Having spent a fair bit of time lately writing up my rules for warfare in the Sengoku Jidai (see here and here for more information) I thought it was time to finally get a battle on the table rather than the pencil and paper affairs I’d done previously. As I’ve no figures for the period yet, I made up some counter that I printed (after several hours of battling with the printer) onto cardboard. The original plan was for Mori vs Oda, but as the printer refused to print anything red, I rebranded the Mori as Asai for the game. Oda in yellow, Asai in blue. I’ve reworked the morale system into a loyalty system instead, as well as added a few rule tweaks to different aspects of it. Lightning Bolts = Wavering, Broken Hearts = Disloyal, No Entry = Fatigued. Small yellow dice = Positive Authority, small black dice = Negative Authority. The pile of white counters are just pieces I used to track orders.
The battle field consists of a fordable river running down the centre, a series of scattered hills throughout and an impassible forest to the south. Both armies were evenly matched (though with slightly different stat distributions) so I ran this as a straight encounter battle, the two sides trying to destroy each other. Each army consists of three divisions and the overall general as their own separate division to themselves.
The rules use a random activation system for each command. In the game opening the Asai got the first few activations but were slow to make use of them, moving their troops up slowly. The Oda on the other hand rushed ahead, stretching out their forces to get to the defensive river first and ford it.
The Oda move up to the river rapidly and cross to take up position on the large hilltop overlooking the river valley, though doing so leaves their lines extended. The Asai third division, who had thusfar been holding back in reserve, sweep down off their hill and into the valley to meet the rapid Oda advance.
With the Oda gun teams taking up position on the hill the Asai attempt to dislodge them with their leading ashigaru detachments, but the concentrated gunfire throws them back.
The two forces enter firing range across the fronts with exchanges flowing back and forth, resulting in one of the Asai ashigaru units fleeing from the field. Bolstered by the success of their compatriots down the river, the gunners on the hilltop rally and blast away at another Asai ashigaru detachment, driving them from the field. However, from behind them comes a much larger sonae force which crashes into the gunner line, forcing them back towards the river.
As the main body of the Oda force come up behind the vanguard, the gunners on the hill press the fight, but one of them is forced to withdraw as their morale weakens. Two detachments of Oda ashigaru rush across the hilltop and crash into the Asai ashigaru detachment in an attempt to overwhelm them.
Meanwhile, down the river, the Asai gunners batter the Oda forces, holding them at bay until the Asai main body can come up and begin pushing the overextended Oda forces back across the river. The Asai forces press forwards, driving the Oda back until they both form their battlelines across the river. Oda himself decamps in order to get closer to the action and bolster his forces with his presence.
The battle on the hill rages on with troops piling in from all sides and the fight going back and forth, but eventually the weight of the Asai forces is too much for the Oda and they break, with their supports falling back towards the river. The Asai push ever forwards.
The battle over the river intensifies, the difficult terrain making it near impossible for one side to get the upper hand, but in the slow grind the Asai forces seem to be getting the better of their opponents. The Oda are slow to bring up their reserves, having rapidly pushed forward at the start of the battle, but when the rearguard division moves up it manages to temporarily break through the lines and attack the Asai at a weak point. This attack is eventually repelled though not without considerable damage to the Asai lines.
Nevertheless, the Asai push onwards, to the river, ever pushing the Oda forces back. The battle rages on, both sides wet, muddy and bloodied but neither breaking their resolve. As the larger sonae of the commanders on both sides bear down on each other, the final battle is joined.
The fighting is vicious and flows back and forth, neither side able to completely destroy the other. Oda himself rushes in to support his lines as he see’s it weakening, but too late.
Like a line of dominoes the Oda commands crumble all along the river banks and flee from the field.
Oda is left alone facing the the might of the Asai army. He promptly turns and flees.
All in all a good first run with the rules. The printed out counters worked well for the kitchen table sized game and the opening turns of the game flowed well. Movement felt natural and the order system seemed to work well. The opening engagements of ranged combat felt right too and the stats I’d assigned worked reasonably well. I’d a mix of different unit success with stats for detachments of mixed Ashigaru and gun armed units, as well as small clans, standard clan sonae and the larger commander sonae.
I ended up abandoning the idea of Opportunity Fire. Any time that it should have been used didn’t seem right, so I’ll need to rethink it, but with the activation system the way that it is, it may not be necessary to have it at all.
The new loyalty system worked well, even though it was only a minor modification of the morale system I’d initially worked out, it felt more natural and flavourful. The only bit I’m unsure on is whether a unit should be allowed multiple rally’s per turn. In theory you can issue as many Rally Orders as you have Orders available (provided the unit is out of range of the enemy) but felt a bit strange attempting to rally over and over on one turn.
Melee was a bit of grind at times. I introduced a new support mechanic which worked well (essentially they add half their stats to the unit they’re supporting) and made the battles on the hilltop a lot more dramatic, though they still did end up taking a few turns to resolve after I “nerfed” the shock system a bit. I still think I was right to weaken shock slightly, and the hilltop battles felt generally right as new supports moved in to bolster the lines but units weakened in each exchange. The support system with the detachments worked well and gave me some ideas on using the rules for smaller scale battles too. Would need a slight change in mechanics to allow for closer support at the smaller scale, perhaps the supporting unit can contribute all their Shock. Food for thought.
The main sticking point was the battles along the river. Because of the difficult terrain they really dragged on with a slow grind and no one really had a means of gaining a greater advantage. Part of me thinks this is right, after all battles over rivers generally were a grind as both sides slogged across the water and up and down river banks pushing each other back and forth. And the Oda rearguard division bursting through a gap very nearly turned the tide, though like so many of the Oda actions, they overextended and were cut off. So I probably would want to play another game on a more open battlefield before doing any major reworks to the melee system to see if it flows well there.
The command and control system as well as the messengers and the Generals all worked nicely, with the additional authority boost the messengers gave turning the tide at a few points and giving additional focus to a part of the battle field, giving meaningful decision making to their use. The only downside is what to do with additional orders when at the point of melee when there’s little to be done. Part of me is pondering whether any “leftover” orders can be used to bolster certain melee combats at the end of the activation. This may alleviate some of the issues I had with the melee grind and give the authority aspect more prominence in the later part of the game.
All in all though I’m pretty happy. The game gave me enough different situations to really shake out the rules and I’ll be able to go back and tighten up a few aspects of it as well as ponder a few additions and tweaks.
I’m sure I’ll have more updates in future on this, but for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed this and thanks for reading,
In my last post I gave a bit of background for my thinking on how a Sonae based Sengoku Jidai ruleset might work and some of my early experiments with it. To recap, the Sengoku Jidai refers to the period of civil war that devastated Japan in and around the 16th century. Armies were generally organised into sub units of mixed arms clans known as Sonae. The terrain of Japan meant warfare tended to favour looser formations and manoeuvre than would typically be seen elsewhere in the world at the time.
For the moment I’ve settled on “hit dice” as my randomisation method, namely rolling 4 dice, adding or removing dice based on situational modifiers, then counting any 6’s as a success. In this post I hope to explore some of the core mechanics I’ve been trying out; command and control, movement, combat and morale.
I am writing these into a more “technical” rules document, but wanted to lay out some of the general concepts here. At the end I will have a brief pencil and paper battle report to show how some of the mechanics play out.
Command and Control
This refers to the means in which the players actually command their armies and give orders to commanders and units. There are essentially three levels of command. The first and lowest level is the individual units, typically a mixed arm Sonae, commanded by a Samurai-daisho (military leader) a minor Daimyo (feudal lord). These commanders are abstracted into the units themselves and assumed to be dealing with the individual allocation of troops within the Sonae.
Multiple Sonae will generally be grouped together into a Te, or division. The most senior, and usually most powerful, Sonae within this division, is known as the Honjin (or headquarters Sonae), usually commanded by a senior Daimyo. This Honjin Sonae is the Commander for the entire Te, and is the one from which actions to the individual units will flow.
An army will generally consist of several of these Te with the leader of the most senior Daimyo’s Te being designated the overall Army General. Unlike the Commanders who are embedded into their Honjin Sonae, the Army General is treated as a stand alone entity based separately to a Sonae, though they will usually have one or more powerful Sonae in their own Te commanded by trusted retainers, usually including a Honjin Sonae with it’s own Commander. Typically there will be one Army General per side, but in large, multiplayer battles, there could potentially be multiple Army Generals, each leading their own set of divisions in coordination with their ally. This can lead to some fun possibilities for betrayal and treachery, as was common in the period.
These Army Generals may be in one of two states. The first is “Encamped” whereby they are based with their Maku screen and retainers, usually in a prominent but well defended position in the battle field. In this state they have powerful defensive modifiers, can send out messengers to their commanders, but cannot move themselves.
The second is “Mobile” whereby they mount up with their personal unit of bodyguard troops, known as the Hatamoto, and become a powerful unit in their own right with rapid movement but no ability to send out messengers to commanders and a greater chance of personal injury.
Given the hierarchical clan status of the armies, the loss of a Commander will generally mean the loss of an entire division, and the loss of the Army General will usually spell the loss of the entire battle. So there is a fine balance between using these as powerful offensive units, while keeping them safe from harm at risk of collapsing the army. There is some potential around loyalty and successor mechanics that may mitigate this collapse somewhat, likely a series of Morale tests for the units and a test or special trait that allows a Commander or General to have a worthy successor to take the reigns of battle, but I’ve still to shake out the details on them.
Each commander (including the general) will have an Authority value representing their right to rule and the respect they hold from their retainers. This can be a positive or negative value, depending how powerful or weak they are. This value will be used to modify the number of orders that they can give. The commanders will also have a Command Radius that extends out from their unit, with Authority increasing or decreasing the range. Any units outside this Command Radius may only be given one order per activation. Any units within the General’s Command Radius will gain a bonus to their Morale tests.
At the beginning of each turn the player will decide if their Army General is Encamped or Mobile. If Encamped then they may designate a Commander to send a messenger to. If both the General and Commander are out of range of any enemy units then this is decided with a simple 4 + Authority d6 check (success on at least one 6). If either is within range of the enemy, the check is opposed and must score more successes than the enemy to succeed. If successful, then that commander can add the general’s Authority along with their own to their next activation. I did briefly toy with having messengers as their own units that travelled across the battlefield, but it became somewhat messy and required remembering which messenger had been directed at which commander. I suspect the messenger rules will undergo further modifications in time, for instance reducing the available dice over longer distances.
Activations are dynamic. For each command a token should be placed in a bag or stack to allow for random activations. Ideally this would be a token with the clans Mon (or symbol) on it, but could equally be coloured dice or chits, a stack of cards, etc. Anything that lets the players randomly allocate command activation. Players will draw a token and whichever general that token belongs to can allocate it to a command within the army. That command then activates and performs its actions, then the next token is drawn and the process repeats. This means play can alternate back and forth between the players, or may result in one player having a run of a few activations then the other player having the same. Each command can only activate once per turn.
Once activated the command rolls a single d6, adding the appropriate Authority modifiers, and that will give the number of orders that can be given that activation. Orders can then be allocated out amongst the units under command to move, engage in combat or rally. There is no limit to the number of orders that each unit can have assigned, up to the total allocated, but those units receiving a large number of orders will have to take a morale test and on failure become fatigued and unable to take any actions the following activation.
Once all the orders have been allocated, or the player doesn’t wish to allocate any more, the activation ends and the next one is drawn. Once all commands have been activated, the turn ends and the cycle begins again.
This relates to how the units actually manoeuvre around the battlefield. My plan is to keep movement fairly simple. The distance of movement is the same for all units, though certain units will be allowed an extra move such as mounted generals. I’m generally assuming the unit of movement will be around a base width, as that’s usually a decent indicator of unit and table size. Each unit will have a front quarter, a rear quarter and two flank quarters, with the boundaries extending in diagonals from the unit’s corners. When I say something is nMovements, it means n units of whatever the movement distance is. To make a movement a unit will be issued with a Move Order. This will allow them to do one of three things:
Move directly into their forward quarter by up to 2 Movements maintaining facing. This may include charging into contact with an enemy unit.
Fall back into their rear quarter by 1 Movement maintaining facing. If this is given to a unit in combat they must take a Morale check after doing so.
Change facing to a different quarter and make up to 1 Movement in the new direction of facing. This covers all manoeuvring, whether it be changing facing and remaining in place, or moving in a new direction.
Units may be issued any number of Move Orders so long as the commander has Orders to allocate and they begin the orders within the Command Radius of the commander.
Terrain will have some impact on movement, essentially difficult terrain will only allow one Movement forward rather than two and roads allow an extra Movement when going forward or back along it. These rules still need a bit more experimentation. It may be that difficult terrain ends all movement for that unit for that activation and they cannot be given any more Move Orders.
Given the fixed distances, the rules as written could be easily translated to a square or hex grid. I’ve been playing out test games on gridded notepaper (mostly because it’s all I have to hand with everything packed away to sell our house) and it’s worked reasonably well, but overall the fluidity of free measurement will provide a much more satisfying range of movement options.
There are two types of combat in the game. The first, and generally less effective, is Ranged Combat. This represents the proportion of bows and guns within a unit. While bows and guns of the period had a theoretical range of 300-500 metres, in reality the effective range against armour was around 50-100 metres. Over time as the proportion of guns increased, firepower became more effective, but was still primarily used as a means of defence, behind screens and fortifications, or for softening up an enemy before the charge into melee for offensive actions.
Standard Ranged Combat will work as an exchange between two units at a range of 2 Movements or less. Most units will have some means of firing, even if its just a few samurai with bows and guns. There will be modifiers available to units, typically ranging from -2 to 2 that can reflect the proportion of guns and firing capacity. In a Ranged Combat exchange, both units will roll their ranged attack dice, hitting on 6s then total up the number of hits inflicted. The default number of attack dice is four, though the modifiers mentioned previously along with a few other special conditions (e.g. firing up a hill would be -1, while firing at close range would be +1) can modify these dice up and down.
Any side that receives at least one hit must make a Morale test, which will be described later but essentially consists of throwing four dice (+/- modifiers) with at least one 6 needed for a pass. For each additional hit past the first one in the Ranged Exchange, a dice is removed from the Morale test. So if a sonae of the Ouchi engages a sonae of the Mori in a ranged attack, both players would roll their attack dice. If the Ouchi rolled three 6s and the Mori rolled one 6, then both sides would be required to take a Morale test, but the Mori would do so with 2 less dice than normal due to the two additional hits.
Failing a Morale test from a ranged attack results in a unit status change. A unit that is fresh and in good spirits will become Wavering, which will somewhat impair their ability to fight in Close Combat. A unit that is already Wavering will become Brittle, which impairs them further still. A unit that is already Brittle will break and be removed from the battle. This means a ranged exchange is unlikely to cause serious damage unless a unit is already in dire straights. There will be a Rally mechanic described later to remove these statuses.
Exceptions to this standard exchange are when engaging from the flank, in which case only half your attack dice can be used, or from the rear, in which case only one attack dice can be used. There is also the possibility of Opportunity Fire, the exact details of which are still under review, but will generally allow a unit to take unopposed pot shots at anyone entering firing range. I’m still not entirely sure on this given the exchange nature of standard firing, it’s mostly a means to prevent units skipping along the front of the enemy without consequence, but I may instead implement some form of Zone of Control on movement that prevents this instead. The other type of firing is Closing Fire, which I’ll cover shortly as part of the Close Combat exchange.
Close combat consists of up to four phases, Charging, Closing Fire, Melee and Shock. Charging is covered under the movement rules and is a movement that ends in contact with an enemy unit. The unit that initiated the charge will gain an extra dice in the first round of Melee. If a unit is Wavering it must pass a Morale test before charging and a Brittle unit cannot charge at all.
The defending unit may choose to use Closing Fire, that is an unopposed ranged attack, i.e. only the defender rolls their attack dice. If it is successful in hitting the charger, and the charger fails the Morale test then the new status is applied, the charge will be cancelled and the charger will fall back or pull up 1 Movement short of the enemy unit. However, if the charger is unharmed, the defender will have one less attack dice to use in the following round of Melee combat. This is to simulate the delay in bringing up the melee troops while firing at the charging unit.
The Charge and Closing Fire occur as part of the normal cycle of Orders, but Melee doesn’t occur until the end of the Activation. This allows all movements and ranged attacks to be carried out first, then all close combat will be resolved.
The Melee Phase involves both participants rolling their attack dice, modified as needed, with different results depending on the outcome. If both units fail to make any successful hits, then each will fall back 1 Movement to their rear quarter. If this movement is blocked, for instance by another unit or a terrain feature, they must instead take a Morale test and apply the appropriate status if failed. If both units make the same number of hits, they remain locked in combat and nothing else happens for them until the next time one of their commands is activated. If one side manages to make more successful hits than the other, that side is considered the victor and may move onto the Shock Phase.
The Shock Phase is representative of the elite troops, such as the samurai, exploiting a weakness opened up by the melee and rushing in to try and destroy the enemy command. In the Shock Phase the victor rolls their attack dice modified by any shock modifiers they may have (typically terrain affects the impetus of the shock phase more than the melee) with the outcome depending on how many successes they have.
With one success the enemy unit is destroyed but the attacker is Fatigued.
With two successes the enemy unit is destroyed and the attacker is not Fatigued.
With three or more successes the enemy unit is destroyed, the attacker is not Fatigued and gets a bonus order to use immediately.
The number of orders may increase with increased success, to be confirmed, and the destruction on one success might be too powerful, so one success may apply a status while two success destroys, etc. These are details to be ironed out in play testing.
Where multiple units are engaged, all dice are rolled together. This is the most “bucket o’ dice” part of the rules, but means large engagements can be dealt with quickly, and makes multi unit melee combats very dangerous, especially if Commanders are involved.
Flank and rear attacks also behave a little differently. There is no Closing Fire when attacking a flank or rear of the unit, and the defending unit cannot use a Shock Phase if it is engaged to the flank or rear, instead if it is victorious in the Melee Phase, the attackers both fall back 1 Movement. This is because an attack at a weak point of the formation would usually be reinforced by the samurai core of the unit, meaning they’ve less momentum to carry out a destructive counter attack immediately and instead just drive the attacker off. Any unit attacking the rear gains an additional attack dice as well as that was usually the weakest point of a formation.
As mentioned in previous sections, each unit will have a certain amount of Morale that it can use to show how resilient it is to breaking. All units have the same potential Morale statuses, Wavering and Brittle, though how those statuses affect different areas of the game will vary. Morale tests are called for in a number of circumstances where the resolve of the unit needs tested. Morale tests behave the same way as other tests in the game, a number of dice, four by standard, are thrown with at least one 6 being required to make it a success. Some units may have Resilience modifiers that can increase or decrease their morale dice, and having the Army General within range can provide an extra morale boost too.
One of the orders available to a commander is a Rally Order. With this a unit that is not in attack range of an enemy unit (i.e. typically 2 Movements away) and within the Command Radius of it’s Commander, may perform a Morale test and if successful, can reduce their negative statuses. So a Brittle unit that passes it’s Rally Morale test will become Wavering, and a Wavering unit that passes loses the negative status and returns to being fresh and ready for action.
There are still some balancing tests needed with morale, for instance having the presence and loss of nearby units impacting the roll or requiring additional tests, but for the moment I’m keeping it reasonably simple.
There are a few areas that still need some thought and consideration. I’m still testing out various options for moving through and fighting over different terrain. Given the varied landscapes of Japan I don’t want this to be too much of an imposition, but certainly particularly rugged ground should impose some limitations and fordable rivers appear in a fair few battles of the period so they are important to consider too.
Defensive works is another area that needs some thought. It was quite common for armies in the period to entrench into a defensive position, especially as the ratio of guns increased in armies allowing them increased concentrations of fire. This is definitely something I want to include, either as fixed terrain pieces on the battlefield or as a “dig in” option for a unit. I need to do some more reading on this before deciding how to represent them though.
Beyond that there are a number of special rules and traits I want to include. I’ve already got an outline of many of these as a means of conferring special abilities on Generals, Commanders and individual Clan units. I want to be reasonably cautious with these to avoid it becoming a bit too video gamey or “Hollywood”, but I do wish to include some means to highlight leaders who stood out from their peers through tactical or strategic brilliance, or lack thereof, as well as clans that specialised in particular types of combat or weaponry, or were particularly loyal and devoted. There’s also some consideration to be given to the numerous sects of fanatic warrior monks throughout the period and peasant rebellions. I’m not focusing too much on these until I’m completely happy with the core mechanics, though have plenty of ideas for how they could work.
Formations is another thing that needs more consideration – both the individual makeup of the sonae and how they organise themselves internally, as well as the larger formation of the entire army. For the sonae themselves, different formations may confer different sets of modifiers, for instance aggressive or defensive formations, or those focusing on concentrating firepower, while for army wide formations, I’d be inclined to leave them up to the whim of the players as if I get things right they should “just work” as they were intended given the way the battles play out. We shall see!
Beyond that I’ll want to consider some “meta” play around a campaign system, or some means of playing linked battles, as well as some strategic considerations around scouting and espionage that may aid with deployment and game set up. The idea is allow for both historical battles and ones of the players own devising covering various possible scenarios from a straight up fight, through defensive actions or taking of key objectives. I’ve not decided if I’ll look at sieges or not yet, though castle assaults were a common feature of the warfare.
This is one of my pencil and paper test games played out on gridded paper to try out some of these core mechanics. In it, the fictional Maru (circle) and Shikaku (square) clans engage in a clash for control of a key river crossing. I rolled for random entry points across the game area rather than having everyone come in from opposite sides, this felt natural given the mustering of troops tended to involve calling in subject clans. Each army consists of three divisions, marked 1, 2 and 3, so for the purpose of this I will refer to them as the divisions as Maru-ichi (in the south centre), Maru-ni (north centre) and Maru-san (north west), then Shikaku-ichi (west centre), Shikaku-ni (south east) and Shikaku-san (north east). The notations is as follows:
Gm = Mobile General (bonus to movement and attack, negative firing) Ge = Encamped General (bonus to everything, messengers but no movement) C = command sonae (bonus to everything) X = normal sonae F = firing focused sonae (bonus firing, negative melee) M = melee focused sonae (bonus melee, negative shock) S = shock focused sonae (bonus shock, negative firing) f = fatigued w = wavering b = brittle
Hopefully the hills, forest, river, stream, bridge and marsh are self explanatory. The position of the number indicates facing and the negative number on commands indicate lost units.
This was a lot of fun as a game, the narrative flowed easily from the mechanics and while there were a few points were I had to tweak bits or come up with rules for things on the fly, it really helped me refine down some of the mechanics, and determine what did and didn’t work.
To conclude, in this post we covered:
Command and Control: the role of commanders and how the dynamic activation and order system works, as well as the role of messengers on the field.
Movement: how movement is determined and the different types of movements available.
Combat: both ranged and melee combat and the opposed roll system they use.
Morale: how units test for morale and rally from their various states of disorder.
Discussed other areas for expansion and thought once core mechanics are settled.
Finally finished with a pencil and paper test game and report on how it went.
I’m not sure what my next post on this will be, as the next stage is probably play testing and refinement, then looking at some of the special rules. No doubt you’ll see some Feudal Japanese forces creep into my painting queue in the coming year in 3mm, 6mm and/or 10mm, along with some more test game battle reports.
Thoughts and suggestions are always welcome, I’ve only been in the hobby a few years and don’t have that many games under my belt, so any pitfalls or glaring omissions I’d be interested in knowing about, so please share!
The Sengoku Jidai, or the Japanese Age of Warring States, has long captured my attention and interest. The turbulent history and larger than life figures have offered prime material for any number of games, books, films, series, and more and I’ve always had an interest in the exceptionalism of Japanese history, how it rocked between long periods of insularity only to go through short bursts of seismic change. The Sengoku Jidai is one of these periods.
It is typically reckoned to have lasted around 150 years, from 1467 to 1615, and completely changed the socio-political makeup of Japan. It began with the Ōnin War, a civil war between two mighty clans under the Ashikaga Shogunate, but then spread to become a series of near constant civil war between rival clans across Japan. Powerful ancient families would fade into history and arrogant upstarts would rise to prominence only, in many cases, to fall. Famous clans like the Oda, Tokugawa, Uesugi, Takeda, Hojo, Shimazu, Date and Mori would stamp their legacy into Japan’s history as they fought for control of the provinces and country.
While Japan claims an Imperial family stretching back to the dawn of time, by this period the power of the Emperor had been reduced to that of figurehead and governance lay in the hands of the Shogun, the overall military commander of the Empire. Over the centuries, the Ashikaga clan holding this position had weakened and power became increasingly concentrated amongst the vassal clans in the provinces outside the Imperial capital of Kyoto. These clans formed a complex hierarchy or vassalage and alliance that constantly shifted throughout the period as small clans broke free of their overlords and went on to become mighty in their own right, while once powerful clans fractured to internal and external enemies.
The period ends with the Unification of Japan under the Three Unifiers: the ruthless general Oda Nobunaga who learned how to leverage European style firearms to dominate the battlefield; his successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a mere peasant who rose to prominence through his craftiness and prowess on those battlefields; and finally the great politician and general Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was patient, careful, bided his time until the moment was right then struck fiercely and went on to establish the Tokugawa Shogunate, which would close off and rule over Japan until the late 19th Century.
Warfare in the period was also quite distinct from that found in most other historical periods and regions. Most armies were based around clan structures, and it wasn’t really until the end of the period that particular warlords, or Daimyo as they were known, were powerful enough to break up subject clan troops into larger weapon specific sub divisions. Most armies consisted of a series of mini armies, known as Sonae, each controlled by a Daimyo and consisting of a mix of different troop types. Each Daimyo would bring along their subject clans as well, so an army may consist of the top level Daimyo and the Sonae they controlled directly, then under them there could be a number of senior retainer Daimyo with their Sonae and then junior retainer Daimyo under them with their Sonae and so on. A typical Sonae would be from 300-800 men, though some powerful Daimyo could field ones upwards of 1500 men strong, or even multiple ones. As the period progressed it became more common to split off smaller units to provide specific tactical roles, for instance concentrating firepower, but in many cases battles would consist of conflicts between a series of mini armies on the field.
This was further exacerbated by the terrain of Japan, which tends towards a lot of mountains, forests and rice paddies, none of which are ideal for line up and fight battles. This meant tactical manoeuvring and flexible mixed arms units made a lot more sense than the dense pike and shot formations you’d see in the likes of Europe at the time. Battles could scale from small clan conflicts all the way up to massive battles between vast alliances of clans.
There’s a superb blog that goes into a lot of details on the structure of these here, but essentially I’ve been giving a lot of thought on how this would be best represented within a set of wargame rules over the past year or two.
Most rules, especially those for ancient and medieval periods, assume each unit will generally have just one or two weapon types. Those of Pike and Shot period tend to be quite specific to the European style of warfare, which doesn’t translate so well. There are some 19th Century rules that abstract mixed arms units out, but those tend to focus on the grand sweep of huge battles, which doesn’t quite fit the character of the age. I would be tempted to attempt some of the very largest battles in the period, such as Sekigahara, using this style of rules, where each unit is actually an entire division of clans, making the smallest unit a Te or division. Something like the 19th Century focused rules Bloody Big Battles could work quite well here, as would allow you to represent the different division sizes for different clan powers and there are enough modifiers to indicate tactical efficiency and concentration of firepower, with a few tweaks to the rules to handle the reduced ranges and technology available.
For small scale games, many ancient and medieval rulesets will generally work well, such as To The Strongest and Hail Caesar. Within the Sonae there is an organisation of sub units based on their arms, known as Kumi, that equate pretty well to a unit of pike or spearmen, a unit of bowmen and/or gunners, some heavy infantry samurai or cavalry, etc. So for fighting battles where it is maybe a small clan vs clan battle of a few Sonae against Sonae this could translate pretty well. They did tend to fight in fairly loose order given the terrain and small numbers within the units, but that can generally be sorted out with most rule sets, which don’t concern themselves too much with specific numbers in units. There are a couple of period specific rulesets that cover this style or warfare too, Killer Katanas II and Peter Pig’s Battles in the Age of War come to mind, though I don’t yet own either.
One of the key aspects of the fighting is the use of complex formations, in which small Kumi of ranged or melee units, usually peasant troops known as Ashigaru (or “light feet”) led by a samurai, would spread out across the front and flanks probing the enemy for weaknesses. At some point there would likely be a charge of the spear troops who would fight until one side revealed a weakness and the elite samurai who would have been supporting the fighting can charge in and attempt to break the enemy. Again for a small game this works fine with many existing rule sets. You could also go smaller again down to skirmish level gaming with individual samurai and retinues, something I may consider in future as I own a Test of Honour starter set, though the rules never really inspired me to paint any of them up.
The difficulty comes from the mid size games. This is where you want the smallest unit to be a Sonae, i.e. each unit is a mixed arms mini-army of different strengths and sizes. This means it needs to be able to handle everything from a detachment of gunners up to a huge Sonae for a powerful Daimyo, without being cumbersome. The way I visualise this is each side will typically have an Army General, the most senior Daimyo, who commands the overall army, which comprises of a number of Commanders, that is the retainer Daimyo under them. Each of those Commanders is in charge of a Te, which itself is comprised of a number of Sonae, each representing the clan army (or detachment) of a more junior Daimyo.
A typical army of around 12 units may consist of the Army General’s Te, including the General themselves with their bodyguard, their own personal Sonae (usually a large size one) then a couple of smaller Sonae/detachments, then two Commanders with their own Te, each comprising the Commanders own Sonae (into which they are integrated) and 3 other Sonae/detachments representing junior clans and detachments. This can easily be scaled up and down to handle different sizes of conflict. Given the shifting natures of allegiance and betrayal, it also adds some nice potential for scenarios, or even multiple players with uncertain loyalties.
This is very appealing for smaller scale figure gaming as it allows for some very interesting basing opportunities. I’m a big fan of this blog, which discusses similar considerations and has some superb 6mm bases on show. At this point I have no figures for the time period, wanting to settle on some rules before jumping in. I’ll likely pick up some 3mm figures that can be done up reasonably generically, then use 6mm or 10mm for when I settle on what clans I’d like to work on and what scales of game I want to represent.
There are some key elements needed for a game of this type. Historical flavour being a big one, as well as the ability to try out historical tactics and the unusual formations that (allegedly) appeared on the battlefields. It should be able to handle mixed arms units in a way that is interesting and characterful. Leaders should be important. Feudal armies were intrinsically tied to their hierarchies and leaders, so they should have a strong presence on the field, while still keeping within the realms of historical possibilities. I did consider some form of duelling/challenge mechanic, but that is more something that would happen at the level of the individual combatants, not the grand tactical level of the commanders, despite what some romantic histories would have you believe!
I’ve not come across any rules that really achieve that for me, though I may try and get my hands on BAW and KK2 at some point to see how they fare. There are some board games, Tenkatoitsu for instance, that do apparently model this somewhat and a few people have been looking at adapting this to miniature wargaming, but I’ve always had an interest in writing my own rules and this seems as good a possibility as any, so I’ve been pushing around ideas over the past while on what this sort of game would look like.
This is interesting for me as it’s making me really analyse what I do and don’t like in wargame rules to find a system that will really work for me. One thing I find I don’t overly like is extensive wound tracking. I dislike having to push a lot of dice and counters around with units when moving them, as dice are easily knocked over or mistaken for rolled dice, and when you can have more than 6 wounds you end up with multiple dice, or polyhedral dice even more prone to being knocked over.
One or two status markers is generally okay, especially if thy can be modelled to fit with the unit on the table. TtS! does this well, where most units typically only have 2 or 3 hits total, meaning you’re usually only needing to track a small number of wound tokens. I’ve taken to making one or two wound tokens with most units I make for this purpose.
I like the idea of unit status rather than strict wounds. Most modern systems are more concerned with the overall morale of a unit than specific strength reduction through damage and this is a system I favour, so my plan would be for units to have particular statuses rather than a certain number of hits.
As far as period combat goes, looking at ranged combat in the early period it was rarely decisive. Given the relatively short ranges of bows and early guns along with the looser formations of troops, ranged combat was generally not the deciding factor in battle until much later in the period where concentrated gunfire was used to devastating effect. Bows and guns were generally mixed together in varying proportions, so any ranged combat rules need to reflect the proportion of guns and bows more than differentiating the specific weapon types. Even when guns became much more prolific, they were still of primary use in defence, while offensive actions tended to favour melee. After the period, during the Invasion of Korea, the Korean and Chinese troops were more afraid of the Japanese steel than they were of the gunners who while numerous, were not considered particularly good.
As such, I want melee to be pretty decisive. Accounts seem to indicate that most melee that isn’t resolved in the initial clash can go back and forth along the line of combat until one side creates a significant breakthrough and has an opportunity to destroy the enemy. This is something I want to represent in the rules, with the standard melee phase representing the fighting between the Ashigaru spearmen, then a shock phase when one side comes out on top representing the elite samurai exploiting an advantage.
Given the nature of the clan relations, I also want something a bit more characterful with the command and control system to represent different general personalities, and to give players meaningful decisions about what to do with their generals. Typically the General would sit somewhere with a good view of the battle field surrounded by a mako screen and their bodyguards, but would also mount up with those bodyguards and charge into action when needed. I have plans to treat the general differently depending on which of these states they’re in.
The core of what make any game fun and playable is the mechanics. This is probably the key area to settle on first since the flavour tends to flow around the mechanics. There are two main parts to this, the actual means of controlling units and how they fight, them the means to hire those fights are resolved with some level of randomness. I’ll begin with the latter here.
There are, to my mind, several potential systems. One is a modified d6 system. This means for resolving pretty much any action you roll a six sided die and on a certain value it is a success. My vision for this was that the “standard” success was on a 4+ and various modifiers would move that up and down. I played a couple of test games (with pencil and paper anyway) using a system based on this and found it to be unsatisfactory. I spent a lot of time doing mental maths and mostly forgetting modifiers, so there was less of an instant “yes, it hit!” and more of a “oh I think it hit, add this, take away this, and yes…no…yes yes it hit. okay moving on…”, which doesn’t have the same impact. I also found I didn’t enjoy the act of throwing one dice over and over again.
I had always been somewhat put off the “bucket o’ dice” idea of gaming having seen some of the crazy numbers of dice that can be involved, but I’m actually finding that a moderate amount of dice throwing is okay, up to about the limit you can hold in one hand. There’s something much more satisfying about throwing a handful of dice than just one. My current thinking is that the mechanics consist of rolling 4 d6 as standard, then adding or removing dice (down to a minimum of 1 d6) based on situational modifiers, with success being on a 6 appearing. I don’t want to have too many of these as I want to keep things simple, but certainly things like terrain, actions and morale will play into it.
I quite like the idea of opposed rolls, where both players involved partake in the action. My current thinking is that for a shooting or melee action both sides roll their required dice and count the number of successes, then various outcomes can depend on that. E.g. in a melee if both miss then both sides pull back, if both hit the same amount, they remain locked in combat and if one sides scores more hits than the other, then things can get pretty nasty for the losing side. I’m using my trusty pencil and paper to play out some games with these mechanics to see how they fit with satisfaction, and to ensure they stay more in the cup ‘o dice than the bucket ‘o dice territory, though resolving multi unit combats is the biggest risk of buckets.
Another possibility is creating some form of Combat Results Table, where you throw, say, two dice, add them together, then compare that against a table with modifiers. I’ve seen a few quite scary examples of this, going multiple layers deep, but some systems, such as BBB, do it quite well and it’s easy to follow on a QRS. This is a potential option, but I’d quite like a system that has the immediate feedback of knowing that an action is a success without having to constantly refer to tables. I may explore the CRT in future, but for now my experiments lie more with hit dice.
I generally want to avoid “unusual” dice. That is to say d8, d10, d12, d20, etc. I have no massive objection to using them myself, but I feel they can be a barrier to entry for some people and I find tend to work better for a modified single dice system, or one with lots of complex variables. A possible exception to this is the d10, which Simon Miller very cleverly got around in To The Strongest and For King and Parliament by using a familiar deck of cards to simulate similar results. I may come round to such systems if the number of dice start getting out of control, but for now I plan to stick to standard d6.
In the next post I’ll cover some more of my ideas around the mechanics of taking actions within the game as well as a bit of a battle report of a larger pencil and paper sample game.
The Sengoku Jidai was a period of bloody civil war in feudal Japan.
The terrain and complex clan hierarchy meant armies were more retinues of retinues than strictly organised armies.
Each unit in the army may be a mini army unto itself with mixed arms.
Most rulesets deal with the actions of small armies and their constituent parts rather than these mixed units.
I’m having a go at developing my own rules to cover this.
Having toyed with a few types of resolution mechanics I’ve had some success with a dice system somewhere between a single modified dice and a large bucket of dice.
Next time a little more on the action mechanics for movement, combat, etc, and a battle report.
September hasn’t been a particularly productive month for hobby stuff. Real life has been busy trying to put the house up on the market and find somewhere to move to so have had to pack most of my hobby stuff away and do a lot of 1:1 scale work instead.
A few bits from earlier in the month before everything was packed away (some of which were spillover from August).
From the Trojan War project:
Chariots from the hollow lands and valleys of Lacedaemon.
Spearmen from the island of Salamis:
As with my other Trojan War ones, I’ll finish basing at the end so please ignore the bits of bluetac on the spearmen base as they would not stand up straight no matter how much I filed the bases!
Onto the Valley of Mexico now.
A unit of Eagle and Jaguar Warriors to serve as a back rank on my Bodyguard unit when I need to make it “deep”:
And with the bodyguard (bases are more similar than the picture would have you believe):
And another division for the army:
Other than a few casualty markers, the generals and maybe one more skirmisher base this army is almost finished (for phase 1 of course) and I can move into their opponents, either Tlaxcalans or Tarascans.
That’s all for now. Painting for the next little while will likely be fairly limited, though hopefully I can get a game in again soon. I have been spending a bit of time thinking and planning a few things, such as more pre-Contact American lists for TtS, as well as picked up on writing my own rules for Sengoku Jidai warfare, something I’ve dipped in and out of over the past little while. I’m sure I’ll have more on that in future, Japanese are a strong possibility for project slot once one of the ongoing ones is further along.
Most of my hobby stuff is packed away as we’re planning to put the house on the market very soon. However I did keep a few bits and bobs handy for if I ever did get a break from the chaos to have a little hobby time. Tonight was such a time and I decided to crack out my 2mm Crimean figures for a trial run at Keith Flint’s new Napoleonic ruleset, Shadow of the Eagles. The rules are still in development and are available to download for free if you join the SotE group.
Firstly an apology to the author who is avidly not a fan of 2mm figures, however as it is the closest I have to anything vaguely Napoleonic, I’m sure he’ll forgive me!
The ruleset is aimed at novice gamers and particularly those who have perhaps been daunted by the prospect if delving into Napoleonics given the plethora of rules, not to mention to deep historical studies and dizzying array of information out there. I definitely fall into this camp and Napoleonics is an era I’ve avoided up until now. While I’m still not ready to dive in (2021 perhaps…) I am ready to dip my toes in the waters and this seems as good a place to start as any.
As the army lists and historical background parts of the rules are still to be published I cobbled together a couple of small forces from what I had to hand. I just had one division (brigade? I should really learn the proper terms someday) per side. In the red corner three units of infantry are supported by a half unit of heavy cavalry and some artillery. In the brown corner, three units of infantry and a full size unit of heavy cavalry bear down on the field. Everyone is standard and capable to keep things simple, I’ll experiment with troop and general quality another time.
The Redovian Commonwealth and the Kingdom of Brunvinia have gone to war and as the Marshal’s mobilise their grand armies, small strike forces are sent out to seize key strategic interests. One of these is the sleepy town of Bridgepont, unremarkable but for the several crossings of the meandering Sinueuse River.
As the Redovians crest the hill to the west they spy the muddy mass of Brunvinia already descending on the town from the east.
General Sir “Ruddy” Hughes orders the red jacketed troops forwards to try and intercept but General Korichnevyy of Brunvinia seizes on the initiative and splits one unit off to occupy the town while the rest of his forces move with great elan towards the enemy. Ruddy attempts to rush one of his own units towards the town while the rest skirt round a bend in the river to face the enemy assault.
Korichnevyy forms his units into assault columns, planning to move forwards quickly and break through the enemy formations, while Ruddy shakes his columns out into lines, hoping to pour fire down on the oncoming assault. On the far flank the thundering advance of the Brunvinian heavy cavalry forces one unit of infantry to pull back into a square formation.
The Brunvinians seize the town, quickly forming a defensive line along the bank of the river, taking positions behind walls and in buildings near the western bridge. The Redovians form up along the bank and the two sides exchange fire, the exposed Redovians taking the brunt of it.
As the Brunvinian forces move up on the Redovian defensive line in the field they suffer heavily under the withering fire from the red jacketed devils.
With a dash of elan the Brunvinians charge home against the Redovians. Their assault columns exchange a brief range of fire before giving them a taste of steel, but the short range gunfire from the Redovian lines combined with their own glittering bayonets manage to drive back the assault, holding themselves in check as the Brunvinians fall back, licking their wounds.
Meanwhile the cavalry charge into each other with great shouts, and even though the Brunvinians have the numerical superiority, the Redovian horse men, like their infantry counterparts, are able to drive back the Brunvinians hordes.
Things don’t go so well for the Redovians at the town though as the onslaught from the entrenched Brunvinians pushes them back, taking heavy casualties.
On the field, the Redovian infantry pushes forwards, taking the fight to the Brunvinians before they can fully rally. The Brunvinians pull back into line, hoping their firepower can hold off the red devils bearing down on them. Black smoke rolls across the field of battle as the two sides exchange volley after volley, but the Brunvinians, disordered from their failed assault see their casualties mount and the Brunvinian infanty breaks and runs.
With the backbone of their army routing from the field, the heavy cavalry choose not to pursue the fight and break off themselves, leaving the last infantry unit trapped in the town with the enemy encroaching on multiple sides. Surrender is their only option. The day is won for the glory of the Redovian Commonwealth and this will provide them with a key position from which to prepare strikes into the hated Brunvinian heartland. General Sir “Ruddy” Hugh surveys the town so many of his men died to take and with a nod to his senior officers declares for all to hear “Well that was a good old fight chaps, now lets see where they keep the wine cellars.”
As this was my first outing with the rules, I’m pretty sure I got a lot of stuff wrong. I’ll read them through again soon to get to grips with what I messed up, and while I was pretty shuddering at the start of the game checking on everything, by the end things were moving more swiftly and I had a good sense of the core rules without needing to check the reference sheet too often.
I haven’t played any of Kieth Flint’s previous rule offerings but have heard good reports. I can see how these rules could play very well on much bigger games. Obviously this was a very small sample, in a normal game this would be just one corner of a larger battle field, but they still gave a good pace of play for a quick game. Adding on extra divisions to command would not be too onerous for the player(s) and I imagine give a much more satisfying game.
There were a few bits I was a little unclear on. One was the fallback mechanic, I only halfway through realised it was meant to be dictated by an average dice. As I don’t own any average dice I went with what I’d been doing thus far and had them fall back a single movement. I didn’t really get to use my artillery either, mostly through poor manoeuvring it ended up stuck behind infantry most of the game.
I’m generally not a huge fan of a lot of wound tracking, and at 7 hits to rout a unit I was expecting it to be a bit of a slog. But without any save mechanic (beyond rallying off hits when out of attack range or with a general present) the damage mounted pretty quickly and combat felt brutal and decisive, which is what I would expect. As there are different statuses depending on the amount of wounds, subtle tokens could be used to reduce table clutter or dice or casualty bases could be used, perhaps a bigger one when they’ve taken enough hits to be “Weakened”, meaning there never needs to be more than a few casualty tokens out at a time.
Overall I enjoyed the play. Unfortunately I felt just as I was getting to grips with it the game was over, but that was mostly due to the small scale of game I set up. I’ll be keen to try them out again now I’ve got the basics down, and once I’ve had another read-through. With it being fairly quick to play I could probably fit a game like that in an hour, give or take 10 mins for setup/teardown. At some point down the line I may even try a bigger multi division game, though I suspect I’ll have to use my 2D counters for that, or paint up some more 2mm (sorry Keith)!
I’m not quite ready to be dive headfirst into the depths of Nappies (not just because it sounds so wrong), but the first steps on the path have been fairly positive. I have a few books and lecture series lined up to start getting into the history of it in a bit more depth in the future, which I’m sure will inspire me and I can see how the combat, formation changes and manoeuvre attract people to the period. It’s a different vibe from the ancient/medieval warfare I’ve mostly focused on up to now, with a lot of fun potential.
August was a busy month in real life so hobby progress has been slow. Been clearing the house and packing things away in preparation for putting the house on the market, as well as having a number of family events and a pleasant break with a few days away. Managed to get a few pieces done though.
Qin cavalry, fairly quick paint job on them.
No matter how often I brush them off there always manages to be a stray bit of static grass somewhere on the models when I photo!
Took another pass at the 15mm Tanuki archers to brighten them up a bit. Much happier with them now.
Over to the Valley of Mexico, these guys are the bodyguard of the Tlatoani (the king) and the mightiest warriors with the most captives under their belts:
Yes the basing was still wet when I took these pictures. I’ll be taking better ones when the whole army is finished, which shouldn’t be too long now.
2 Trojan War units next. This is a bit of a cheat, while I painted most of them in August, one or two figures were held up in the post before I could properly finish them so they were completed in September.
From the hollow lands and valleys of Lacedaemon:
And from the island of Salamis:
As with my other Trojan War ones, I’ll finish basing at the end so please ignore the bits of bluetac on the spearmen base as they would not stand up straight no matter how much I filed the bases!
That’s it for August. I have a few units done already for Septembers batch, but they’ll have to await the next update as depending how house clearing goes they may be all I have to show for this month!
A relief bringing cool breeze* swept lazily over the hot, dusty plains of Dorylaeum in the summer of 1097. To the east stood the forces of Kilij Arslan upon their innumerable steeds. To the west stood the glittering battle line of Bohemond’s vanguard of crusaders, protecting the camp that lay directly behind them by the marshy banks of the Thymbris river. Many miles behind them camped the main force of the Crusaders with Godfrey. Seeing the mounted hordes of Turks on the horizon, Bohemond sent messengers to Godfrey requesting aid, and prayed to God that they could hold off the Turks long enough for him to arrive. It would be a long day.
*i.e. a standing fan.
The battle opened with the Turks surging forward on their right flanks, the swarms of horse archers supported by the small contingent of heavy cavalry led by Kilij himself. Their left flank proved slower off the mark, somehow missing the order to advance and lingering by the river overlong.
The knights, seeing the advancing enemy, charge forward recklessly to meet them. Brave as they are, the storm of arrows that come their way from the Turkish archers catches them off guard and drives them back. It is all Bohemond can do to rally them and get them back in the fight.
The horse archers continue to unleash their arrows into the charging knights, causing confusion and disorder among them. As the knights close with the light horsemen they throw their spears and skewer a few of the screaming pagans with their unholy demonic cry of “Allah Akbarghhhhhh…”, while those with lances lower them into couch positions and prepare to drive through them when they seem to just melt away. The cries of “Deus Vult!” die in their throats as their disordered ranks find themselves facing the well formed ranks of Kilij Arsalan’s elite heavy cavalry, who unleash a hail of arrows themselves before charging to meet the intruding Europeans. The horse archers charge up the slopes and attempt to sweep round the flanks of the Crusaders, though are slowed by a few lucky shots from the defending crossbowmen.
The Turkish horse archers on the left finally rouse themselves and begin to move forwards, not liking the look of the heavy cavalry melee nor the solid line of shields and spears that was the infantry, they plunged into the marshy river grounds, attempting to use the terrain to flank around the enemy. They gain some success, with the two sides exchanging potshots at each other as they moved past.
The melee between the two heavy cavalry forces continues, with the battle ebbing back and forth throughout the morning. The Crusaders seem to be getting the better of the fight to the North, but to the South the Turks are pushing the knights back towards the lines of infantry. Both sides are in rough shape, but the Turks take courage from the sight of the horse archers flowing around the enemy infantry and towards the camp at their rear.
The melee continues with both sides taking heavy losses, but a group of knights manage to reform and charge deep into Kilij’s Guard Cavalry, and with a roar of triumph drive them from the field. Kilij moves to take control of another group of his heavy cavalry, these fresh from fertilising the valley floor with the blood of the infidels and attempts to turn back and attack the knights in the flank, but as he turns another group barge into him at a charge, disrupting his troops and engaging in a frantic combat. The knights prevail and from their midst the one known as Tancred, nephew of Bohemond, launches himself at Kilij in mortal combat. The two fight valiently, but the Norman proves the stronger fighter and slays the great Sultan, raising his bloodied spear in victory to God Almighty and screaming his victory cries. Urged on by his glorious combat, the knights drive the remaining Turkish heavy cavalry from the field.
Meanwhile, Bohemond, aware now of the Turkish flanking action, sent word to the infantry to fall back to defend the camp. They turn about and start a march back towards the camp, exchanging fire with the swarming horse archers as they do. The Turkish horse fall upon the camp, but the Crusader infantry aren’t too far behind and attempt to drive them off. Bohemond turns his knights around and rushes to join the infantry in the defense of the camps.
The horse archers run rampant through the camp and attack the infantry from a distance, but just as they feel their victory is assured a dust cloud on the horizon materialises into a contingent of knights charging down the valley at them. More worryingly still, the dust cloud behind them seems considerably larger. Where did these knights come from? There surely can’t be another Crusader army coming?!
Godfrey arrives at the head of the army, having charged well ahead of the rest of the troops. As his knights join him in drips and drabs the Turkish horse archers gather to try and drive back this new threat and give themselves space to flee, while the Crusader infantry closes in behind them and the original knights, tired though ebullient, begin moving around their flanks.
More knights continue to arrive down the valley as the noose closes tighter around the now panicking horsemen. With the full forces of the Crusaders bearing down on them, slaughtering them in their hundreds, and no sign of their great Sultan anywhere, the horse archers break and flee into the hills and marshes. The pursuit lasts long into the evening as the rest of the army arrive, eager for blood, while the weary victors plunder the camp of the great Sultan.
God clearly smiled down upon this mighty crusading endeavour.
All in all a good fun game. I used Hail Caesar as the rule set as I’d not had a game of it in around a year and a half. The scenario I designed worked out well, though I may make a few tweaks if I play it again. It gave a good fun game and I think had the Turks not been so sluggish on their left for the first few turns it could have gone a different way. For the scenario I decided the Turks could have a minor victory if they managed to plunder the Crusader camp for a few turns without being driven off, and a major one if they were able to break and drive off the Crusaders. The Crusaders would have a minor victory by just holding on until Godfrey’s full army arrived on Turn 10, though I had units of knights charging ahead of the main force start arriving from Turn 6 on a dice roll (6+ Turn 6, 5+ Turn 7, 4+ Turn 8, etc). If I play again, which I hope to some day, I’d probably make a few tweaks. I would perhaps add another unit of heavy cavalry to the Turks, or, possibly more likely, reduce the number and strength of the Crusader infantry. I had the infantry causing a -1 to-hit on ranged attacks which made them very difficult to damage. I had a special rule (that I didn’t use) that the knights could be ordered to dismount and join the infantry, which would convert them from medium to heavy infantry units, on reflection I should probably have kept the -1 to-hit for then too, though perhaps a faster acting Turkish action could have collapsed the Crusader flanks as at least one unit was on the verge of being Shaken. I will have to play again sometime to see.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did playing it and as ever, thanks for reading!
P.S. if you want to read about the real history that inspired this battle you can do so here.
When last we left our intrepid Crusaders they had just marched out from Nicaea after driving off an initial attack by the Turks. Numerous as they were, to march all down the same route would have been impossible so the army split into two parts. The vanguard, led by Bohemond of Taranto, his nephew Tancred, Robert Curthose, Robert of Flanders, and the Byzantine Tatikios, whose troops had been least involved in the battle in front of Nicaea, moved south eastwards through the valley of the Thymbres river, eventually finding themselves around a week later camped on a meadow by some marshy ground down the valley, not too distant from the ruins of the settlement of Dorylaeum. Many miles behind them, with the remaining three fifths of the Crusader army was Godfrey of Bullion, who had set up camp further up the valley and had his soup pots on a steady simmer as the aromas of gently cooking vegetables wafted through the tents.
Meanwhile, Kilij Arslan, Sultan of Rum, was preparing an ambush near Dorylaeum. His scouts had been shadowing Bohemond’s army for some time, believing it to be the entire Crusader force, and didn’t realise that Bohemond had twigged onto his shadows and was well aware that Kilij was in the area. Flanked by the hills and mountains to the north and the marshy floodplain of the river to the south, this seemed the best place to camp and await the rest of the Crusader army.
The Sultan was insulted by this lack of decorum. How dare these foreign invaders stop there and not walk neatly into his well laid ambush. Infuriated he ordered his troops to muster up and started marching up the valley. Estimates vary on the size of the forces involved here. Scholars generally agree that Bohemond’s forces numbered around 20,000, while Godfrey’s were around 30,000. The Turks are far harder to number as the Crusader accounts tend to overestimate their numbers considerably. Most modern estimates put them at around 8,000 – 9,000, up to a theoretical maximum of around 20,000, though it’s clear that they were much less numerous than the entire Crusader force, and likely still smaller than Bohemond’s vanguard even.
As the Turkish dust cloud appeared on the horizon on a bright clear day at the start of July 1097, Bohemond ordered his men to muster down the valley from the camp in a solid battle line to face the enemy advance. He sent messengers back to Godfrey asking for aid, but new that help would be half a day away at best. Resigned to a long and grueling battle, he bolstered the men with prayers and rousing words.
The Crusader army lined up with a solid line of infantry behind and a line of knights in front. Bohemond was on the left flank, Robert of Normandy in the centre and Tancred and the other minor princes made up the right. The Turkish army consisted of a core of heavy cavalry, the Askar and Ghulam, under Kilij himself, as well as two large wings of light horse archers made up of Danishmendids from north eastern Anatolia, under Gazi Gümüshtigin. Gazi’s father, also gassy, had founded the Danishmendid dynasty after giving the Byzantines a bloody nose and Manzikert, and had no desire to see Christian marching boots on what was now Turkish soil again.
The Turks rushed forward unleashing an endless hail of arrows at the solid lines of the Crusaders. Enraged, the Christian knights charged them yelling their battle cries in the face of the devilish shouts of the enemy and this “Allah Ahkbar!” they seemed so fond of. Well Mr Ahkbar would be getting his taste of Christian steel, ally or no. Yet as the boisterous boyos in the glittering mail charged ragtag into the cloud of Turks, the cloud seemed to dissipate. A knight would no sooner skewer a pagan with a well aimed spear throw or lance thrust than find himself surrounded by nothing but dust and air. This continued a while, throwing the knights into greater disarray only for the dust to clear and the sun to glint off the well ordered line of heavily armoured Turkish cavalry that were now charging down at them.
Vicious melee ensued as the disordered knights fought to regain some momentum, only to break and run back towards friendly lines. The formed up infantry, seeing the noble and valiant knights hurtling towards them with their tails between their legs formed up in close order with a firm “Nope” and refused to let them through. The knights now milling about in disarray in front of their own lines finally found a scrap of nobility and formed up again. This was aided in no small part by Robert of Normandy removing his helmet and shouting “Deus Vult” and “Normandy” while wildly waving his golden banner about. Perhaps the gold of the banner reminded the knights about all the gold awaiting them in the Turkish camp just beyond that line of fearsome cavalry.
The Turks, no doubt laughing at the silly Europeans, held back and kept pinging them with arrows while the bulk of the army, on their fast, light horses, swept wide around the flanks of the Crusader line, unperturbed by the rough terrain, and started descending on the Christian camp.
As the sounds of devastation from the camp behind them reached the army, Bohemond took a contingent of knights back to see what all the fuss was about. He found to his horror, the Turks in the camp, looting, pillaging, and generally making a nuisance of themselves killing helpless old men, washer women, children and, heaven forbid it, even priests!
Furious he charged into the camp driving off the pagans and sent word to the rest of his army to fall back and defend the camp. The Crusader likes fell back in good order under a constant rain of arrows and formed a rough square of defensive lines around the beleaguered camp. Seeing the futility of any further charges, Bohemond ordered the knights to dismount and leave their horses in camp, then join the front lines of infantry to bolster them.
This served two purposes. Firstly, the heavy armour and fighting ability of the knights would make the infantry near impervious to an enemy charge and second, being unhorsed showed the rest of the infantry that the knights were here to stay and wouldn’t flee the field (again) when the going got tough.
Not all the knights agreed with this action. Tancred, which to be fair sounds like the name of a cage fighter, decided to take his mate Billy and a bunch of their louts on a little sortee against the Turkish forces, only to lose their banner and, in William’s case, his life. Bohemond was less than amused and told his wounded nephew to go to his tent and think about what a bad boy he is.
The Turks did what they’d always done and hung back turning the Crusaders into pincushions. Under cover of the shield wall, the Christians built what defenses they could, stakes and ditches, hasty palisades and barricades with wagons. Bohemond eyed the horizon anxiously, hoping not to be the one to join the Anatolian graveyards with the previous failed attempts at Christian invasion.
As the sun moved westwards a haze on the horizon seemed to coalesce into a dust cloud. Could it be? At last, after holding strong from dawn, through the searing heat of midday, exhausted, battered, pierced, help had arrived. Tearing down the valley like Ate hot from hell came Godfrey Almighty, with a heavenly host of sweaty men in tin cans with lances shining and pennants flapping behind them. The fresh knights tore into the Turkish lines, reaping destruction wherever they went. Though there were only fifty of them in that first assault, they were enough to break through and reinforce Bohemond, while the rest of Godfrey’s army arrived in successive waves as they caught up with Godfrey’s impetuous race to the battle.
Still the Turks proved resilient, and while surprised by the renewed ferocity of the Norman knights and their pious warcries of “Today, if it pleases God, you will all become rich!” they did not break immediately. Indeed it wasn’t until the Papal Legume (eh Legate), Adhemar de le Puy (lentil), who had been approaching the battlefield through the hills on the opposite side of the river was able to get past the Turkish forces and launch his own assault on their camp that the Turks finally threw in the towel and ran for the hills.
Kilij and his elite cavalry took refuge on a steep hill, driving back with arrows the knights who tried to dislodge him, unable to charge in the steep, rugged terrain. It wasn’t until the bulk of Godfrey’s army, the infantry who would have less difficulty assaulting the hill than the knights that turned Kilij away from the battlefield to flee to the hills. He would later extract petty revenge by making a point of selling any Greek boys he found into slavery, still under the impression these Franks were the same as the Greeks he was so used to dealing with.
Victorious, the Christians unleashed their holy fury on the camp of the Turks, pillaging it and, for a time, becoming rich off the loot from Kilij’s treasury and the Turkish dead, which contained much gold, silver, wine, weapons, houses, clothing and were particularly taken by the fine silk tents the Turks resided in. They also rounded up a large number of captives to sell to the Byzantine slavers following the army. By this time the Christians had started to look more like Greeks and Turks than Western Europeans as they adopted their dress and equipment, such as robes and turbans over armour to protect from the sun. Often times the only way the living could tell a Christian corpse from a Muslim one was from the crosses sewn into their garments, so similar were they in dress and arms.
Learning from their mistakes they traveled together in one large mass to avoid being defeated in detail again and reformed some of the practices of an army on the march to work better together, sharing food and loot in common to be distributed fairly rather than every man looting for himself.
With victory secured, the path through Anatolia was clear for the Crusaders. It would take them several months of hard marching through unforgiving terrain and climates, but they were able to do so without major engagement by the Turks beyond some harassment and resource denial actions. The Turks were now very wary of facing these “men of iron” and the Christians had a new healthy respect for these brave and determined pagans who “where they but Christians, would be the best of men”.
The Byzantines did well out if this too as a weakened Sultanate was easy pickings for the army of John Doukas, who moved down the coast of Western Anatolia, recovering formerly Greek cities into the Empire. The Turks were less concerned with cities than with available pasture land. The Turks lived and died with their nomadic herds and while cities were useful for tribute and storage, the herd was paramount, and it would be years until the Sultan’s herds grew again to a point that he’d be willing to face Christians in open battle.
Eventually, the Crusaders reached Antioch. But that’s a story for another time. Before I sign off I’ll finish with an anecdote from the battle. During the final attack the Christians claimed there was some divine intervention on their side. Two heavenly knights, clad in shining gold, were seen to be killing many Turks, impervious to any human weapons. It’s said these knights pursued the fleeing Turks to kill them far from the battlefield. Indeed after a few days rest when the Crusaders marched onwards, they would find dead Turks several days march beyond. A skeptic may suggest these simply died from their wounds, but the Crusaders felt emboldened by the aid of these angelic warriors.
Thanks for reading,
P.S. if you want to see a refight of the battle with miniatures you can do so here.
Been able to keep things reasonably productive this month. Even got in a couple of games, some thinking around various projects and plenty of ideas for more projects in future. I’ve still been mostly using a dice roll to determine what my next piece of painting will be, though upped from a d6 to a d8 to include some bits that had been languishing unloved for a little too long. The two new additions came up during the month so that worked out well.
Ulster Protestant League Machine Gunner:
Civilian Militia – these will work as infantry for the socialist/communist factions as well as general militia defending their homes and maybe some guerilla fighters:
Figures all Pendraken.
I think these are 35mm. The zombies from the original Zombicide game were some of the first figures I painted as was easy to cover up all the mistakes with bloodstains! Don’t think I’ve ever photographed them, but definitely having an easier time with these now after a few years experience. One day I’ll get photos of the original ones done.
Not sure what to do with the bases, just gone with a sandy brown for now then will maybe do something with them once I’ve them all painted so it’s consistent.
Nine down, sixty two to go…
15mm Tanuki (Japanese Racoon Dog) Archers for a HotT army based around Japanese Folklore. Not entirely happy with these, they’re a little too dark still, and the colours aren’t quite popping like I want. Think I’ll maybe redo them with dark browns rather than the dark grey and add some patterns to the clothes. Figures from Alternative Armies.
Some more of Pendraken’s lovely Aztec range, this colourful unit is led by the warrior priests who had a whole different military and rank structure from the secular military forces. I already had some of these painted up previously but finished off the rest of the units and based them all.
The poor slinger at the front has a bit of grass in his face, but like a true warrior he’s still slinging away.
As this is a somewhat finite project (naivety I’m sure) being based around the combatants in the Trojan War I’ve gone with bigger bases with the aim of doing more diorama style, especially for some of the more famous characters and units. At 80×40 they’ll still fit comfortably on a dining table sized game but give a bit more space for laying out, especially when it comes to chariots, amazons and great heroes. Using them with TtS! to start with though may try with other rules too.
First up is a reasonably simple unit of bronze age axemen I’m using as Halizonian troops on the Trojan side, led by Odius and Epistrophus. They are from Alybe far away, where is the birth-place of silver thought to be somewhere on the Black Sea. Not much else is known of them but quite liked the idea of some axemen in the mix so seemed as good a fit as any.
The leader has an axe made of that strange metal that falls from the stars, or iron as we now know it. They did have iron in the bronze age, just didn’t know how to smelt it from ore so pure sources were rare and precious, usually from meteorites.
I’ll likely add some grass tufts and scene dressing to the base down the line, but want to do them all together for the project so it’s consistent. So just a basic sandy brown for now.
Also did up a unit of archers. Both sets of figures are from MM, though have some figures from Newline on order for a lot of the units.
Pyraechmes led the Paeonians with their curved bows, from distant Amydon and the banks of the Axius, its waters the loveliest that flow on earth.
These 2mm beauties have been in my procrastination pile for a while, mostly as I needed to get out the airbrush to prime them all. Glad I did. Russians all done for the Crimea, French next.
2mm really does look good for massed battles, and can paint up a load in one sitting.
Also made use of a few of them for a super mini game of Black Powder (about 20cm a side for the game mat):
This was start of turn 2, the reds hold the village and repulsed a cavalry charge by the browns at the hill.
The battle for the village intensifies.
End of game, remaining Browns circled as they break and retreat.
In my continued quest to pretty up my tables a bit with some terrain, I’ve put together a couple of hills, as well as painted up all of my 2mm terrain and building pieces.
And some 2mm terrain and building bits:
I have a pack of 2mm river sections (that should work okay as streams elsewhere) primed blue but not yet painted. I’ve also picked up a few 2mm pike and shot units which the above will work well with also.
Just in under the wire this month, got these two bases of Qin infantry done:
Plans for Next Month
Keep rolling the dice and see what comes up! I’ll continue painting through my collection mostly guided by the dice roll against 8 different projects. There are quite a few other projects I’d like to start but trying to resist the temptation until I can get a few of these ones done to a playable phase 1.
I also need to get varnishing, the weather has been pretty changeable so I’m about two months behind on varnishing.
I hope to get a game or two in as well. Some more mini games with the 2mm might be fun, though would be good to get a bigger game out as well and use the hills.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve played a game and even longer since I played a game of TtS so since I have recently finished a slew of crusades forces it seemed a good time to get a game on the table.
This game fit nicely on the kitchen table with a 12×8 grid of 100mm squares and I was able to utilise some of my newly made terrain pieces and newly acquired chits.
To the Strongest uses an activation system whereby each unit under command attempts to activate until it fails, at which point activation switches to the next command. The game is intended to use a deck of cards for this and while I do like this variety from using dice, it requires a fair bit of space to place the cards down with the units. The author suggests chits or d10 can be used for smaller scale games and I’ve opted to use the chits here for activations while retaining the deck for combat. This worked reasonably well, though I will probably attempt to use a d10 for combat in future too for comparison.
The forces today are two evenly matched armies at 130 points each. The Crusaders have a smaller, tougher force of heavy infantry and knights, while the Saracens have swarms of cavalry backed up with a mob of poor quality infantry. It’s an age old match up of quality vs quantity.
The cavalry heavy armies of the Saracens edge out the slower moving Crusaders in the scouting department and take the first move. Hoping to deny the enemy the centre and unleash a flurry of arrows before pulling away the Saracens surge forwards towards the Christian lines.
The advance goes well, but before they can get into bow range horses and men start screaming and falling. A wall of steel tipped death roars towards them as the crusader infantry unleash their deadly crossbows into the face of the advancing cavalry. The light cavalry are no match for such an onslaught and are cut down in droves before fleeing in panic.
The Crusaders feel victory in their grasp and while their original plan of securing their flanks with the terrain in the centre is stalled, their flanks take advantage of the panic to sweep forward, the Holy Orders keen to wet their blades with the blood of the heathens.
The advance on the flanks puts the Saracens on the backfoot as they struggle to reform their lines and prepare a counter attack. However, Crusader arrogance pushes the Christian knights into overextending themselves, pushing too far forward and separating themselves from their support. The Templars find themselves cut off and surrounded multiple flanks with horse archers swirling away from them unleashing their arrows. The Knights of Jerusalem and Turcopoles find themselves being potshot on the flank and the Hospitaliers grind against the Islamic infantry on the far side. The Crusader infantry attempts to move up to support the Knights, taking a few shots at swirling horsemen ahead of them but soon running dry on ammunition after their initial bombardment. With the solid line behind them the cavalry push forward against the enemy, wounding the enemy captain but not breaking their resolve.
Despite the forward momentum of the Christians, the Saracen forces are able to seize the initiative again and the infantry hordes run forward to swamp the tired knights while the cavalry forces on the Saracen right break through the Crusader cavalry, wounding then eventually killing their captain, wiping out the Crusader left and threatening to roll up the line if infantry that is starting to look a little more shakey.
The Hospitaliers, worn out from their long fight, pull back to let fresh reserves of knights take their place against the masses of Ghazi warriors and Islamic levies, though to little effect.
On the Saracen right, the cavalry line up for a charge while the horse archers disrupt the infantry with well placed archery. The cavalry charge again and again, and while the Christian infantry prove resilient they are pushed back and eventually, worn down by the onslaught of lance and bow, broken.
With one flank destroyed and the other ground to a halt, and with the infantry shaken and breaking, the General calls for the retreat. God was not with the Crusaders this day and they flee the field in the shame of defeat.
All in all it was a good game with a close fought matchup. At first I thought the Crusaders were in for a sweeping victory after a successful first few turns and a series of poor activations for the Saracens but fortunes soon changed and with Crusader ammo reserves running dry the Saracens were able to use their superior numbers to surround and destroy the Christians. The quality vs quantity played out well with the Saracens able to absorb greater losses while every destroyed Crusader unit bit deeply into their remaining victory points.
The chit and card combo worked well, the chits fit well into the small grid without looking too intrusive and the cards gave a rapid play drama to the combat and saves.
I probably got a few things wrong, I suspect I made an illegal move or two and I’m not sure I used generals entirely correctly. I forgot all about the strategems for much of the game, or rather I kept thinking I must use them only after they would have been useful! Awh well.
I’m looking forward to getting these rules on the table more with a couple of in progress projects aimed at making use of them, and it was nice to be able to fit the game on the kitchen table without having to set up large tables. Making the grid is still a bit of a faff so think I’ll start marking out permanent grids in future and make my own boards and mats for some of the smaller projects.