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 SEKIGAHARA 1600 FROM SERIOUS HISTORICAL GAMES Since reviewing the first game in this series, Nagashino & Shizugatake ,  from Serious Hi...







Since reviewing the first game in this series, Nagashino & Shizugatakefrom Serious Historical Games back in September 2022, I've been awaiting with great anticipation this second game in the Battles of the Sengoku Jidai series.  So, it's many thanks to Philippe Hardy, the designer and founder of Serious Historical games for providing me with this review copy.  

Before reading further, I'd strongly recommend reading the original review (link provided above) , if you haven't already done so to familiarise yourself with both the system and the historical period.  For purely an overview of the game system refer to Appendix A at the end of this review.

All the outstanding qualities of the first game are here on display in this second game, but on an even grander scale.   The battle of Sekigahara certainly deserves this expanded treatment.  It was the decisive conclusion of the period known as the Warring States or Sengoku Jidai and established Tokugawa Ieyasu as the supreme leader and Shogun, heralding in the Edo period.  Unsurprisingly Sekigahara has featured as a game in several Japanese magazines and boxed products.  It has also featured as one of three battles in the game, Tenkatoitsu, and in the highly regarded block game, Sekigahara: the Unification of Japan.  The latter is an excellent game and system in its own right, but its title covers a broad sweeping campaign, not focus on the battle that we have here.

Though the battles and scope in the first game of this series differs vastly from this second game, the mechanics of the game are identical.

With such a major battle, I'm delighted to say that what you see above is the superb two maps, each 33 inches by just over 23 inches making a magnificent 36 x 46 field of play.  With no overlap and an absolutely perfect match up between the two; it is a magnificent sight.
Stunning though it is, it does retain the same problem as the first game in the series, namely that the area identifiers are faintly printed and merge even more into the colour palate of these maps.  This and identifying the many different coloured "mons" (the symbols that identify each clan) on the unit counters makes set up a lengthy process.  Sorting into a counter tray or zip-lock bags is a must for speeding things up.  However, when completed the picture is striking!

This top-down view is deceiving as to the number of units involved.  When you consider that what you are seeing are predominantly stacks largely containing four units, that's quite a sizeable number of units that you are dealing with.  
This is a very different battle from the first two and produces a number of pros and cons.  From the very beginning, many of the units are in close proximity and the background colour of the two sides is very similar, according to the Scenario Booklet white and grey.  A more realistic description would be white and off-white, as this close-up makes clear.

The picture shows perhaps the most critical area of the map, where I've placed four red dice to mark the four areas that each give 5VPs for controlling them at the end of the game.   The top two areas start the game in the possession of the Ishida forces (positioned vertically) and the bottom two by the Tokugawa forces (positioned tilted to the left).  Obviously when playing a real opponent, each side is upside down to the other player's perspective - so, no problem.  Try to play solitaire and the best process I've found to deal with it is the diagonal positioning on one sides units.  However, the main factor about this game which makes solo play distinctly less user-friendly is reading the counters.  
First of all, each clan is distinguished by a coloured "mon" or symbol.  Here are four massively enlarged units.  The mon is the coloured image in the top right of each background banner.   These are four leaders who can be identified by the commander's paddle in the bottom left corner.

Then for all the other combat units, you have to be able to read the abbreviation of each type of unit (Te, Che, Ya, Yu, Sa and Ki) or identify them by their weapons and poses and this is roughly how you will see them on the map.

As soon as combat begins, and that is right from the start of the game, units rapidly acquire disruption markers (the first two counters illustrated below.)

One or more of these markers will regularly need to be lifted so that you can check which mon it possesses and what type of unit it is.  The low unit density and considerable amount of manoeuvring in the previous games made this a minor issue.  With this battle being of much higher unit density and close quarters conflict from the start, the process can become tiring when you're trying to handle both sides; so I don't envisage playing it too often solo.
That said, there are a number of factors that make it much less onerous for two players.  The first is that activation by division [ie. clan] alternates between players and most clans contain a low number of units and the attrition of combat losses adds to their reduction in numbers.  So, you're dealing with each player having to check these elements for a small number of counters at a time.  Low unit stacking rules is a benefit too, unlike many area-movement games that often allow ten units per area.
Next, the close proximity of units from the beginning of the game also works in your favour, as it makes pulling units out of combat to recover more difficult, adding to the likelihood of more rapid losses  and finally, each combat is resolved with a single Lead Attacking unit against a single Lead Defending unit. 

A close-up of the excellent map graphics

Other than that effect from the far larger number of units overall engaged in this battle, all  the other features of this system [outlined in the Appendix]continue to provide a smooth playing experience.  For me the elements that stand out are the constant involvement of both players, the interaction of the different types of unit, the very easy to remember terrain features and lack of extensive modifiers which greatly aids the combat system, the differing army stances from very aggressive to very diffensive that provide a small range of additional chits that can be used in combat and all of these can be embraced in a single, easy to read Play Aid.

So what creates the individuality of this battle.  First is the interaction caused by the disposition of the forces.  The Eastern Army, that of Tokugawa Ieyasu, holds the centre ground with a string of units stretching eastwards.  Because of his significantly better command range and central position, a large proportion of his subordinate clan leaders will be under direct control, making activation assured.  In contrast his opponent, Ishida Mitsunari, though commanding as substantial an army, begins personally located to the northwest.  Consequently, this position and his shorter command span means that, in the initial turns of the battle part of his main force will need to pass activation rolls in order to activate.  However, some of these are poised to strike the enemy's left flank.  What's more, Ishida Mitsunari  has a further potential enemy force to the rear of his enemy.    
However, this situation is even more imponderable than even the set-up I have described makes it seem. Making the battle increasingly more volatile and unpredictable is that both armies contain forces that may switch to fighting for the other side.  At the beginning of each turn, a roll must be made which is modified by each side's losses.  For quite a while,  the only outcome is that these potentially treacherous forces are mainly likely to remain inactive and play no part in the battle that turn, but as the battle losses pile up the chances of  defection mount.  Each side must also beware attacking such units prematurely, as this will guarantee their immediate alignment with the enemy!
So, the initial grouping of the forces provides a toe-to-toe struggle to secure the four key VP areas and destroy enough strength points to help bring some of the enemy forces over into your camp.  All in all this game has so far provided a very different, but equally enticing experience as the first battles in this series did.  I certainly feel that the series readily captures a very satisfying feel for the period.  


[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 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 any 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.