Thursday, 28 May 2015

Battlesworn Seven Samurai

Few films can have had such an impact on our hobby. Kurosawa stands up there with the directors-for-gamers greats list as well. Yet the film has never been the subject of many games, although I have seen a few Western derivatives over the years.

This is the first of an occasional series that I hope will inspire you to at least look at the film again from a wargamers perspective. I have the BFI restored version (chapter titles below refer to this edition) that includes a most informative documentary and leaflet.

There are two series of events I'm not considering – the chases in the woods after a prisoner and guns. In these one (or 3) protagonist(s) goes after a specific goal. The other is the probing attacks. You don't need my help.

In the film the tactically competent Kambei relies on the inferior tactician unnamed bandit leader letting him gain local numerical superiority on ground of his own choosing.

“OK, hot shot, how would you have done it?” Lets look at the ground**. There are 4 points of entry:
The forest entrance is well guarded but left open (at the top of the “Q”)
small entrance through a paddy field between buildings (partway along the tail)
high ground entrance with a second, internal wall (tail of the “Q”)
stream entrance with paddy fields and open ground in front plus dismantled bridge over narrow stream. (tip of the tail)

The bandits advantages are slightly superior quality, firepower and time.
The defenders discipline and internal lines of communication plus numbers (40 vs 42 – yes, 42).

I'd have 2 teams of 6 experienced (possibly older) men for the woodland and paddy field & high ground entrances. The first will have a few horses with instructions to make noises like a larger cavalry force trying to keep quiet. The second will show themselves, yell, throw rocks, just to keep the defenders on edge. Each will construct shooting positions for “visiting” archer and arquebusiers.

Of the rest 20 of the youngest/least experienced will be chosen to rest during day and work during dusk to dawn making long pikes and fascine type bundles the length of the 2nd entrance paddy. (If the defenders didn't spike it underwater-). These are thrown into the paddy with much noise to keep the defenders awake.

The remainder will stay in view of the bridge entrance, but not close. They will taunt and heckle the defenders while appearing lazy – as if they have the “cushy” job.

The attack will come on the first available moonless night:
The wood entrance will come under fire and abortive cavalry charges designed to confuse and hold.
The high ground entrance will be attacked by the 8 using long pikes to engage through the barrier.

River crossing is to be charged by the 20 night-acclimatised again using pikes to engage. The rest will work around this barrier to take the defenders in the flank. Once defeated they will rush to the other paddy entrance to take the defenders in the rear. Meanwhile the spearmen will form a barrier against intervention by the forest entrance party who will be engaged by the whole force next.

The Games.

I'm not overly bothered about results. I want to recreate the feel of the film. Be sneaky, set this up with something different (such as gunfighters, pirates, even warg riding orcs attacking a Rohan village – you could be as inaccurate as the film and have 7 wood elves).

I spent a full 20 minutes making the first game board and the village is a very, very rough mock-up that's a test for a better version that will come in the fullness of time, then be used for everything.

The Fortress. Chapter 20. Or perhaps it should be called the hidden barn. This is the one the peasants could have handled themselves. Ringing the place with bamboo spears and skewering anything that moved once on fire. There are 2 structures, a large storehouse to the left and a central communal sleeping area making one large L shaped building tucked up/into the rockface. Most people getting away from the fire headed for the store, these were ignored once past the ronin. Until one pulls out an arquebus.

There seems to have been no guard. Having set fire to the structure they kill any man coming out of the entrance then work their way back to a wall on the over side of the pond to secure their retreat. This battle kills about 8, as there is 32 left for the first attack.

The first battle (Chapter 24, as 20 & 21 are the probes rather than a full attack) The bandits attack the forest gate, being let through piecemeal, then everyone stops for lunch. I've taken my game from when Kikuchiyo returns (chased) with an arquebus and the river crossing is taken, with an all-out attack on the forest entrance and a running battle covers the village.

The final battle Chapter 27. This one is a desperate gamble. The bandits are down to 13, the villagers about 30. They should have cut and run and looked for a smaller victim.

This first play uses Battlesworn. Why? The wargaming equivalent to chess but played with variable pieces and no formal movement. As such it lends itself to this type of game which is like a chess set problem. These rules have proved effective with Samurai in the past. There is the opportunity for progression. The peasants gain skills, confidence and weapons while the ronin diminish in number.

Fighter works well for the average trained sword-bearer.
Brute for those carrying a no dashi (large 2 handed sword) or particularly vicious yari (spear).
Rogue fits well for the peasants while under supervision working as a unit and experienced bandit.
Rabble is used for peasants or bandits in headless chicken mode. (These are your chess prawns)

Hidden Fortress. This game is possibly the smallest area Battlesworn game? Make no apology for using goblins – I want to emphasise that the bandits are coming out as a partially armed mob half blinded by fire and smoke and I don't have enough different types of peasants. My bad. I'm also using my Medieval Japanese, whose armour represents that shown in the film rather than the historically accurate Age of War.

The Heroes 4 fighters
Bandits 4 fighters, 6 rabble (3) 4 Rogues, 1 sniper. Each is represented by a different coloured dice and a D6 worth are pulled at random at start of round..

The heroes win if they make a fighting retreat around or through the pond. The bandits win if the heroes do not.

The next two represent the middle part of the battles rather than the start – as I cannot see another way to do it.

First Battle. 
Bandits from the river barrier. 4 rogues. Dismounted cavalry 4 fighters (centre). Cavalry 2 (from forest) (4)
Defenders. 6 Rabble (centre) (3), 3 Rogues (high ground), 4 Fighters (forest), 1 Archer (high ground), 1 Brute (forest).

After playing, you may consider swapping 2 rabble in centre for 1 fighter from forest.

The defenders win if they reclaim all the barriers.

Second Battle. This is the mix we played below.
Bandits 3 Cavalry (forest) (6) 4 Fighters & 1 Arquebusier/Leader (centre) (2)
Defenders. 4 Rabble (centre) (2), 3 Rogues (high ground), 4 Fighters (forest), 1 Archer/leader(centre) (2), 1 Brute (centre).

Since playing I'd suggest:

Bandits 2 Cavalry (4) 4 Fighters, 1Shooter & 1 Sniper/Arquebusier/Leader (centre) (3)
Defenders. 2 Rabble & 1 Fighter (river) (2), 3 Rogues & 1 Fighter (high ground), 2 Rabble & 2 Fighters (forest) , 1 Archer/leader(centre) (2), 1 Brute (centre).

First Game, Hidden Fortress. Tony took the bandits, I set my 4 in front of the building*. Tony got “4” and pulled sniper, fighter, rogue and rabble. I engaged the fighter and rabble who died, his sniper went wide for a shot, causing my end ronin to duck into the water.

Next Tony rolled a six. NOW he can roll a 6! Giving him another 3 rabble, 2 fighters and a rogue. My right hand ronin took on a killed a fighter, then charged the sniper only to be intercepted by another fighter. The next along dodged a bullet by diving into the pond. I lost my first ronin.

Only a “3” this time, another rogue and 2 final rabble. I sent mine screaming into the mass to kill a rabble and a fighter.
 Tony used his reactions to move his injured fighter and 2 rabble off-board.

I started my withdraw process. Tony swamped my furthest fighter in his last fighter and rabble which I countered with my 2.
 The rabble died, leaving a clear shot – equals- Tony rolls a 6 & 1, shot bounces off armour as my ronin dodges. We both lost a fighter, so both plummeted to 50% at the same time.
 Tony moved up a solid line of rogues preventing me from escaping, thus unable to win.

As the winner, Tony gets a dice that may be used to re roll ONCE next game.

We watched the chapter 20 again and I think we got it pretty much spot on.

The huge mat. *This was my first attempt at building with bamboo place mats layered on cardboard. The building base is vinyl tiles and the wall are supported by roofing nails. The secret is to paint the mats first.

The game mat comprises a vinyl tile with a carpet tile on top that was treated with ground in no-more-nails and a hard scrape of green paint. The water layer was a mixture of glitter glue and sepia ink. I've since put a double layer of PVA and the contents of a (dried, used) lemon and ginger tea bag. Not the best mix, but I'm working on it.

Game Two, the First Battle.

It was a bit confusing but we took our time and made sure that we knew who-was-who.

I again took the villagers and started by sending my poor rabble into the fighters. My plan was to feed in my fighters-. Tony's cavalry took on one of my fighters before breaking through to take up threatening positions.

My rabble started to die steadily so I fed in my brute. That didn't go as well – he died in 2nd round.

So I sent in another ronin, I take out a fighter. In goes the cavalry and down goes the last of my rabble. The centre now looks like a proper scrap, corpses everywhere and everyone engaged.

Tony now retired the cavalry to start threatening my other gate force. Heading towards a wounded ronin I'd pulled back, a heroic rogue gets in the way but pays the cost. Tony does a blinder with the dice and sends all 4 rogues at a ronin who goes down for one wounded.

That was my 50%. I guess the remaining ronin would grab a horse on sneak into the forest leaving the villagers to their fate. The ability of cavalry to retire from combat probably won the game, once the cavalry were free I should have attempted to engage with my rouges and brought the ronin in faster rather than as a drip-feed. Really, I blame the dice!

Game Three, The Final Battle. Please note that I radically revised the lineup and positions for this one once played, see above. It's easy to seem all-knowing on a blog but I'd prefer to show you how I got there.

We started traditional. Tony's leader shot at mine, a fighter took on my brute. Then I bet 3, Tony 6 so my 3 rogues went for his leader to be intercepted by his 3 remaining fighters. This fight went on for ages.

I sent my fighters into his cavalry, killing one then the others headed for the centre, taking on my leader while he had no reactions. Didn't work though – another dear cavalry.

In the centre we had a rules problem. Now I've been watching the film repeatedly, but Tony had avoided it to keep a clear mind. Tony's leader wanted to get out of the line of fire and the rules didn't help. If you were being shot at or spelled you can dodge or counterspell. You can intercept, yet you cannot dodge. So we worked it like a reversed dodge. When charged, he won the bid so went off at a tangent into a building, his assailant stopping at the door. I couldn't resist sending in my brute! Bang! Reduced to red! I sent him and a rabble against the leader, but he killed them both. The long scrap finally came to a conclusion and the last bandit fighter died, reducing Tony to 50%. I won one!

**The Table. I sketched this while watching the film, trying for playability rather than accuracy. Scene 1 shows a view from the top of the high ground, as do chapter 8 & 9, which includes the walk-around. The village had 23 buildings but 3 were burnt outside the perimeter. At the beginning of the film and in chapter there are some good shots of the village prior to fortification. The basic shape of the village is a “Q” a square plan coming down the side of a hill, a side road with 3 exits. The forest and high-ground entrances are higher than the river crossing. There are hints of smaller rat-runs and gardens plus lots of fenced areas. Once I'm happy with the layout I've now to decide how detailed a table I want to make. Watch this space.

If you want to do it easy, map out the main areas using the edge of the game area as buildings.

We thought we would celebrate with some of our favourite wargaming tipple, Sainsbury's (full leaded) ginger beer in true Japanese fashion.

 Not so good hot, perhaps it needed to be hotter? Needs research.




Saturday, 16 May 2015

Flying Lead Manifold Destiny of Godzillasaurus

Or Big Trouble in Tokyo Municipal Space Port

The Prologue

This is Victorian Science Fiction, right? Now lets suppose that the Japanese had adopted a slightly different path. During the Sino-Russian War the Chinese and Korean labourers were happy to serve the Japanese, as they paid them a decent wage, good food and better conditions than their own countrymen. The Japanese also built roads, hospitals and schools. If they had carried on in this manner, it's possible that large chunks of Manchuria, China and Korea could have come over to Japanese control without any real conflict. German prisoners in WW1 found the Japanese gracious hosts, many stayed on and German marching bands were invited to tour. Let us embrace this spirit.

Technology is another matter. Chinese papier mache armour was capable of stopping musket rounds. Light silk and bamboo are the ideal building materials for dirigibles. Standardisation and mass production started in Bronze Age China.

Lets consider a different weapon technology, a low powered gun using a mixture of clockwork and compressed air. A wide bore handle will accept a range of different weapon pods, the gearing giving the weapon its required air power. So we have a weapon that can deliver a net, a stream of blowpipe-like needles or a heavier bean-bag style. All silent, all ideal for use aboard a space craft.

Ideal weapons for use by customs staff boarding party (usually) based on a cutter or similar, or working within range of passengers. These are Peter Pig's old SF range. He was a bit (20 years) ahead of his time. There's a good mix of figures that fit in well with todays 18mm.

Customs Inquisitor (Trooper)
Points 63
Quality 4+
Combat 2
Special Rules
-Low Speed Needler Carbine, Body Armour



Customs Senior (NCO) Netgunner
Points 60
Quality 4+
Combat 2
Special Rules
-Shotgun, Body Armour, NCO/Second In Command

Customs Collector (Officer)
Points 71
Quality 4+
Combat 2
Special Rules
-Low Speed Needler Pistol, Body Armour, Leader

As well as customs staff there is the local militia. You can think of this lot as being corporate troops (well the East India company had them-) or militia raised by the local mayor or feudal lord.

All these are from – being used as steampunk as opposed to cyberpunk. The mix takes into consideration their main tasks of crowd control, guard duty and policing.

Ashigaru Militia
Points 47
Quality 4+
Combat 2
Special Rules
-Single Chambered Rifle, Body Armour

Ashigaru Militia Grenadier
Points 57
Quality 4+
Combat 2
Special Rules
-Fragmentation Grenades, -Single Chambered Rifle, Body Armour

Ashigaru Militia Swordsman
Points 50
Quality 4+
Combat 2
Special Rules
-Pistol, Body Armour, CQB Specialist, Dashing, Fearless, Strong

Ashigaru Militia NCO
Points 54
Quality 4+
Combat 2
Special Rules
-Pistol, Body Armour, NCO/Second In Command, Steady Under Fire

Ashigaru Militia Officer
Points 62
Quality 4+
Combat 2
Special Rules
-Pistol, Body Armour, Leader, Steady Under Fire

To oppose these stalwarts we have the dreaded Chou family. Their aim is to capture Godzillasaurus and the Dominar. Quite what use they will make of the three girls does not bear scrutiny, them being yer actual feendish orientals like.
Foo Han Chou the tazer does for hypno-ray, etc. Sprinter and Stealth for ability to get out fast. 
Points 128
Quality 2+
Combat 1

-Taser, Fear, Leader, Medic (professional), Specialist, Sprinter, Stealth
Su Chou, his daughter
Points 95
Quality 2+
Combat 1

-Shuriken/Small Thrown Knives, -Taser, Acrobat, Chucker, Fearless, NCO/Second In Command, Sprinter, Stealth

Kut Chou and Hak Chou - dirty great swords come under superior weapons
Points 75
Quality 4+
Combat 3

-Large Calibre Pistol, Combat Fiend, Fearless, Poor Shot, Strong
Aristu "Aka Aka" Chou
Points 74
Quality 4+
Combat 2 Drum Fed Light Machine Gun, -Large Calibre Pistol
Bit Chou, Chu Chou, Dog Chou, Eet Chou, Gou Chou, Mat Chou, Noh Chou, Out Chou
Points 56
Quality 4+
Combat 2 Large Calibre Pistol, -Single Chambered Rifle
Lin Chou, an anti-hero with a sabre
Points 89
Quality 4+
Combat 3
-Pistol, Acrobat, Combat Fiend, Hero
The third side is our usual friendly bunch who have been together through so much already-

Points 86
Quality 3+
Combat 1
Special Rules
-Taser, Body Armour, Leader, Long Move, Personal Communication Device
Minders 3
Points 71
Quality 4+
Combat 3
Special Rules
-Shuriken/Small Thrown Knives,, Fanatic, Personal Communication Device,
Sprinter Combat Fiend

Points 48
Quality 5+
Combat 5
Special Rules
Armoured +1 (Thin), Off-Road, Vehicle

The forces

The Good  Grand total 1,265     The Bad  Grand total 1,252

Imperial Customs Team 8 Inquisitors 504, 2 Seniors 120  1 Collector 71 Total 504
Militia 4 Militia 188, 1 Grenadier 57, 8 Swordsmen 400 NCO 54 Officer 62 Total 819

Chou Family Foo Han Chou 128 Su Chou, his daughter 95  Kut Chou and Hak Chou 150 Aristu "Aka Aka" Chou 74 Bit Chou, Chu Chou, Dog Chou, Eet Chou,  Gou Chou, Mat Chou, Noh Chou, Out Chou 448  Total 905

Those with hangover  Dominar 86,  Minders 213  Godzillasaurus 48  Total 347

The Game. Here is the goods yard of said Tokyo Municipal Spaceport. When the manifest of the Kabyashu Maru is presented, it is obvious that there is one major discrepancy. To wit the absence of a party who had joined at Mos Edo but disappeared during the journey. This matter is a police one, rather than customs. The command decide to flood the lander (the interplanetary merchant ships are bricks of the aether, incapable of landing) with gas (used for decontamination) and hold all parties for questioning. But the Godzillasaurus, freed from control and towering above the gas is able to make its escape. 

 The customs party sent in to (dark, smoke filled narrow interior) take prisoners runs at the first roar and crunching of bulkheads (wouldn't you?).

The start.

Customs are spread out from the landing bay entrance but means of dropped dice – any going off-table can be presumed to have met their fate. Civilians (mobile scenery) are added in the same manner. This sets up several “stories” - the pile of customs by the lander shed door plus the loss of a Senior suggests that his squad was going in, the stalwart NCO in the lead. So the scene is set, a pile of running officers being pursued by the beast. Over near the goods entrance another officer is questioning a porter near his court while two more officers are near a door at the lockups.

Everyone else will start to enter on a “6”:
The Dominar and the girls will wake up. Objective, get Godzillasaurus and run.
Chou family will gain the side entrance. Objective, get the Dominar and Godzillasaurus then run.
Militia will enter via main entrance. Objective, (plus customs) stop everyone else achieving theirs.

Tony won the initiative and (diced) Godzillasaurus to the right. He minced two of mine before taking a stroll around the area. That gave my Collector to gather a couple of chaps to put up a resistance. He gave his life so that the public could get clear. The Senior then gathered the stragglers back to the exchange.

 Where is everyone?

Why can we roll no 6's?

With a defiant “Whoot” the lorry comes crawling out. He remembers that lorry. He attacks it head on. Crunch! Flesh beats steel. Crunch! He goes to the side and pushes the lorry over. So dies the Sword girl. The Dominars party retire to cover. As with sharks, the safest place is just behind.

Now the brute is heading for the main gate. Panic! I hadn't considered the possibility of him wandering out onto the road. Fortunately I then roll a six! Cheers, mention in dispatches. In come those oriental sons of fun the militia! The officer gets a poor roll and sends in the first squad of his section, the gun bearers. A round of ineffectual gunfire followed by a Roar! Their morale breaks and they go hurtling back. I name the officer Wupert-san. The sergeant is more effective and the swordsmen prove more than willing. The first squad go into combat and it's a standoff. The second squad form up on the flank ready to drive the wee beasty back.

At this stage poor Tony has rolled about 15x on the same D6 hoping for a 6. We did not roll another 12 or so to get a 6, cos that would be cheating and not cricket! Still, as a result of said 6 in come the steaming Chous!

 First comes the brake with the machine gun crew, careering across the yard they stop, the gun opens up on the long line of militia waggling swords. Troopers go flying, but only the sergeant (at the end of the line) crumples, riven through with flying lead.

The lorry's next, a few snap shots and the old advancing behavior. Wupert-sama has regained some composure and orders his scattered shooters and the grenadier forward.

 More ineffectual firing then the grenadier. Now this area is full, any miss- but no! First time ever a grenade lands where directed! Up goes the brake and all inside her. Meanstwhile the brave swordsmen have slashed Godzillasaurus to the ground for the loss of only 1.

The Model T next, troops get organised. In response the brave custom lads come out and yell the traditional chant of “You can't park that there”! They take on the advancing yellow peril, the sergeant uses his net gun to good effect (counted as a shotgun, a hit means entangled) and yet more ineffective shooting from everyone else.
 Now Lin Chou proves his worth, charging towards the sergeant he shoots the first lad deaded and then cuts down the sergeant.

But, I hear you cry, what of the famed Dominar? Fear not, he plots away. Sending his young ladies in sneak mode, they edge ever closer. At the imperial wave, the longbow goes twang, the militia officer goes Aaaaarg-U and falls to ground in a crash of expensive armour. General alarms then its the longbow again, taking the poor chaps life as he lies bleeding.

The militia, now at a loss, retreat (by chance) four gather around their fallen leader and start to remove him. Godzillasaurus now relieved of the flashy things starts to stalk the fleeing. The Chou family are victorious of the customs and organised. Now negotiations start and the new partnership makes haste in the motors with a recaptured Godzillasaurus poking his head through the roof.

Alas what fate awaits? To be shown off in some seedy backstreet circus? Used as a fiendish instrument of extortion? Here we must draw a suitably sized veil.

Well I hope you enjoyed this series – it had started as an interesting game and grew of its own accordion. No doubt we shall see more of the Dominar and the Chous. But Godzillasaurus?

One last footnote. Our cultists have had a schism. As you know their sacred text was found hidden in a 17c book on horticulture unearthed from a sacred book show in Much Binding In The March (the one next to the chip shop, not the one by the railway station with the adult section in the back – so they claim). One veritable scribe going about his labours of transcribing every fifth world. In an ecumenical flash he realises that the Standard Reference Number is in fact a coded reference to the name of the divine and as such must be included in the count.

 Here we see a verenable scholar with a version of the divine work assisted by a lay poking member admonishing Mrs Ethel Quatts, her hatchlings and pet, of Pewter Lodge, Mons. Of course if they had bothered to ask they would have realised that she is a proud (if naturalised) citizen of the British Empire by gad.

Painting tip - his teeth show up so well because they are made of luminous plastic - metallic white as undercoat works.


He's behind you!