Wednesday, August 31, 2011


I recently got a chance to play Milton Bradley's Shogun (aka Samurai Swords), after a wait of probably 24 years (and even then I probably played it no more than twice). I love the game - not only for it's design - but also for how some its rules could be applied to a campaign game of tabletop miniatures set in feudal Japan.

A core concept of the game is the division of armies into either field armies (each player begins with three) or provincial armies. Field armies can hold up to about 20 units, with limitations placed on the number of noble warriors and peasant spearman and matchlock gunners they may contain. Provincial garrisons may only have a handful of troops. Player choices are further limited - and made more important - by the limited number of matchlock gunners and samurai bowmen he can distribute to his forces, period. I like that. Field armies can pick up or drop off units in provinces they occupy or move through.

Most of the action takes place with the maneuver of the field armies; losing field armies certainly reduces one's offensive capability and doesn't do much for defense either (ie. fewer fire brigades). Ultimately, the game is won by the player who can take over half the island's provinces.

The importance of the field armies is heightened by gaining experience with their leaders, the daimyos. Beating an enemy army - even small provincial garrison - earns the commander experience point. With enough experience, the daimyo can make extra moves and attacks on the player's turn. That could be big - although I think I have been knocked out every game well before anyone developed that kind of expertise.

One thing I would recommend as a home rule would be offer more points to a daimyo that defeats a field army. There's gotta be a difference between besting another army of potentially equal size than it is to roll over a couple spearmen in a backwater province. This would also be a quantifiable reward for players who get the action in quick against other players instead of wheedling them out of pieces of easily obtained territory. There's got to be more honor for one daimyo to beat another daimyo.

For tabletop campaign play, I'd recommend the above to any that use some sort of territorial conquest. You would likely need to reduce the field armies to one per player and probably limited the geographic extent of the map. While army lists probably would address composition limitations and decisions, it might be kind of cool to have a bonus "Dogs of War" unit or two that one could add if a battle took place in a particular region. Battlefront's Firestorm campaign did something like this for adding special units to certain fights and this method would work well here as well.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to add that the game has been re-released under the name Ikusa by Wizards of the Coast.


  1. Don't forget the use of ronin. These guys could be secretly 'embedded' into provinces where you were expecting trouble, or even tag along with armies. But you had to pay through the nose for them, and they could never exceed more than 50% of your regular forces (I seem to remember?)

  2. Stuart - you are absolutely correct - and thanks for the comment. I mentioned them in the blog I only keep in my head, but forgot to note them here.

    I definitely think there's a place for units like this in tabletop campaigns of the period. I'm guessing that most rulesets dealing with medieval Japanese lists probably make some allowance for them in one way or another (command and control or morale limitations - again, just guessing). However,I do like the expensive and temporary nature given to them in Shogun/Samurai Swords/Ikusa - and I think with a little tweaking the army lists could be adjusted to do the same for homebrew campaigns.