This is the twelfth in a series of reviews of Paradox’s empire management games. See the earlier reviews here:
Europa Universalis II: A Tale of Two Europas
Hearts of Iron: Europa of Iron
Victoria: Nineteenth Century Essay
Crusader Kings: A Dynastic Adventure
Hearts of Iron II: Return Engagement
Europa Universalis III: A Whole New World
Europa Universalis: Rome: Make a Desert and Call it a Game
Hearts of Iron III: One Plus Two Equals Three
EU III: Heir to the Throne: Not Done Yet
Victoria II: Same But Different
EU III: Divine Wind: Winds of Change

After more work on the Far East in the Europa Universalis series, Paradox next developed a new real time pausable empire management game focused on Japan itself. It was announced shortly after Total War: Shogun 2 was announced (but had already been under development at that point), and came out for PC in September 2011, several months after that popular similarly-themed title. A Japanese-language version was released by CyberFront in Febrary 2012, but was not supported by Paradox itself.

The game got a small number of die-hard fans, but apparently was not much of a success. There were four notable patches after release to clean up the interface and work out bugs, but no development past that, leaving it one of Paradox’s only games without a sequel or expansion.

The Time and Place

Sengoku covers the entire Warring States period of Japan from the start of the Onin War in 1467 to 1620, safely past the Battle of Sekigahara (1600) that effectively founded the actual Tokugawa Shogunate and the Siege of Osaka in 1615, which ended the last opposition to Tokugawa.

Unusually for a Clausewitz game, Sengoku does not feature the ability to start at any point in the time period. (One imagines that researching a detailed timeline description for everyone involved is not possible outside of Japanese-language sources.) At first, only 1467 was available, but the second major patch added the ability to start in 1551, when all the late players are established, and most of the familiar names are active.

Interestingly, this makes it one of the wider-ranging of the many games on this period, since most concentrate on just the later Azuchi-Momoyama period/Nobunaga’s career while Paradox elected to start with the initial breakdown of authority.

The game features a fairly detailed map of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu (normal for games on this subject). As well, some of the smaller islands, which are usually ignored, are separate provinces, and Awaji and Sado are three provinces each.

The base provinces are considered kori, small districts, which are grouped into kuni, which are all named for the actual historical regions held by the daimyos.

The colors used in the various map modes are a bit muted, and actually help quite a bit with establishing the mood, as does the very good Japanese-styled soundtrack provided by the Knights of Soundtrack, which was only the second time that Paradox has gone outside of their main composer for an original soundtrack.

Clan Warfare

Like in Crusader Kings, there is a large cast of characters, from which individual rulers of kori and leaders of armies are drawn. Everything is organized around clans, with ultimate authority residing in the clan heads.

These clan heads will generally personally control from one to five kori, with all further lands under control of the clan going to other kokujin (ruler of one or more koris). When a clan controls all of the territory in a kuni, it automatically gets access to the title of daimyo for that kuni, which will go to the clan head, but can be granted (like the kori themselves) to a kokujin to make them an extra daimyo within the clan. As in CK, going over the demense size (the number of kori directly held by you) causes an escalating chance of revolts, and unhappiness among everyone else in your court. Here, however, the maximum size is always five kori, and is not modified by rank or the current year.

Like in EU:Rome, characters have three primary attributes; in this game they are, Diplomacy, Martial, and Intrigue. There are two character-based currencies: Money and Honor. Naturally, everyone has a clan they belong to, but may be in service to a clan other than their own. There is a system of traits that can modify the primary attributes, like in the previous character-oriented games, but it’s not as extensive.

They can also have ambitions, like in EU:Rome, but the scope of them is extremely limited. A character may wish to take one of the three main court positions (one that works with each primary attribute)… and that’s about it. There are other things characters will desire, but they are not technically ambitions.

A character can start a plot; this is akin to gaining an ambition, but he can then try to get other people in on the scheme. A clan leader can plot to attack another clan, and invite other leaders in on the plot, and everyone ends up attacking at once. A vassal can decide to go independent and found his own clan, and plot with other vassals to have them go along with him. Or a lesser member of a clan may decide he should be in charge, and plot with others for them to go over to his side when he starts a civil war. The plot screen will show everyone who’s involved, and dis play a plot power, that rates the relative power of everyone in the plot and the target of the plot; when it is high enough, the plot can be enacted.

A character may also ask to get the next kokujin or daimyo title that becomes available (this seems to only happen with people who are already vassals of yours; unlanded courtiers do not seem to ask), and this can affect relations depending on the answer.

This last brings up an important new idea: instead of what two people think of each other being represented by one number, there are two, to show what each person’s opinion of the other is. If one refuses a favor to the other, the snubbed character may be bitter and have a lowered opinion score, but the other may not have seen anything important in it and be unaffected. This really allows for some meaningful flexibility in how relations are handled, and is a great improvement over previous games.


The major weak point of Sengoku is the relative dearth of diplomatic options. You can’t create alliances (plots, above, stand in for that), or negotiate treaties of who gets what in a peace deal. Because Sengoku depicts a period where authority has broken down, peace generally means that everyone keeps what they currently hold.

There are other options, including one side becoming a vassal of the other, or sending a hostage to secure good behavior. (Hostages can also be exchanged during peace to try and keep a war from breaking out.)

But most actions have a cost in personal honor. Declaring war on someone costs honor (with extra charges for attacking some one less powerful, attacking someone you have a high opinion of…), as do most other actions, like inviting someone into your clan. While at peace, honor slowly accumulates, and characters must prevent their honor from slipping too low: if someone’s honor goes below 0, they must commit seppuku (and if this happens to you, it is Game Over, even if you have an heir).

At very low values for honor (10 or less), a character may voluntarily commit seppuku, and his lord may command him to commit seppuku, which can be refused, but will drive his honor even lower….

Overall, play is like Crusader Kings as you play as a particular character, instead of a government with a cast of characters like in EU:Rome. It doesn’t have quite the same emphasis on a dynasty, as you can adopt a child to be your heir if all else fails. Your heir will take over, and you continue the game as him as long as you do not lose all honor and are forced into involuntary seppuku. Along with most actions having a cost in honor, it’s a fairly effective method of bringing through a good feel for the period.


Sengoku uses the same general battle system that was introduced in EU III, and has been in every Clausewitz game. Units line up in a main and reserve row, and attack their counterparts across the way, with units that don’t have anyone directly facing them attacking nearby units in the flank. This time the display is a bit larger and brightly colored, making it a bit easier to follow, if you understand what’s going on.

This time, the basic unit is a 250-man ‘regiment’ which can be of three types: ashigaru (peasant infantry), samarai (cavalry), and arqubusiers. The latter are not available without being subject to Western (Portuguese) influences, which starts by an event around 1547.

It seems like combat is a bit more fluid in this game, with troops redeploying around the lines a lot more, but it’s hard to be sure. As usual, combat relies on a 0-9 die roll, modified by the army leader’s Martial skill, and for attacking across bad terrain. There are alternating fire and shock phases, like in standard EU-series combat, but the general’s skill applies equally to both of them. With only 250 men in each unit (compared to the 1000 of an EU III unit), regiments can disappear quite quickly, which may cause the fluid combat.

Provinces must be taken by siege, or by assaulting the castle. Again, this is pretty much the same system as in other Paradox games, but the ratio of sieging to defending troops seems to have more of an impact, and ‘basic’ castles can fall fairly quickly.

Indeed, while there is no real change in ‘technology’ during the game, everything gets more developed, with larger armies becoming possible, and common. Castles become much harder to take (especially in rough terrain, where bonuses can help them hold out for a long time). Most notably, the sizes of personal retinues, or standing armies, gets much larger, and as wars continue, units of ronin (effetively extra retinues) become available for hire. All of these require pay even in peacetime, which makes overspending a possibility.

An odd point is that musters will replenish in their province even while it has been raised and in the field. So it is possible to lose an army, and then immediately replace it by mustering troops from the provinces all over again. Of course, this takes a long time to happen, so your army would have had to been in the field for a long time, and you can only raise complete brigades of 250 men.


Kori have a—limited—number of ways they can be improved. At the beginning of the 1467 game, no improvements are built (and very few in the 1551 start), and everyone must start building up their lands from scratch. The two primary things to build up are the castle, and the village. Each has eight upgrades that are built up in a specified order.

In addition, there are four guild slots in each kori. These are a two-step process where each one has to be opened up before a guild can be started there, and they are the primary way to specialize a kori, as there are eight different guilds for the four slots.

Like in the feudal world of Crusader Kings, each kori has a muster that can be called up. While active in the field, they cost money, but are of course ‘free’ when not in use. Low-level improvements of the castle increase the size of this muster (in even steps of one samurai regiment and two ashigaru regiments), while later improvements increase the rate at which this replenishes losses. Meanwhile, the village increases tax revenues and the maximum size of the personal retinue.

Doing all of this construction does not, for a change, cost money. Instead, while construction is underway, revenue from the kori is reduced by 70%. And there are plenty of events where something happens to the construction, and you have to decide between spending money to fix it, or accepting a delay (with more time spent at 30% revenue).

On the other hand, installing a guild in an opened slot, and building a religious building, does cost a flat amount of money. They still take time to build, but do not draw from your continuing income. Guilds are particularly expensive to start, while opening the slot up is short and ‘cheap’.

The first four guild types offer bonuses to personal retinues and ronin, allowing the ‘standing’ troops to be noticeably better than the musters. The fifth builds arquebuses, which then produces 30 guns a month, which is tracked for purposes of equipping regiments and reinforcements.


At the start of the game, there are two religious factions that a kokujin can court to gain advantages. Building Buddhist temples will help your muster recover strength faster, and building Shinto shrines will give a bonus to your honor.

Actively siding with a religious faction will give a stronger bonus of the same type, and being the leader of that faction a stronger one still.

In the early 16th Century, Portuguese traders will arrive, and a province or two will gain the ‘Western Influences’ modifier. Thereafter, it will slowly spread through the rest of Japan in a haphazard fashion.

Provinces where this is true can build Christian churches, and gunsmith guilds. As with the other two religions, building a church allows a kokujin to join the Christian faction and gain bonuses, with them all being increases in taxes.


Generally speaking, Paradox’s games are something of a sandbox affair for grand strategy titles. Usually, there’s some form of in-game ranking of countries, and you can certainly try to keep yourself on top, but that doesn’t bring about any sort of victory screen, or in-game reward. Furthermore, it’s quite common for experienced players to take a small country and just try to survive the game, or turn a backwards part of the world around. But there’s still no in-game ‘victories’ there.

Here, however, there is a clear goal: become shogun. This is done by taking control of 50% of the provinces in the game, and then holding off any challenges to you taking the title. There is a bar underneath the upper left interface that fills up depending on how close the largest clan is to this goal. Green if that’s you, or red for the largest clan, with your current percentage in yellow.


I try to avoid ‘looking ahead’ much in these reviews, but it’s nearly impossible here, and for once not doing so is possibly detrimental. Sengoku is often called Crusader Kings II light, or a trial run for Paradox’s next (and break-out) title. Both were actually in development during the same time, and so ideas were likely shared between the development teams. (One suspects that ideas mostly flowed from CKII’s bigger development team to Sengoku, but I haven’t seen anything to say one way or the other.)

The main interface of the portrait in the upper left corner with the line of buttons for other functions is basically identical in the two games, events have largely the same appearance, and many of the sound effects are the same, including a small musical sting that plays when an event fires. The terrain-mode map is gorgeous and detailed, but still not quite in the same style as later games. Plots and the ‘character opinions’ detailed above would be central parts of CK II.

However, Sengoku retains its own identity by being a game that Paradox determinedly stripped as much out of as they could. It is overall one of their simpler games, and one can assume it was meant as more of an ‘entry-point’ to their catalog, but instead, the much bigger and more complex Crusader Kings II ended up doing well in that capacity.

Computer strategy games have been moving away from being just about warfare for some decades, with Civilization being an early marker in the change of direction. One of the hallmarks of all of Paradox’s entries is a fairly robust diplomatic system, which allows for all sorts of interactions. It’s not entirely absent here, but the much-reduced options are at the center of what makes this game feel small, and limited, and probably did much to limit its appeal.