Sekigahara: Beginner strategy guide

Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan is one of the best and most accessible wargames in the market. However, that doesn’t mean we’ll do well in our first try! If we are new to the genre, we might struggle to keep our samurai in place. In order to make that transition easier, I have written this beginner strategy guide, with the best tips to take over Japan.


Sekigahara turns around the castles on the map and, to a lesser degree, its resources. We can tell how well we are doing by comparing how many of them we have compared to our opponent. But make no mistake, this isn’t about scoring. Points don’t matter until the end and that’s assuming neither Tokugawa nor Ishida are killed. Rather, they are a goal in their own right.

An extra card for holding more castles doesn’t seem like much, but it cuts both ways. That is, we not only get an advantage, we also deny it to our opponent. Hence, the bonus is closer to two cards than it is to one. And while the extra block from holding resources is weaker, it does make it easier to deploy large number of troops. After all, you’ll have 50% more blocks to choose from!

My rule of thumb is as follows: Never lose on both counts. It’s a sure sign you’ll struggle, at least in the long run.  If you are behind in castles, set your sights on one. And, if you have fewer resources, don’t be afraid to move unprotected troops to capture them. For example, Ishida shouldn’t be afraid to move one block into Takeda and Niigata.

These locations are also valuable in and on themselves. All resource locations except one put you within strike distance of at least two castles. A few can even hit three. And while the actual fortresses are off to the side, they still hold influence over key routes. In real life, 38.000 of Tokugawa’s soldiers missed the battle because they were held back at Ueda castle. Don’t make the same mistake!


In Sekigahara, armies are defenseless without cards. It doesn’t matter how many blocks you pile up if you can’t activate them. Hence, always save a few. It’s better to take it slow, and wait than to leave your flank exposed. This is particularly important at the beginning of the game, as we will have very few cards to protect our armies with.

Keep two cards per army. That’s enough to reach seven impacts and deal some damage to the enemy. That way, even if we lose, the enemy becomes weaker. It also keeps our armies ready to jump when the opportunity arises. After all, if they are close enough to be attacked, they are also close enough to strike back! This also opens the possibility of fighting twice on the same turn.

Of course, it’s not always possible nor desirable to keep all stacks ready for battle. Don’t  keep cards from clans that don’t have enemies nearby. Instead, use them for movement and turn order. Sooner or later, those underused clans will become relevant, but, for the time being, focus on supporting the stacks in most direct danger.

My advice is to hold back a bit. While Ishida should aim to steal a castle as quickly as possible, neither side should do much on the first turn. After all, moving two or more stacks costs us a card! Dipping below four will also leave us exposed to Loyalty Checks so I prefer to stick to sieges and minimal movement whenever possible.


Keeping two cards per army might seem impossible. We might not even have enough cards in hand to cover our four different clans. How are we supposed to keep them all safe while attacking? Well, there’s a trick and that’s adding one piece of another clan to each stack. Three blocks from one clan and one from another can easily get to seven impact without compromising the integrity of our armies.

Here’s why. Imagine we have two separate stacks, Uesugi and Mori, composed of one leader and three blocks of the same clan. If we want to protect both of them, we’ll need two Uesugi cards and two more for Mori for a total of four. That’s too much! However, what if we switch the last block on each army, so the Uesugi army has one Mori block and vice versa?

As it turns out, now we only need two cards to defend both stacks! One Mori and one Uesugi is enough to activate two blocks on each army, which is half as many as we needed before. And since both have a leader and are still mostly composed of the same clan, it should be easy enough to find the right combination of cards to deal damage to your enemy.

In fact, the game already sets armies this way during setup. Just keep in mind that this is a defensive split. It might fall a bit short while attacking and it becomes less relevant as hand sizes get larger. That’s why I prefer to add cavalry and gun pieces to defensive stacks. They don’t need to be activated as often as they would in an offensive army and can still provide bonuses even if they are from a different clan.


It took me a while to understand the role of cavalry and guns in Sekigahara. In a pinch, they can be used as worse 3-strength blocks that don’t work half of the time. But, as time went on, I started to see them from a different angle. They are late-game pieces that can provide massive bonuses when stacked together and, also, a great support for smaller armies.

These blocks provide powerful bonuses as long as you stack either symbol together. For example, three guns provide 15 points of impact before any clan bonuses set in. Getting four or five power from each block rather than a maximum of three is a huge advantage in battle. In fact, this is the only way to get to reach those ludicrous numbers on the impact track.

As the game progresses, try to gather your guns in one stack and your cavalry in another. It might be a good idea to add them where the setup already gave you some. Most notably, the Uesugi clan already starts with two guns at the beginning of the game. If you bring more, you can have a powerful, if not overly active, army for the end of the game.

The main drawback of cavalry and guns is that they can’t be activated too often. There just aren’t enough special cards to do so. After they’ve participated in battle, don’t be afraid to sacrifice them or leave them behind for guard duty. Don’t forget, too, that they don’t work in sieges. Take down castles with normal troops instead.


Sekigahara offers plenty of opportunities for a comeback. If an attack goes wrong, don’t be afraid to strike back elsewhere. Losing troops, particularly in sieges, gives you additional cards to work with. This means that those armies that were in a defensive position may now fight at full power or move larger distances with a forced match.

If you are winning, remember the cost of holding new ground. You’ll need to leave one block behind per castle you conquer. The same goes for muster locations. Pushing past a castle only for our opponent to bring more troops in is a common mistake, don’t forget it can happen! Either way, keep in mind what can happen after you conquer a castle. It’s better to wait than to give the enemy the cards they need for an ambush.

This is why dealing damage is so important for the defense. It ensures the attacking army will lose two blocks during their conquest and prevents them from steamrolling the weaker parts of our territory. Most notably, two blocks will struggle to capture any further castles, even if they are barely protected.

When all seems lost, remember you can also win by slaying the enemy leader. I’ve lost quite a few games that way! It’s not unusual for either Ishida or Tokugawa to become exposed after a battle. Threatening their current location can be enough to force them to flee. With proper timing, it’s possible to chase them off a key castle or off the map entirely. Don’t miss that chance!


  1. You mention if you are the Ishida you should try to steal a castle early. I just tried that and got trounced on a counterattack. How do you take a castle when the Tokugawa doesn’t appear to be weak anywhere?

    1. Taking a castle early on might be difficult. If it seems difficult, try to capture resource points first. Not only they give you an advantage, they also set you up for attacks on castles.

      The key is that, while Tokugawa might not look weak anywhere, they must be. Early on players don’t have enough cards to activate every stack. It doesn’t matter if our opponents have a ton of blocks, they cannot activate all of them. Hence, the best strategy is a pincer attack. If you threaten several locations, at least one of them will be weak. You can do this in succession (battle in one place first, then the other) or simply move blocks in such a way that you force the opponent to provide some cover.

      Some key targets for Ishida early on are the castles of Anotsu and Miyatsu. Key points to hold to threaten the enemy and limit their deployments are Tsuruga, Sawayma and Kuwana. Your advantage here is that you can threaten several of these points with the same stacks, while Tokugawa has to split his attention between them. Note that turn order can work in your favour by moving both first adn last.

      On the right side Shirakawa controls the flow of the map. It’s hard to push from here without a distraction on the other side, but whoever controls this point in the long run will have a huge advantage. Tokugawa’s fear here is that, if he moves out to defend the left, you’ll move in and threaten the north or south.

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