second chance games

Search This Website of delight

NAGASHINO 1575 & SHIZUGATAKA  1583 from  SERIOUS HISTORICAL GAMES Samurai battles - those words say it all - and, like so many, my inter...







Samurai battles - those words say it all - and, like so many, my interest stemmed from that one evocative word in childhood - SAMURAI.

This was fed by films such as Kurosawa's early Seven Samurai and his much later Ran, though the latter is really transforming Shakespeare's play, King Lear, with no real historical relationship to the key period of feuding Japanese warlords.
In between these two films lay James Clavell's novel, Shogun, which - in fictionalised form and ahistorical names for the characters - opens in 1600 in the closing years of the Sengoku Jidai period, shortly before the battle of Sekigahara.

In game terms, I'd had a nodding acquaintance with various samurai influenced games at roughly 10 year intervals.  This started with Milton Bradley's Shogun of 1986 and was followed 10 years later by the much heavier GMT game, Samurai, a volume in their Great Battles of History series.  Wind on another 10 years [ok 11 years] to 2007 and out came their 12th volume in the GBH series, Ran!  So far a fairly intermittent acquaintance.

But from 2007 to 2022, the period and its name, the Sengoku Jidai, has grown in gaming parlance and familiarity.  Starting with Hexasim's, Kawanakajima [2009], it was followed by the excellent variation on the block game format, GMT's Sekigahara [2011] and then back to Hexasim's Tenkatoitsu in [2016].  Dotted throughout have been a variety of Euro games such as Queen Games' Shogun and CMON's Rising Sun,  as well as, of course, an entry in the Command & Colours pantheon - what else but Samurai, containing three scenarios drawn from the battle of Nagashino! [I have the earlier Zvesda edtion Samurai Battles with its magnificent figures and dual set of rules, one set being the C&C ones.]

Nearly all of these, both serious board wargames and lighter approaches, have passed through or are still included in my collection.  So, it was an absolute must-have when I first heard that a newly founded company, Serious Historical Games, was launching as its first game, Nagashino 1575 & Shizugatake 1583. 

I had even more reason to pursue this game when I found out that the company's founder and designer was Philipp Hardy.  Here was a name I was already very familiar with as a designer of many games for the Vae Victis magazine, an excellent French production that I have had over 90 subscription issues of.  Above all, I also have both boxed games designed by Philipp Hardy, Par Le Feu, Le Fer and Le Foi and Fate of Reiters.  These two sets cover ten battles of the French Wars of Religion, a period exactly corresponding to the later part of the Sengoku Jidai period in Japan.  Here was a pedigree I just had to follow up.

To outline briefly the historical setting, the period spans 150 years from 1467-1615, but most wargames draw on just the major events from 1560-1600 as does this game,  Nagashino 1575 & Shizugatake 1583.  It was a time of warring "Warrior States" and three names stand out of among the many leaders who feature in these two battles.  

Central to the story is the Oda clan and in the earlier of these two battles, Nagashino 1575, Daimyo Oda Nobunaga is the dominant power, though the Army Commander is his greatest subordinate general, Taisho Hideyoshi.  Also featuring in this battle is Daimyo Ieyasu, a clan leader once fighting for the opponents of Nobunaga, but by this battle he had wisely allied himself with Nobunaga. Opposing them is the Takeda clan, led by Daimyo Katsuyori, who were the historical losers.  Though warfare continues throughout the period, Oda Nobunaga is viewed in history as the first "Great Unifier" of Japan.

Moving on eight years later to Shizugatake 1583 and the situation has changed.  In the previous year, Oda Nobunaga had been ambushed and forced to commit ritual suicide, seppuku, though other accounts I have read describe him as being assassinated and at least one that he was poisoned!  His ablest general, Hideyoshi, seen as Army Commander in the first game in this package, took power, though like Nobunaga before him never becoming supreme ruler.  Though Daimyo Ieyasu briefly opposed Hideyosi in 1582, by the next year and the battle of Shizugatake, Ieyasu was once again supporting him in this equally successful battle.
Though his period of power is marked by ongoing struggles and disastrous campaigns against Korea, Hideyoshi is regarded as the second "Great Unifier".  And the third "Great Unifier"?  Well that eventually with be Ieyasu himself after the battle of Sekigahara in 1600, who does at last establish himself as Shogun! 

So, how does this design present this fascinating topic.  There's no doubt that it's a very attractive package, from very first sight of the dramatic box art of charging cavalry.  This is repeated on the cover of the single booklet which presents the rules and the two scenarios in both French and English.  
There are two sheets of counters and these are very well produced. They're a solid 18mm x 18mm, easy to read, easy to handle and highly evocative of the range of units. 

What I really like is that each of the two types of samurai unit has both an infantry counter and a cavalry counter and a simple mounting/dismounting rule.  The equally clear markers cover elements including isolation, two levels of disorganisation, army formation, division activation, charge, tactical bonuses and a counter to show your lead unit in attack or defence. 
Here, for example, are six of your seven army formation markers, ranging from very defensive to very aggressive.

These main elements are supported by a single double-sided play aid in English - a version in French is mentioned but was not in my copy. The double-sided map sized [23 1/2inch x 16 1/2 inch], I think, speaks for itself.   Stylistically and functionally, they're excellent.

Later close-ups will reveal the artistic detail, but even at a distance, the maps provide a stylish and sympathetic background to play.  As with his previous games on the French religious wars, the designer's choice has been to work with areas or, to use the terminology of the rules, zones.  For displaying and actually moving units, as well as the question of ZOCs and line of sight too, this choice works very successfully. The simplicity and clarity of the applicable rules is equally important to how well these all work together.  Visually the counters stand out vividly and the stacking rules mean that there is never overcrowding, especially as opposing units can never be in the same zone together.  This departs from most area movement games featuring melee or close combat, but works perfectly here.

Here you can see the set-up for Nagashino with the small number of units stacked, but a closer look at a small portion of the map [from my first play-through] shows how units with disorganisation markers and an activation marker can all be accommodated. 

 In total each set of rules whether in French or English
comes to five and a half pages, with a further one and half pages of examples.  The first battle's Scenario details take up a single page and the second occupies exactly two pages. Finally, the centre pages of the rules contain striking images of each battle with the crucial historical stages mapped out.  Again, I love the concern given to presentation, as the left hand page [not shown here] has the information in French and this right hand page in English.
As I commented on BGG, in my first impressions of the game, there are a few very minor errors and the succinctness of the rules occasionally led to some uncertainties of interpretation.  However, Philippe Hardy has been immediate in his response with answers and clarifications both to my personal emails and questions in general  on BGG. This level of support is very much appreciated and has helped me to get the game straight on to the table and launched into the earlier of the two battles.
From that experience I'd like to take you through the basic steps of a turn with some comments on them.  There are only three Phases to a Turn and both the first and last are very quick and easy to perform so the action of the game gets central focus.
[A] Initiative Phase
Each Army has an overall Formation that can range from Extremely Defensive through Flexible to Extremely Aggressive and can be changed by a simple die roll against the Army Commander's Quality Level [QL].  Each Formation gives a player five tactical markers from which a random selection is made at the beginning of each turn, again using the Army Commander's QL.  The more Aggressive the more positive the markers, the more Defensive the more negative the markers.  This is such a neat idea.  It means that the Aggressive stances add benefits totally or mainly to attacking, while the Defensive stances correspondingly furnish benefits totally or mainly to defending.  Logical, but a neat way of  imposing its own constraints. 
Check whether divisional leaders are within range of the Army Commander and place isolated marker if not.
Determine which player has the Initiative and activates first
Check for possible arrival of reinforcements.
[B] Alternating Divisional Activation Phase
A chosen division is automatically activated if its leader is in command or has to role against the leader's QL if isolated [i.e. out of command].
Active units in command range of the division leader may be moved and charges are declared.
The inactive player may fire against any adjacent activated units.
Melee follows and is optional, unless a charge has been declared which makes a melee mandatory.
The inactive player may make a counter-charge where it is possible.
[C] Reorganisation Phase
Remove or attempt to remove disorganised markers.
Remove tactical and activation markers.
Check for victory at the end of the last game turn.

A range of the games markers
There are quite a few innovative rules in this game, but all are remarkably easy to learn and remember without frequent reference to the rule book.  This is a major reason why I like this system so much,  as too is the fact that they interact on a simple level to cover a whole series of features seen in similar games.
Take the zone identification number.  It will begin with the number 0/1/2 which takes you from the lowest height level on the map to the highest.  The next two numbers like all area movement games is purely for identification purposes; then the final number is a Roman numeral either I/II/III.
This latter number covers a lot of ground: first of all telling you how difficult the terrain is.  No surprises that the higher the number the more difficult.  Next the number is the base cost of movement  for entry and finally it determines whether a unit in it projects a ZOC.  A unit projects a ZOC only if it is located in a higher number  . So, a unit in III projects a ZOC into II or I, a unit in II projects a ZOC into I and, of course a unit in I never projects a ZOC.  It also affects charges as you can only charge into a zone I.  Finally the colour of the box the zone identification number is in tells you whether the zone blocks line of sight.

This close up of the zone containing Shizugatake Castle highlights  the attention to artistic detail, so harmonious with the Japanese background, as well as illustrating the practical zone designation.  It also reveals other typical factors that come into play such as the border between zones that affects movement cost and charges too.

Take care when looking at terrain, as exemplified by this tract of forest just below the castle.  Most terrain II is forest in these battles, but differing prefixed numbers show that the height of the terrain varies and the borders to a single zone of forest often vary too.  One side may be shown by a dotted line as a trail or path crosses it, while another may have a single or double line to show increasing difficulty and so increased cost and finally one side of the zone may have a broad line showing that it is impassable.  All visually very nice and all very easy to remember!
Combat too has several innovative and artful touches.  Only a single unit may attack from a zone or be attacked in a zone whether by fire or melee and each player chooses their unit.  Normally in melee there is only one round of attack, though there are conditions when a unit may fight a second round.  Results only affect the chosen attacker and defender, though one of the modifiers in a melee does reflect a limited combination of different types of units present in either the attacker or the defender's zone.  
The process of a combat couldn't be easier: take the differential between the strength of the two units involved and then add all the applicable positive and negative modifiers.  The resulting number is finally added to a 2D6 die roll and applied to the appropriate Fire or Melee Table.  A key point to remember is that all modifiers are simply added together, they are not applied separately to the strengths of the units. Two states of disorganisation, step losses or quality checks are the possible results.  The only surprise for me was the lack of any rout result.  As well as my satisfaction with the overall simplicity of approach, I was very pleased with how rapidly most modifiers became second nature after only a few combats had been worked out.  One tip I'd suggest is that you make a simple numerical  scale on which to move a marker up and down as you apply modifiers. 
To augment the overall ease of understanding, the page and a half of examples works very effectively taking you through all the steps of a typical turn in order.  As you can see it is well detailed and displayed in full colour and, a point I always like, draws directly on a real play from the first battle featured in the game.
This leads me to the final thoughts on the two battles themselves.  Neither is massive in size and the first battle is especially good to start with; it can be completed in an afternoon or evening's play and both sides are very balanced in numbers.  Both battles feature unit losses counting for VPs and, as the prime target for victory, the capture of a castle.  Despite this similarity, they play out very differently.  In Shizugatake, the initial Oda forces are small and geographically split.  One group has to move to link with the other defending the castle, while fending off a much larger opposing force, until reinforcements start arriving.  The opposing Shibata forces have to try to overwhelm both small groups as swiftly as possible while capturing the castle and then holding it against those Oda reinforcements.  This is a swirling battle.
Set-up for the battle of Shizugatake

In Nagashino, the roles are reversed.  The Oda clan troops are defending the castle which will almost certainly fall, but they have their main strong force that has to fight its way across virtually the length of the map from south to north against a powerful, cavalry-strong enemy and also a secondary force of reinforcement moving upward from the bottom map edge.  Their opponents, the Takeda , historically were the aggressive army hurling their cavalry at the oncoming Oda. All I can say is that if you follow their lead, you'll probably suffer the same crushing defeat! 

Above shows the beginning of the conquest of Nagashino castle. As yet the relieving forces entering from the bottom edge of the map have failed to roll their release number.  So the castle will almost certainly be in enemy hands by the time they arrive. The final appeal of both battles is that both sides get good opportunities to attack and defend.  
This is a very successful opening game in all respects for Serious Historical Games and I'd strongly recommend that you get your hands on a copy.  The next two projected games promise to maintain the momentum to the full.  In particular, the intention to take the system begun here to the climactic battle of Sekigahara will be an eventual release that I'll eagerly await.