Kagematsu–The RPG review

IMG_0199By Paco Garcia Jaen

What the publishers say

It is Japan 1572, the end of the Senguko period of history. Like many transitions of power the country is filled with strife, warring factions pulling any able bodied men into war, leaving villages populated by only women, children and old men.

Now a small, nearly indefensible village is living under the horror of a dangerous threat that casts its long shadow over the village. Without a defender, its people are almost certainly doomed.

Enter Kagematsu, a wayward ronin fleeing a troubled past.  Here is a defender for the village, if only he can be swayed from his meandering course.  So it is that several young women conspire among themselves to win his affections and steer him to their cause…

Kagematsu is a fast paced game for 3 to 6 players with quick scenes that should play out in one session. Price is $17 plus shipping/handling USD; includes the 40 page game book with an expanded appendix and the gorgeous tri-fold Kagematsu screen.

What I say

I saw Kagematsu recently at Conception and it came to my attention after visiting one of the indie games covered tables. The enthusiastic and charming man at the table quickly convinced me it was worth a go. This is not a RPG like any other I’ve seen, and the mechanics and philosophy won me over pretty much immediately.

As the blurb at the top of this article says, the players live their adventures in feudal Japan and the object of the game is to gain the love of a Ronin called Kagematsu.

The book contains 40 very easy to read pages. The soft cover depicts a gorgeous Japanese style pattern with lovely Kanji in bright and very pleasing to the eye colours. The interior of the book is well laid out with some lovely details and illustrations. The book also comes with a small screen with the game sequence, that is charmingly bound to the book with a black fabric tape.

The rules are simple enough. This game places the emphasis on role playing. Although there are dice rolls, they are used to decide if the Ronin gives his attentions to any given player and help Kagematu’s player to play the scene accordingly. Love, fear, violence, coercion… all can play a part in this intricate game or courtship with plenty of chances for great role playing.

Now the interesting bit of this game is that the gender roles are meant to be exchanged. The player who runs Kagematsu is meant to be a women, while the townswomen who work hard for his attentions are meant to be played by men. I must admit I really liked the twist. Although it will make it difficult to play for a group without a woman in it, and also for a group with more than a woman present, it feels like the sort of game that could  bring people out of their comfort zones and force them to think in different and more creative ways.

The game is not fit for a campaign, and a group will rarely want to play it twice, though it could be more than possible and even entertaining. However this is as much a game as it is an exercise in empathy and appreciation for the opposite sex and the challenges are not to be taken lightly.

My only concern with this game is with the mechanics. The players take it in turns to narrate and role play the scene in which they attempt to obtain Kagematsu’s attentions, which means the rest of the players have to wait until one has finished to get their chance. It can be a long process that not everyone will find amusing.

Still, for an afternoon’s entertainment, this is a charming and rather different concept very well worth trying and very affordable.

For effort, creativity and originality, this game deserves 4 stars.

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