Peanut butter and tuna. Tequila and great decisions. Eric Lang and boxes of minis. Name a more iconic duo.

Rising Sun is the latest lovechild of designer Eric Lang, who’s made a name for himself in the last few years due to his partnership with publisher CoolMiniOrNot. You can pretty much always expect these games to be overproduced and stuffed full of gorgeous plastic sculpts, but whether or not there’s a decent game under all that is a different story.

I’m not exactly a fan of Eric Lang’s designs myself, so I went into this one with a certain measure of trepidation.

Components

This may be the most beautiful and overproduced CMON game to date. Having opted for the deluxe Kickstarter edition, my copy came spread out over four different boxes. Each of the clans in the game has its own unique set of detailed miniatures, with a heap of giant monsters you can summon to do your bidding as well.

The board is massive and colourful, the artwork by Adrian Smith is up to his usual standard, and it’s all guaranteed to look incredible when it’s sprawled across your table.

But there’s a caveat, and a pretty shitty one at that. The copy I own is the Kickstarter version, which comes with certain deluxe-ified components that aren’t in the retail copy. This is standard practice for CMON, who hope to exploit the FOMO of degenerate gamers like me, but for those buying it at retail expecting the full treatment, it’s a real bummer.

It still looks great, and it’s still crammed with plastic minis, but it’s something to keep in mind.

This is what the all-in Kickstarter gets you. A crapton of plastic.

Gameplay

All CMON games look great, but not all of them have the gameplay to match. It’s with pleasant surprise then that I say that Rising Sun is rather excellent.

It feels like Lang has taken the best of his other games, stolen a few ideas from other designs, crammed it all together, and somehow produced a thinky, deep experience with a lot of nuance and decision space.

Rising Sun is essentially what we call a “dudes on a map game”, an area-control jaunt in which players move their dudes around the board looking to take control of as much space as they can. Where Rising Sun distinguishes itself is in how many ways there are to score points, alongside an elegant and engaging combat system that substitutes dice or card-play for something much smarter.

Let’s break down the basics. The game plays out over three seasons (Winter is solely reserved for final scoring), with each season starting with a “tea ceremony”. This is where alliances and deals are brokered, as players can choose to ally with another player for the round or go it alone. Of course, in odd-numbered games, at least one person is going rogue.

Once the round starts, players take turns drawing four mandate tiles and selecting one to play. A mandate will give everybody at the table access to that action, with the player who played the tile (and his/her ally) getting a bonus for being the one who picked it. These mandates allow players to recruit troops, move them across the map, exploit the areas they control for resources and acquire “season cards” – special abilities and monsters which can be purchased.

Of course, players can also select the Betray mandate, which gives only them an ability, breaks their alliance and has them lose Honour. Honour is an important resource in Rising Sun, as it breaks all ties in all scenarios. It’s common for allies to discuss strategy and figure out what’s in each other’s mutual best interests, so a Betray action can really hurt.

A closer look at the details on the minis. These are the Oni, demons that reward you for being a dishonourable asshole.

The rules of Rising Sun are relatively straightforward, but the depth and hidden complexity in the game means that experienced players are likely to crush newbies. This is a game that rewards repeated plays with the same group, and is one that any group is unlikely to solve or get bored of in a hurry.

The standout in this game is the combat system, which borrows heavily from another game I love, Cry Havoc. Players blind bid coins on different battle objectives behind a screen, then reveal and resolve in order. Players can seppuku their army for points and honour, take hostages, hire ronin to fight for them, and even have poets memorialise them after the battle, earning points.

Trying to figure out which objective your opponent will bet on and which objectives you need to protect yourself from creates an awesome tension, which could see you overbidding on taking hostages, for example, only to have your opponent sacrifice his entire army before you even get the chance to do so.

What’s critical here is that all combat is resolved only at the end of the round, in a particular order. The winner of each battle must give all the coins they bid to the loser. This means you can comfortably take a loss in one battle in order to collect coins you can use in the next battle. Of course, if your opponent suspects you’re going to do this, they may bid hardly anything – and therein lies the rub.

Conclusion

Rising Sun is a beautifully produced dudes-on-a-map, area-control game with stunning miniatures, several layers of interaction, and a satisfyingly deep decision space.

It marks a career best for designer Eric Lang, and offers enough variability and replayability to keep a group of gamers occupied for years. This is a game best played by a relatively dedicated group who will find their meta shift and their strategies improve, but the relatively simple ruleset makes it an accessible teach as well.

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