Earlier today I got a chance to look at the upcoming wargame, Sengoku. Paradox’s games come in a number of flavours. Space flavour is good, as is fantasy and jellied goblin, but I have say I am also partial to the burnt caramel whiff of pseudo-real-time feudalism. Various Paradox games deal with European feudalism – and we’re particularly interested in Crusader Kings 2, as you can see from Quintin’s preview – but look East and you see less coverage. That’s where Sengoku comes in. Based on the Crusader Kings 2 engine, it’s a take on Japanese feudalism, and is an interesting “where next” for folks who got a kick out of Shogun 2’s campaign map.
Sengoku is, according to Paradox’s aptly-named strategy producer Chris King, somewhere between the most recent iterations of Europa Universalis (from which it derives much of its warfare system) and Crusader Kings 2, where its map and diplomacy gubbins find their origin. (It is much closer to Crusader King 2, of course.) The plan isn’t simply to collide these two big history games together and then paint the resulting entanglement in the colours of Japan, but to build on them with something resembling the way feudalism might have worked during the Sengoku period. So it’s a Japanese-styled game ecology layered lovingly across a Crusader Kings backbone, and includes things like having your children taken hostage by more powerful clans to force you to adhere to their plans for vassal-choking domination. Could be rather good!
The key new system for Sengoku is the honour system, which is essentially a kind of diplomatic currency. You earn cash in the normal way, of course- building up provinces and levying taxes – but honour must be earned politically. For example, if you honour an alliance with another clan, and step in when he gets attacked, then you might earn serious honour. Likewise if you do the honourable thing and grant minions the kinds of titles and property rights they actually deserve, then that will add to your pool of honour too.
Spending honour is all too easy, however. Set up a ninja to attack an enemy and have him get caught, and you’ll find yourself losing honour. Likewise you’ll spend from this pool if you take hostile actions that look bad to the rest of Japan. The overall amount of honour you retain can even have an impact on your wider game. If you maintain a high honour then any vassals you have under you will be forced to behave and won’t rebel, or plot against you.
Ah, yes, /plots/. So familiar to us here at the backstab-happy court of Castle Shotgun, but so rarely represented in any interesting way in games. In Sengoku horrible intrigues gets their own screen and menu options, with you able to add allies to your secret plots before you launch your coup, or claim on a title, or attack on an enemy. Plots can be extremely useful to you, since often you’ll be playing as the vassal of a greater power. If you want to overthrow the big guy then enlisting other vassals, or even his direct enemies, could be a good idea.
Sengoku is, as you’d expect from this kind of historical grand strategy, pretty heavy on the menus, but many of them take an unfamiliar twist, even to those familiar with Paradox’s way of doing things. Building infrastructure in Sengoku does not entail saving up cash and then click the relevant build icon, for example. Instead you appoint one of your courtiers to take charge of improving your regions. This means that the ongoing improvement and building side of the game is handled indirectly, and will depend on your choice of courtier for its success.
As in Crusader Kings its the people that matter in Sengoku, and both interacting with them and even finding them has been streamlined. While it’s still possible to scroll through vast lists of faces to find who you’re looking for, you can also denote specific characters as “persons of interest” and then events that happen to them, even if they are a remote bod on the far side of the map, will be pinged to you in your message log.
That message log too is an example of the tweaking this game has received: rather than being bombarded with pop-ups about events and happenings in your world, they are queued into high and low priority messages, which you can examine and discard at your leisure. It’s one of those little rejigs of how things work that should make the game a lot less laborious to play.
Whether Sengoku’s flavour of feudalism really does satisfy our appetite for war and diplomacy will, ultimately, rest on how well the AI manages to model the many aspects of the struggle for medieval Japan that the game tries to present. Whether it makes good decisions, and whether it delivers a believable experience – that’s going to make or break it. That’s hard to discern from this unfinished, unbalanced early version of the game, but I’m sure we’ll find out come September.