Tuesday, 9 July 2013

A Song of Tea and Sushi 1 - A Game of Folding Stools

I've been re-reading George MaR.R.R.tin's epic saga after the conclusion of series 3 of the TV adaptation, and it got me hankering for an epic saga of my own. Luckily, the excellent General Hunt was also spoiling for a sweeping tale of war, betrayal and conquest. This being the age it is, a fine one to be a nerd in, we turned to Shogun 2: Total War, the most recent in the splendid series of games that inspired this campaign in a previous post.

Nothing Warhammery or miniaturey in this tale, be warned. My painting hand is on break until it stops shading goblins in its sleep.

The Setting

Shogun 2 allows you to take the role of a warlord in 16th century Japan. It is the Sengoku Jidai, The Warring States Era. This was an age of civil war, when the old and corrupt Emperor struggled to keep order over restless and power-hungry clans. Bristling with period-appropriate art and detail, the game gives you control of diplomacy, espionage, armies, navies and fortresses. And most importantly, ninjas.

Tom and I decide to play a head-to-head campaign. This means that the victory conditions aren't quite the same as the full campaign. There, you need to overthrow the Emperor for victory, usually standing against everyone else in the realm when they realise you mean to take over.

Here's what we're fighting over. 

For us, victory will be given to the last man standing. You lose if your opponent can take your home territory whilst still controlling his own, or if the many computer opponents wipe you out. Simple survival, more or less.

Each territory has a central castle, which you need to occupy to control the region. Although every clan has access to the same units, giving the game a very balanced feel, each has a slight specialty. So we both need to pick carefully - the tiny advantages each clan gets determine a lot of your tactics.

Daimyo Hunt - Clan Otomo

Tom picks a clan who begins on the eastern side of Kyushu. This is a fairly large island on the Western side of Japan. If he can see off the neighbours, Tom will have a large and profitable island fortress to invade mainland Japan from. It also gives him excellent access to some of the nearby trading routes to the rest of the far East.

These routes bring him his particular distinction - the Otomo Daimyo is a Christian. Portugese traders have made landfall on his shores, and impressed with their matchlock weapons faith and selfless morality, the head of Tom's clan now wears the cross.

Tom starts down here, with the two comically-named provinces of Bungo and Buzen. 


  • - Zealous missionaries good at converting nearby buddhist peasants to Christianity
  • - Cheaper and more plentiful gunpowder weapons, which he gets access to way before anyone else
  • - Some appallingly powerful Portuguese units, like Morion-helmed Terco mercenaries or cannon-armed galleons.

  • - Harder to forge allies amongst the locals, who all hate the foreign Christian influence
  • - Harder to trade with the neighbours for the same reason
  • - Most conquered provinces will be Buddhist to begin with making them slow to bend the knee to their new holy overlords. Lots of rebellions are likely.

If it comes down to a moustachio war, I'm doomed.

Daimyo Kraken - Ikko Ikki

Setting up a religious theme for the campaign, I pick the Ikko Ikki. The Ikko were a bunch of crazy idealists who basically thought feudal society was massively unfair. Sort of a peasant revolt of the time, sponsored by some forward-thinking hippy Daimyo. We're not really a clan at all. Given that Feudal Japan was about as traditionalist as they come, the Ikko aren't terribly popular with their neighbours. Especially as we've given up the common religion as well, following our own principles.

So I'm in a similar boat to my rival regarding politics. My starting position is very near the middle of the map, two narrow provinces along the north shore. I'm completely surrounded by major clans, including the Emperor's province of Kyoto, and I'm almost universally hated by all. Luckily, my starting position is protected by impenetrable mountains to the south, so I'm not quite as vulnerable as it might seem.

I'm up here, with the provinces of Echizen and Kaga. Much less funny. 


  • - Zealous monks capable of rousing large peasant mobs to help me take over nearby provinces
  • - My basic infantry units are larger than usual and have stronger morale. I can also get peasants with katanas immediately, which are a huge advantage over the spear-armed Ashigaru everyone else gets.
  • - Elite monk infantry, highly trained and almost unbreakable although very poorly armoured

  • - Everyone hates me. Trade, alliances, even the basic respect of not being invaded - diplomacy is going to be an uphill tea ceremony.
  • - Like Daimyo Hunt, any provinces I conquer will likely be rambunctious because of my left-wing views.
  • - No Samurai. What? Did I read that right? Nuts, I did. I can't recruit Samurai. I can get Ronin instead, who are slightly better fighters but less numerous, and there aren't as many different kinds. Also, even if my peasant units are bigger and less likely to run, they're the worst equipped fighters in the game.

Genuine warrior monk pictures. Warning: not rendered in game. 

Go! (N.B. not the board game)

Mechanics - Total War is a turn by turn game much like risk, although battles are fought in real time. Each turn represents a season of the year with appropriate weather. Your troops freeze in hostile territory during winter, your rice harvest is better in Autumn. Each session takes us about two hours.

I can't see what Hunt's position is at the start of the game, I'm much too far off. This doesn't bother me, we're planning on a long and glorious campaign of conquest before we clash, so I'll assume it's Missionary and get on with consolidating my starting holdings.

Mechanics - most buildings require several turns of research before they can be built. Each one gives various bonuses, like extra income or the ability to recruit more powerful units. You're limited to between 1 and 4 buildings per fortress, depending on how big the fort is. You can upgrade forts, but that takes up a lot of money and also food, so you need to upgrade farms for big castles. Each building also take a lot of money and a few turns to build, so you need to plan your research and construction well in advance.

I want to get my elite monks out asap. That's going to take about three years if I go right away. I decide instead to sort out my income with a few tax-based research upgrades, and begin churning out blocks of cheap sword infantry, the Loan Sword Ashigaru nobody else can get. Then I'm going to invade to the East, try and grab the nearest two provinces there.

I also need to get better farms, ports and castles in my two starting provinces. The first two give me income as well as the crops you need for larger castles. The second are vital if I want to hang on to my vitally important home province, Echizen. I'm expecting a lot of angry feudal company in the immediate future. Most of my money, then, goes on improving the infrastructure at home, rather than large armies.

More tomorrow and throughout the week!

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