Martial Art and it’s expansion, Battlefields is a two person card game from Spider-Goat Games. Set in Feudal Japan, you play as warlords vying for control of different regions.
The game is simple to learn, and the more you play, the more you realise that it is ultimately a game beyond measure. But I’ll get to that soon, first, let’s look at the game from the players perspective:
Setting Up the Game
It’s super quick and very simple. You start by separating the deck into the lands cards (the nice sea image), the battle deck (the black bird image) and finally two supply cards and the legend cards. The table space should look like this (only the cards in your hand are to be kept to yourself!)
Each player takes a supply card and then draws four battle cards. With more players (requiring another set of cards completely) the setup is only fractionally more complex, drawing two land cards but only looking at the special rules for the second.
Playing the Game
Simple really, you draw the top card from the lands deck and place it face up. This will show you the region the warlords are trying to capture. Some of the cards have a special text, which gives the locations and lands a feel for the hardship of the battle in a narrative way, such as Kanbara which is covered in snow – the player with the highest strength card must discard a card… its taken it’s toll to win this battle, on account of all the freezing weather.
Each player then commits a single battle card, face-down to the battlefield. When they are happy with their choice, the cards are revealed and the special rules (if any) are resolved. Each card has a strength rating which normally determines the winner.
However, some cards can be played during the battle to weaken your opponent, bolster your own forces, or kill them before they even arrive. This is where the complexity of the game really comes in: you’ll need a poker face, a strong one, to fool your enemy. You’ll also need to consider how much you want to commit to each battle – sometimes winning isn’t worth the cost, as we found out. It is a strategy in itself to decide if the prize is even worth fighting for. But fear not, you will always have the Supplies card in your hand, which has a power rating of 0 and you can never discard it. Instead, it allows you to draw an extra card that turn.
Once the battle is resolved, the winner takes the land card to keep score, and each player then picks an extra battle card from the top of the pile.
The first to 12 land points or 3 bridges wins the game.
The core Martial Art game consists of 60 Battle cards, 12 Land cards and the rules leaflet (which is very well written).
The Battlefields expansion consists of 8 terrain cards, 8 weather cards and 8 war cards, plus another clear and concisely written rules leaflet.
What makes it good?
There are a variety of cards in the battle deck. Some are simply different soldiers or troops with a power rating, whilst others are weaker with special abilities. The battle cards are colour coded, red for damaging, white for supporting and purple for supplies. Generally, there are only 2 of each card type, so if you happen to draw both you know you’ve denied your enemy.
Some of the battle cards are simple yet amazingly fun and amusing to play: got a card hand of a lot of chaff? Well hope for the peasant battle card, which gains strength for each card in your hand… literally a horde of angry peasants come to fight for your warlord and they’re unlikely to be swept aside!
The supply cards, those troops and specialist forces with the white border, really mix up the focus of the battle. Some, like the archer, will provide a strength bonus if you’re original battle card was strength 7 or lower. The Scout allows you to look at an enemies card hand BEFORE the battle takes place so you can see what they may play, or the Geisha, who presumably disarms your warlord or warriors enough to distract them, removing any special rules text from the card your opponent played.
The land cards are not single point lands, rather they can come with heavy rewards, such as a land card worth 4 points, such as Kyoto. In such battles, often the supply cards can fall fast to try and lever the battle in your warlords favour.
The fact that 12 land points or 3 bridge points can win the game means an opponent can lose sight of the bridges score, allowing you to sneak a victory by capturing all the choke points across feudal Japan.
And it gets better – with the recent Kickstarter completing, the second printing of Martial Art is now complete, with an expansion simply called Battlefields. The Battlefields expansion brings persistent weather effects in the form of land cards, and terrain cards to better exploit your opponent or bolster your own forces. Some of the support cards have also been modified to emphasize the war off-pitch, such as Geisha influences and other nefarious and cunning medieval tactics.
Why did I back this on Kickstarter?
The art. Originally I saw the cards and was entranced by the artwork, which is all taken from historical documents. There’s nothing more atmospheric to a gamer set in feudal Japan than the actual artwork of the time. Colourful, beautiful and utterly alluring, you could spend a fine moment appreciating the detail and energy each picture offers.
That aside, I wanted a game which was quick to play, easy to transport and simple enough for even a novice gamer to pick up and play. Martial Art does this. It took us minutes to understand the concept of the game, and it cost us in headaches and frustration when we realised, one at a time, that we had just played the wrong card, or failed to exploit a weakness.
All that aside, the price tag was good too. To buy the game now, direct from Spider-Goat Games will cost you $22 for both the core and expansion combined (or more if bought separately). I think this is worth it, for a game you can pick up and play in a coffee break with your elderly grandma or novice player.
Can you stretch to get two of each? I think it’s worth it. For a card game it might seem as little expensive, but for a 4 player game of this sort you’re going to get a lot of use. No doubt I’ll update you all at the bottom of this article in a few weeks telling you about the fun times we’re having!
A nice little side note…
Spider-Goat Games are cool because they have a little blog on their site about their Kickstarter antics, highlighting where they went wrong and what they have learned. For me, this is a great way of touching upon the minds of the gamers because it shows them to be human. We can also all learn from each others mistakes, a concept which we at Creator Consortium are always keen to express.
Martial Art and the Battlefield expansion combine a great game, but even if you can only get the core game, it will keep you going to hours. If you can stretch yourself to get two copies of each, you can battle it out with up to four players. This would make each game last a little longer as each warlord gazes across the table in suspicion. Play some soundtracks from Total War: Shogun or The Last Samurai and you’re at the gates of nerd heaven!
You can buy the card games here.
That’s all from me, let me know what you think.
Did this article help you decide to try it out, or not? We’d love to know!