If I were to tell you that a brand new strategy game takes place in 16th century Japan and deals with all the political intrigue, backstabbing, and socioeconomic turmoil of the island nation, the well-informed might turn to me and say, “Oh, you mean Total War: Shogun 2?”
Yes, but that’s not all! Paradox Interactive is getting in on the shogun-era strategy with their very own game called Sengoku. While it might initially sound like Sega’s well-received strategy game, Sengoku has a slightly different focus.
When players start up, they're tasked with uniting the 350 different provinces of Japan. Players begin as a noble leader in a family in a small region. Nearby regions and towns can consist of allies, enemies, or subjected nobles (helpfully tagged with flags that indicate their status). Players control their relations with other factions using three simple statistics: diplomacy, intrigue, and martial stats.
Unlike Shogun 2, Sengoku doesn’t rely upon real-time battles to order troops around. It’s all about personal actions and decisions as they interact with different factions. The player character and the opposing nobles each have distinct characteristics that influence their social behavior. They can be paranoid, charitable, ruthless, selfish, trusting, whatever--and each of these characteristics impact their current standing in diplomacy, intrigue, and martial affairs.
Those three stats also act as a currency of sorts. Every action shapes the diplomacy, intrigue or martial standing. Actions range from sending soldiers or ninjas to attack different towns to building alliances and attacking a common threat. Hostages can be exchanged to forge alliances, and the general prosperity of the people under your rule always needs to be addressed.
Towns can be upgraded with different buildings that relate to the different features of a territory. Defensive buildings, barracks, stores, theatres, and even religious edifices can be built. Early on, players can choose one of three religions to represent their character. Christianity from the Portuguese will bring in money, while the Buddhist religion brings stability and the Shinto religion brings higher honor.
Internally, the actions of the player, their family, and their council are very important. It is crucial for the player to marry and have a son so that the game can continue once the current leader is dead. Additionally, the familial structure is always in flux with events such as marriage alliances and breakdowns.
A good way to view the game is like Japanese politics on a very external scale. The game never ventures within a city or a battle. It’s a somewhat abstract game conceptually, but it focuses on the “big picture"---which, for fans of grand strategy games, should be great. Another feature worth noting is the game's use of real-time, making it perfect for multiplayer gaming. As a matter of fact, Sengoku will offer a 32-player multiplayer mode, so players will have to be quick on their toes if they want to succeed.
Ultimately, Sengoku looks to be a highly specialized version of strategy gaming. While it’s a very niche game, as long as the developers at Paradox can maintain a well-designed product for the September release, gamers tired of Shogun 2 may have a solid alternative with Sengoku.