player 2 spaces closer to the Emperor, then the lower circled “+3” means I can then move three spaces forward.
There are two critical things to know about all of this that affect how the game transpires: You can’t share spaces, so if someone’s occupying a space you automatically move one further ahead and two, far more importantly, you do not want to bump into the Emperor because you’ll lose prestige points and be pushed back three spaces. The shame!
Each time the Emperor arrives at a sakura viewing spot, players are rewarded with prestige based on their proximity to him:
You can see the cheat note on the tree itself: The closest (green) will get 3 prestige points, next (blue) will get 2 points, and both red and black will get 1. At the end of the game, the player with the most honor points wins. Easy enough!
But there’s a bit more to it: Each round every player puts a card in from their hand without knowing anyone else’s cards or what order cards will be played. Then the numbers on the bottom of the cards determines actual play order for that round. Consider these four cards that we’ve played:
Card #4 will go first as it’s the lowest number, then #6, then #19 then #54. Order is super important because if you plan on moving forward to catch up with the crowd and someone else moves you ahead unexpectedly, you can end up bumping into the Emperor and losing prestige points!
In practice this game was quick to figure out (though the symbols were confusing and a cheat card or two would have been very helpful) and we had a lot of fun trying to trip up our opponents while simultaneously trying to ensure we were closest to the Emperor when he arrived at a sakura viewing spot. For reasons I can’t explain, each time he did land on a spot, we’d all yell “sakura!” as if we worked at a sushi restaurant. Quite hilarious even if a bit random.
And random is kind of the order of the day too; this is not a deep, complex strategy game that requires lots of analysis. Play this as a fun, light party game or filler and have fun keeping the pace lively. We enjoyed it and will definitely play it again, and the design and graphics definitely added to the game.
The only complaints I have are that the board was hard to flatten (that’s why there are things on the edges in the first pic) and the card laminate was messed up somehow and the cards were weirdly not slippery, making it hard to shuffle and even harder to deal out cards or replace a played card with a new one. That’ll probably go away after a few plays, but with every other component so well done, it was a surprise that the cards weren’t easy to work with.
Sakura, from Osprey Games. $30.00 at OspreyPublishing.com
Disclosure: Osprey Games sent me the game Sakura for the purposes of this review.