Posts Tagged ‘That Samurai Wargame’


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.


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.



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.”