Posts Tagged ‘Samurai’


That Samurai Game–Play Test Summary

June 15, 2008

Aim: To evaluate some of the essential mechanics of the game.

Situation: A RED force comprised of three contingents, with limited cavalry and ashigaru. A BLUE force, with three contingents, with a stronger cavalry emphasis but also with teppo armed ashigaru. The field was an 8 x 8 square grid, with a river cutting across approximately centrally and ahill to one side.

Events: As a test game, the main purpose here was not to simulate an historical event, but to provide a forum for testing some of the main game mechanisms. including but not limited to:

  • the movement rules: Were the movement point values roughly right? Did the mechanism for dealing with obstacles and terrain make sense? was it easy to implement?
  • the combat rules: Are the attack values currently used on the blocks reasonable? Did the CRT produce reasonable results? Was the general mechanic easy and smooth to implement? Did the break and cohesion mechanics work well? 
  • the use of the action cards: Was it fairly straightforward to select action cards from the draw deck each turn? Was a draw deck size of approximately 50 points suitable? Were there enough of each card type available when building the draw deck? 
  • the process of countering: Was it straightforward? Did it encourage weighing the benefits of countering versus the cost of sacrificing an order card?
Summary of Results: The BLUE force took an early advantage when the cavalry contingent on the right flank moved swiftly to engage a smaller and less well-trained RED force ashigaru contingent. The only hiccup was an ‘Unexpected Terrain’ stratagem played by RED to disrupt the cavalry movement. BLUE also began to advance the cavalry contingent on its left flank, but this was very quickly stalled when RED played one of his two Gambits, ‘Treacherous General’. Given the significance of this gambit, both sides played high value cards in the ensuing Counter, with RED wining and taking control of the treacherous BLUE contingent. This forced BLUE to commit his centre contingent to engaging the traitors and gave RED time to counter BLUE’s initial cavalry charge and to begin an advance of his own. Interestingly, the battle swung back towards BLUE because of tighter card management. RED, suffering from a bit of hand planning disarray, ended up with very few useful orders and cards of low value, and BLUE was able to support some of his units more effectively in melee. So, all in all, it ended with BLUE once more in the ascendency.                                                                                    
  • Movement worked quite well. No real changes necessary at this stage. Obstacles have the effect of disrupting units, which reflects disturbing their formation and coherence. It feels about right–only a small amount of damage–and is very easy to implement. 
  • Combat was, in the main, fine, with a few exceptions. The range of attack values is probably too large. The numbers reflect quality, but a range of 1 to 10 is probably a bit of a stretch and it had the effect of making shifts for unit type on the CRT less significant. Quality should produce about the same magnitude as the most significant difference in units types, which means a range of 1 to 5 at the most. The CRT itself worked reasonably well, but units were reduced and broke very quickly, which indicates that the cohesion rating on the units are a little small. They could probably be doubled. Breaking was simple without being too simplistic. The effect of a breaking unit on other adjacent units wasn’t really tested, but this will need to be tweaked to reflect any change in the cohesion rating. Otherwise, combat was very straightforward, requiring reference to only three tables in total.
  • The action cards need some cleaning up. They don’t reflect the evolution of the rules since they were produced, and they are too wordy. In addition, several of the stratagems don’t really work, including “A Leader’s Prayer”, which is too powerful and should probably just cause a shift on the CRT. Several stratagems are now gambits. Choosing cards at the end of each turn wasn’t hard at all once the game got into swing. However, selecting cards for both their orders and stratagems wasn’t as easy as just selecting for orders, and I found myself purely selecting orders and maybe one targetted stratagem. Consolidation of orders should be done. For example, HALT is unnecessary: It simply costs an action to remove a MOVE from a unit, signified by discarding one card held in the hand; ENGAGE and FIRE could be combined; If a unit is moved into an enemy unit’s square, the player moving the unit should probably be allowed to immediately halt the unit; I also haven’t really considered what happens when a contingent under a standing order has another order given to a unit within that contingent. One issue with the cards is what to do when a player reaches the end of his deck. Do both player’s reshuffle, or only one? Maybe it depends on the particular goal of a player.
  • I really like countering. It is simple, it introduces a degree of uncertainty and guesswork, and it forces a player to make choices about whether or not to preserve his hand. More trials are needed, but at the moment countering seems like a very elegant way to introduce dynamics into a game that has no randomness.

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.


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.