Theme and What is It?
It’s springtime and the emperor will make his walk through the sakura (cherry) trees. As a painter, you want to be as close to the emperor as possible to paint the best picture of this annual event. Be careful not to pass him or you will be dishonored!
The goal of the game is to be the closest painter to the Emperor when he arrives at the three sakura trees. The sakura spaces on the board are the three places for players to score throughout the game.
Players start the game with a colored pawn on the entrance gate of the board and five tokens of their color. The emperor has a pawn which starts up to 7 spaces ahead of the painters.
Each round, players play simultaneously by revealing a card from their hand. Then, each player resolves his card starting from the lowest number to the highest. There are two actions on the card: Garden action and Painter action. The garden action always resolves first. The symbol on the card will determine what will happen for each action. For the garden action, either the emperor or another player’s pawn will move forward or backwards a certain number of spaces. The painter action works the same way, but the active player will move instead. A player is immediately disgraced if their pawn is ever on the same space with the emperor. They must then move back three spaces and discard a token.
When the emperor lands on a sakura space, a scoring round occurs and all other cards are discarded for that round. Players take tokens from the general supply based on how close they are to the emperor. Then, the player pawns line up right behind each other in that same order but with no spaces in between and the game continues.
When the last sakura space scores, the game ends. The player with the most tokens wins.
The artwork and box size initially caught my eye. The size of the box indicates it will be more of a filler game and that the gameplay is not going to be complicated. The description of the game on the back is that it is a “light tactical game of pushing your luck and pushing your friends”. I find games that can push your friends to be annoyingly fun; however, they are not for everyone.
Game Build Quality
Sakura has basic components: a small board, cards, tokens and player pawns. That being said, it doesn’t take away from the game by not having unique components. The cards are really thick and nice. My only complaint with them is that they stuck together at first but that should remedy over time.
The board is pretty straight forward and nothing fancy. All of the focus is on the cards. The artist did well at conveying the Japanese sakura trees as well as the painters following after the emperor.
Sakura is a lot of fun. When I first read the rules, the mechanics reminded me of RoboRally. This is only because of the hidden movement based on initiative order of play. Other than that, the game is nothing like RoboRally. The game is random but there is light strategy.
Difficulty and Age Range Suggestion
The box suggests 10+ and I would agree. It is light enough that the maturity level doesn’t have to be super high to pick up on the strategy and mechanics.
Some of my favorite games are considered filler games. I like filler games that are beyond a dice chucker or basic card game. This is one of them. I also like games that are smaller so I can just put it in a small bag with some others if it isn’t a scheduled game night. My group would play it again so this is definitely a nice addition to my collection.