I discovered this game about 10 years ago during one of my abandonware trawling trips on the then 56k enabled interwebs. It was originally released by awesome hit machine Microprose (Sid Meier’s original company), written by a team led by Lawrance Schick. Late last year I finally found a copy on Amazon.
In many ways it was a game of its time, but in other ways it was ahead of its time. The basic premise was that you were a Samurai during the Sengoku era. You start as a low level retainer to another Samurai lord, and slowly you work your way up to lord of all Japan.
The game mechanics were interesting. It consisted of several mini games. The main interface was a political mini game in which you choose your actions month by month. This could include raisng an army, taking a wife (have a male heir was the only way to ensure your game did not end if you died – you simply continued as your heir), form alliances with other Samurai, or commit treachery against them. You might unexpectedly be called to defend your peasants from bandits, or to defend to land from an attacking army (various other mini games were spawned as required). The trick to this game was that in order to make progress you had to keep your honor and political power up; and sometimes these goals contradicted each other. For instance, to gain influence against another Samurai, you could kidnap one of his relatives; but if you were caught you could lose much honor. The interaction was all done using text based menus illuminated with great little visual vignettes.
The other mini games were the ‘action’ parts of the game. One had you commanding an army; another had you taking on bandits or grunts solo either in a village, rice paddy or building (defending your family, or kidnapping someone else’s). The final mini game was a sword duel, mano-a-mano with another samurai (a great way to gain honor, but death if you fail).
The variety was enormously engrossing. It had great EGA graphics and really nifty AD Lib music. Add to that the fact that all the maps and events were procedurally generated (meaning everything was always subtly unique on each replay), and you had a first-order time sucker on your hands.
Like all 1980’s and early 1990’s Microprose games (F-19 Stealth Fighter, Fleet Defender), the packaging was of increadible value. The game came on three 5.25″ 720k disks, a pretty box, and best of all, a great chunky manual that not only described how to play the game, but gave lots of background on the history of Japan and the Samurai, and just dripped atmosphere (the manual made heavy reference to Stephen Turnbull‘s work). It is a real pity that the game industry got out of the habit of making a really nice physical package, although it is sort of making a come back now with the ‘collector’s editions‘.
It may be 20 years old now, but when building a new machine, part of my standard setup is still to install DOSBox and Sword of the Samurai. Mostly before I install Office…