Azuchi Castle Review

Azuchi Castle
Card Drafting, Worker Placement (Sorta?)
Baccum Inc.
Sungwoo Hyun
Jamsan
2-4

Azuchi Castle is a tiny game that plays both very quickly and very easily.  While brevity may be the soul of wit, we found ourselves wishing there was just a little bit more to this otherwise quite enjoyable little game.

Taking place in the tumultuous period of Japanese history, Azuchi Castle lets players take on the roles of retainers to Oda Nobunaga, that infamous warlord, who seeks to raise Azuchi Castle and bring peace (and control) to all of Japan!

Jess:  And of course, we will do this by moving some cubes around.

Andrew:  Josh will be thrilled.

Josh:  Did someone say cubes?

The setup is as neat and tidy as the box is tiny.

Azuchi Castle is a worker placement in the barest sense – you will have 2, or sometimes 3, workers to assign each turn.  In a really clever little bit of game design, though, the actions to which you can assign said workers is determined by a card draft which is held every round.  The flow of the rounds are as follows:

  1. Receive action cards:  The first player draws 3 cards from the Action deck and places them face-up.  Each player, in order, will pick one of the available cards (refilling to 3 cards after each pick), until everyone has 2 cards.
  2. Action Phase:  Players will assign their workers to the cards they drafted (and possibly to soldiers held over from previous rounds, more on that in a second), gaining or trading resources as depicted.
  3. Event Phase:  The lead player will flip over an event and everyone at the table resolves it.
The 3 resource-gathering actions.

There are 5 types of action cards:

  • Resource cards (all 3 of them) each generate one of the 3 different types of resources; Wood, Stone, and Tiles.
  • Market cards (I came up with that name) let you swap a resource for a different resource, or spend 2 resources to either get coins or a third worker (you can only ever have 3 workers max)
  • Soldier cards don’t do anything unless there is a worker assigned to them on a turn when the ‘Attack’ even is drawn.  Which brings us to…
Soldier cards interact with the Attack event – but only if you’ve assigned a worker to them.

There are 3 types of event cards:

  • Tribute:  Players may pay a coin to gain 2 points.
  • Build:  Players may pay 3 different resources to gain 3 points, or return their 3rd worker to the supply for 2 points.
  • Attack:  These cards can either give or cost players points.  If you have no workers assigned to soldier cards, then the Attack gives you -2 points.  Otherwise, you’ll gain 1, 2, or 3 points based on how many soldiers you have active at the time (as in, with workers assigned to them)
The 3 event cards. The Event deck acts as both the method for scoring points and the game’s timer.

This process, of drafting actions, using them, and then resolving events, is repeated until 4 ‘Build’ events have passed during which players scored (that’s an important detail!).  Once that’s done, the game ends!

Jess:  And that’s really it. Azuchi Castle is a simple game, with a fair bit of randomness and luck riding alongside the strategy of drafting action cards and hedging your bets on what Event cards are coming up.

Andrew:  Yep, that’s really that.  While I deeply admire Sungwoo Hyun’s work to create a whole game based on 8 types of cards, Azuchi Castle leaves me somehow wanting more.  It’s not bad – I actually quite like it, but there is something simply missing here and I wish I could say precisely what.

Jess:  Totally agree.  Early in the game, for the first several turns, you can’t really address Events unless you get really lucky – in our first game, for example, several Tribute cards came out before we ever had a chance to even consider getting a coin, so they were lost on us.  And by the time we did have the opportunity to get coins, we knew the Tribute cards were gone, so it made no sense to get them.

Andrew:  Right. And until you have some points to lose, those Attack events are functionally meaningless.  It’s down to the luck of the draw.

Ultimately, Azuchi Castle could benefit from some slightly expanded rules.  In particular, our playthroughs found that coins were almost never worth getting, but that’s all down to the order which events appear.  If, for example, you could spend coins as goods, as extra workers, or as points at the end of the game, that aspect of the game would be immediately more interesting.

The Market card gives you the chance to change one resource into another, or swap 2 for an extra worker or coin. Ironically, money isn’t super useful in the game.

Andrew:  All that aside, though, I have to say I found Azuchi Castle oddly compelling.  I like the simplicity of it, and there definitely were a few turns where I was biting my nails as the event was drawn, hoping my gambit on ignoring my defenses wouldn’t be brutally punished by a random enemy attack…but I wasn’t biting my nails too hard, either.

Jess:  I have to say, I like it more in theory than in practice, I think.  I loved what it did, I just wish it did more, you know?

Andrew:  Totally, I get you.  And you’re right, it could stand to have some more meat on its bones.  But I think I’m willing to meet it where it is.

So do we recommend Azuchi Castle?  Well, sorta.  If you’re looking for a small (and I mean small) game that efficiently plays out a little microcosm of worker placement and don’t mind a spoonful of luck, then Azuchi Castle is a solid little title.  But unlike so many filler-level games, where we hedge our criticisms by citing the game’s weight as a mitigating factor, Azuchi Castle is so chock-full of potential we ironically think its both worth snagging to fiddle with and also reasonable to pass up on, as there are other little games that do just as much in perhaps more effective ways.

Azuchi Castle can be ordered from Funagain.com, and its currently looking for other distribution options here in the states.  You can order a copy here!

(Gameosity received a review copy of this title.  We were not otherwise compensated.)

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