Zipang Portable – Review

by | Dec 11, 2016 | Game Reviews


Zipang Portable

Players: 2-6

Play time: 10-20 minute

Type: Card game

Mechanic: Battle card driven / Pick one play one

Designers: Ko Sasahara

Published: Engine ID

Zipang Portable is coming to Kickstarter in early 2017!

It’s the 17th century, during the tumultuous time known as the Sengoku period in Japan.  You are a samurai vying for control of Japan, gaining land and resources, ultimately trying to become the Shogun, uniting all the clans under your rule.  So gather your armies, cinch down your armor and prepare for battle.


Zipang Portable is a simple, fast paced, pick one play one card game.  The game consists of 30 ukiyo-e style cards of 14 different types, from lowly peasants to the glorious Emperor himself.  The term ukiyo-e translates as “pictures of the floating world”, this style of art was popular in Japan from the 17th through 19th centuries.  Ukiyo-e focused on enjoyable activities in landscape settings, shown close-up, with special attention to contemporary affairs and fashions.  During each campaign (round) you will manage your hand to attack or defend, steal and play cards or steal your opponents Mangoku coins which abstractly represent your land and resources.  When one player runs out of Mangoku coins the game ends.  The winner is the player with the most Mangoku coins.

Game Play:

Each player starts with 5 Magoku coins or 4 if your playing with two players.  Depending on the number of players certain cards will be removed from play.  Shuffle the cards and deal two cards to each player.  Place the remaining cards face down on the table, this forms the supply deck.  Place the top card face down next to the supply deck to form the discard pile.  This helps to prevent players from counting cards and creates a sense of ambiguity.  This will be familiar to players of AEG’s Love Letter.  Each player then places one of their Mangoku coins in the center to form the pot and the campaign begins.

On your turn draw the top card from the supply deck.  Play one of your three cards face up in the discard pile and execute it’s effect.  The exception to this would be if you play the dreaded “ikki” or peasant revolt.  In this case you play two peasant cards together to initiate an attack of 5 battle against all players.  You would immediately draw a new card .  You must always have at least two cards in your hand.  Cards have differing effects from attacking one or more players, stealing Mangoku coins, blocking attacks, looking at other players cards and playing cards from your opponents hands.

Lets take a quick look at the cards.

Every card has both a Battle (BTL) and Honor (HNR) rating below their name on the left side.  The battle rating is used both to attack other players and and defend against attacks.  Honor comes into play if the Emperor card is played or the supply deck runs out.  Each card also has a short phrase indicating what it’s effect in game is.  Examples being the bold Captain’s “C’mon! Let’ fight!”, the dangerous Bandit’s “Give me your gold!” and the wily Princess “Half is for me!”

With half of the cards focused on combat the game really comes down to the battle mechanic.  You attack other players by playing either a Captain, Commander, Warlord or a pair of Peasants.  The Captain attacks one other player, as does the Warlord.  The Commander attacks one or two players and playing a pair of Peasants attacks all players.

Defending players sum up the battle points of the cards in their hand, if the total matches or exceeds the battle points on the attacking card the attack is blocked and the defender is safe.  If the defender has fewer battle points then they discard their hand face up and they are eliminated from he current campaign (round).  Here’s the twist, the defending player has to show the attacking player their hand providing valuable information to the attacking player.

Example: The attacking player plays the mighty Warlord BTL 5 against one player.  The defender has in their hand both a Captain BTL 3 and a Bandit BTL 2, the total number of battle points matches the Warlord’s 5 so the defender is safe and play continues.


It is important to note, players who have been eliminated in battle can still be effected by both the Bandit and Merchant cards.


When the Emperor card is played or if there are no cards left in the supply deck the campaign (round) ends.  All players total the honor points (HNR) of the cards in their hand and the player with the highest honor wins claiming the precious Mangoku coins in the pot.  If there is a tie for the highest honor then shuffle the deck and each player draws one card and the card with the highest honor wins.  Repeat as necessary.

If you are the last player left after a battle, the current campaign (round) ends and you claim all of the Mangoku coins in the pot.

If one player has no Mangoku coins left the game is over and the player with the most Mangoku coins wins.


Let me play all my cards face up on the table (see what I did there), I really like this game.  Zipang Portable packs a big punch for a portable game.  It has a straight forward game mechanic that’s easy to learn yet deep enough to keep more serious gamers engaged.  Superficially similar to Love Letter, I think players will appreciate the similarity and enjoy the more complex game play.   Zipang Portable plays better with more people, since there’s more give and take between the players and depending on your gaming group a lot more trash talking.  With that being said it’s still a fun game with two players, creating an intense head to head rivalry.

Art is king in the world of games, often times being the deciding factor between bringing home something new or leaving it on the store shelf and the art by Tsutomu Araki and Issey Kunogi does not disappoint.  The theme is wonderful and is supported by the rich and colorful art.

Zipang Portable is, well, portable.  I mean it says it right in the name.  That is also a big plus for me, since you can take it and go.  It also doesn’t take up a lot of real estate on the table so you can play it at a coffee shop at work or even on the train.

Ok, I know it’s been a real lovefest but I told you up front I liked this game.

A few things I’m ambivalent about, the rules state that you are supposed to remove cards with fewer than 6 players.  I’ve played that way with two people and I’ve also played with all of the cards with two people.  It didn’t seem unbalanced to me and the games didn’t really seems to take that much longer.  I don’t think we ever ran out of cards in the supply deck though, so honor came into play a little less often.  The other thing was the defender showing their hand to the attacking player.  With a full table of players there’s a lot of information being shared and everyone has a little piece of the puzzle.  In a two player game though it seems to be a little out of wack and more or less invalidates the Shrine Maiden who’s effect is for all players to show their hand.  I prefer the uncertainty of not knowing exactly what a player has in their hand and relying on their honor to concede when beaten in battle.  I mean if you’re worried about your friends cheating at games you probably shouldn’t be playing with them anyway.

This is a great game that’s fun and easy to learn.  The theme is terrific and the art is beautiful.  You’re definitley going to want to pick this one up.  We’ll have the link for the kickstarter posted as soon as the project is live and we hope to have the developer Ko Sasahara on the show.