After the success of Blood Rage, CMON’s self-proclaimed successor to Risk, their latest release is Rising Sun, another “Dudes-on-a-Map” game, which they describe as more a spiritual descendant of Diplomacy. With Eric Lang on board as a designer, and a gorgeous mythical Japanese setting, this has turned a lot of heads: can it live up to its promise? Let’s find out!
Rising Sun – What’s in the Box?
As you might expect from a CMON game, Rising Sun comes packed with Miniatures, and with a whole lot of other stuff. The core box comes with the samurai for 5 unique factions, as well as miniatures for a number of Monsters you can recruit to your cause.
There is a large map-board which depicts the whole of Japan, divided into regions, and many cards, tokens and reference-boards.
All the components are really top-notch. The Miniatures are the stand-out as always, but the card-art is nice, and the graphic design is really clean. Rising Sun came out of a massive Kickstarter project, meaning there are plenty of expansion options which will be around at some point. Even within the core retail box though, you have variety within card-decks and which deities you are trying to plead with. Each clan is unique as well, so with fewer than 5 players, this provides further variety.
Overall, even before you start playing, Rising Sun looks beautiful.
Ok, but how does it play?
Rising Sun is ultimately about bringing glory to your clan, something you do by controlling various regions of Japan, by following various philosophies, and by performing deeds worthy of renown in battle.
A game spans 1 year, with the action taking place in 3 seasons. Each season begins with a tea ceremony, where you will form alliances with other players. Each player can form an alliance with a maximum of 1 player- players in alliance place their clan alliance markers together in a Ying-Yang pattern, and get benefits from each other’s cards over the rest of the round, negotiating carefully is crucial, to ensure that you are in the best alliance for your purposes!
After the Tea Ceremony comes the Political Phase, the first of two phases which contain the real meat of Rising Sun. Going in player order, each player draws the top 4 cards of the mandate deck and chooses one to play: each mandate will have some effects for all players, and an additional bonus effect for the person playing the card and their ally (if any).
Recruit – Summon (Bring on the Map) a new figure at each of your strongholds. Summon an additional figure.
Train – Purchase a new Season Card. Cost discounted by 1.
Move – Move your troops to an adjacent region. May pay 3 coins to place a new stronghold.
Harvest – Gain 1 coin. Collect the rewards for each Province where you have the most strength (Coins, Glory, and/or Ronin tokens).
Lastly comes “Betray” – betray is a very powerful card which allows you to immediately replace 2 figures on the map belonging to other players with figures of the same type belonging to you. However, betrayal is not something to be taken lightly within Samurai culture, and a player in an alliance who chooses betray immediately sees that alliance broken, and loses an Honour.
some seasons have a lot of similarity between the 3 card sets…
As already noted, the Mandate phase is one of 2 key stages of Rising Sun – this is when you get your troops on the map, and move them into position: as I’ve learned to my cost, you can’t win a “Dudes-on-a-map” game if you can’t get your dudes on the map!
whilst others are completely different from one another
The Season cards that you acquire when you train also impact the game tremendously: you can gain bonuses to your economy or your glory, stifle opponents, or adopt virtues and philosophies that guide you down a particular avenue of play. Aside from a core deck of Season cards which are always used, for each game of Rising Sun, you select 1 of 3 sets of additional cards included in the core game, adding yet more variety.
Being in an alliance can be really strong, especially in the early rounds, simply because of the number of bonus benefits you get. However, having the freedom to do what you like, and not giving anyone else a benefit with your mandate is equally powerful – the fun of claiming harvest when you are strongest in 3 provinces and the other 4 players are in alliances, but get nothing, is always great fun.
A Matter of Honour
Honour is a big deal for the Samurai of Feudal-Mythical Japan, and Rising Sun puts it very much to the fore – there is an honour track, and your position on that track is the decider for any and all ties. Given how often in Rising Sun two clans will have equal force in a province, or two players will bid the same amount for something, this makes a massive difference.
In one game, I did try for a consciously low-honour strategy, taking lots of monsters who became more powerful the less honourable I was, but the inability to win tie-breakers made it incredibly hard to pull this strategy off (I wasn’t too worried, as I had more cool monsters than anyone else).
In the Lap of the gods
A small, yet crucial element of Rising Sun, often overlooked in importance by new players, is securing the favour of the Kami. Each game, at the top of the board, you will create shrines for 4 kami (~gods) chosen at random from a set of 7. When you summon figures with the Recruit action, your Shinto (priests, identified by white bases) can choose not to go to the map and battle, but instead to pray at the shrine. After the 3rd, 5th and 7th Mandate each season, these Kami will bestow their favour on those who have shown the most devotion, offering powerful bonuses in terms or honour, glory, wealth, or even the opportunity to recruit more cards or summon more troops.
The Kami are another great element of Rising Sun – you use just over half in any given game, but their order can impact what happens next, meaning there is loads of variety in how they affect the game. Sending all of your Shinto (and possibly the monster who counts as a Shinto) to pray can secure great advantages, but it will also keep 3 of your clan out of the fights for the rest of the game. Like so many aspects of Rising Sun, I love the fact that there isn’t a right or wrong answer, simply another avenue of strategy to explore.
This Means War
Once all the mandates have been claimed, and everyone has got their Dudes on the Map, the War phase of Rising Sun begins. Each season some of the map’s provinces will be randomly selected as the places where battles are going to take place – this information is available from the start of the season, and once the war phase begins, each province will be contested in sequence.
The first thing to do at this stage is to see who has figures in each province – if only one clan, or only 2 allied clans have figures there, the strongest faction immediately claims the province token, and nothing else happens.
If there are figures from 2 non-allied clans, or figures from 3 or more clans in the province, then everybody fights.
Rising Sun comes with clan shields that act as a quick reference guide to some key elements of the game. The war phase is the moment where they actually come into their own. At the start of each battle, each player must declare how much money they have, and how many Ronin – they then bid secretly and simultaneously for the right to claim any of the 4 actions on the war reference chart.
- Commit Seppuku – you may immediately kill all of your figures in this conflict, gaining 1 glory and 1 Honour for each one killed. This honour change can alter the outcome of the following bids.
- Take hostage – capture an opposing figure and remove it from the map. It will be returned to its owner’s supply at the start of the next season, earning 1 coin for the person who captured it.
- Hire Ronin. Some provinces give Ronin tokens when harvested, and some season cards will also grant Ronin to their owners. The person who wins the bid for “Hire Ronin” adds 1 to their force in the province for each Ronin token they control.
At this point, each clan totals up the force it has in the province. The winner takes the province token and all non-allied figures belonging to other players are killed.
- Finally, the person who wins Imperial Poets gains a glory for each figure killed this conflict (from any faction, including those who committed Seppuku, but not those who were taken hostage).
At the end of the conflict, any coins bid by the players who did not win the conflict are returned to the supply. The winning player however must distribute their coins between the losing players, meaning that they will have additional money for future conflicts this round.
I loved the War phase of Rising Sun – it offers so many possibilities, in terms of winning conflicts by force, of recognising the futility of one’s position and dying honourably, and simply of bribing the poets to tell a story which brings you glory even after all your troops are dead. The fact that you are bidding against other players means that no 2 War phases will ever be the same, and the limited amount of money you have, versus the multiple conflicts your figures will be stretched over leads to a lot of guesswork, bargaining and bluffing. I often lost badly in this stage of this, due to mis-reading people’s intentions, but I always felt like it was my own fault for losing, and like I could do better in future.
What’s that coming over the hill? Is it a monster?
Often in Rising Sun, you’ll be looking to optimise moves, increasing the efficiency with which you summon figures, to ensure pre-eminence in the eyes of the gods. Sometimes though, it be stronger (or just cooler!) to recruit a monster to your side.
For me, the monsters were one of the big highlights of the game – inspired (albeit sometimes loosely) by Japanese mythology, there are some really nice miniatures, with loads of detail and bags of character. Their exact abilities will vary, and some will only suit certain factions/play-styles, but they more than make up for any lack of efficiency with sheer fun factor – big miniatures with loads of character.
Rising Sun – overall thoughts
Rising Sun is an absolutely fantastic game. Whilst Blood Rage didn’t really live up to the hype for us, Rising Sun ticks all the right boxes – it still has the cool monsters, and the human figures are more diverse and interesting. The factions all play differently, and there is just generally so much going on with this game – you can’t simply rely on military, and you can’t possibly cover all the bases.
There are a lot of rules, but most of those rules are very simple and straightforward, so this really wasn’t a game where we spent much time fumbling through the rule-book.
Rising Sun is definitely a game which is going to reward repeat plays – ideally you want to play the first season then reset, so newbies can grasp what’s going on – and an experienced player is likely to beat novices most of the time, which can in turn lead to king-making by a player who feels out of the running. However, if you can assemble a group who are happy to deal and backstab, and can play this regularly, it’s going to more than reward any time you put in.
The long downtime when playing with people who aren’t massively familiar with the game stops this from getting full marks, but still a very good game that really looks the part. Easily a 9/10.
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house.
When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.