Review: Killer Katanas II

Rating: 4 stars

Killer Katanas II is a mass battle wargame designed to recreate samurai warfare from the mid-16th – 17th century. The rules are written by Brian Bradford and were published by On Military Matters in 2011 as a 126 page, spiral bound black & white soft cover book.

It’s worth noting from the start that these rules are designed with 15mm figures in mind to fight big battles – you know this when the author talks about playing games on a Ping-Pong table (That’s a 5′  x 9′ board), with games involving around 800 figures taking around 5 hours to play. It’s also worth noting that these rules are very much towards the simulation end of wargaming – this will become apparent as I describe them.

All foot troops are based with four figures on a 1 1/2″ x 1/2″ base, whilst cavalry are based with two figures on a 1″ x 1″ base. Leaders and flagmen on foot are based individually on a 1/2″ x 1/2″ base, whilst mounted leaders are based on a 1″ x 1/2″ base.

If using 28mm miniatures, it is advised that all distances and base sizes are doubled, whilst if using 6-10mm figures, all distances (including base dimensions) are converted to centimetres.

The rules are designed with two scales in mind:

  • Small Battle Scale – 1″ = 100′. 1 base = 120-150 foot, 60-75 mounted
  • Large Battle Scale – 1″ = 200′, 1 base = 240-300 foot, 120-150 mounted. Base sizes remain the same, but all ranges and distances are halved.

Units are defined by three different things: Troop classification, Armour classification and Weapon classification. Infantry and cavalry bases are grouped into units, with each unit having the same troop, armour and weapon. For example, MTD SAM w/CLNC would define Mounted Samurai armed with the mocha-yari cavalry lance. Being Samurai, they would be classed as having heavy armour.

Units do not have a standard formations. All bases of a unit must be in contact with each other and facing in the same direction, and all units must be at least two ranks deep, though there are a couple of exceptions to this, such as when defending a palisade.

Armies can be put together by using a points system, or you can use the scenarios detailed in the rulebook.

As well as your miniatures, you will also need two six-sided dice, a tape measure, some counters to denote casualties, some cotton wool (used to depict when arquebus armed troops and artillery have fired) and a paper and pencil. The book has a set of chits and cards at the back, which it is advised to copy onto cardstock to use in the game, plus a 2-page game reference sheet.

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Killer Katana action cards – two sets of these are required

The turn sequence is card driven. There are 16 cards in the deck: eight for each side (4 cavalry and 4 infantry). An infantry card allows all infantry and artillery units on a side to act, whilst a cavalry card allows all cavalry on a side to act.

Actions can now be taken:

  • Move
  • Turn
  • Mount/Dismount
  • Formation Change
  • Fire
  • Reload
  • Sidestep/Backstep
  • Place/Pickup pavise
  • Issue a challenge
  • Hold fire (think of this as overwatch for missile troops)

Some of these actions can take multiple cards to complete – actions that require multiple cards can be initiated on the first card, but not completed until after a subsequent card is drawn in the turn (a token is placed next to the unit). So a change of formation, which requires two action cards to complete, is initiated on the first card, but not completed until the second card is drawn.

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Combat Result Table for Killer Katanas II

Combat, whether by missile troops or in melee, is performed in a similar fashion. You determine the number of troops that are eligible to fight – this is actual figures rather than bases. You find their base factor (which is determined by troop type) and then modify this by the relevant combat factors such as range and cover (for missile troops) armour type of defender, weapon type of attacker etc.

The final factor is cross referenced with the number of troops fighting in the unit to give you a number: x.y

  • x – this is the number of automatic casualties caused by the attack.
  • y – This is the number you must roll and exceed on a D6 in order to cause a further casualty.

Again, casualties are individual figures, and not bases, so a base of foot troops is not removed until all four of its figures have been killed.

As well as unit combat, unit leaders can also engage in personal combat by issuing a challenge – this was a particular feature of combat during this period. Challenges can be accepted or declined, but declining a challenge may adversely affect your unit, or even your armies morale – no one wants to be led by a coward!

Further rules include Leaders, Morale, Visibility and Sieges. In addition, there are a number of optional rules that can also be used in the game.

All this only takes up roughly a quarter of the actual rules. What follows is a wealth of further information including:

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An example of some of the battle formations

  • 22 battle formations used during the period, and their effect on the game
  • Army list details, both for ‘typical’ clans in various periods, and for specific clans such as Oda, Tokugawa, Toyotomi, Takeda, Shimazu, Hojo, Uesugi and Ikko-ikki.
  • All the historical major clan leaders are given leadership factors for use in the game
  • Many of the clans also have special rules – these are detailed.

The book then has 10 scenarios. Each scenario has a description of the battle, a full army list (given in troop numbers rather than units) , game length, special rules and victory conditions. Each scenario also has a detailed initial deployment map – it has to be noted that most of these are big battles, requiring a table of between 4′ x 4′ and  10′ x 8′, with most being around 6′ x 5′. The battles include:

  • 4th Kawanakajima, 1561
  • 2nd Konodai, 1564
  • Mimasetoge, 1569
  • Nunobeyama, 1570
  • Anegawa, 1570
  • Mikata-ga-hara, 1572
  • Nagashino, 1575
  • Okitanawate, 1584
  • Hitotori Bridge, 1585
  • Sekigahara, 1600
  • Yao, 615
  • Wakae, 1615

Finally, the rules have a scenario generator and a detailed bibliography.

There is no doubting the fact that Killer Katanas II is a set of rules that is has what would now be deemed as a somewhat old-fashioned approach.

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The rules are set out like a technical manual, with few illustrations (though it does have plenty of examples of combat) and the two page game reference sheet, plus the casualty chart, are integral to the game and contain information found nowhere else in the rules.

It can take a while to get your head around how the game is played, but once you have they are relatively straight forward, though you have to be methodical until you are fully au-fait with them.

The turn sequence works well, though those who are not fans of card activation may not like it quite so much.

There is no doubting that combat is slow. This is where the ‘simulation’ aspect of the game is at its highest and the constant calculation of factors and troop numbers can start to get a little wearing and the game bogs down at this point – it really pays to have copies of the game reference and casualty sheets separate from the book.

If I was rating this book on the wargaming rules alone, I would probably give it more than 3 stars. However, what then elevates these rules is the sheer amount of historical content contained within them. Whether it be descriptions of the battle formations, the clan army lists, the historical scenarios or the scenario generator – all of these are vastly detailed and can easily be used no matter what your preferred set of rules.

This wealth of information turns what is otherwise a decent, though somewhat old-fashioned, set of rules into something of a ‘must buy’ for fans of the period.

I’m not sure if I am ever likely to play Killer Katanas as a full game more than once or twice – I prefer other mass battle games – but as a resource for wargaming in the Sengoku period it is invaluable.

Killer Katanas II can be purchased in the UK from Caliver Books, or from On Military Matters in the USA. Brian Bradford has also written two supplements: Date’s Battles and Hideyoshi’s Koreon Invasion – both of which are of great use for any gamer of the period, not just those who play Killer Katanas.

Further supplements are available on eBay for Mori’s Battles, Tokugawa’s Battles and Shimazu’s Battles

5 Comments on Review: Killer Katanas II

  1. Thanks for the review! I’m a big fan of reviews of rules sets which have been out for a while and which many of us may not have heard of.

  2. I believe this was my first wargame rule book I ever bought. Never did end up getting it to the table, but read and re-read it tons for all the information in it.

  3. So, a bit pants as a wargame but a good source book?

    £28 seems pretty steep for that, but worth keeping an eye out for one on the cheap. Cheers for the heads up!

    • I think ‘pants’ is somewhat harsh.

      It is certainly something of a child of its time, and very much towards the simulation end of the wargame spectrum. Within those parameters it’s a good game, and seeks to explore the nuances of the period where it can. That said, it wouldn’t be my first choice of rules to play these days, but I am very glad that I own a copy

      • Fair enough Neil, but in my book any rules that don’t make you want to actually play the game aren’t scoring highly on the “not pants” scale 😉

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