Skip to main content

This samurai strategy game is my new deck-builder obsession

Ever since Slay the Spire was released in 2017, deck-building has become a go-to genre for indie developers, right up there with roguelikes and Metroidvanias. Six years ago, it felt like a relatively untapped genre waiting to be torn apart. In 2023, the scene is much more bustling, which makes it a bit more difficult for something genuinely fresh to break through.

Mahokenshi - 4 Houses Trailer - Gamescom 2022

That’s why I’m especially impressed with Mahokenshi; the new samurai deck-builder is unlike any other card game I’ve played. Rather than making slight iterations to an established formula, it breaks some genre trends apart and remixes them into something that feels entirely new. The end result is a unique fusion of deck-building and strategy, carving another path for both genres to explore.

What’s the deal?

At first glance, Mahokenshi might look like a traditional tactics game. Players take control of a samurai battling their way through the Celestial Islands, a series of detailed, grid-like maps made of hexagonal tiles. On each turn, players get four ticks of energy that can be used to move and attack enemies scattered throughout the map. Each tile has its own specific effect, with something like a forest tile granting a bit of defense on a turn. Others offer buffs for that mission, like health or defense boosts.

A samurai slashes an enemy in Mahokenshi.

What’s unique, though, is how naturally cards slot into that format. All attacks (as well as some defensive and special movement maneuvers) are handled through a hand of cards, which are dealt out at the start of each turn. When a mission begins, players only start with a deck of basic strikes and defense-granting dashes. New cards can be acquired by landing on deck spaces or shopping at village tiles, while they can be improved or removed at other spots. Each turn is a thoughtful juggling act where players have to decide how they want to spend their precious energy.

There are a lot of similarities to Slay the Spire here if you look hard enough, but entirely deconstructed and reassembled in clever ways. Missions, for instance, almost play out like an open-ended roguelike run. In an early one, I need to make my way north up a map to seal an oni-spawning summoning pit within 22 turns. As I move up the map, I come across a variety of tiles I can take detours to — so long as I’m confident I can reach my main objective in time. In something like Slay the Spire, these upgrade opportunities would materialize as paths you must choose between battles. Here, they’re all laid out on one traversable map and I’m given the power to make those choices freely as I juggle resource and objective management. Every mission, I’m essentially building a deck and character on the fly which will carry me through its ultimate challenge.

It all clicks quite well, though that song and dance can get difficult too. Mahokenshi hits a difficulty wall in its fourth main mission, where I have to stop a mage from rampaging five villages around a circular map. I spend the top of the mission gathering cards, upgrading my stats, and grabbing a relic. When I finally decide to move in and start my assault, I find that I’m overwhelmed by smaller enemies that force me to burn energy. As I do that, the boss loads my deck with several health-removing curse cards on each turn, rendering half of any given hand I’m dealt useless. It’s a moment where all that freedom starts to feel like a bit of a mixed blessing.

A sorcerer casts a spell in Mahokenshi.

Mahokenshi does have an answer to difficulty spikes, fortunately. There’s a lot of permanent progression in addition to the one-off character-building within missions. There are four samurai classes in total and each can be leveled up by using them in missions to unlock better cards, relics, and perk-granting gear. Each mission has a set of objectives, both mandatory and optional, that grant a currency that’s used to upgrade a persistent skill tree too. Whenever I get stuck, I’m able to go back into an old mission and check off some objectives I missed to add some more tricks to my toolbox (like upgrading the damage of basic strike cards or getting more defense from forest tiles). The light RPG hooks are just another successful piece of its well-balanced genre gumbo.

I’ve yet to reach its conclusion, but I’m impressed by what Mahokenshi brings to the table. It’s a smart mix of strategy and deck-building that works way more than I figured it would at a glance. That makes for a fresh genre reinvention that has me eager to experiment with more card synergies. As long as indie developers keep dealing out creative ideas like this, I’ll stay at the table.

Mahokenshi is now available on PC.

Editors' Recommendations

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
I ditched my consoles and went to cloud gaming for a week – here’s how it went
A table holding a DualSense controller, a DualSense Backbone, a regular Backbone, and an Xbox Series X controller.

Game streaming has felt like the "next big thing" in gaming for the past decade. I recall trying out services like OnLive back in my college dorm room, playing the same 30-minute trials over and over again. Half the time the service never booted, and the half that it did was a lag-filled mess. Fast forward a couple of years and Sony acquires Gaikai to integrate into PlayStation Now (RIP), but left it largely ignored until Xbox began its push into streaming with its Xcloud initiative. With major tech giants like Google and Amazon failing to crack the game streaming code, Sony and Microsoft appear to be the only two capable of supporting this console-less method of play.

For all the fancy talk about new servers and top-of-the-line streaming technology, I've never been convinced that game streaming would be able to replace the tried and true local experience. After all, even under perfect internet conditions, the speed of light is only so fast. And assuming even most people will have perfect internet conditions itself is laughable. However, I wanted to put my money where my mouth was. How could I judge game streaming if I didn't actually give it a shot?

Read more
It’s the last day of Nintendo’s April Indie Sale — don’t miss these 7 great games
hades best builds key art new cropped hed 1244036

Nintendo just hosted an Indie World showcase and previewed some exciting indie games like Rift of the Necrodancer, Blasphemous 2, and Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals. While the Nintendo Switch has always been a first-party, AAA-title machine, it's also become an indie powerhouse over the years and is home to some of the best small games on the market. To celebrate its stream, Nintendo just launched a weeklong sale on some of its top indie titles, including all-time greats like Celeste and Hades.

The sale kicked off on April 19 and runs until April 26 at midnight PT. While you have a good week to browse, here are seven excellent deals that you'll want to take advantage of before time's up.
Celeste -- $5 (75% off)

Read more
Move over, Wordle: The New York Times has a new puzzle game
top tech stories of the week 7 24 2015 new york times starbucks deal

The New York Times has introduced the next title coming to its Games catalog following Wordle's continued success -- and it's all about math. Digits has players adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing numbers. You can play its beta for free online right now. 
In Digits, players are presented with a target number that they need to match. Players are given six numbers and have the ability to add, subtract, multiply, or divide them to get as close to the target as they can. Not every number needs to be used, though, so this game should put your math skills to the test as you combine numbers and try to make the right equations to get as close to the target number as possible.

Players will get a five-star rating if they match the target number exactly, a three-star rating if they get within 10 of the target, and a one-star rating if they can get within 25 of the target number. Currently, players are also able to access five different puzzles with increasingly larger numbers as well.  I solved today's puzzle and found it to be an enjoyable number-based game that should appeal to inquisitive minds that like puzzle games such as Threes or other The New York Times titles like Wordle and Spelling Bee.
In an article unveiling Digits and detailing The New York Time Games team's process to game development, The Times says the team will use this free beta to fix bugs and assess if it's worth moving into a more active development phase "where the game is coded and the designs are finalized." So play Digits while you can, as The New York Times may move on from the project if it doesn't get the response it is hoping for. 
Digits' beta is available to play for free now on The New York Times Games' website

Read more