Monday, 20 April 2015

Killer Katanas 2

It was my birthday last week so I decided to splash out on a few goodies (which will be covered by other posts).

One of the 'goodies' was a copy of Killer Katanas 2 - a rule set by Brian Bradford covering the Sengoku period in Japan (The Age of The Country At War) - in other words the 16th and 17th century combat involving samurai and ashigaru as competing clans vied with each other to control Japan.

I've tried a number of rule sets to simulate combat in Japan during this period.

Renaissance Principles of War does quite a good job but doesn't hit the mark in some respects (such as reflecting how armaments and their use dramatically changed during this time - such as mounted samurai changing from mobile shooting platforms into lance-armed cavalry, foot samurai moving from bow and sword to arquebus and spear and of course the rise of the ashigaru (fast foot) who made up the bulk of the armies in the later period - armed with yari, teppu and yumi (spear, arquebus and bow).  However, it does not lend itself to using the specific battle formations used at the time.

Age of the Country At War is a simplistic rule set based squarely on DBA.  It has some novel elements (such as use of heroes to engage in heroic actions) and some useful elements (such as being able to manouvre while outside of tactical range of the enemy) allowing for fast deployment and changing formations which is closer to the nature of combat at the time.

DBR is another rule set I've briefly tried (to be honest, only once) and I'm sure with a tweak or two would be ideal.

However, I've read that Killer Katanas is highly regarded by people who've played it so I have sprung for a copy.  I've briefly scanned through it and although it looks a bit complicated (and also does not lend itself easily to 6mm scale that I use), initial impressions are good.

The rules are written for 15mm although it can lend itself to 6mm scale by reducing scales from inches to cm (although base sizes I assume stay the same - it doesn't say so in the rules).  There are three classifications for troop type, armour type and weapon type.  Players can choose clans with different percentages of troop classification (e.g. some are cavalry heavy, some ashigaru heavy) and then equip units accordingly.  Basically better armour and weapons cost more but are more effective.  Cavalry are powerful but costly.  I like this idea as it allows players a lot of customisation based on points and reflects the challenges facing clan leaders (daimyos) at the time. Lots of troops with poor weapons and armour or less troops much better armed and protected?

Turns are card based.  Each turn consists of 16 cards (8 cards per side - 4 cavalry and 4 infantry) being turned over and then allowing actions for those troop types only. There are some good ideas here - arquebus units need to load and shoot (essentially requiring 2 infantry cards to be played) so if you get two cavalry cards before your opponent gets two infantry cards you can ride own his arquebusiers before they can shoot.  However, the opposite can happen and your cavalry can find itself in front of an arquebus unit that has had time to move and reload.

In addition, infantry card movements are non-standard (2.5" or 3") so your infantry charge may stop short of contact.

So when an infantry card for the Red team is turned over, all the Red infantry can move (or conduct an action such as reloading) - including individual leaders who can challenge their opposite numbers.  A declined challenge results in a morale check for the leader challenged and the unit he is attached too (in face of such cowardice, how can hey respect him as a leader?).  Similarly if a general is challenged and refuses all units under his command check for morale!  Which is why most battle formations have the general far away from the conflict!  Challanges are fought out using 2D6 and a reference table wiht outcomes such as wounds (it takes 5 wounds to kill), and outright kill, no effect or run away.  In any event, losing a challenge is not good but better quality leaders have a much better chance of winning.

General combat involves shooting or melee.  Firing can be done in one rank or two (the latter is much more effective) but requires troops to be stationary to do so - and hence at risk of being charged before they are ready to unleash!  Moving your missile troops reduces their effectiveness.  Sticking them behind a pallisade and keeping them still improves their effectiveness.  Nagashino, anyone?

However, opponents can opt for bullet-tested armour which reduces the effect of arquebus fire and allows your pointy and slashy troops to get in for the kill.  But it is expensive.

Melee combat involves lining units up and counting how many are able to fight (based on bases, ranks and weapons used).  For example a unit of 16 samurai armed with yari attack a unit of 24 ashigaru armed with katanas.  The samurai get a charge bonus as they contacted first and get some second rank support as they are using long weapons (spears).  The ashigaru only have short weapons and so only the front rank can get involved.  The samurai get 12 units 'in' against the ashigaru's 8.  The samurai have better armour (+1) and they throw their leader in to the fray (as do the ashigaru).  The samurai have a base factor of 4, +1 for charge, +1 for leader, +1 for armour.  You then reference the combat table (factor 7 and 12 troops) to get a result of 2.3 : 2 kills and another kill if the attacker rolls 3+ on a d6.  The ashigaru are base 3, +1 for leader giving them 4 and 8 troops which yields 1:0 - 1 kill and a 6 required for another kill.  They both roll 4 - the samurai get another kill, the ashigaru don't.  The result is 3 - 1 (both leaders survive the melee) and the ashigaru are pushed back and the samurai will get an additional +1 next time for winning the prior round of melee (but the more numerous ashigaru will get more troops in next time as they now flank the samurai).

Casualties are taken off units furthest from the fighting (i.e. rear or flanking units) to simulate filling on the gaps in the line of combat.  These should be marked off on sheets to denote total unit strength.  As units lose strength, they lose combat effectiveness and may soon fail morale checks as a result.

Morale checks come all the way through a battle - when unit leaders die, when a unit loses 20% casualties (with a -1 for every 10% thereafter), when they see a friendly unit rout etc.  Bad rolls cause units to retire or rout which can trigger a general retreat.  But morale can be regained on a 7+ but only if the unit has a card in play or a leader contacts the unit in question.

There are optional rules for artillery, sieges, fanatical troops, inspirational icons (such as standards which give a +1 to morale), rotational fire, loyalty (opposing players can choose units to defect and then roll to see if they do - if successful the unit turns to face their previous allies and engages them!) and good/bad karma (an additional coloured dice is rolled during combat - on a 1 the combat effect is reduced by 1, on a 6 it is increased by 1 - in the combat scenario above it could have been a drawn combat if the ashigaru got a good karma and the samurai a bad one).

The key attraction of Killer Katanas 2 though is the use of battle formations.  There were at least 22 formal battle formations available to samurai generals and using these rules you can replicate the formations themselves.  Each unit is designated as a Vanguard, a Division, Support, Flanker, Bodyguard etc. and therefore takes its place in the formation (and direction) as required by the formation.  On the table, this may require that more space is required (so 6mm is certainly a better scale to think about) as each formation takes up 24" x 24" in 15mm.  On a 6 x 4 table that means they would be practically touching each other so scale is a factor to consider here.  However, both formations start 24" apart (24cm for 6mm).

Both sides choose their formation (in secret) and then both roll a d6 and add their sotaisho (main leader) bonus - if any.  The high score gets to choose to accept the formations as they are (e.g. he sees that his formation is better than his opponents) or to change his.  If the formation is changed then the process is repeated and both sides dice again.  The process is completed when the high scorer decides to begin.  The high scorer then chooses the position of his army (the 24" square), followed by the loser.  The initiative player can choose to set up first or last.

However historical formations do not have to be used.  In such circumstances both players write down the formation of the army in secret and are revealed at the same time but deployment must be within 24".

Proof of the pudding will be in the eating - or rather the playing.  The rules themselves look fairly straightforward although a lot of bookkeeping may be required to keep track of casualties. The formations, use of leaders and choosing of armour, weapons etc. can make for many and varied battles.  The rules have a comprehensive list of leaders (with bonuses) and also clan composition - to make army selection easier.  There are also a number of scenarios to try (with maps and army lists).  If it plays half as good as it looks, we could be onto a winner!  


  1. These sound interesting rules and I like the sound of the mechanics. I think you need the depth of complexity for this period and you have certainly gone through a similar journey to me with ancients sets.

    It can take several attempts to find a set of rules that fit the bill.

    Jon had to try a few sets out for acw before everyone agreed on rank and file as these were perfect.

    You will probably need to put on a small game with these a few times and follow up with some post battle study on the rules. Look forward to playing them

  2. I'll go with a 200-300 point game to start with fixed armour and weapons to see how they play then build up from there.