Tabletop Review – Daimyo’s Fall

There’s a certain allure to the Japanese culture in western society. Maybe it’s their respect for heritage, their beautiful architecture or their unwavering politeness that keep us so enthralled. However, there is one universally lauded facet of Japan that has given them a place among entertainment giants across the world. Can you guess what it is? If you guessed extremely large chested cartoon females with ill-fitting clothing, you’d be half right! Anime has span the world over, and with good reason. Besides the gratuitous use of enlarged human anatomy, anime has garnered a large fanbase due to its ostentatious plots, zany narratives and relatable characters. It’s no surprise that this pinnacle of teenage culture has influenced all types of media, spreading its kawaii sensibilities to board games as well.

Cats? Check. Buff dudes? Check. Over sized breasts? Check.

Enter Daimyo’s Fall, a 2-5 player deck management game set in feudal Japan designed by Axis Mundi Games. A woeful curse has hit the the province of Yamashiro. The Daimyo, the great lord, has died and following his demise all the men have mysteriously disappeared. Women and children have been left to fend for themselves while the power-hungry provinces at their borders scheme their way into taking control of Yamashiro. However, the remaining citizens won’t go down without a fight. It is your destiny to amass an army of powerful reinforcements to aid you in your quest to gain control of Yamashiro before the last petal of the ancient cherry tree falls and the country is set into irreparable chaos. Anime enough for you? Well, that’s not all.

What’s an anime without good lore?

The game starts out like most deck builders. You will begin with a basic deck of 10 cards and one legendary hero to aid you on your quest. Your goal is to collect the most victory points before the last petal on the mythical cherry tree falls. Throughout your adventure you will recruit reinforcements, other heroes (up to a max of 3) and have them loot powerful treasures that will in turn provide abilities and victory points at the end of the game. Every turn you will draw 5 cards and play these depending on what you’d like to activate. However, that’s where the similarities end. Daimyo’s Fall is a different beast entirely. At first, players might proceed to play like any other deckbuilder, but will soon discover what’s underneath of this pinkish canopy. You see, traditionally, deck builders have you amass a pool of cards and work your way to the end of the game through a singular and powerful engine. Conversely, in Daimyo’s Fall you are incentivized to deconstruct your deck constantly and challenged to create new combinations to adapt to new heroes or your opponents strategies. It’s an exhilarating game of tug-of war set to the tone of your favorite anime intro.

There’s a lot of variety here.

This freedom and flexibility to change your deck’s structure on a whim is why I like to call it a deck manager instead of labeling it under the traditional “deck building” banner. It begs the question though: how exactly can you manipulate your deck and how are players given direction and victory conditions? In order to answer these fundamental questions, let’s dive deeper into the games mechanics and what sets it apart. There are three mainly distinct card types: heroes, reinforcements and treasures. Each of these have different roles to play throughout the game, and each tie into what makes the experience so variable. Heroes are the bedrock of your deck and provide players their specific game winning conditions. At the start of every turn, players will be able to pick from up to three heroes, that they recruit, to try and complete their Loot condition. Looting is the only way players will be able to amass treasures. Why is that important? Treasures are one of the main ways for players to secure large amounts of victory points throughout the game, and as the name implies, are powerful resources to either acquire new cards and/or change the board state in later turns. With all that being said, heroes do not work on their own, as they require specific conditions to be met to activate their powerful abilities. That’s where reinforcements come in, they are the instruments that you’ll use to craft the devastating combos necessary to facilitate this roaringly expressive engine.

One of the many heroines you’ll meet. Or in this case, two.

The above though, is a highly generalized idea of how the game will play. Conversely, the nuisance of what can be done in a turn is where the true game loop lies. Although heroes may seem like the… well, heroes of the story, reinforcements are the true protagonists. They are your first line of defense, your main way of affecting the board and your principal way of achieving loot conditions.

During your turn, you’ll be able to play, buy, sell, trade, return and/or destroy cards. These are all integral mechanics in the game which players shouldn’t shy away from practicing as much as possible. When performing these actions players will have access to two pools of completely different cards at all times. Each pool is populated by a specific faction and shares reinforcements and treasures that are faction specific. The two factions behave very differently to each other but, given the right combination of hero loot powers, can produce some interesting combos. The domain, which is the area where these pools are housed, has a total of 10-13 cards to choose from at any point. It’s comprised of four samurai, four ninja and a number of hero cards depending on the number of players. To the game’s detriment, the large selection can become overwhelming to some, especially in higher player counts where player-to-player deliberation can be extended considerably due to analysis paralysis. At the same time, this plethora of strategic avenues prevents stagnation or a wasted turn since players will be adapting on the fly to each other at a regular basis.

The game set up for 4 players. (The regalia deck is not shown and treasure cards are shown only to illustrate.)

In addition to the above, one of the more unique and interesting design choices (arguably the most exciting) is how cards and player phases unfold. Playing cards revolves around two major economies: mon (currency) and bonuses. Mon is fairly straightforward, and is used to purchase cards directly from the domain (aka the marketplace). Bonuses however, are the chloroplast-infused cells that keep your cherry tree from withering. At the beginning of a turn, players are given one point to play a card unto the field with, called Deployment. Without additional deployment points players are unable to play any more cards. Bonuses help with extending your available pool of actions. Every time a card is played, its bonuses are activated simultaneously. Bonuses consist of four main stats: draw, mon, deployment and trade; and all cards feature different values for each of these. To illustrate: At the beginning of my turn I draw 5 cards. Thankfully, I’ve drawn 3 cards with 1 deployment point each. I can now play up to 4 cards this turn if I so choose in addition to the rest of the bonuses each of them would provide. Potentially I may have the opportunity to draw another card with additional deployment points to extend my turn even further. This ephemeral resource management feels excellent and creates some satisfying moments when a deck works exactly as you were hoping it would. Keep in mind that the game has a built in stop. Once players begin collecting powerful cards. They’ll be advancing the end of the game every time they play them. All treasure cards feature a small number of “petals” which essentially represent the games timer. This means that in higher player counts, the game may actually play faster than with just two players. Another example of how unique this game is.

Some of the cards in your starting deck.

But yes, it can all be pretty overwhelming, especially if your players aren’t familiar with deck builders or board games in general. Daimyo’s Fall is not the gateway game it may seem like when looking at the art. It’s a package that contains a lot of strategy for such a small box, but that complexity sacrifices its approachability. The interplay between cards and mechanics isn’t immediately intuitive and the rules don’t help much in clarifying many of the doubts that arise throughout the game. One of my biggest concerns with the current edition is the lack of player aids that break down the rounds and abilities. This is crucial when there are over 15 independent keywords each with vastly different effects that aren’t immediately intuitive. Most of my initial playthroughs were met with furrowed brows, loud sighs and a multitude of confused players. That’s not to say they weren’t enjoying this discovery, but it’s an expedition players must decide to take on their own. This isn’t the type of title to bring unannounced to a group. However, would-be-Daimyos have a lot to discover and will have plenty to keep them coming back in future plays. The issue is familiarizing yourself to the point where it becomes fun isn’t enjoyable. Expect to still have the rulebook in hand after your third or fourth playthrough.

There’s a lot to unpack here.

From a thematic and artistic standpoint the game does a good job in portraying a more colorful and flourished version of feudal Japan. The anime aesthetic is brought to life through the use of vibrant colors and dynamic and varied locations. I was however unimpressed with most of the artwork wishing that the same artist was commissioned to illustrate the entirety of the game. There’s a stark difference between mercenary cards and heroes in particular, the heroes having striking homages to Japan and wonderful design; while most of the mercenaries felt downright cobbled together. The composition for some comes out totally amateurish, with limbs and/or facial features feeling disproportionate or just plain wrong. The variance is high between most of the cards to the point where some don’t even seem like they belong in the same box. Coupled with the highly vague and unintuitive graphic design, the cards in general don’t have the impact that the source material usually brings in spades. Most anime live or die by their art style and how faithfully they’re able to translate their manga forefathers into animation.

An example of some of the weaker designs.

As I mentioned at the very beginning of this review, art and story are what separate good anime from the bad. I genuinely like the setting Daimyo’s Fall takes place in. The idea of giving women the opportunity to seize power in a time period where women were deemed mostly as servants and or assistants is cathartic. But here the characters rarely felt respected in their depictions and mostly fell into the trope of ill-fitting garments that teenage boys seem to just can’t get enough of. I was hoping to see women in amazing situations being total badasses, but what I was given were women serving tea and climbing up walls in neko costumes. I’m not against leaning into the traditional anime conventions, but it just felt like there was space to weave more into the world of Daimyo’s Fall through each of its cards. Moreover, you’d expect more meticulousness for a game that is essentially treading into new grounds in the board gaming world. In such a hyper competitive market that excels in artistic excellency, table presence and presentation are tantamount. Anime-based IP’s have always been received with skepticism, then arrives Daimyo’s Fall that features great gameplay, but art and components that will likely not garner a closer look. In this regard, unfortunately Daimyo’s Fall might stay on the cutting room floor. If this were a televised series, on the art alone, I wouldn’t expect a second season.

“Aaah, Nakami-Kun! You can’t see anything, right!? {(>_<)}”

In conclusion I feel divided. Like when Naruto and Sasuke split ways, I just don’t know who to root for anymore. On one hand there is an incredibly deep and rewarding system at play here. The fascinating juggling act of changing loot conditions and managing your deck to deal with the ever growing engines of your opponents can be downright exhilarating. Coupled with the gambit of interesting and functional mechanics (e.g. exhausting opponents cards to delay their engines, the ease in which players can edit their decks, the variety of cards and the player driven timer); make for a pretty wonderful game. On the other hand though, I can’t get over the fact that the rest of it (e.g. components, art style, rulebook, difficulty to learn, ect.) just falls completely flat for me. Honestly, it’s disheartening. I’m a fan of both deck builders and anime but the weaker elements of this particular package outshine its merits for me. Which brings me to the ever popular reversal that anime is so famous for: I recommend this game. I do, wholeheartedly. But only to a very limited pool of players. This is the type of title that will find its home in only a few gamers libraries. If you’re a fan of complex and rich strategic cardplay in a dynamic and fantastic setting that rewards repeated plays and understanding of the games mechanics over finding a game-breaking strategy; you’ll be right at home. Just…try not to pay much attention to the cards.

EDIT: During the process of finalizing this review, Axis Mundi Games has clarified that the second printing of Daimyo’s Fall will feature an updated rulebook and player aids. After reviewing an early draft of the new rulebook, I can confirm that many issues with legibility and clarity we found were resolved. 

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Player Count:

Due to its player driven timer, all player counts feel right. However, be prepared for longer than normal teaching sessions when bringing in new players.

Play Time:

This will depend on how aggressive players are with acquiring loot cards, but normally games go from 45-60 minutes on average.

Core Mechanics:

Competitive Card Game
Deckbuilding
Hand Management
Deck Management
Anime

Accessibility:

Don’t think you’ll be mastering the art of Daimyo’s Fall in your first sessions…or your fourth. There’s a lot of variability and complexity here that will reward veteran gamers. Be prepared to slowly ease in new players to this particular title. The way of the Daimyo is not an easy one.

Artwork/Components:

Although there are some stellar pieces, the overall package is disjointed and fairly uninspiring.

Replay Value:

If you’ve been looking for a deck builder that offers the intricacy of competitive trading card games, you might have found a game you’ll be digging into well into the future. Hopefully, you can get over all the oval shaped breasts.

Daimyo’s Fall is available now directly from Axis Mundi Games.

A copy of Daimyo’s Fall was provided by the designer and publisher, Axis Mundi Games.

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