Hi. I’m Paul, and welcome to Painting, Sculpting and Gaming.
Samurai miniatures have been staples of the wargaming industry for years. From Citadel’s venerable Samurai and C05: Oriental Heroes ranges to Perry’s The Age of Wars line, all the big boys—and, in the case of indie companies like Zenit, some of the minnows—have produced samurai miniatures for decades. The success of Warlord’s Test of Honour, however, catapulted these lines into the spotlight, and now more and more wargamers are discovering this unique and colourful period.
In this, the first of Teemu Kujala’s articles on samurai and the Sengoku Jidai period in Wargaming, we begin a detailed—and illuminating—examination of this perennially rewarding period.
I’ve been interested in samurai and the Sengoku Jidai period in wargaming for years, and I’ve been collecting my Sengoku Jidai army for most of them. They have, however, rarely been used in actual games, mainly due to the lack of other players with similar armies. After all, Japanese mainly fought each other during this era. The few games I’ve had with them before have been quite weird: Warhammer Fantasy fan-made army lists pitched against Late Imperial Romans, or Pike & Shotte battles against 17th century Swedes, and then finally a Kings of War Historical game against Mongols (in which I was soundly beaten). This last game has, at least, some historical relevance.
For this reason I’ve recently been most pleased with the amount of rules and army lists being developed—by companies and fans alike—for this period. At Hamburger’s Tactica wargames show I saw a stunning demonstration table for this era. I was even more delighted when I realised they were actually using Saga rules (or Zen Saga, as it’s known). I was fortunate enough to have a game on that table, and that led me to help the club running the game to translate the Zen Saga battle boards into English.
Then came Ronin from Osprey Wargames, and I really liked that too. Further games followed, and Warlord’s Test of Honour really boosted the era, which lead to more models and terrain (mainly MDF) being produced. This explosion has left us with more choice when it comes to miniatures, and the best on the market are, in my opinion:
Steel Fist Miniatures
Warlord Games’ metal miniatures
War Banner’s Warring Clans
War Banner is about to release their new Warring Clans range, and—based on what I’ve seen—they look superb.
No wargaming table is complete without attractive terrain and scenery, and the best terrain producers are:
Typical Units of the Era
Armies of the era were either clan-based, Daimyo-led samurai and ashigaru armies or rebellious Ikko-ikki armies with warrior monks, samurai and armed, fanatical peasants.
Hatamoto were the elite bodyguards of the daimyo (or warlord), and they were often mounted. They were typically only committed to battle if the warlord himself joined the fight, which wasn’t usual.
In earlier periods armies were smaller and dominated by bow-wielding cavalry. In the Sengoku Jidai era cavalry became less dominant as the size of armies grew and they adopted the role of shock cavalry. The Takeda clan were famous for its numerous cavalry.
Samurai on foot were the elite infantry, wielding either katana (swords), yari (spears), naginata (halberd) or no dachi (two handed sword).
Samurai archers … well, this is quite self-explanatory. Naturally, they also carried their swords.
Yari ashigaru were the mainstay of samurai armies. These commoners were armed with spears that could even have been the length of a pike (and known as nagae yari).
Yumi ashigaru were commoners armed with bows.
Teppo ashigaru carried arquebuses, which were first introduced to Japan by the Portuguese around 1530 and were soon produced en masse in Japan.
Light Artillery and Rockets
Small cannons became available to armies after the introduction of black powder weapons. I don’t know if rockets were really used, but these classic citadel models are so cool!
A mix of rebellious monks, samurai and fanatical peasants, Ikko-ikki armies were raised to defend their homes against invading armies or bandits.
Trained warrior monks were skilled and fanatical fighters. Their typical weapon was the naginata (halberd), but they also used other weapons, including missile weapons.
Monks often joined trained warrior monks in battle to defend their monasteries or local peasants.
Peasants often fought in uprisings or whilst protecting their regions from bandits and conquering armies. They were also known to fight alongside warrior monks and were—believing that dying in battle would take them directly to paradise—quite fanatical. They were typically men defending their homes or made desperate by the harsh rule of the region’s daimyo.
Ronin were masterless samurai who made their living as sellswords or even bandits. These could be recruited by anybody able to pay for their services.
Bandits where bands of assorted warriors roaming the countryside (See Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai)
Ninja were used for scouting, assassinations, and guerrilla warfare; as such, they were not typically used as a battlefield units.
The armies shown used different tactical formations depending on the situation. You can find an excellent summary here.
And that concludes this introduction to samurai and the Sengoku Jidai period in wargaming. Next time I will look at the enjoyment that can be gained when wargaming in and painting miniatures concerning this period, and the unique challenges and rewards it offers.
About Teemu Kujala
Teemu is an enthusiastic – and rather senior – wargamer from southern Finland. Having been a wargamer and miniature painter for more than 30 years, he graduated from the typical Games Workshop background to the Elysium fields of historical wargames. A father of three daughters, he intends to convert them to miniature painting with the arrival of the Harry Potter Adventure Game.
Read more from Teemu on his blog, 25 Years of Minis and Counting.
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