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The cycle of aura, shadow, and flare
Cycling a pool of tokens in Sakura Arms
This week we are looking at one of my favorite 2-player games: Sakura Arms. Specifically, we are going to look at how Sakura Tokens are used for pool cycling.
I’m using the term “pool cycling” to describe how a pool of tokens are continually moved around to different areas of the game board during play.
Sakura Arms: Yurina Box (BakaFire, 2022) is the latest version of the game, published by Level 99 Games:
Choose two goddesses and combine their powers to form your own unique deck. Challenge your opponent to a fast, tactical, elegant duel beneath the sakura.
Sakura Arms is a stylish dueling card game from Japan that combines gorgeous art, deep tactics, and huge variety to minimalist duels. Setup is quick, play is simple, and the system of combining patron goddesses to build your deck provides unlimited variety.
It’s a fast moving head-to-head, deck construction, card battle game. Each player chooses two goddesses and combines their unique decks to form a single, 10-card deck.
With alternating turns, players draw two cards and take actions: Advance, Retreat, Recover, Focus, and Breakaway. Utility, Enchantment, and Attack make up the normal cards, while Ultimate cards can be triggered using Flare.
With just 10 Life and (almost) no way to heal, each attack must be positioned and executed perfectly. This isn’t your typical slugfest, but rather a careful dance back and forth. Reduce your opponent’s Life Pool to zero and you win.
The really interesting part is how the Sakura (i.e. cherry blossom) tokens are used!
Distance, Aura, Shadow, and Flare
Pink Sakura tokens are used to track everything in the game, and can even move back and forth between players. The main areas are:
Life: Starting with 10 Sakura, if this ever reaches zero, you lose. Life damage from attacks moves Sakura from Life to Flare.
Distance: Each card has a specific required distance (e.g. 3-4). Advancing closes the distance and moves Sakura from Distance to Aura. Retreat moves Sakura from Aura to Distance. Breakaway moves Sakura from Shadow to Distance. Distance is shared between players.
Aura: Your protective shield. Damage can move Sakura from Aura to Shadow, and Recover moves it back. Focus moves Sakura from Aura to your Flare.
Flare: Charging up your Flare allows you to use your Ultimate cards. Focus from your Aura or damage to your Life will move Sakura to Flare.
Shadow: Shared between players, Shadow powers Enchantments. When Ultimates are used, the spent Flare goes to Shadow, as does damage to your Aura.
Sakura tokens swirl around the board during play, creating interesting choices and scenarios. There are times it’s worth taking Life damage to charge your Flare to use an Ultimate. Other times you want to Retreat, but you can’t without a Sakura token in your Aura.
Each goddess character has it’s own strategy and requirements for cards. Some work best when there are many Sakura tokens in the Shadow pool. Some need close distance, and others need long distance. It’s a fascinating tactical puzzle.
The part I love is the feel of cycling the token around the board, especially because they are shared between the two sides. It feels organic and satisfying.
Power cycling in Gaia Project
Consider Power Tokens in Gaia Project (see photo above):
During the game, power will cycle through three numbered, connected power areas on your faction board. Charging power will allow you to move power tokens toward area III, and spending power in area III will move it to area I.
Some game effects allow you to Charge Power, moving one token from Area I to Area II and from II to III. Other effects allow you to Gain Power, adding more tokens into Area I. The catch is that you can only spend tokens from Area III, sending them back to Area I.
It’s a really interesting system, forcing the player to choose between charging up for better actions or spending as soon as they are available. While it is a closed per-player system (tokens are not shared), the similarities are there.
Some things to consider:
Endless applications for pool cycling: The mechanisms in Sakura Arms and Gaia Project seem like they could be interesting TTRPG magic systems. While it would require some tokens, cycling and charging up for spells could be really fun.
Closed vs. open systems: The Sakura Arms system (almost) never adds new Sakura into the ones on the board, although they are shared between players via Shadow and Distance. Gaia Project adds Power tokens, but the systems are closed for each player, and never shared. Both styles work, and other methods could be created.
Self-documenting game boards: Sakura Arms could be a complex game, if not for the helpful arrows on the board itself. Having the turn order and Sakura movement directions on the board reduce the need to go to the rulebook.
It’s no secret that Sakura Arms is one of my Top 10 Board Games. For a small box game, I feel there is much to learn from its design. If you want to try it out, I recommend starting with the Yurina Box. The Saine Box and Yatshua Box stand-alone expansions are also available.
I’d love to hear more examples of pool cycling similar to Sakura Arms, Terra Mystica, and Gaia Project! If you know of some, please comment below. I bet I forgot about quite a few good ones!
See you next week!
— E.P. 💀
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