Meta-historians have noted that, throughout the centuries, similar developments have occurred in fairly unconnected cultures at the same time. For example, European tacticians grappled for the best combination of fire power, shock combat and cavalry during the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Although the basic combined-arms tactics had evolved by 1648, the matter wasn’t truly settled until the introduction of the socket bayonet around 1700. The same controversy was evolving at the same time half-way across the globe in Japan, Korea and China. Slitherine and Byzantine Games have illustrated the similarities and differences between the approaches with Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun.
Like a Fine Kanō Eitoku Painting
The game’s graphics capture a feel for the period. The battle map shows forests, wooded copses, buildings, hills, plateaus, rivers and streams as if it was a fine ink painting. The large thumbnails of units when clicked on portray not only the warriors and weapons of the period but do so in the art style of the time. For example, mounted armored samurai look stern and deadly as they wield lances and swords from atop fierce warhorses. Unarmored light troops seem more vulnerable but serious with their spears, longbows, crossbows and long matchlocks. Barrel-like cannon rest in wheeled cradles. Even the icons to close messages, advance turns and use game options are oriental “chop” stamps. The icons used to give orders continue the oriental motif. Unit counters clearly show the units’ type with the vertical banners of the period protruding from soldiers’ backs. As usual, one wishes for another level of zoom but rotation and magnification make the counters functional as well as ornamental. The campaign maps, although smaller, also do the job using the same style and colored circles to represent armies.
The zoomed-out view of a map shows the oriental feel.
Sound effects are particularly enjoyable as cavalry trample over the ground, arrows zing through the air and gunpowder weapons boom. Melee is indicated with clashes of steel and screams of men, highlighted by bursts of red. Even the music is not irritating as is usually the case. The game is extremely well documented with a 132-page PDF manual and three Osprey PDFs from the Field of Glory series: Wargaming Rules for Renaissance Tabletop Gaming, Colonies and Conquest and Empires of the Dragon Army Book. The latter is particularly helpful to players unfamiliar with medieval Oriental warfare, as it goes into much detail about unit and weapon types along with some history of the era.
The learning curve for play will be simple for veterans of Pike and Shot. New players will benefit from the three tutorial scenarios and the optional Helper mode.
Obey the Shogun!
Battles are fought between units of approximately two hundred and three hundred men. The units may be small but there are many of them. Left clicks select units while right clicks on a destination bring up the order menu. Reachable tiles are highlighted with movement and facing choices. If in range and line of sight, options for missile or melee combat appear on a moused-over enemy. Melee occurs when two unis attempt to occupy the same tile. Rear and flank attacks give attackers significant advantages as terrain or fortifications help defenders. Once units are engaged in melee, players have no control over them until one disengages. The messages for these options include probable casualties inflicted and likelihood of victory. Combat outcomes include casualty numbers floating above the target and gradual unit disintegration from steady to disruption, fragmented, broken and routed. Each level down represents a drop in combat efficiency. Less drastic outcomes are units falling back and light units always evading cavalry charges. Routed units may rally but they will never be as effective as they were before breaking. Every combat requires units to check cohesion. Bad cohesion will make units less effective; units adjacent to friendly units that break may suffer negative impacts. Victorious units will chase fleeing foes for one or two turns. Units are rated from elite to raw; the number of flags on their counters is a good indicator of quality.
Most scenarios are divided into four parts: introduction to the battle, buying troops to add to the ones already on the field, deploying troops within the allocated area and actual game turns. During game turns, players can move units, fire on eligible targets and initiate melee. Ending a turn brings up “residual fire”, an opportunity for missile unis of both sides to fire if they didn’t yet. The melee phase has units that were previously locked in shock combat to fight yet another turn. Routing units continue to run or rally during the phase.
Here, players can buy more troops.
If the mechanics make the game sound like Pike & Shot campaigns in lacquer armor, nothing could be farther from the truth. First, bow and gunpowder units can fire over friendly units, thus creating a two-line system where fire whittles down charging enemies. Such a system gives a new twist to defending against flank attacks. More importantly, command and control is finally introduced into the system. Every battle has Commander-in-Chief (CnC) generals, allied generals and sub-generals to command units. CnC general can command any unit in its command range, allied generals only command their own troops and sub-generals command non-allied troops. When a general is selected, his subordinates are highlighted in blue and his command range is shown with pink tiles. Units out of command range have limited facing movement. Units with generals receive a combat bonus but generals lose command when in melee. Units close to their non-engaged general receive a cohesion bump. General can be wounded or die in melee causing their units to check cohesion. When opposing units with generals melee, the generals duel with the general having the higher duel rating usually winning. Generals can be transferred between adjacent units of their command.
This command system imposes new concepts on play. Deployment revolves around the generals’ position and defense. Command range limits wild dashes and protection of generals becomes important. Each general has his own command range and duel rating so placing them in the order of battle should be a significant consideration. Some Japanese CnCs can’t move at all, providing a rally point if matters go sour.
Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun presents these new elements in many ways. Two historical campaigns with locked scenarios are provided: the Sengoku Jidai period of 1467 to 1516 representing the long struggle between Japanese faction to unify the country and the Imjin War representing the 1592 Japanese attempt to wrest Korea from native and Chinese control. Six campaigns are available covering wars from 1282 to 1637 in Japan, Korea and China. Each campaign has a map divided into provinces with armies indicated by circles. Every province yields taxes to the side controlling it to raise armies. Armies can be split and combined. Armies can move one province per season. Moving into a province with an enemy may cause the foe to retreat or start a tactical battle. Battles are won when an army loses heart. In campaigns, casualties are carried over to the next battle. Skirmishes can be created using player-set parameters while a powerful editor allows the creation of totally new campaigns. PBEM multi-play and six levels of difficulty insures great replay values.
This campaign map shows three small armies against a single large one.
Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun shows how two cultures dealing with the same technologies can arrive at similar yet different methods. By 1648, Europeans adopted tactics built around firepower with shock combat only closing the deal. In Asia, firepower remained secondary to hand-to-hand combat. Thus, this game, besides being innovative and exciting, is an important learning tool for military historians.
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