Sekigahara: Unification of Japan

Sekigahara: Unification of Japan A game for 2 players designed by Matt Calkins

This is a post from Rogers reviews re posted by us.

Early in the new year we will post a series of play through on Japanese Themed war games.

Sekigahara is one of them.

Let’s have a look at Rogers opinion of this game and gear up for an exciting look at a fascinating period of history from Japan. Introduction A little over centuries ago, Japan was a nation in flux. Two factions vied for power and this eventually erupted into open warfare with the decisive battle happening in October 1600. The pivotal outcome set Japan’s course for the next two and a half centuries. This game represents the six week conflagration that ended with victory by Tokugawa. Components Sekigahara is quite possibly the longest game anyone has had to wait for from GMT, but its long tenure on their P500 list has also meant that it was printed with the top notch production values that GMT has become known for recently. The box comes absolutely packed with beautiful black and gold blocks, stickers for same, rules and a beautiful mounted board that is both simple andelegant at the same time. There are also two black bags to hold the blocks that aren’t part of the set up.

The box is so full that the lid barely fits flat with the bottom of the box – care must be taken when putting everything back in.

Rules and Game Play

The Basics
Sekigahara is actually a relatively low complexity game, and the rules are only about 10 pages. The rest of the rulebook covers some examples of play and also has a very detailed set of historical and designer notes to explain why certain aspects of the games were emphasized.

The game uses blocks in order to create a fog of war. You won’t know which units of your opponent that you’ll be facing, nor how strong they are. However, unlike most block games, the strength of the units facing you is actually less important than the cards your opponent holds in their hand!

There are two ways of winning. Tokugowa wins instantly if either Mitsunari is killed or Toyotomi Hideyori is captured. Mitsunari wins instantly if Tokugawa is killed.

If neither of the above happens, then the player with the most victory points at the end of the game wins. You earn 2VP for each castle you control and 1VP for each resource location. The player with the most victory points wins.

Set Up
The location of units to start the game are marked on the unit blocks themselves, which correspond to symbols on the map. In addition, randomly selected blocks are placed in the reinforcement pool for each player. This means that each game will be slightly different, so what worked well in one game may not work well in another.

Each player also starts with a hand of cards. The cards will have symbols matching a specific unit type. Having the right unit type in your hand is vital for success in combat.

The game, assuming no instant victory occurs, lasts six weeks. Each week, both players bid to determine who will decide the start player for that week, and then each player will play two turns before the week ends.

On each player’s turn, they move units, followed by resolving combat. Then their opponent does the same thing. Both players then repeat this to complete the week.

Movement is limited by how many cards (if any) that you play. If you play no cards, you can either move one group (or muster reinforcements) or you can discard any number of cards and draw replacements. Playing one card allows you three move actions (or two moves and one mustering of reinforcements). Playing two cards lets you move all your groups and muster reinforcements.

Movement is also affected by the presence of leaders and also of roads. Generally speaking leaders and roads give you movement bonuses. Size of your stack also matters. Stacks of more than four units have movement penalties.

Combat is the place where this game is significantly different from most wargames. The designer notes speak in detail about the design-for-effect here and are worth reading before proceeding with a game. In essence, and this is both thematic and historically accurate, units wouldn’t necessarily obey orders unless their leader ordered them in. So, in game terms, units might be in a battle, but if you don’t have cards matching the symbol of the units you have, they won’t be effective in battle. Worse, it’s possible a unit might walk over to the enemy side (for the duration of the battle only).

Battles are resolved with cards and the player with the higher impact wins. For every seven points of impact you can generate, you eliminate one enemy block in the battle (which can be of any size). Having multiple units of the same symbol in the battle has a net additive effect, so being able to coordinate cards in hand to units in battle can be a particularly sweet experience. The losing side of the battle loses one additional block.

All eliminated blocks are permanently removed from the game, which makes it a real tragedy to lose a lot of units of the same type.

There are also two other ways of eliminating enemy blocks. One is by sieging them in their castles, and the other is by using overrun attacks, where having four times as many blocks in your group automatically eliminates the foe in your path. It can be pretty devastating to lose a single strength three block to a stack of four strength one blocks, but this game isn’t about the size of the blocks, but rather the sheer number of them.


Sekigahara is a game of misdirection and indirect threats. You can use more traditionally blunt attack methods, but more often than not it seems that it’s much more important and effective to manoeuvre your units and jockey for position in anticipation of grabbing resource locations and unattended castles than it is to spill blood.

The western part of the map is also more likely to see large military actions as Osaka and Kyoto are there along with the bulk of Mitsunari’s troops.

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