Monday, September 23, 2013

Like fluttering cherry blossoms

Keeping the beer linked thematically is a crucial component of any gaming experience.
So, my friend Erick came over with his copy of Samurai Battles from Zvezda. The box contains a boat load of their 1/72nd scale plastic miniatures, some hex-printed battle boards, terrain tiles, some nifty plastic stacking elevated terrain hexes, and two sets of rules. The first is Zvezda's Art of Tactic rules and the second is Richard Borg's Commands & Colors.

Art of Tactic looks interesting, but we didn't get to it. Instead, we played the introductory scenario for Commands & Colors. If you're a fan of the other C&C systems, you'll be able to jump right in. There are plenty of descriptions of the basic mechanics out there, so I won't go into too much detail here.

The Samurai Battles version is basically C&C: Ancients with two major points of departure. First is an Honor mechanism. Second is the Dragon Card deck. Both are linked together. Each army starts a game with a set number of Honor points.
Honor is a finite resource and must be managed. They are represented by cardboard counters with a white chrysanthemum on a purple field (as seen on the die in the picture, above).

Leaders can use Honor to inspire their attached units, adding a die to their attack rolls. Luckily, dice are used to possibly regain additional Honor. When an Honor symbol is rolled in melee, an Honor point is restored. It is possible to have more Honor than you started with. Note that the Honor symbol replaces the purple leader's helmet from C&C: Ancients dice.

Honor is also used to activate Dragon Cards. These allow leaders or forces to perform special actions, give bonuses to combat, ignore retreat flags and a myriad other abilities.

If a unit is forced to retreat, it may also cause a loss of Honor. Furthermore, Leaders who retreat as a result of being attacked lose Honor as well. However, if he has the stones to commit Seppuku instead of retreating or getting captured/killed, he gains Honor for his side.

Speaking of killing leaders, a unit that causes damage to an enemy unit in melee can attempt to kill an attached leader on a single die roll of crossed swords. A ranged attack achieves the same on two crossed swords on two dice.

Overall, I like the Honor system and the Dragon Cards. They add an interesting thematic flavor to the game. Erick and I discussed adding it into our regular games of C&C: Ancients. But rather than devote time to that, I think I'd rather just play C&C: Samurai Battles.

So, what about what's in the box? Although very beautifully sculpted and nicely molded, the figures are awfully fiddly to move during the game. Furthermore, most of the units are armed with either naginata or yari. Since they are nearly to scale in thickness, there is very little material in play and they bend easily and could break without much effort at all. The sashimono all of the figures have suffer from the same issue. Erick told me he spent essentially an evening per unit assembling the figures. Most of them were four to six pieces per figure. Awfully fiddly. Erick's looking to find some wooden blocks to play as if it were C&C: Ancients or Napoleonics.

All of the printed items seemed cheap and not particularly well thought out. The maneuver cards are very thin and cut somewhat roughly. The graphics on the cards are functional, if uninspiring. The quick-reference sheet is glossy paper instead of the sturdy cardstock I've come to appreciate from GMT in their C&C games. Furthermore, it's very wordy instead of the more chart-based approach GMT takes. As a veteran C&C player, this wasn't a huge issue, but I can see how a new player could be slowed down in finding the movement distance, number of dice used in an attack, or other vital bits of information.

The board, being made of six separate cards seemed cheap as well. If there's a nice part to the boards it is that they have water features printed on the opposite side, so no need to fiddle with terrain tiles for that. I still would prefer a single board or a mat. The plastic stacking terrain hexes are nifty, though.

I really like the dice that are included. They're solid and hefty. They rolled nicely and mostly in my favor this go around! They're the same size as the wooden C&C dice Valley Games makes. They are nicer than the dice that are included with C&C: Ancients and Napoleonics, at any rate. But that's not saying much.

On the balance, I had a fun time. It's a good product, and I'd like to try the Art of Tactic rules, even if they do look somewhat fiddly in their own right. Since I already own C&C: Ancients and Napoleonics, as well as Battle Cry, I don't see myself getting it anytime soon. Especially since Erick has it. The printed materials are the only real negative I have with the game, overall. The figures are nice, but the game would be better served using wooden blocks, as with the GMT games or even better 6mm metal miniatures, painted and based. But then, I'm biased.

If you're new to C&C and want to see what all the hubub is about, Samurai Battles is a good way to enter into the family. If you're already a fan of C&C, I'd suggest getting it only if you're also a fan of the Sengoku era.

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