Review: Banzai

Rating: 1 Star

Banzai: Age of the Country at War is a set of wargaming rules written by Robert Fellows and published by 2D6 Wargaming in 2016.

This game is written to be used with 6mm miniatures using 60mm x 30mm basing, though it should work for any scale miniatures as long as the basing has a 2:1 ratio in Base Width:Base Depth. It is designed to be played on a 6′ x 4′ table, though a smaller area can be used if required.

There are a number of basic units in the game:

  • Sohei
  • Mounted Samurai (with General)
  • Ronin
  • Ashigaru archers
  • Ashigaru nagae-yari
  • Ashigaru teppo
  • Foot Samurai yari

With the exception on the Ikko-ikki, all armies in this game are made up of a combination of these bases.

As well as two opposing armies and terrain, players will need a few six-sided dice, a measuring tool (one is printed in the back of the book, with options for 60mm wide and 40mm wide basing) and a number of tokens (also printed in the back of the book).

banzai ruler

Movement tool for the rules

The first thing is to determine the table layout and the weather. Whilst scenery can be determined by the players, the rules also contain a scenery generator. Weather conditions are determined, primarily of not is if it is wet or dry.

banzai dampIt is noted in the description of Teppo (Arquebus) units that damp conditions can cause the Teppo to misfire, but according to the weather tables, only driving rain has this effect. Light rain, snow or ‘wet’ conditions appear to have no effect – though I would almost certainly call all of the above ‘damp’, so this appears to be a little inconsistent.

Once the battlefield is prepared, players determine their forces. Rather unusually, these are determined randomly, it being argued that more often than not a Daimyo was forced to go to war with the force that was mustered, rather than having one of his own choosing, since at this point in history there were no standing armies.

Players armies have both random size and composition. A minimum number of bases is decided by the players, and then each rolls 2D6 to determine their final force size. For example, if the minimum base number was 10, each players final army would number between 12 and 22 bases in size. Each player then rolls on the force list appropriate to their clan of choice to decide the exact composition of their army.

banzai force

An example of a clan random force generator

The rules then talk about grouping your units together under the leadership of generals – multiple bases of different types of units can all be grouped together, they are all placed in base-to-base contact. Groups, or Tai, can be given a single order during the order phase.

banzai formThe rules are at best somewhat vague as to how armies are deployed. Players roll 2D6 to determine who deploys first, and units are placed by players alternately, but there do not appear to be any rules governing unit placement.

A chapter of the rules describes some common battle formations of the period complete with drawings, but other than a suggestion that players should try to mimic these formations and adapt their width, dependent upon terrain and the enemy, there are no rules, or even guidelines, as to where on the table a player is allowed to deploy.

A turn consists of four phases:

  • Orders phase
  • Movement phase
  • Ranged combat phase
  • Melee phase

In the orders phase, players both roll 2D6 to determine who has initiative, and then they alternate in placing numbered counters next to units or groups of units. These counters determine the order in which actions are taken. For example, Player 1 places their ‘1’ order token, and then Player 2 places their ‘1’ token, then Player 1 places their ‘2’ order token and so on, until both players wish to stop issuing orders.

In the movement phase, starting with the player who has initiative, units are commanded in the order of the tokens placed – Player 1’s first order token, followed by Player 2’s first token, and so forth. However, there is a chance that an order could be misinterpreted, so before each order is performed, 1D6 is rolled, with a result of ‘1’ meaning that the order has been misinterpreted and the unit performs a random action, again decided by rolling 2D6 and looking the result up on a table. This misinterpretation can be mitigated by the use of ‘Messengers’ – each army has a limited number of these available, and they can be placed with a order token to ensure that an order is carried out as planned.

Foot units can move 2 Base Widths, and cavalry can move 3 Base Widths. You can use each BW of movement to either move straight ahead, or manoeuvre (change facing/direction by rotating or wheeling). This movement can bring you into contact with the enemy, but you are only deemed to have charged if you move into contact, rather than manoeuvre.

There are also special rules for some units, such a missile troops, who can skirmish.

After all movement has taken place, ranged combat occurs. If a missile armed unit has not moved, it may fire twice, otherwise only once. Weapon range is up to 3BW, with 1BW being short range. Though it isn’t stated, the implication is that ranged units who are charged can engage their attackers before melee ensues.

The firing unit has a ranged attack factor. The player rolls 2D6, adds this to their attack factor and compares the result to the ‘Hardness’ rating of the target. The result is then referenced in a table to see what happens. Target units may be forced to halt, take a morale test or a discipline test.

banzai attackFollowing ranged fire, melee then occurs. The rules do not state in which order this occurs, so presumably it is the player with initiative who decides.

Each unit has a melee factor against foot and mounted troops. Each player rolls 2D6, adds this to the melee factor and then applies and modifiers. the resulting numbers are then cross referenced on the Defence/Attack table. Where the numbers intersect determines the combat result, with the colour being the victor in the melee. A result table is consulted to find the outcome of the melee.

Most results of casualties result in melee checks, where a player has to roll higher than a unit’s morale factor on 2D6. Units that fail morale checks can become shaken, wavering or devastated. Devastated units are removed from the board. Other units remain, but my take discipline checks. Units that fail discipline checks (similar to moral checks but against a unit’s discipline factor) will rout. They remain on the table, but move away from the enemy, but may be rallied on subsequent turns.

At this point the turn ends and players roll for initiative for the next turn.

How does the game end? Actually, the rules do not say. Presumably, the game ends after the opposing army has been routed from the field, but this could make for a very long and drawn-out game.

The rules then discuss the effects of terrain, make some mention of sieges – though only in passing as any siege games would be seen as an assault through a breach that has already been made. Finally there are several army lists. These cover the following clans:

  • Chosokabe
  • Date
  • Ikko-ikki
  • Mori (‘generic’ clan)
  • Oda
  • Shimazu
  • Takeda
  • Tokugawa
  • Uesugi

The clans have some special rules and slight differences to the tables that are used to generate forces. What are presented are those clans that are ‘out of the ordinary’, with the Mori being presented as a more generic force.

The rest of the book contains a QRS, glossary and bibliography.

I bought these rules when they were on sale at Wargames Vault, as I was looking for a set of Sengoku period rules for 6mm, and these seemed like they might do the job. Unfortunately, the issues with these rules are such that I doubt very much whether they will ever see the table again.

The rules contain a number of omissions, errors and ambiguities. Errors include some factual (period dates, for example) and some printing – several paragraphs and sentences are repeated.

More than half of the rules for army deployment appear to be missing, as do anything relating to how the game is to be concluded. The rules refer players to scenarios in the book as examples of how forces are created, but the book does not contain any scenarios.

There is a single short paragraph about multiple units engaged in combat – easily one of the most complex situations in any set of ancient rules – with no further rules example of how it is managed in the game. That paragraph is somewhat unclear as to the procedure to follow.

There are a number of more minor issues:

  • Modifiers are missing – charge bonus is referred to on several occasions, but the only time its value is mentioned is in a combat example, and nowhere in the rules or reference tables.
  • Rules covering the distance units rout or the effect of discipline checks are embedded in the text of other rules, and not in the sections that implicitly discuss them.
  • The only reference to weapon ranges is in a diagram describing eligible targets, and is in writing so small as to be barely legible (I had to zoom the PDF to 150% in order to read it).

Then there are the little niggles. The rules describe themselves as ‘a comprehensive, realistic and historically accurate wargame simulation’, and yet the word “Daimyo” is consistently misspelled, and even the title of the rules themselves is not in keeping with the period. “Banzai” itself is a word that has only been in use for around 100 years, and its sentiment is certainly inappropriate in a period of civil war.

Finally, there are the rules mechanics. Whilst it is true that the book is published by 2D6 Wargaming, almost every point of contact with the rules – orders, combat, morale, etc – consists of rolling 2D6, applying factors and modifiers and looking the result up in a table. At a time when so many rules use mechanics where results are immediately visible by the dice result as rolled on the game board, this does seem something like ‘death by CRT’.

Despite its multitude of issues, there are parts of the rules I like. I think the orders phase is really interesting – you have to decide right at the start of the turn the exact order in which each unit is activated. This poses some interesting command challenges, not the least being that the unit may not carry out the order at all.

I’m also a big fan of the random army generation within the game. This is part of the whole ‘friction’ and ‘fog of war’ debate, but the simple fact that you have to play with an army that is of a size and composition not of your choosing is, at least to me, a great idea and reflects well on the feudal nature of the conflict. The fact that I am missing several units in my army could be interpreted, in-game terms, as a particular subordinate not turning up with his retinue as expected – what treachery is this?

Whilst it is not beyond the wit of the average wargamer to make a playable game from Banzai, I am left asking the question of why we should be put in this position in the first place? After all, it’s not as if this book is available for free. To my mind, the rules simply aren’t finished – and bear in mind here that this is the second edition – one wonders just how bad the first edition of these rules were.

Banzai has some nice ideas, but in my opinion it is fundamentally broken. Avoid.

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