Samurai Warfare, Gleaming Katanas, 28mm
Before I begin, I’ve got to say I’m no great fan of Samurai warfare. All those ludicrous names and outfits, those unbelievably weapons and idiotic banners strapped to their backs… It isn’t really for me. In fact, I suspect the whole thing was invented by my friend Stephen Turnbull, just to sell books to wargamers! To me it’s all less realistic that the Game of Thrones, which at least has its roots in the Wars of the Roses. Still, this occasional gaming group – “Anything but a One”, or “AB1” for short – meet twice a year, to stage large games in a hotel in Fife. This time it was a Samurai game. So, not wanting to appear a boor I painted up a small clan – first buying a few figures from my pal Dougie Trail, and then augmenting them with more.A “clan” is the minimal building block in Gleaming Katanas – which is essentially a Samurai amendment to Black Powder. I know Black Powder fairly well – I probably play more games using that system than anything else. So, essentially this was a Black Powder game with a few strange-sounding units, and a few odd special rules. I could cope with that. A “clan” is essentially a large “brigade”, with 20 to 25 points of toys in it. The aim is to get a nice balance between kick-arse Samurai units and cheaply-pointed Ashigaru (regular infantry). Dougie had already painted his up as the Shimazu clan, which seemed to sport a lot of black armour. When I painted up the rest I stuck with his plan, thinking it was easier to paint. I was right – up to a point, but there’s a lot of fiddly stuff – armour lacings, clan symbols and so on. Still, by the end of a week I had a clan of four Samurai units (two mounted and two on foot), three Ashigaru (two with arquebus, one with spears), a clan leader and a small bodyguard. So, it was off to war for Clan Shimazu!Actually, when I turned up I realised just how miniscule my contribution was. Some people have several such clans in their collection, and so the end result was a 20 foot by 6 foot table groaning under the weight of all the lead. My own mob were on the extrmee left flank of the battlefield, allied to a bunch of other clans, ruled over by the Shogun (played, I think by Jack Glanville). The game got off to an excellent start when John Glass appeared with a bunch of shot glasses and a bottle of warmed Saki. game on! In fact there were two games. At this hotel we game on Saturday and Sunday, staying overnight and eating a splendid meal, washed down with a lot of alcohol. So, the plan was for the Saturday game to be this long clash between two sides, and on the Sunday the losing side would form a smaller defensive line on a “L-shaped” table, and try to hold on until after we’d all trooped off for an equally splendid Sunday roast.Anyway, my clan was squared off against “JP”, one of the few players not to field his own army. “JP” is only an occasional wargamer – he recently – if you can believe it – gave up wargaming for poker! He saw the light though, and is now back in the fold. I can’t for the life of me remember what his clan was, but it was similar in size to my one, but had one less cavalry unit, and more Ashigaru. Our game got off to a fairly languid start – I think the aim was to make it last as long as we could. Experience has shown that units can get burned up quickly in Black Powder games, so we decided to go slow. that came to an end at lunchtime, when JP told me he had a silver-framed photo of Margaret Thatcher on his desk. Clearly the man deserved to die, or at least his Samurai did.So on the next turn I surged forward. It took four turns to chop his clan to pieces, thanks to some lucky die rolling by my mounted Samurai, and a fair bit of gamesmanship – massing on one of his flanks, ignoring part of his clan that was out of command. The only annoying thing is that his clan leader (or daimo) was better than mine at close combat. So, he kept challenging me to duels, which I was honour-bound to fight, and each time we sparred I seemed to lose some of my command rating! Still, his last samurai unit was driven from the table, and victory was ours! I say ours, case elsewhere my side seemed to win quite handsomely. I’m sure it was rigged in some fiendish Oriental kind of way…On Sunday morning a rather hung over collection of Occidental daimos struggled back into the wargaming room, and we got on with the next stage of the battle. This time I had more troops – the remains of my Shimazu clan were joined by some Ikko-Ikki warrior monks. This time our opponent was Dave Imrie. He saw that my monks had a lot more firearms than his clan did, so he launched an all-out charge. He almost pulled it off. However, his charging Samurai were unsupported, and while the monkish arquebusiers blazed away at the Ashigaru behind them, my monk warriors chopped his Samurai to pieces. It looked like victory was assured -0 which of course is when things start to go wrong. they did so very quickly indeed too.A unit of monks charged a unit of Ashigaru spearmen, and took sufficient casualties to force me to take a “break test” I needed four or more on two D6 to be Ok … and I rolled a double one! As if that wasn’t bad enough I then had to roll for two supporting units, and both of them failed their break test too. The following turn it happened again – I had to take a break test after emerging victorious from a melee, and again I rolled a double one, followed by another double one for my supporting unit! In two turns I’d lost five units – about half my army. Still, David was struggling too, and while my die rolling improved, his got worse. As a result his clan was driven from the field, just before we were called in to lunch.After yet another splendid meal we surveyed the field, and saw that the defenders were completely stuffed. So, we called a halt to the game, and packed up our toys. I have to say, it all looked very nice – in a fantasy kind of way – but the period didn’t grab me. In fact, just as we were packing up, I sold my Shimazu clan to Ken Pierce, a man who claimed that you can’t have enough Samurai. Fortunately he now has enough for the both of us, if we repeat this foray into the world of 16th century Japan.