Theme and What is it?
Samurai Jack: Back to the Past is based around the final season of the animated series. Players play as Jack’s friends who return to the period of time before Jack’s adversary, Aku, takes control. Jack’s friends follow a path with Jack that includes locations from the animated series. Jack’s friends are working together to guard Jack’s sanity but also competing for the most honor at the end of the battle.
There is a little bit of setup but not much. The main play area is the game board that holds the Support cards for each location and the path of tiles that characters use to reach villains. There is a set number of Support cards placed in each location on the board depending on the number of players. The Jack/Aku movement cards are placed on their location on the board. Jack’s sanity token is placed on the sanity meter. There are 15 location tiles divided into three stacks based on the back of the tile. One of each location type is in the three stacks. The three stacks are shuffled and then each stack is laid out to create the path the characters will move on. Each tile can hold a maximum of three characters. Each character (including Jack and Aku) is randomly lined up at the start of the game.
The game plays over three rounds. Once players reach the villain at the end of the path, the game round is over. The first two rounds, players fight a random villain. At the end of the third round, players will fight Aku.
Each turn during the round consists of theses four phases:
- Jack advances along the path – Draw a Jack/Aku Movement card from the deck and Jack moves to the first available space on location tile that matches the card. If Jack happens to move to a location that is occupied by a player character, then Jack’s sanity token is moved back one space.
- Players advance along the path – Players have their own set of movement cards. They have one of each type of location. Once a location card is played, the player cannot play that location card again until all locations have been played. Unless, they play the card for their character’s home location and then they can pick the cards back up before playing them all. Players play a location card from their hand simultaneously. Then, starting with the player farthest back on the path, players reveal their card and move to the location chosen.
- Aku advances along the path – Draw a Jack/Aku Movement card from the deck and Aku moves to the first available space on the location tile that matches the card.
- Resolve character/location actions – Players collect one Support card from the location they occupy on the board. Players in a location with Jack, gain one honor point, and may choose to draw the top Support card from the deck instead of collecting a card from the location. Players in a location with Aku cannot collect Support cards or honor points and will have their movement card determined randomly for the next turn.
Players are trying to collect Support cards to fight the villain or Aku at the end of the path. There are three different types of Support cards: Allies, Traits, and Weapons. There are a certain number of honor point spaces on the villain for players to choose from. These spaces show what symbols are needed to fight at that honor space. Players can see this ahead of time to know what to try and collect from the game board along the way. If Aku arrives at the villain, he occupies the lowest available honor point space, blocking a player from choosing a spot. Once Jack and ALL players have reached the villain, the round ends.
Play continues for another two rounds. The path resets after each round and new Support cards are dealt. At the end of the third round, players tally up their honor points and the player with the most wins. However, if at any time Jack’s sanity reaches the end of the meter, then ALL players lose the game as Jack has become insane from Aku’s torment.
There is also an included variant for more advanced gameplay as well as special rules when playing with only two players.
A couple of my friends watched the animated series, but to be honest, I have not. However I find that most games based from a television show or movie do not require you to have seen it to understand the game and its mechanics. So, I figured this would be fun.
Game Build Quality
I love the components. It comes with custom sculpted figures for Jack, Aku, Ashi, The Scotsman, Monkey Man, Sir Rothchild and Max. The players use these sculpts to move along the path of tiles. The cards are well made and the board is sturdy. The tiles are normal cardboard and are comparable to those in Settlers of Catan.
All of the art is from the animated series so it is recognizable to anyone who has seen the animated series and probably those who have not. Most of the time, I do not like concept art, but the game is solely based around the animated series and characters so this works with the theme of the game and is appropriate.
I enjoyed the game. It is easy to grasp the rules and start playing right of the box. The rulebook is not very long. I enjoy simultaneous movement games. No one really has a turn and is mostly performing actions at the same time. This breaks up any downtime and all players are engaged with what is going on.
Age Range & Weight
The box suggests 13+. I can agree and disagree with this. The mechanics of this game are not difficult to pick up. This is definitely a family weight game. So, I believe children from the age of eight and above could grasp the game mechanics with no issue. I have read that the final season of Samurai Jack reflects a more “adult” nature and that may be the reason for the 13+ rating. However, after playing the game, I did not get that vibe. The cartoon concept art did not reflect a mature content in my opinion.
One of my players kept messing up their movement because they were not paying attention and so that frustrated him. This was his own fault and probably cost him the game (He lost by 1 point). Despite all of this, he liked the game and would play again. One of my other players thought it had too much randomness to it. I disagree. The game does have a random factor but it has to because it is lightly co-op. However, I felt that deciding movement could easily be predicted depending on where the other characters were located on the board to avoid this randomness. My third player won the game and enjoyed it as well. I would definitely play this again. It may not be the right fit for my gaming group but I think my family will enjoy it.