Monday, August 15, 2022

Sengoku Wars... Azukizaka 1542

Battle of Azukizaka, 1542


This particular battle seemed to me good for a good and proper playtest of the Portable Sengoku Wars (PSW) rule set 'as she was wrote'. But... not... quite. I still wanted the Army HQs to be static pavilions.  But otherwise, there was to be but one 'general' only. I won't go into the historical background, but summarise the action, with particular comments upon the activation of units. The diagram was taken from the Zvezda Art of Tactic  scenario, translated onto my Memoir '44 battle board.

The armies were fairly evenly matched and very similar, though not exactly the same. For the purposes of PSW, archer and arquebusier ashigaru were conflated into arquebusiers (ashigaru tepo), and all samurai units were capable of shooting. 
Purple Army wins the first initiative
dice roll...

The forces were:

Clan Yoshimoto (Purple):
1 Commander (Yashimoto) and HQ in pavilion (elite) : 4SP*
2 Mounted Samurai (units) (average) @ 3SP = 6SP
2 Foot Samurai (elite) @ 4SP = 8SP
4 Ashigaru Yari (average) @ 3SP = 12SP
4 Ashigaru Tepo (average) @ 2SP = 8SP

13 units, 38 SP 
Exhausted on losing 13SP, rout on losing 19SP
Yoahimoto Cavalry and HQ in the 
distance.  The latter is indicated by the 
white fan-like flag.

Clan Nobuhide (Red):

1 Commander (Nobuhide) and HQ in pavilion (elite): 4SP*
2 Mounted Samurai (average) @ 3SP = 6SP
2 Foot Samurai (elite) @ 4SP = 8SP
5 Ashigaru Yari (average) @ 3SP = 15SP
3 Ashigaru Tepo (average) @ 2SP = 6 SP

13 units, 39SP
Exhausted on losing 13SP, rout on losing 20SP

*the HQ SPs are associated with the Daimyo's immediate bodyguard and entourage, not the commander  himself. That august personage lends the weight of his leadership to this elite unit, and lives and dies by it. Neither may move, nor may they initiate a close combat. 
Nobuhide cavalry and HQ 'pavilion'.
The latter is represented by the seated
diamyo, the parasol, and the spearmen.

What I wanted to do was to examine closely the workings of the activation system with just one overall commander in each army. With 13 units the side, divided by 6, we get 2D6 plus 1 for the commanders. Three D6 dice rolled for activation, the scores divided by two.
First blood to Yoshimoto: a Red ashigaru tepo
bites the dust.

Yoshimoto (Purple) won the first turn initiative, and then rolled 3D6 for activation. The scores were 4,1,1. Summed and then divided by 2, yielded just 3 units activated. Purple contented himself with some indifferent arquebus fire and a small local attack, although a Red tepo figure was knocked over on their left wing. Nobuhide's activation roll was no more impressive: again just 3 activations, with not a lot achieved. Three activations from thirteen units, ain't exactly clobbering time!

The beginning of Red assault upon the Purple 
right wing.

Things improved subsequently, with activation rolls yielding 5 and 6 units getting into the action, but it would have taken a roll of 14 with three dice (e.g. 4,5,5, or 3,5,6) to activate 7 units - only barely more than half the army. During this battle such a score was never achieved. Not to be wondered at: the probability of scoring 14+ with 3 D6 dice is a whisker less than rolling a 6 on a single D6 die.

General view
Henceforth, Nobuhide tended to focus on his left flank, where he had a superiority of force, even when his ashigaru tepo unit there was destroyed. Whenever the Red activation rolls exceeded 3, he set things in motion on the opposite flank, a unit of ashiguru yari marching along the 'long ridge' to outflank the Purple line. The opportunity for a cavalry charge against an isolated unit of arquebusiers was, of course, not lightly to be passed up.  

Big melee in the centre

For 'his' part, Yoshimoto seemed more interested in smashing through Nobuhide's centre, aiming for the latter's HQ pavilion. A considerable battle developed in that sector, which gradually sucked in the cavalry of both sides. Although the Purples got rather the better of the cavalry fight (Reds lost 2SPs to 0) overall honours remained fairly even. Yoshimoto's army never even got close to Nobuhide's pavilion.

Red crushes the Purple right wing.

The Red's push on the left yielded dividends, the entire Purple wing being pushed back, shedding dead and wounded all the way, until driven altogether from the field (the 3 units there, 8SPs, were completely destroyed). This success came at some cost, of course. Along with the 2SPs of the arquebusiers, the Reds lost 3SP from the ashigaru yari as well. The intervention by a unit of Yoshimoto's foot samurai was too late to turn the battle.
Mutual exhaustion, losses nearly equal.

The loss of three units of course brought the Purple Army's activation dice down to two, with consequent difficulty in putting any weight into its manoeuvres and attacks. This advantage the Red army sought to make good with attacks in the centre. The attempted flank attack by one of the cavalry units against mounted enemies led to disaster. Although causing an SP loss to Purple, the Red horsemen took 2SP loss in the subsequent fight, destroying the unit. This was enough to bring the Red activation dice down to two.

By this time, the Purple army had been reduced by losses to below its exhaustion point. In trying to hustle the enemy from the field, the Red army also fell below its exhaustion point (13SP lost). The battle sputtered to a close, the outcome indecisive.

* * *

It felt to me frustratingly difficult to get much action going in this battle. At no time was even as much as half the army able to move, shoot or engage in close combat. But why am I complaining? Am I complaining? I'm not sure! That is the way Memoir '44 often plays, and I have no problem with that!

I still like my addition of sub-generals, though, to Antoine Bourguilleau's activation procedure. In addition to the overall Army commander, one might be allowed 1 sub-general for every whole multiple of 6 units in the army. The number of activation dice is equal to
  • 1 for every whole multiple of 6 units (another way of expressing the 'book' method);
  • +1 for the Army commander;
  • +1 for every sub-general.
In the previous battle, the Red army had 18 units.  It was allowed 1 army commander, plus 18/6 = 3 sub-commanders.  So the number of activation dice was 3+1+3 = 7, the scores being halved for unit activation.

What would be the statistical expectation of the number of units of this army activated in any given turn?  The expected score with 7 dice is 24.5.  Then the expected activation is half that, that is to say 12 units - two-thirds of the army.  Note that, the moment this army lost a unit, its activation dice gets reduced to 6 - the expected unit activations reduced to 10 or 11. The activation dice go as much for command and control as for the size of the army. I should mention that, as in my suggested scheme of things a general lives and dies with his unit, the loss of a general implies an immediate loss of an activation die, and the loss of the unit as well might imply the loss of yet another activation die.

For mine, what appeals is that you get enough uncertainty to satisfy that criterion for solo games.  In fact you get quite a spread of possibilities.  It is possible, however remotely, that in a given turn the whole army might be activated; but also possible that you might get to move just 3 or 4 units.  You can develop large scale attacks and manoeuvres, but there is always a chance that a poor activation roll will bring it all to nought. 

This notion will come in for more play tests in due course.  


  1. In Memoir 44 only activating a few units is fine as combat is exceedingly bloody, so something actually happens. In PW, the action is rather more sedate, with "no effect" results much more common. The difference may account for the feeling of frustration.

    1. Martin -
      Yes, you have put your finger on it I think. From what little I have read of the Sengoku wars, they were extremely bloody. Both sides in the fourth Kawanakajima battle lost well over 50% of their armies - Takeda Shingen nearly three quarters of his, according to the Wikipedia source.

      I'd quite like to do all four battles, some time...

      I have a vague notion that under the PSW rule set, the cavalry are a bit weak, but haven't any real basis - no real justification - for making a change, there. It may well be I'm just not using them properly.

  2. Slowly but surely Ion. Play test a “change” and refine things as you go. Hopefully, every few steps, you’ll feel that progress is being made.
    In any event, I’m pretty sure that what is perfect for some will be far-from-perfect for others.

    1. That is always the way, Geoff. On the whole I reckon (for now) that I have the Sengoku Wars battle system pretty much the way that suits me.
      The 'Portable Sengoku Wars' offers 4 disparate army lists, one of which is Ikko-Ikki. I'm very tempted to 'do' a campaign with these four - kind of along the lines of what Bob Cordery is conducting now.

  3. Nice! I've considered Memoir '44, but hadn't thought of buying it for the terrain. What scale and make are the Japanese figures?

    1. Jennifer -
      I originally bought the Memoir '44 set at a local 'bring-and-buy' for the game. I just happened to find the game board useful for other things, such as my 15mm Byzantines, and this Sengoku game as well. Very versatile that board is!

      Most of the figures are from the board game 'Shogun' (Milton Bradley), which has had two renamings; 'Ikuza' and 'Samurai Swords'. I've chosen to leave these figures 'as is', i.e. unpainted, in the colour plastic they appear in. Here's a review of the game system, if you're interested:

      My mounted figures, plus command, are from 'Zvezda', and superb figures they are. You might want to look up Zvezda's 'Samurai Battles/ Art of Tactic', which seems to offer a starter set with two game systems and a collection of figures and accessories. The confusingly named 'Samurai Swords' (nothing to do with the Milton Bradley game) was designed by Richard Berg - the designer of Memoir '44 - so its game mechanics will broadly speaking be similar.

      Here's where things might get a bit sticky: 'Zvezda' is a Russian outfit. I don't really know what the availability situation is where you are, or how you feel about 'buying Russian'. Equally unfortunately, the Ukraine outfit, 'Strelets-R', don't 'do' mediaeval Japanese as far as I can make out. There are other makers, but their product don't match 'Zvezda' or 'Strelets-R' for quality or character.

      Oh, yes - scale. They are HO scale, foot figures close to an inch tall.


  4. And, as ever, checkout which is a goldmine of a resource, with lots and lots of images of lovely plastic figures.

    1. Agreed!
      I gather that Zvezda's 'Samurai Swords' range is a deal more extensive than these 3 boxes. If so, PSR hasn't caught up with them yet.

  5. I played this scenario a handful of times using miniatures and Basic Impetvs. Worked very well.

    1. Impetus (?) is not a rule set I know. I just had a quick squizz, and as my mediaeval armies are based for DBM-type rule sets, I can't see my going down the Impetus track.

      That is one of the difficulties of developing war games armies: sometimes one can't (conveniently) make the switch to other game systems. I've never been a huge fan of big bases with eight or twelve figures, say, but there are, of course, ways around that. I have to admit they can look splendid!

  6. Each of your Sengoku battle reports nudges me closer and closer to consider buying miniatures for the period - I'm inspired by your black/white/dab of color paint style as well, which I would probably steal shamelessly. However, a complete lack of knowledge of the period stands in my way (I don't know why as this has never stopped me before). Any suggestions for a starting point that's not an Osprey (I find them almost universally to be painful slogs albeit useful for the illustrations)?

    1. John Y -
      I am probably NOT the person you should ask! I have to be honest and admit to very little knowledge of Japanese history at all, but what I've picked up through the Shogun game, and some exploration of internet sources. e.g. Wikipedia. You could possibly look into something like this:
      ... and it might be an idea to look into
      You can find a lot of scenarios there. C-and-C units are more specialised than what I have been using. I adapt all bow and gun armed ashigaru as gun-armed; and all my samurai count as bow-armed (though I might change that).

      That's the best I can do, sorry. But I do hope it is enough to get you going!