Last Updated on March 20, 2022
The people have lost their way. Weakness and decadence hold sway now in the lands of Nippon where there was once a strong and stalwart society. Forgotten deities, the Kami, have returned and they will force the change upon the world if need be.
“At the start of spring in the Great New Year, the Kami have gathered their sacred clans with one quest: reclaim the lands of Nippon and return them to their honorable, spiritual traditions.
However, each clan is bound by their own proud traditions to a unique vision for this great return and must wage a powerful diplomatic war across eight provinces.
Alliances must be forged, betrayal is inevitable, honorable standing rises and falls. Political mandates must be navigated and devastating war must be fought, each won by expert skill and cunning negotiation.”
As a Kami clan shogun, you will lead one of these ancient clans to battle and victory.
Read the full Rising Sun Board Game Review below.
Brief Overview of Rising Sun
It’s a fantasy imagining, loosely based on Japanese folklore. Keep that in mind while reading the rest of this article. The keywords here are fantasy and loosely.
We’ll get into that in a minute.
In Rising Sun, players take on the role of shoguns (Japanese generals), leading one of the ancient Kamis’ (gods) clans against their rivals.
Basically, it’s a free-for-all brawl between gods.
Gods are weird though, so it’s not just a slugfest. Clan honor plays an important role in conquest and you may find yourself thinking that losing a battle may be more beneficial than winning.
Rising Sun is much more than it appears on the surface, so let’s take a look.
Versions & Expansions
Rising Sun: Dynasty Invasion
Dynasty Invasion adds two brand new invading factions. These factions didn’t come empty-handed either. They come with their own set of gods to worship that are exclusive to the new factions and they also have their own special abilities and powers.
Rising Sun: Kami Unbound
In Kami Unbound, the Kami themselves are given an upgrade. They each have their own mini and take a physical manifestation on the board. They are also much more powerful and grant new bonuses and abilities when they make their appearance on the board.
Rising Sun: Monster Pack
The monster pack adds 4 new monsters that can be recruited by your clan. Each one comes with the appropriate cards to recruit it and a corresponding miniature. They all look incredible and I find myself really liking the Jenmenju which has a really cool demon tree mini that allows you to steal resources from opponents.
Unboxing Rising Sun
As with all CMON board games, you’re gonna get a box that’s chock-full of awesome minis.
Rising Sun has a lot of minis and some pretty neat-looking ones too. The minis are also unique to each faction. They all function identically but it’s kinda cool to have different minis for each group of characters.
- 1 Main Board (Map of Japan)
- 7 God Tiles
- 30 Coins
- 5 Clan Screens
- 10 Colored Clan Tokens
- 5 Clan Alliance Tokens
- 30 Bushi (Samurai) Figures (6 Per Clan)
- 15 Shinto (Monk) Figures (3 Per Clan)
- 5 Daimyo (Warlord) Figures (1 Per Clan)
- 8 Monster Figures
- 20 Strongholds Tokens (4 Per Clan)
- 9 Political Mandate Cards
- 24 War Tokens
- 8 Numbered War Tokens
- 5 Two-Sided Reference Tiles
- 1 Rulebook
In addition to the regular units, you’ll also find corresponding monsters/oni that you can sometimes recruit over the course of the game. They won’t be used in every game but they’ll be more valuable and useful than the regular units. There are 8 in total that come with the base game and they look absolutely incredible. They’re probably the coolest-looking minis that CMON has ever produced so if you’re a fan of minis, this box definitely delivers the goods.
Rising Sun also comes with different colored bases to make it easier to see who is who on the board and if you’re not a fan of painting minis, it’s okay because all of them still look fantastic even unpainted.
The artwork and colors of the board along with all of the components are top-notch. It’s probably one of the prettiest games I’ve ever seen when fully set up on a table.
If you somehow manage to track down any of the extra Kickstarter goodies, you’ll find that they are pretty ridiculous. There’s even a giant walking turtle with a castle on its back. It’s cool but completely unnecessary, and I think you had to pledge your firstborn child on Kickstarter to even get it.
The base game is extremely well-produced and is full of bright, colorful components that look amazing.
How to Play Rising Sun
Rising Sun has a lot of options. My favorite part about the game is the discussion that happens around the table. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot more to Rising Sun than meets the eye. There’s political intrigue, betrayal, economics, the summoning of demons, deity worship, and so much more.
I’ll try to break it down to give you an idea of how it’s played. It’s a pretty complex game with lots of moving parts, so this will just be a basic rundown of the order of things.
The game is divided into 4 Seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall, and the last is the final scoring round, Winter.
Each Season is then broken down into a thousand different parts and each of those parts has subparts, and the subparts are overseen by a committee of meeples that meet every Tuesday for a subcommittee election….
No… it’s not really that bad but it can be very intimidating the first time you see it.
- Tea Ceremony Phase
- Political Phase
- Mandate Turn
- Kami Turn
- War Phase
Tea Ceremony Phase
Okay, after everything is set up on the board and all the cards and tiles are placed where they need to go, it’s time for a tea ceremony. The Tea Ceremony phase is where all the players get together and work out alliances. Players will need to work together to see who wants to join an alliance.
Alliances are temporary and only last one Season. At the beginning of each Season, old alliances are void and new ones can be forged. You can only have an alliance with one other player. That means in odd-player games, there’s always going to be an odd player out who goes it alone.
Alliances offer several bonuses and protections.
During the Political phase, there are several mandates that can be played to grant bonuses if you’re in an alliance.
If you manage to have units in the same area as a member of your alliance, it’s no big deal. The territory just goes to whoever has the largest force and nobody loses any units.
It’s much better being in an alliance, but… only for a little bit. You’ll also want to negotiate with a player who works well with your goals. If you both have objectives that conflict then getting into an alliance is probably a bad idea.
The only way to get out of an alliance early is the Betrayal card. When you play a Betrayal, you immediately leave the alliance and lose honor. But hey, now you’re free to attack and pillage your former comrade.
The Political phase is where the meat of the planning takes place in Rising Sun. Players take turns playing cards from the Mandate deck or they’ll deal with Kami cards.
During your turn, you’ll draw 4 mandate cards and choose 1 of them. There are 5 possibilities when using a Mandate card:
Each of these will allow you to perform the basic actions on the board, such as recruiting new units, gaining money, gaining a Season card and its effects, or moving around the board.
There’s a tracker on the board that tells you when you’ll interrupt the Mandate turn with a Kami turn.
The Kami are gods and have their own track. Each one has a different set of abilities. At the beginning of the game, 4 out of the 7 Kami cards are chosen for the game and you’ll be able to send followers to their shrines to worship them.
During the Kami turn, the player with the most worshippers will be able to perform the action on the Kami card and gain a bonus.
For example, if a player has the most worshippers for Amaterasu during the Kami turn, they’ll be able to jump to the top of the Honor track, even if they started at the very bottom of the track.
These bonuses can quickly change the status of players over the course of the game.
You may have noticed a fancy track on the upper left side of the board. This represents and keeps track of the Honor of your faction. Honor is very important in-game and is responsible for most tiebreaker scenarios at the end. You can gain Honor by performing honorable actions/special abilities and you can lose it by being a sneaky jerk. Betraying an alliance definitely loses you some Honor.
After the Political phase and maneuvering around the board, there are bound to be some contested spots. If there are 2 players with units at a location and they aren’t in an alliance, then combat will ensue.
There can be large-scale battles but that’s not really the purpose of the game. The purpose is to gain victory points. The flow of units on the map and who controls which territory is going to be very fluid. There’s no real hunkering down in “Australia” and piling all your units into a choke point. It just doesn’t happen nor does it make sense in Rising Sun.
Instead, in-game combat uses a hidden bidding system in which players place their coins on 4 different actions on their player board.
Players can choose to bid on any of the 4 actions.
1. Seppuku: Seppuku (ritual suicide) is exactly what it sounds like. All of your units are immediately killed and you gain 1 victory point for each unit killed.
2. Take Hostage: If you win this bid you can take a hostage and steal an opponent’s unit mini. In addition to stealing a unit, you’ll also steal a victory point from the other player. That one unit is often the difference between victory and defeat.
3. Hire Ronin: Ronin are basically wandering mercenaries. If you win this bid, you’ll be able to hire Ronin to jump into the fight equal to the number of Ronin tokens they possess. The tokens aren’t used up after the fight and go back into the player’s supply. This move can drastically boost your power especially if you had already killed everyone off in a Seppuku bid.
* Resolve the Fight * After the first 3 bids, the fight is actually resolved. The player with the higher amount of force after ritual suicide and Ronin are hired, wins the battle. The losing side’s units are all immediately wiped out. But there’s still one more thing to do before the fight is over…
4. Imperial Poets: The last bid is all about the glory. It doesn’t make sense to commit an ultimate sacrifice if nobody’s around to tell the tale right?
The Imperial Poets bid immortalizes the battle in song and poetry. The player who wins this bid will receive 1 victory point for every unit that died. It’s sometimes better to have a field of bodies and a really good story than it is to actually win.
There’s a philosophical observation about war somewhere in there…
Finally, when a battle is officially over the victor will get a matching-colored war token that’s the same color as the province where the battle took place.
End of Season
At the end of the Season, everything is reshuffled and new cards are set out. Even hostages that were taken in combat are returned to their players. There are a couple more things that happen, but you basically set up the board for the next round. Rinse and repeat.
Ending the Game
The game ends after the Winter season.
Now it’s time to tally up final bonuses. There are cards in the previous season that allow you to build “Winter Upgrades”. They’re basically end game points that can be tallied up now.
Next, come the war tokens. After each successful battle, you’ll receive a war token of the same color of the province you fought on. The tokens themselves are worth 1-3 victory points (depending on the number on the token) and there’s also a set collection bonus. If you get a set of all colors, then you’ll be receiving a whopping 30-point bonus.
Your First Game of Rising Sun
Pick a random clan or one that matches your favorite color.
Each clan has a different clan ability, so make sure you don’t forget about it.
Cash is King!
Cash is everything in this game. It’s used to buy the powered-up season cards and it’s used in all of the battles. If you go spend-happy early on, just know that you’re going to be in trouble later when everyone else is loaded up with moolah.
The Oni (Big Demon Minis) are really cool but don’t go bankrupt trying to get them (unless you just really want them). I found that I was going for them whenever I had the opportunity, simply because they looked cool. They were helpful, just not bankrupt-myself-into-oblivion helpful.
Pros & Cons
- Awesome artwork & components
- Amazing theme
- Sparks great table conversations
Rising Sun is produced by CMON, which is probably one of the best producers of intricate board game minis on the market. They tend to pride themselves on awesome-looking miniatures and they do really enhance a lot of their games. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game where they’ve half-assed the minis. You know when you’re buying CMON, that you’re going to be getting some really cool stuff in the box. They do also usually come with a pretty hefty price tag to go with those awesome-looking pieces of plastic. If you’re a budget gamer, you may want to wait until a big sale hits before you grab a copy.
The theme is really cool. I like the idea of Japanese folklore and mythology coming to life and it looks very impressive when set up. It’s not as intimidating as I thought it would be to learn the game and it has a very impressive table presence with outstanding artwork to boot.
CMON didn’t really win any accuracy points when it comes to Rising Sun. There are a lot of cool-sounding names and different Japanese words thrown in. Keep in mind that the game is only loosely based on Japanese folklore/myths and this is a fantasy version. It never claimed to be anything other than a fun backdrop for a sweet board game.
They did get a lot of flack for their research department. When they were designing the game, they clearly did most of their research on Wikipedia. As an English teacher, I tell my students that Wikipedia is a great starting resource but always check their sources.
The Joke That Went Too Far
CMON found a joke-entry made by a couple of friends in New Zealand. The entry was for the Kotahi, which claimed was a hairy, ape-like creature who would fly into a rage. It’s also known as a “Manawa Bradford”.
Kotahi is a Maori word and a Manawa Bradford was the man at the butt-end of the fake Wikipedia joke. It’s kind of funny until somebody takes it as truth. The Kotahi ended up being a stretch goal on the Rising Sun Kickstarter campaign and was a very cool-looking monkey mini that would be added if you pledged your left kidney and family dog.
CMON took to the joke and sort of ran with it, sending Bradford and his buddies a copy of the game. It still looked tacky on their part that they added a character from a fake Wiki entry to their game and didn’t realize it was fake. I personally think it looked bad on CMON’s part but it’s a board game and not a Master’s thesis, so who am I to judge? I’ll leave it up to you.
Rising Sun is an incredibly gorgeous game for 3-5 players.
Players compete for victory points by completing objectives and conquering areas of the board and holding onto them for a turn.
At first glance, the game looks like a fancy version of Risk. Rising Sun, however, is much more than that. The objectives are not all straightforward, like “Kill your opponents and take their stuff.”
There’s an intricate system of points and multiple ways to get them. Sometimes losing a fight and having everyone die nets more points than actually winning a battle.
Rising Sun also has a built-in alliance system that forces players to align themselves with each other for a turn. It works rather well and doesn’t feel rushed or forced.
Overall it’s an amazing big box game that will see many many playthroughs. The only downside is the usual gamer problem of finding players to show up on game night.
I really like Rising Sun. The game is fun and I absolutely love the intricacies of combat. It almost doesn’t even feel like a fight. It’s a political dance of intrigue in which players bluff, counter, and attempt to outmaneuver their opponents. It’s really incredible.
The only thing that really gets to me is the theme of the game. It’s cool, it’s fantasy, but it strikes me as slapped-together. It honestly feels like CMON and Eric Lang just grabbed every Japanese word they could find and threw it into a game. I get that they were going for a certain aesthetic but it’s overwhelming. And it bugs me.
That’s just my personal opinion on the game. I just think they repeatedly hit you over the head with it.
It took me a while to get all of the units and terms straight when I was reading the rulebook and I just ended up coming up with nicknames for everything anyway.
Other than that, the game is beautiful. I love the combat mechanics because it’s so much more than simply having units slog it out against each other. Every action can have a different strategy and meaning behind it. The interactions between players and alliances are great.
I just feel as if the theme could literally be anything and the game would be the same. What they did put out just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny either. Why are the Kami fighting amongst themselves when they were mad at the old Emperor and Shogun? Why am I playing as Shogun instead of Kami?
I know I’m being as nitpicky as the amateur actor asking “What’s my motivation?”, but the little things like that are important to me. And CMON is an outstanding board game company, so… with great power comes great responsibility.
What are your thoughts on Rising Sun? Do you make fake Wiki entries?
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