Calvin’s Commentaries: Martial Art

There are those games which fight above their weight class as they say.

Martial Art from designers Adrian Marrs, and Jonathan Ruland is one of those games.

It is a card game that I was initially attracted to for the art, which I must say is outstanding, at least if you like historic Japanese artwork. The medieval-themed art is outstanding. I could frankly sit down and enjoy thumbing through the deck simply to enjoy the art. It drew me, which I am sure was the goal, but it is good that it did because the game is more than good looks.

Martial Art is a card game of factions warring for dominance of feudal Japan, which I admit I am a fan of. Samurai and daimyo and ninjas are something I gravitate too.

The game consists of a series of battles in which players must anticipate their opponents’ actions, build their hands, and manage their cards to acquire enough land and power to defeat the other clans and win the game.

That sounds more complicated than Martial Art is.

This game will remind a bit of War. You have a hand of cards, select one, put it face down while the others players do the same. On the reveal of the played cards the highest winning.

But there are some options here. Various cards played are more than a raw number, having text which influences the results of the round.

So “as clan leader, command your armies and muster forces to find the tools to conquer places of economic and cultural importance such as the capital Kyoto or the rising city of Edo. But to win takes more than foot soldiers. Provoke a peasant rebellion, influence the emperor to support your claim, or even distract the enemy commanders with lovely Geisha,” details the company website (

A single deck is needed for two players, and you can combine two decks for three and four player games. One small issue here is that a card list is not included to make sorting combined decks easier. It would have been a useful addition.

Still, this is a game that grew on me. After the first play it seemed a bit too simplistic, but after a couple of more plays strategies involving both card combinations, and perhaps more importantly the timing in terms of when to throw a ‘bigger’ card into battle, or maybe sluff off a lower card given the rewards available the game became far more enjoyable.

In the end, Martial Art provides a very enjoyable game, one better than anticipated, and worth recommending.

Thanks to fellow gamers Trevor Lyons and Adam Daniels for their help in running through this game for review.

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