Who Pulls the Strings?
Sengoku is a strategy game that allows you to take control of a noble family in 1400s Feudal Japan. Recently, we got some hands-on time with an early build of the game and got to take our diplomatic skills for a test drive.
Sengoku is fairly similar to Crusader Kings, which isn’t surprising considering both were developed by the same team. The major difference here is setting: instead of the Medieval European backdrop of Crusader Kings, Sengoku takes place in Japan’s Sengoku period. You have the option to begin the game in a fictional 1467 and play from there, but if you insist on taking your strategic gaming with a side of historical accuracy, you can also select between a couple real-life historical events to kick things off. The preview build allowed us to select either the Onion War or the Kanto War as starting points.
You will begin as the head of a noble family. As the game progresses, your main character will grow old and eventually die, to be replaced by an heir. This means it is very important to make sure your character doesn’t remain a bachelor for life; the end of the family line means the end of the game. Throughout the game, you will receive proposals from other noble families. To make your marriage count, you’ll want to select a bride from a territory you want to get on the good side of. Family bonds can lead to good diplomatic rewards.
But it’s not all love and arranged marriage in Sengoku. The main objective is to take command of at least 50% of Japan. If you can hold over half of the nation for 36 months, you will become Shogun and win the game. Of course, this most likely isn’t something you’ll achieve in a single generation.
You’ll have soldiers at your disposal who will help you both defend your land and conquer other territories. You’ll want to be careful, though, as raising armies costs money, and if you find you’re spending money faster than you are earning it, you may have to choose between unpopular tax hikes and downsizing your military. This is never an easy choice, and it’s made even more difficult when you begin seeing opposing troops lining up at your borders. Furthermore, these troops are not loyal to you, but to the officers who command them. Officers can turn on you if they don’t like the decisions you are making, and that means all the fighters loyal to that officer will turn on you as well.
Aside from these armies, there are traveling clans of ninjas you can hire to do your dirty work under the cover of darkness. Their tasks can be anything from lowering the honor of an opponent to assassinating a powerful rival. However, these ninjas are wanderers. You’ll either have to wait for them to show up or send one of your ambassadors to seek them out. But once hired, ninjas have the power to tip the scales in your favor, often granting you the little bit of edge you need to be victorious.
Honor is one of the game’s major currencies, and is held in high regard by your characters. In fact, if your honor rating reaches zero, your character will be forced to commit Seppuku and your game will end. Honor carries on from generation to generation, though, so you don’t have to worry about starting each new generation from scratch.
Factions are another thing you’ll need to keep in mind, and these even include major religions. In the beginning of the game, the major religions are Buddhism and Shintoism, but eventually the influence of the West shows up and Christianity is introduced. You’ll need to keep an eye on these religious factions, as upsetting any of them too badly could plant the seeds of uprising.
The strategy in Sengoku is deep, and this means the game has a fairly steep learning curve. If you’ve already played similar games like Crusader Kings, you should be able to hop right in. However, if this is your first time playing a game like this, it will take some getting used to. While Sengoku can at points feel like a massive game of Risk set exclusively in Japan, it’s actually much deeper than that. There is such a strong focus on family choice and diplomacy here. It’s almost habit for gamers to zero in on the military aspect of any strategy game, and in this case, you might have to switch mindsets a bit to see the wider picture. Just rushing into battle headfirst is a good way to set yourself up for an early failure, especially when there are several peaceful alternatives. You’re a lot better off playing up the diplomatic side of things until you rise high enough in power to be able to dominate the battlefield.
Sengoku is due out September 13 for PC, so if you’re craving some historical strategic gaming set in Feudal Japan, this is a date you should definitely mark on your calendar.