For those of you unfamiliar with Daishō here is an introduction…
Following the success of In Her Majesty’s Name and its supplements, Charles and I spent some time considering what we would like to do next. During the writing of Sleeping Dragon Rising Sun we discovered that both of us have an enduring fascination with medieval and mythical Japan. So, after looking at the current market for skirmish wargames based on this genre we decided to create our own.
Our first decision was which version of Japanese history we would represent. Should we create a straight historical game along the lines of the excellent Ronin by Craig Woodfield? That was an easy decision as we felt there was no need in the market for a second game of the same type.
So then we had to decide whether would we make the game more heroic, along the lines of the many brilliant Japanese martial arts films, or go for the full legendary treatment, as often seen in Japanese manga and anime, and in films like 47 Ronin? In the end, we decided to leave it up to the players to decide by putting in all the elements they would need to run the game as either historical, heroic or legendary.
Thus, you can run fairly plain samurai, ronin, sohei and ninja buntai (companies) with only the historical equipment and skills. Or you can add heroic abilities such as Ki Powers, some extraordinary skills and master-crafted weapons and armour, to make it more like the movies. Or you can go the whole hog and throw in magical powers, legendary weapons, mythical creatures and even demonic buntai such as the oni, bakemono and tengu. Being great fans of Bob Charette’s seminal RPG ‘Bushido’, we both like the latter approach and our games are full of the fantastical.
For players of In Her Majesty’s Name the way you play will feel familiar as we have kept many of that game’s original rules. Both KISS and ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ being our watchwords. However, we have modified them in many places to meet the needs of this exacting genre and added new rules where needed. Despite this you can still learn the basic rules in the course of a single game, and by your third or fourth game you will not need the rulebook at all.
Additions include the ability of the more powerful figures to focus and use their Ki to perform extraordinary feats of skill and daring. Ki is depleted as they do this and can only be regenerated by defeating their enemies.
You can buy master-crafted armour and weapons for your figures that improve their protection and striking power. The leaders and heroes of your buntai may even have a legendary weapon or armour though these are rare.
The range of skills and powers available to the figures and buntai is quite different to that in In Her Majesty’s Name and reflects the combat techniques of the genre.
Like IHMN, each player has a group of figures called a buntai. This includes leaders, specialists and troops. Players can pick their buntai from the ones included in the rules or create their own. They can also hire one of a selection of legendary heroes to assist them. The full points calculation system is included in the book so that creative players can devise their own figures and buntai. There shall even be a points calculator published on the supporting website to take the math out of this process.
One of the key attributes within the game is honour or On. This is critical to understanding the medieval Japanese mindset and is the reward for carrying out right actions. So, when playing in a scenario a buntai earns On by achieving objectives and defeating their enemies. If captured they can deny their enemy On by successfully committing Seppuku. In campaign games On can be used to replenish your forces between battles by trading it to get new figures and equipment.
What we found when we began playtesting this game is that the whole feel is much more heroic than In Her Majesty’s Name and that players get very caught up in the whole feel of the game. Combat is really quite brutal and how you use your heroes and sacrifice your troops, can be critical to success. Frequently only a handful of figures would survive to reap the glory.
We also found that lightly-armoured, but highly skilled, combatants were often more than a match for their mor heavily armed opponents. A Sohei Abbot with no armour and a simple bo staff could easily beat the living daylights out of armoured ashigaru and would give any samurai a run for his money. This is extremely cinematic and great fun.