Musashi's useless nephew
In Way of the Samurai by Ÿøssef Fårhi, you are the famous Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. Or perhaps his useless nephew, as I get killed all the time.
Every turn of the fight has two rounds. You draw six cards for your round, and every card will add or subtract to your strength, technique and guard. You'll need strength or technique to wound your opponent, guard to prevent getting hit yourself. You play two of your cards and adjust your stats, turn over the defense card of your opponent, add a third card to make your hit. Or to add to your own defense, as you are going to pull a counter attack card next, and check if your defenses are high enough. In the second round, this is repeated. So you will play all six of your cards and you will be able to calculate what your end-of-round stats will be, right from the beginning. Your tactics are in the order you play them. It may be wise to get your guard up first, or it may be beneficial to invest in strength first for a big hit.
If this was all there is to the game, it would kind of play itself. But first of all, you've got a small reserve of ki. You can spend a ki point to draw a seventh card, to reveal the opponent's defense card right at the beginning, or to raise your guard. Now it's getting interesting.
Then, all cards have a suit. If you play three cards in a round with the same icon, you'll get a bonus. Normal icons will give you special attack cards to add to your deck, or let you take back a spent ki token. A combo of special icons will add 1 to the bonus points that are counted on a die. You can activate this bonus die later to deal out extra damage.
The bosses have abilities that make fighting them feel really different. There are several weapons to choose from, and they are very different as well. My favourite weapon so far is the Kusarigama. If you can raise your technique during a turn, you'll block the counter attack. So this means you now have two ways to defend: the usual guard or your technique. I managed to beat Oda this way. He was kind of tough with other weapons, as every time you lose health, his health increases. But with the Kusarigama I managed to not lose a single health over a few rounds, and take him out.
Way of the Samurai plays unlike other deck building games. It does something original, which is a big plus. But. A few games I went through the motions to my death, without anything I could do to stop it. I also beat an enemy in something like three rounds once. That's a bit too random for my taste.
You have to play all your cards in those two rounds, and this may not be to your advantage. Building up bonuses is slow. You may well be dead before you reach the part where you get to do some real tactical play. The game is more fun once you acquire a few special cards. It is suggested as an easy variant to start with one of the bonuses, or to draw three cards when you spend a ki and then keep one. But I would have preferred to have more agency in the normal game right from the start.
There is a lot of variety and replayability in this small box. It has campaigns and an infinite mode, as well as battlefields and seasons to make your one-off fights feel different. To me, it is a nice game that could have been great. But maybe it's me who sucks at it. Or I should accept those losses. Shrug and play again.