POCKET SAMURAI is a fast-paced, flip-and-write-style card game that feels like nothing currently out on the market. Inspired thematically by classic samurai movies, the game takes place over two phases: a “Dojo Phase” where players take turns drafting ancient samurai techniques, and a “Bushido Phase” that kicks in once each player has eight unique cards (as well as their crucial “Strike” card). Players each place one card face down in front of them and flip them up simultaneously; the two flipped cards now interact and the rules on the cards are followed. This can result in one, both, or none of the cards remaining in play. The end goal is to strike your opponent while your “Attack” value, represented by swords, outnumber their “Defense” value, represented by helmets.
POCKET SAMURAI is fast, easy to learn and, importantly, a unique gameplay experience every time you shuffle the deck. The mechanics are intuitive and simple without forcing gameplay to be reliant on luck. This, on top of artwork that is simple yet intentional, leads to an enjoyable gaming experience—plus, a price point of $10 and a deck that is less than 30 cards makes the whole package perfect to take traveling. Of the 20 or so games that debuted at SDCC, POCKET SAMURAI tops them all. Merry-Go-Round had the privilege to speak with co-designers Richard Mason and Ryan Blumke at the recently held 2023 San Diego Comic-Con.
What was your inspiration behind the theme?
Richard Mason: I am a blackbelt, primarily in hand/foot techniques, but I have studied other forms of martial arts as well. In my youth my father showed me Kurosawa films and Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai Trilogy. I would say the Samurai Trilogy (1954’s MUSASHI MIYAMOTO, 1955’s DUEL AT ICHIJOJI TEMPLE, and 1956’s DUEL AT GANRYU ISLAND) directly inspire what POCKET SAMURAI is.
How did you both get into this industry of designing card and board games?
Ryan Blumke: We’ve been playing games for longer than we care to admit. We’ve been into MAGIC: THE GATHERING for as long as it’s been around, as well as board games of every shape, variety, and size. The two of us have been playing games together for so long that we would also constantly make our own house rules. So, eventually it naturally progressed; as we already knew how the mechanics worked, we knew how we could tweak the games to fit our preferences as players. You don’t get into making board games until you’ve played so many of them that you look at them and go “I could do that, that’s a thing that I can do.”
RM: If you were to sit at our table for our favorite game, TERRAFORMING MARS, you would probably run away screaming. We have added so much, it takes almost six hours to play, just from all of our rule changes we have implemented with the base game and expansions.
What games would you say were your biggest influences, for not only POCKET SAMURAI, but getting into this industry?
RM: The simultaneous reveal mechanic was directly inspired by A GAME OF THRONES: THE BOARD GAME. I had always wanted to make a samurai dueling card game, and I would always think, “How can I encapsulate what it would feel like to have an actual samurai duel?” I didn’t directly think about A GAME OF THRONES at the time, but when I finally had the lightbulb moment, it was due to the mechanics we saw there. That’s when I really knew I was on to something. With simultaneous revealing, it now becomes a mind game. It gives you that tense feeling that a samurai would have had going into a battle.
RB: A big part of it is, you can lose going into the first turn—and that’s what real samurai duels are. You aren’t there to fight them with swords over and over again, you are there to win the fight and be done with it. The quicker you can do that the better, the longer you take, the longer they have a chance to hit you. It’s not about fighting fair; it’s about fighting effectively. The nice part about it is that no matter how fast it gets, your opponent knows the moves you can do, there’s nothing that they shouldn’t be expecting.
RM: That’s what makes this not a game of chance, the drafting phase before the battle. The draft elevates it from feeling like Rock-Paper-Scissors to a mind game of “Do I let them have this tool to have against me going into the Bushido Phase, or do I take the tool for myself?”
What was your experience getting this set up on Kickstarter?
RM: I definitely fought hard for that one. I am a big Kickstarter fan, I just love the feeling of being a backer, and because of that, I knew I would be partially experienced getting this set up and started. The biggest benefit to Kickstarter is that it already has an audience. Using Kickstarter and being able to market to that audience had incredible value.
Was there added impact to launching the kickstarter during SDCC?
RB: I don’t know if we have enough knowledge to say what effect it ultimately had. So many people jumped at the chance to back it after playing the game, which felt amazing. We made it at a price point ($10) so that people would be willing to try it who haven’t played it. What we really love is when people know they want it, they know they’re getting a good deal and they know they’re going to enjoy it. What that lead to was people getting multiple copies, saying they were getting copies for friends and family… just excited to show this game to everybody.
RM: I can tell from you being here, I can see the impact our marketing has had. Being here (at Comic Con) I absolutely believe pushed us over the edge.
Beyond the Kickstarter, what are the future plans for this game?
RB: We built a really strong base with this game, and we did so by cutting it down to the core. That made the game a lot more fun, but also a lot more balanced. The number of cards flipped leads to a lot of interactions, but it also makes it so the battle is never super one-sided. We love the idea of adding expansions, but they would need to be something that you opt into, because anytime you add more cards, you add more variability.
RM: We did a lot of work making this game as balanced as we could—that was always our priority. Remove as much randomness as we can, and make each card feel meaningful to choose. In any expansions, we are going to worry less about that, and focus more on theme and fun, since it is opt-in. Ryan and I have differing ideas for where we want to go with the expansions. Another reason we did Kickstarter is that we can get the opinion of the people that like our game.
What would you say your top two desert island board games are?
RM: TERRAFORMING MARS and A GAME OF THRONES: THE BOARD GAME!
RB: TERRAFORMING MARS and CRYPTID!
POCKET SAMURAI is live on Kickstarter through August 19, 2023 — grab a copy today!