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.




  1. The key thing to remember that both sides want to get to the third and final phase so that they can achieve victory. And from a game point of view the final phase must arrive within a reasonable period of time in order to complete a game.

    So, then, the transition from phase to phase is something that the players want to control, in that they can receive some kind of advantage in the new phase under the appropriate circumstances.

    Take your example, Simon, of the player that wants to withdraw his forces. Operationally he wants to delay the attacker. But tactically, on the table, what he wants to do is avoid battle en masse with his opponent. He wants limited forces to be capable of engaging, and then stalling the opposition’s pursuit as he falls back a little. Meanwhile the rest of the army is engaged in complex manouevres elsewhere.

    So the the player with the objective of withdrawal in the face of the enemy wishes to minimise the ammount of time spent in the middle phase: the main clash phase. Whereas his opponent specifically wishes this middle phase to last as long as possible so that he may engage as many enemy units as possible. Thus thwarting the disengagement.


  2. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Provocativeness.

  3. Provocativeness,

    What was it you didn’t get? If I can understand why this either doesn’t make sense or doesn’t seem useful to you, then it helps me to evaluate the concept.

    Ta, Simon

  4. Maybe? The game is divided into Beginning, Middle and End phases and you can only do certain things in each phase.

    In the beginning you are maneouvring for position. In the middle you are engaging in the battle. In the end you are trying to save as much of your force as possible for another day or the reverse: trying to destroy as much as possible in pursuit.

    Depending on the scenario set up you will want certain phases to last longer and others to be over much quicker.

    For example: if you are stronger than your enemy you want the Middle phase to be long so that you can crush him. If you are more agile you want the Beginning to be long so that you can outflank him. And in those cases you want to prevent your opponent from making those other phases longer because it will advantage them. So the strong player is doing everything he can to make the Beginning phase short.

    Once the End phase arrives one side or the other is going to break.

    With regard to Gambits, these are specific sneaky things that you elect to do. But they work best within certain phases. At other times they have reduced value or a useless. Take Treacherous General, for example. This is probably best played earlier rather than later, because as the end approaches, the battle is already probably won or lost and it will not matter. Logically, too, a general is hardly likely to change sides to the losing side. And if winning, why bother having someone from the losing change over to you?

    Does that make sense?

  5. Nicely said. The point being that phasing allows game spanning events (gambits) to be played within some meaningful (but not a constraining) structure. Most tactical games would simply script these events or mandate that they had already happened as part of the scenario.

    Having said all this, the game is still developing and being tested, and it may turn out that the conditions that dictate use of a gambit obviate the need for phasing…I’m not sure yet.

  6. Clearly the above post was me, not anonymous…whomever that is!

  7. how can you be anonymous?

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