Samurai: Tile-Based Strategy Game – Rules, Instructions & Play Tips


Samurai is a game I’ve played a lot. It’s a tile-based strategy game for 2-4 players. The game is set in feudal Japan, and the goal is to gain influence over the major social classes: the rice farmers, the priests, and the nobles. The game was created by Reiner Knizia, a well-known game designer, and it first came out in 1998. Since then, it has become a favorite among board game enthusiasts.

The game board represents the islands of Japan and is divided into hexes. Each player tries to place their tiles strategically to surround and capture figures representing the three social classes. The game ends when all the figures are captured or when a certain number of figures have been taken off the board. Players then count their influence, and the one with the most influence in at least one class, without being tied for the most in any, wins the game.

Samurai is not just about luck; I find that it requires a good deal of strategy and planning. The game has a unique scoring system that makes it a challenge to master. It’s a game that can be played over and over again, with each play offering a new set of challenges.

Quick Tip for Samurai

Always keep an eye on your opponents’ tiles and try to predict their moves. This can give you an edge in securing key figures.

Rules for playing Samurai

Understanding the rules of Samurai is key to enjoying the game. Each player starts with a set of tiles that represent different levels of influence over the three social classes. The game board has hexagonal spaces where players place their tiles. There are also special spaces on the board that give extra points or allow for different strategic moves.

On your turn, you place one of your tiles onto an empty space on the board. The goal is to surround the figures with your tiles to capture them. Some tiles have immediate effects, while others only count at the end of the game. There are also boat tiles that can be placed on water spaces and are quite flexible in their use.

When a figure is completely surrounded, the player with the highest influence around that figure captures it. If there’s a tie, the figure remains on the board. The game continues until all figures are captured or a certain number of figures have been removed from the board, triggering the end of the game.

At the end of the game, players reveal their captured figures. The player with the most influence in one class, without being tied for the most in any class, is the winner. If no player meets this condition, the winner is the one with the most total figures. Below is a rulebook PDF for Samurai (fan-made) that does a good job diving into more detail or you can print this page.

Equipment and Setup for Samurai

To play Samurai, you need the game board, tiles, and figures representing the three social classes. Each player gets a set of tiles with different influence levels. The game board is set up with the figures placed on their designated spaces.

Players choose their color and take their tiles, which they keep hidden from other players. The board is set up according to the number of players, with fewer figures used in games with fewer players.

Number of PlayersRegions IncludedComponents Available (each)
2Honshu7 High Helmets, 7 Buddhas, 7 Rice Fields
3Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku10 High Helmets, 10 Buddhas, 10 Rice Fields
4All four pieces (Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku, Tohoku)All High Helmets, All Buddhas, All Rice Fields
Setup for a game of Samurai depending on number of players

The types of tiles in Samurai include:

  1. Samurai tiles, which have high influence over all three classes.
  2. Rice field, Buddha, and high helmet tiles, which have influence over their respective classes.
  3. Ship tiles, which can be placed on water spaces and have flexible influence.
  4. Action tiles, which have special effects like swapping tiles or moving figures.

How to Play Samurai and Game Mechanics

The key game mechanics in Samurai involve placing tiles, capturing figures, and managing your hand of tiles. Here’s how you play:

  1. Setup: Place the board and figures according to the number of players. Each player takes their tiles.
  2. Gameplay: Players take turns placing one tile onto the board. You can place tiles next to figures or next to other tiles.
  3. End of the Game: The game ends when all figures are captured or when a certain number of figures have been removed from the board.

In each turn, players follow these steps:

  1. Token Placement:
  • The player chooses one or more tokens from behind their screen.
  • At least one token must be placed on the board.
  • Ships are only allowed on empty sea spaces, and other tokens can only be placed on vacant land spaces.
  • Exception: Figure exchange and Token exchange.
  • Tokens cannot be placed on empty villages and cities.
  1. Figure Capture:
  • When all land spaces neighboring a figure are filled with tokens, the figure is instantly captured.
  • The player with the strongest influence captures the figure, or it is placed beside the board if no player has won the figure.
  1. Token Replenishment:
  • The player randomly draws tokens from their face-down supply located beside the screen.
  • This draw is to bring the total number of tokens behind the screen back to 5.
  • When a player exhausts their token supply to draw, they continue playing with fewer tokens.
  • After drawing tokens, play proceeds to the next player in clockwise order.

How to Win at Samurai

To win at Samurai, you need to have the most influence in at least one class without being tied for the most in any class. If no player achieves this, the player with the most total figures wins.

Beginner strategies involve focusing on one class and trying to capture as many figures in that class as possible. Intermediate strategies might involve blocking opponents and using ship tiles effectively. Advanced strategies could include bluffing with your tile placement and managing your hand to have the right tiles at the right time.

Best Strategies for playing Samurai game

The best strategies for Samurai involve a mix of offense and defense. You want to capture figures while also preventing your opponents from doing the same. Pay attention to the board and try to predict where important battles over figures will happen.

Strategic plays to aim for include:

  1. Securing key figures early in the game.
  2. Using ship tiles to influence multiple figures at once.
  3. Playing action tiles at the right moment to change the course of the game.

Sneaky tactics might involve bluffing with your tile placement or holding back certain tiles to surprise your opponents later in the game.


Good scenarios in Samurai might include having a strong influence around multiple figures or having a hand of tiles that lets you react to any situation. Bad scenarios could be running out of tiles or being blocked by your opponents.

To turn scenarios to your advantage, try to:

  1. Adapt your strategy based on the state of the board and your hand of tiles.
  2. Use action tiles to disrupt your opponents’ plans.
  3. Form temporary alliances to block a leading player.

Frequently Asked Questions about playing Samurai game

Here are some common questions and answers:

  1. Q: Can I move a figure once it’s on the board?
    A: No, figures cannot be moved unless affected by an action tile.
  2. Q: What happens if there’s a tie for influence around a figure?
    A: The figure stays on the board until the tie is broken.
  3. Q: Can I play more than one tile per turn?
    A: No, you can only play one tile per turn unless an action tile says otherwise.
  4. Q: How do I know when the game ends?
    A: The game ends when all figures are captured or when a certain number of figures have been removed from the board.
  5. Q: What if no one has the most influence in one class without a tie?
    A: The player with the most total figures wins.

Additional Tips and Tactics

Here are some extra tips and tactics for Samurai:

  1. Keep track of which tiles have been played. This can help you predict what your opponents might do next.
  2. Don’t focus too much on one class. Spread your influence to keep your options open.
  3. Remember that action tiles can be game-changers. Use them wisely!

For more information on Samurai, check out these links:

Fantasy Flight Games – Samurai

Samurai Board Game Rules [PDF]