Review – Samurai Jack: Back to the Past (USAopoly)
Based on the fifth and final season of the animated series, Samurai Jack: Back to the Past picks up the title character’s mission to return to the era before the reign of his adversary, the evil demon Aku. Jack’s friends accompany him along a path, comprised of various locations from the series, to defeat villains and finish with the most honor. Winning requires utilizing allies, traits, and weapons while guarding Jack’s sanity, taking players on an unpredictable ride that mirrors the story-rich episodes revered by critics and loved by fans.
Samurai Jack: Back to the Past is published by Project Raygun and USAopoly. It is designed by Andrew Wolfe, who is known for other popular titles including Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, Thanos Rising: Avengers Infinity War (for which you can read my review here), and Munchkin Adventure Time. It features custom sculpted figures for Jack, Aku, Ashi, and other characters from the series.
Accompany Samurai Jack on his quest to vanquish the Shape-shifting Master of Darkness, Aku. As beloved companions from Jack’s adventures, players strive to gain the most Honor by helping him gather Allies, Weapons, and Traits.
First, the game board is set up between the players with support cards dealt into each location based on the number of players in the game. Unused support cards form a deck. The Jack/Aku movement deck and Jack token are also placed on the game board. Jack’s token is placed on the Sanity meter based on the number of players.
Next, a path is set up using the 3 sets of location tiles. Each set consists of 5 locations, forming a path 15 tiles long. At the end of a path is a randomly selected Villain card.
Finally, each player selects one of the five characters – Monkey Man, Max, Sir Rothchild, Ashi, or Scotsman. Then they receive the figure, character card, and five movement cards for that character.
Each game of Samurai Jack: Back to the Past consists of 3 rounds, 4 phases per round:
Advance Jack along the path by drawing a movement card from the Jack/Aku deck. If Jack moves to a space with a character, his sanity token moves back one space on his Sanity Meter. If all spaces are taken, Jack moves to the foremost available space on next location.
All players choose their movement from their personal movement deck, placing their movement card face down in front of them. Players reveal their cards one by one, starting with the player furthest back on the path, and progressing forward. Players move to the foremost available space on that location. If all spaces are taken, they move to the foremost available space on next location.
Additionally, if a player moves to their “home” location, which is indicated on their character card, they may return all of their played movement cards to their hand before their next turn.
Advance Aku along the path by drawing a movement card from the Jack/Aku deck. If all spaces are taken, Aku moves to the foremost available space on next location.
Resolve character and location effects. The character that is furthest ahead on the path resolves first. They collect one support card from the location section of the game board that they occupy.
There are special rules for Jack and Aku:
- If no characters occupy the space with Jack, his sanity token moves forward one space on his Sanity Meter.
- If a character occupies the space with Jack, they gain one Honor Point. Additionally, instead of choosing one Support card from the location section of the game board that they occupy, the player may choose the top card from the Support card deck.
- If a player occupies the space with Aku, they do not collect a Support card. Also, their next move is determined randomly by drawing a Movement card from the Jack/Aku deck on their next turn.
Players continue moving down the path towards the villain, eventually moving off of the path and onto the Villain card.
So what are these Support Cards for anyway?
Players are collecting Support cards each turn on their journey along the path. The main purpose of these Support cards is to fight the Villain at the end of the path. In the upper right corner of the card is a symbol for Allies, Traits, or Weapons. Certain combinations of these symbols can be used to face off against the Villain to earn Honor points. Also, unused Support cards can be discarded for one Honor point each.
Fighting Villains… and then Aku!
At the end of the path, players may encounter and battle the Villain. To advance onto the Villain card in Phase 2, the player will reveal a Movement card for a location that is not ahead of them on the path. Then, they may move onto an open Honor point space as long as they have the combination of Support cards indicated. If a player doesn’t have enough Support cards to match an open space, they move next to the Villain card and do not fight or gain points.
Jack and Aku also advance in the same manner. Jack waits until all players have arrived to help in the battle.
Aku will move to occupy the lowest-scoring Honor point space still available. This move strengthens the Villain, as it may reduce the number of spaces available for the players to claim, or block a space that a player was working towards!
After a player fights the Villain, they discard the Support cards that were used and collect Honor points for their victory. Additionally, if they use a Support card with their character’s icon next to the symbol, they get an additional 2 Honor points for that card. If they use more than one card with their character on it, they get 2 Honor points for each!
End of Round
At the end of the round, the next leg of the journey begins. The path is collected and a new one replaces it. All remaining Support cards are discarded from their location and new cards are dealt. A new Villain is revealed for the second round. For the third and final round, a random incarnation of Aku is used in place of the Villain.
Winning and Losing the Game
At the end of the third round, players discard their unused Support cards for one Honor point each. Then, tally up their Honor points and the player with the most wins! If there is a tie, the player that claimed the highest scoring Honor point space against Aku wins.
But, there are ways to lose the game too. Remember – Jack’s Sanity meter advances when no player advances to the same location as Jack on a turn, or if Jack and Aku are in the same location at the end of a turn. If Jack’s Sanity tracker reaches the end of the meter, all players lose. Jack succumbs to Aku’s torment and is driven insane!
Anyone who is a fan of the show Samurai Jack will love this game. The artwork and theming are outstanding throughout the game. Everything from the artwork, to the gameplay, to Jack’s sanity meter directly relates to the TV series. The artwork is also directly from the TV series, which has won multiple awards for animation. Most of the components are well made; the figures of each of the characters are stellar, but some of the cards are on a thinner cardstock and may develop wear over time. The rulebook is easy to read and understand the gameplay. But I have heard complains about it not being an actual book. Instead, it is one long pamphlet-type page with an accordion fold.
The gameplay and mechanics are simple enough to learn, so a wide variety of players can pick it up fairly easily. The gameplay changes a bit with the addition of the Encounter Tokens variant. But it’s not enough to increase the complexity of the game very much.
The only thing I might question is the replayability of this game. There is some variability with the game board, as it is modular and the path is slightly different each time around. There are also Encounter Tokens that can be added to the gameplay. Tokens are randomly added to locations on the path before each round, blocking characters from using that space. Then, the first time a player lands on that location, they reveal the token. The player that reveals the token takes the action, as well as any other players that land on that location.
Tokens either depict the Wolf or Aku. If the Wolf is revealed, players may draw a card from the Support deck first, in addition to taking a Support card from that location’s space on the game board. If Aku is revealed, players must randomly discard a Support card from their hand before taking a Support card from that location’s space on the game board.
Fans of the Samurai Jack TV series will really enjoy this game. It is especially sentimental for those who have fleeting moments of wistful longing for this enchanting TV series that has since concluded.
The game scales well, from 2-5 players. There are special rules for 2 player games that add a third random character. This neutral character’s movement is also determined by the Jack/Aku Movement deck. They collect Support cards from the location in which they land that can be used to defeat the Villain at the end of the round, not to score points, but to block the space from other players. At this time, there is no solo mode. But it would not surprise me if a user-created one doesn’t eventually show up in gaming forums.
There is plenty of positive player interaction throughout the whole game. It is a race to get down the path to be able to fight the Villain or Aku in the space that you have the Support cards for. There’s also a “take that” element when one player steals the Support cards from a location before another player gets there to get them for themselves.
There are 15 tiles that are randomly placed on the table to make the path that the characters travel on. Therefore, this gives slight variability to each game. But, it’s pretty much the same game each time you play it. Therefore, the variability will be with the characters that you choose to play, and the other people that you play with.
- Release Date: 2018
- MSRP: $34.95
- Playing Time: 45-60 minutes
- Age Range: 13+
- Player Count: 2-5
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