The ancient and powerful Kami have grown displeased with the rule of man. The Shoguns of Japan have brought dishonor to the land, leading their people away from the righteous path. The time has come for a return to the old ways, and Kami have risen from the underworld to restore order and honor to Japan. They have gathered the mighty Clans from across the island and tasked them with returning the nation to the traditional ways. Each Clan has their own spiritual beliefs, tied into the history and nature of Japan. However, no Clan can take control on their own. Alliances will be formed and broken, battles will be waged, and leaders will have to exercise diplomacy as well as strength. The battle for Japan has begun! When the sun rises in the east, only one clan will be victorious.
In Rising Sun, designer Eric M. Lang has reunited the creative team behind his Viking epic, Blood Rage. Players take control of different clans and work to restore honor to Japan and rebuild it in their vision. Each Clan is led by a Daimyo, gains spiritual guidance from their Shintos, and relies on their Bushi for loyal service. The game takes place over the course of a year, with three different Seasons of actions, and a final scoring Season.
Each Clan holds beliefs tied to the mythological nature of Japan, and draws strength from those beliefs. For example, the Dragonfly Clan moves swiftly and silently, able to appear anywhere on the board. Meanwhile, the Turtle Clan has hard-exterior strongholds that are worth one force in battles and can be moved across the countryside.
Although players lead Clans locked in a war for the fate of Feudal Japan, Honor still plays a key role in their decisions. Each Clan has a starting position on the Honor track. The different paths they choose to follow can cause them to gain or lose Honor, moving them up or down on the track. Whether resolving who has paid the most tribute to the gods, or determining the outcome to a battle, ties are always awarded to the Clan with the most Honor. Retaining that Honor can be critical. However, the temptation to follow more underhanded paths can be quite strong.
Seasons begin with a Tea Ceremony where alliances can be formed for the round. Players can acquire powerful benefits by joining forces with another Clan, but going out on their own offers some enticing options as well.
The Political phase is where a lot of the positioning and negotiations take place in preparation for war. During Mandate turns, the active player selects the Political Mandate for the round. Everyone gets to do the action, but the active player and their allies get an extra bonus. Political Mandates include recruiting more troops to the board, moving forces around the country, acquiring special abilities or Monsters, reaping the harvest of the land, and even betraying the people who have come to trust you.
Between Mandates turns, players seek the favor of the gods with Kami turns. Four different Shrine tiles are selected at the start of the game, each with their own associated Kami. Whenever a player recruits a Shinto to the board, they can be added to the map of Japan to join the fighting, or climb the mountain to pray at one of the Shrines. There are three Kami turns during the Political Phase, where the most pious players will receive a benefit from each of the Kami in play. The player with the most Shinto at a Shrine earns the bonus.
Throughout the course of the game, players will be able to acquire legendary Monsters from Japanese mythology that will join their cause and fight at their side. These horrific and beautiful creatures, like the Oni of Souls, the Komainu, and the Yurei, are represented by highly detailed figures. Their presence will make even the bravest warriors think twice about entering a territory. Once a Monster has been recruited by a player, they will remain loyal to them throughout the game. Even if they fall in battle, they can be redeployed under the same banner later in the game.
At the end of each Season, war rages across Japan. The regions where battles will take place are revealed at the start of the Season, so players have time to amass their troops or get out of the way. Like most aspects of Rising Sun, the battle system is unique and honorable. It costs money to fight a war, so players will have to invest it if they want to come out on top. During the Political phase, players have a chance to add to their coffers and recruit Ronin (mercenaries that will fight at their side) for a price. Before a battle takes place, everyone involved must announce how much money and how many Ronin they have. Players then secretly allocate their finances on four different War Advantages. Winning the bid on the Advantage allows players to execute the action, ranging from committing Seppuku with all your forces, which gains you points and Honor for each soldier killed, to taking enemies hostage, to hiring Ronin to fight your battles for you.
The winner of any given conflict is determined by how much Force a player has in the Province. The weaker army is wiped off the map, but it’s not a total loss. The winner of the battle must pay reparations to the losing Clan or Clans, giving them all the coins they bid. Sometimes losing a fight will allow a player to win the larger war.
A battle is only as important as the tale that is told about it. The final War Advantage to be awarded is Imperial Poets. Once the battle ends, the player that won the Imperial Poets Advantage earns one Victory Point for each figure that was killed there.
As the Seasons change, alliances come to an end, Shintos return from the Shrines, and the new Provinces where battles will take place are revealed. Through Spring, Summer, and Autumn, the struggle for control of Japan continues. In Winter, there is a final scoring with end of the game Victory Points being awarded. The Clan that manages to score the most Victory Points wins the game. Peace and civility are restored to Japan, and the Kami return to the underworld.
Rising Sun is a balance between diplomacy and aggression. Players are tasked with creating a new future for Japan while honoring the old traditions. Only a leader that can walk the thin line between war and friendship will be victorious.
This article was originally published in GTM Magazine. Find more information here.