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Killer Katanas Review

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Rules by Brian Bradford and Robert Fyvie

Killer Katanas is more than just a set of wargames rules. It includes information on army composition, historical leader ratings, battles and tactical formations with the rules themselves taking up only 20 of the 70+ pages.

The Rules
The rules are aimed at battles set during the middle 16th to early 17th centuries when the impact of firearms and the importance of ashigaru became recognised. Although primarily written with 15mm figures in mind, provision is made for 25mm figures by doubling base sizes, ranges etc. Optional ground scales are listed; Small Battle Scale: 1" = 40ft, 1 figure = 15 men and Large Battle Scale: 1" = 80ft, 1 figure = 30 men. Each turn represents about 15 minutes of real time. Foot figures are based with 4 figures on a 1½" x ½" stand. Mounted are based with 2 figures on a 1" square stand. Leaders, crew members and standard bearers are based individually. All dice used in the game are of the normal six-sided type. A Quick Reference Sheet, a Casualty Chart, Action cards (see below) and game markers are included at the back of the rules and can be photocopied for use during the game.

Basic troop types supported samurai, ashigaru, monks, ronin and peasants. These can be armed with the expected selection of missile and/or melee weapons, and have light, medium, heavy or no armour. Leaders are given an ability level ranging from –2 (bad) to +3 (good). Figures are organised into units and each unit also has a leader figure. Provision is made for artillery units and the Daimyo's bodyguard. Units must be deployed at least two ranks deep with the exception of missile armed troops defending an obstacle.

The game itself is driven by a quite unique card system. The deck consists of 16 action cards made up from 4 infantry and 4 cavalry cards for each army. Each card details the movement allowance for the various troop types. When a card is drawn, all troops of the appropriate type and army may act. An action could be, for example, movement or firing. Most actions can be completed with one card but some, such as reloading or changing formation, require 2 cards. Once all actions such as combat and morale checks have been completed for the card, another is drawn. When all cards have been drawn, the turn is over and the cards are reshuffled, ready to start a new turn. This system adds a good bit of uncertainty for the players. For instance, a unit could begin a formation change to turn to face a threat to their flank. But will they complete the change before the enemy crash into them causing chaos? The system also works very well for solo games.

Movement rules are fairly conventional, notwithstanding the reliance on drawing that vital card. Interestingly, there are no disorder or disorganisation rules, which helps to keep things a lot more straightforward.

Missile combat too is nice and simple. Count the number of troops firing and cross reference this with the firing factor on the Casualty chart. This yields the number of figure casualties caused and the die roll required to inflict an additional casualty. The firing factor is a combination of the shooters basic type plus tactical modifiers. Melee is conducted in a similar fashion. What I like about the rules is that there are only a dozen or so tactical factor so resolution of combat is very quick.

Morale checks are taken when required at various points in the turn. 2D6 are rolled plus modifiers. A result of 6 or less means failure and a table is consulted to determine the required action. Again, only a handful of modifiers are listed.

No set of samurai rules would be complete without the opportunity for leaders to challenge each other to mortal combat! Killer Katanas is no exception. Anyone who has played the old Avalon Hill "Samurai" boardgame will recognise its influence on the system used here. 2D6 are rolled and cross referenced with the leader's ability rating. The result is the effect on the opponent. The winner adds one to his ability level, the loser, in the unlikely event that he survives, drops one level.

The rules section is rounded off with a couple of pages of some optional rules such as command radius, loyalty, fanatical monks, weather and a few others. Finally, there is a points system, though I personally never bother with these! I should also mention that there are plenty of examples of play thoughout the rules which helps to clarify many of the procedures.

The scenarios section takes up 32 pages. It begins with Samurai Army Makeups, which is organised by period such as 1555-1569, 1570-1574, 1575-1579 etc. up to 1615. Troop percentages are obviously only rough guides but is a good starting point for beginners planning their armies. It's interesting to compare the increasing use of firearms with the decreasing use of bows as time goes on. This is followed by similar lists but for specific clans such as Oda, Shimazu and the Takeda. Lists of names and ratings of a few hundred Daimyos is next which is a great source of names for all the main clans of the period.

The heart of this section though is the details of the five selected battles. These are 4th Kawanakajima, Anegawa, Mikata-Ga-Hara, Nagashino and Sekigahara. Each scenario begins with an account of the battle, then lists the troops and leaders of the opposing forces. Game Length, Special Rules, Victory Conditions and Other information completes the section. A map of the battlefield as a wargame is also included for each encounter.

There are two appendices, Battle Formations and Nobori. The Battle Formations illustrate, over 12 pages, 22 known formations. A few of these have appeared in some of Stephen Turnbull's books but this is the first time I have seen them all in a single volume. I only wish I knew how most of them worked! Great stuff though. The Nobori appendix presents 38 nobori, in colour, of the most prominent Daimyo of the age.

Overall, this is a superb publication for anyone interested in samurai wargaming. The rules are extremely playable and the supplementary information is invaluable. I believe the rules are now out of print but there may still be a few copies available from some distributers. Price was about £12 in the UK.

Official Web Site: http://members.aol.com/kllrkatnas
Unfortunately, this site no longer seems to be getting updated, but is still worth a look.

Review by Ian Duncan. September 2003

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