Archive for May, 2008


Little Wars 2008

May 26, 2008

Photos from this prestigious inaugral event can be found on this page:

I will add some more detail to threse photos as time goes on to give the background to the games. For now, just enjoy the images.


A Gambit and a Stratagem

May 23, 2008

A taste of a Gambit (Treacherous General) and a Stratagem (The Standard Has Fallen) from That Samurai Game (I really should think of a better name). And soon to come, a play test report…

Treacherous General

Phase: Opening

Reveal this stratagem to turn any one leader and his contingent to your side. This can only be played if the contingent has not yet been engaged and has not yet engaged any other unit in melee or ranged combat. You immediately take control of the leader and his contingent, but must immediately reduce the lowest value unit stack within this contingent. This may mean that a unit stack is removed. Any unit blocks removed as a result of this reduction are given back to their original owner. Any unit blocks subsequently removed from this treacherous contingent can’t be used for reinforcements for either side.

The Standard Has Fallen

The standard of one of the opponent’s leaders is captured.

If an opponent’s unit suffers a loss in melee, you may play this stratagem to capture the opponent’s standard. While holding the opponent’s standard, you gain a bonus to morale and attack value equal to the value of the standard.

This event may be countered. A countering card is treated as 1/2 value unless it is a The Standard Has Fallen stratagem, in which case it is treated as having the stratagem’s value. A successful counter makes the unit who lost the standard fanatical until they recover it. Mark with a fanatic counter.


Phasing in That Samurai Game

May 20, 2008


This is a tricky area of the rules that I’ve been struggling with for a week or so now. To introduce the problem, it is necessary to understand an element of the rules I haven’t much elaborated on: Gambits.

Gambits are strategic or operational actions that impact on the tactical battle, but that aren’t appropriate for ‘playing out’ on board. They are actions that, by their nature, span multiple turns and that are better off not represented tactically. A typical gambit is ‘Treacherous General’–we all know about Sekigahara, don’t we? Such an event is a product of strategic actions, secret communiques, bribes or even hostages. The tactical conditions on the battlefield merely enable such treachery, they don’t produce it. Gambits are played in the game by selecting a small number of gambits, placing them face down, and then revealing them at the appropriate time in the battle. Gambits are not guaranteed to be successful, and the likelihood of their success is a function of conditions in the game.

So, back to my problem. Gambits are big things with big impacts, so they are infrequent. In addition, they are tied to the life-cycle of the battle. Some gambits can only really happy early on, others later on, and still others at any time. I want to represent this life-cycle in the game and capture the relationship between life-cycle and gambits. I’m proposing to do this by having an opening, middle and closing phase in each game. The trick is how to do this mechanically.

In discussion with Andrew this morning, a few ideas/concepts were clarified, and I thought I’d put them up for comment:

  1. There must be tangible benefits to a player of remaining in the current phase or moving onto the next phase. 
  2. It must be possible to prevent transition into the next phase, but once there it can not be possible to go back (this will likely use the ‘countering’ mechanic already in the game).
  3. Victory objectives must somehow relate to the concept of phases and behaviour should be shaped by victory considerations vis a vis point 2 above (for example, if one player has a secret objective of delay, then maintaining a long opening phase, in which skirmish and non-decisive engagements are more common and withdrawal from melee is easier, is an advantage and will increase his chance of victory).
  4. There needs to be enough potential gambits in each phase to maintain unpredictability, regardless of what phase the game is in.
  5. Not all gambits should be executable in all phases.
  6. The three phases should vary in length from game to game and this length must not be prescribed.
  7. Different actions will be easier/harder in different phases (for example, it is easier to withdraw from melee in the opening phase, when both sides are jockeying for position rather than trying to force resolution AND it is harder to resist a rout when in the end game phase).
Anyway, these are some thoughts. Any feedback would be most welcome.



A basic primer (part 2)

May 19, 2008

The Ikko-Ikki of Jodo Shinshu BuddhismA few more of the historical units that will be represented in the game.


The iiko-ikki was an order of fanatical Buddhist monks associated with the jodo shinshu sect of Buddhism. The ikko-ikki sect was based on Hongan-ji, and ceased to be a major political force by the late-1500s (following the massacre at Mount Hiei). While not formally trained, the ikko-ikki demonstrated considerable military nous, including developing the use of volley fire with the teppo, a tactic that Oda Nobunaga first observed when he assaulted Ishiyama Hongan-ji. Nobunaga employed a similar volley-fire method at Nagashino (1575)… and the rest is history.

Flag bearers and standards

Flag bearers were an important element of every Japanese army, and were attended by their own bodyguard. The flag or standard (uma jirushi, lit. ‘horse standard’) represented the psychological epicentre of a clan’s forces in the field. It was often as not a three-dimensional object and not just a flag. To lose this standard was to suffer humiliation, and it was typical that such an event would either undermine or galavanise the men whose clan it symbolized.


The supreme general, the so-taisho commanded the combined forces of a particular faction or side in the field. He was served and protected by a contingent of his own and issued orders from his honjin using both messengers (tsukai-ban) and signals, such as drums (played by drummers—the taiko yaku).


Contingents on the battlefield were led by the busho, the samurai lords. Busho were skilled in the theory and practice of war, and they came from the amongst the family, retainers and allies of the so-taisho. They brought their own forces, both foot and mounted, to fight for their lord, but retained command of these forces within the broader command structure of the armies they had joined with. In many cases, busho fought for the promise of reward and not simply from a sense of duty.


Not really an historical unit, but nevertheless…Heroes represent key individuals on the battlefield who rise to the occasion, distinguishing themselves through deeds of honour and courage. In Japanese mythology, the heroic failure is as noble as the heroic success (some might say more worthy), and so many heroes exemplify the notion of personal self-sacrifice in the pursuit of duty and obligation. Heroes emerge at key points in battles, and so are not represented by specific counters, but instead by events born out through the action cards.


A basic primer for medieval Japan

May 18, 2008

By the sengoku jidai, Japanese armies exemplified the well-trained, well drilled medieval fighting force—remember, this was a country in which the martial discipline had prevailed and been exercised for four hundred years. Forces were constructed of missile and melee units, often used in combination as combined arms, with well-organised and drilled formations and extensive use and exploitation of volley fire with teppo (muskets introduced by Portuguese traders in 1543 and further developed and refined by the Japanese). As such, the units in the game represent complex collections of very capable cavalry and infantry.

Japanese cavalry were a true combined arms force: foot infantry directly supported mounted warriors in melee engagements, running alongside them as they charged into combat. Combined arms was also seen between various foot soldiers, so that teppo were often supported by ranks of pike wielding infantry, as made famous at the barricades of Nagashino.  Of course, not all forces on the battlefield were formally trained as professional or even semi-professional soldiers. The warrior monks were an amateur, but highly potent, military force, and their eradication became an obsession of the Oda Nobunaga, culminating in the devastation of Mount Hiei and its great fortress-monastery.

With all this in mind, each unit in the That Samurai Game brings distinct qualities and functions to a conflict. These units are described in some detail in the rules, both in their historical and game contexts, but keep in mind that the taxonomy offered reflects a representation of medieval Japan and its forces, not the final or only interpretation. 

I have included some more detail on two key units in That Samurai Game here:

Samurai Cavalry (light and heavy)

These units consist of heavily armed samurai cavalry supported by foot soldiers [Note: because of the combined arms nature of these units, their charge distance is limited]. Up until the mid-1500s, these cavalry units relied primarily on the yumi to engage enemy units, and as such they tended to skirmish with opposing forces rather than engage them in melee. Later, their main weapon of choice shifted to the long-spear, which was used much like a lance for thrusting and slashing, although their attendants could furnish them with bows as needed. Samurai cavalry are therefore divided into light and heavy cavalry, with the division reflecting a general transition in their use from bow wielding warriors to warriors armed with spears and intended to engage in melee with foot soldiers.


‘Light feet’ were initially effectively disorganised conscripted infantry with little skill or organisation, but by the mid-1500s they had developed into a disciplined and well-trained fighting force. Ashigaru were typically armed with spears (the pike-like, 15 foot long nagaeyari), but were also equipped with teppo and yumi. Yumi ashigaru (common from the 14th century onwards) required considerable effort to train, but could lay down accurate fire with their bows. They were frequently used as skirmishers. Teppo ashigaru (present after the introduction of the arquebus in 1543) were considerably easier to train, and the teppo had a longer effective range than the bow, although its fire rate remained relatively low until the introduction of the cartridge in the late 1500s. Teppo ashigaru came to replace yumi ashigaru over the course of the 16th century, but they were seen operating together in formations of missile troops through to 1550s.

It is important to note that ashigaru formations were not the tight, ordered ranks exemplified by the Swiss ‘press of pike’. Instead, they were looser structures that would adopt a Defensive hedge against cavalry but break up to conduct vigorous pursuit.  This was ideally suited to the rugged, broken terrain typical in Japan.



May 15, 2008

A Euro-style game played on a Chess-board-like field, in which 2-4 players (princes) vie for the affections of a princess by playing tiles that direct her movement towards their pieces. Each tile on the 9×9 board consists of a suit (hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades) and a number (0-9) OR a face piece (jester, jack, queen or king). The face pieces have very specific effects on the movement of the four princes. No dice or cards are used, but tiles are drawn randomly and used to replace tiles that already exist on the board. For more information, scan the Suitors draft rules.

This is meant to be a simple game that recalls the ballroom of a renaissance court, but is fundamentally a landscape evolution game (that is, a game where players manipulate the terrain or landscape to win). Is this a new type of game?


That Samurai Wargame

May 15, 2008

I’m currently in the throws of putting together the final draft for ‘That Samurai Wargame’, a working title (obviously). This is the (draft) introduction to the rules, outlining the concepts and motivations behind the design. The draft rules can be accessed as an attachment.

“This game is driven by a single vision and two underlying concepts of war.

The vision that drives this game is that there is no chance. All processes in the game are deterministic. No random dice rolls or random card draws occur. The closest the game gets to any stochastic mechanism is in the construction of units, which (as you will see) is done by selecting from a set of face down (and therefore hidden) blocks. Only a general indication of the value of a block is known during this process. In this sense, this game has almost no element of luck.

The two underlying concepts that have driven design are uncertainty and command decision. Uncertainty generates the sense of events happening outside one’s control. Uncertainty in the game replaces random die rolls and card draws. You don’t feel in complete control because you don’t know everything there is to know, even though everything there is to know (such as the composition of your units) is predetermined before the game begins. Command decision drives the actions that occur during the game. These actions determine the trajectory of events and outcomes, and therefore the game result. Again, the fact that your opponent will do things that you can’t predict or didn’t expect gives the game the sense of some sort of unpredictability, but this unpredictability isn’t stochastic in nature. This deterministic quality may seem a little strange: combat is resolved solely by the forces committed to it and not by any die roll or card draw; morale failure is likewise purely a function of the amount of damage and shock a unit experiences; even the cards in your hand are chosen by you, the player, to support your specific strategy. There are no surprises about what you hold for each turn, but you are forced to make judicious use of your hand and to select hands that allow you to enact your strategy while mitigating your opponent’s.

The setting of this game—medieval Japan, the sengoku jidai—is a favourite of mine, but it is merely the context for the broader concepts of uncertainty and command decision and the principle of ‘no chance’ articulated earlier. Nevertheless, the game is designed to reflect the qualities of warfare in medieval Japan, and you’ll find plenty of flavour to go along with the underlying mechanics. So, play and enjoy. And know that, if you win, you win not by the hands of fickle fate, but by out-thinking your opponent.”