Small Samurai Empires: An attempt to rule Japan [Review]

Translator: Nugroho H.

After previously successful with another sequel in the outer space, Milan Tasevski continues his saga. His next establishment, Small Samurai Empires, takes place in the feudal Japan era. With the same compact format, Archona Games generated enough fund through Kickstarter to make this happened. There were more than 1300 backers supporting this project (and I was one of them).

In this fictional Small Samurai Empires, 2-4 players become the Daimyō of a samurai clan. Through new samurai recruitment, they conquer and defend the provinces. Building castles cements their control over the land. These magnificent forts help their cause to be the sole and eternal ruler of Japan.

A short disclaimer before you read my board game analysis

As an avid euro gamer and hardcore Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) LCG player, my reviews may reflect a preference for these styles, and I may not cover solo games/variants extensively. Please note that my personal remarks are based on my gaming experiences, and I aim to provide honest insights within the scope of my preferences.

YouTube provides us with a vast amount of tutorial videos. I’ll just lead you to watch the rule explanation in motioned pictures.


A relatively small box that costs around US$ 39 may sound relatively expensive. Small Samurai Empires’ packaging is pretty humble. It features nothing sparkling on the cover. Conversely, this first impression fades away after we unboxed and discovered some nice components within.


Small Samurai Empires is a light area majority game. This is clear as day when we scored points. With this intention, we play the whole game with the action-programming mechanic. In addition, the player interaction is noticeable. I would say, the latter one is one reason why my group likes it.

We can automatically see that action-programming is the major mechanic in this game.

In fact, it would be hard to dismiss the presence of six programming windows.

I love how Milan divided the six programming actions into a two-step for each era. This is a neat implementation that gives an extra layer of strategy aspect to the game.

Under this circumstance, some action markers from the first window may get covered with the new ones. While the covering new marker replaces the action underneath, the uncovered ones once again get resolved.

Henceforth, all decisions during all programming windows have consequences. Some of them are immediately recognized as it gets resolved. Meanwhile, the others are rather going unnoticed until something else gets resolved.

Area majority and scoring points

Small Samurai Empires mostly abuses area majority mechanic for the scoring. It is simple, but this mechanic goes remarkably with the action-programming. In essence, they all end up at the same goal: to gain the majority in a region.

The Destiny cards are the multiplier for the scoring purpose. This is another essential strategical aspect in the game. More often than not, the tactical action we program depends on these cards.

They decide which region provides the most lucrative rewards. Ultimately, we program the movement to reap the most influence points.

Small Samurai Empires’ variations and replay value

The balance of Daimyō’s control is always shifting, thanks to the double programming on each era. Adding the variations available for the gameplay, Small Samurai Empires board game offers different conquering campaign in each play.

Thus, we consider the replay value to be adequate, as each game brings different experiences. The mix of strategy and tactical also draws us to play it again and again.


Small Samurai Empires is an entertaining board game. The small size presents an immense number of tactical decisions and multiple strategical layers. The action-programming goes really well with the area majority in the scoring. I enjoyed playing it as a duel, and playing with three and four players proved to be as pleasant, too.

Just a small info: his next Small Empires Series brings you to the world of the railroad tycoon.

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