So I am always intrigued to see a new set of samurai rules come out and here was another - Ronin by Craig Woodfield. A slim and cheap volume published by Osprey Books under their 'Wargames' line of titles.
It is supported by a very tempting line of figures from Northstar as well. It is both a shame and a good job I already have a plentiful sufficiency of figures to use,
On first read through I was thoroughly underwhelmed by the book and the rules. Seemed solid but nothing to make me get my gaming stuff out and force people to play (which is what happens when I suspect a set is going to be awesome. But inbetween caring for the wifey (which is becoming a more and more time demanding job (curse of terminal cancer I am afraid) and a desperate attempt to lose weight and get fit before it is too big a job I managed to try out the mechanics. I thought these were aiming to be pretty boring to be honest. Seemed like the old humdrum of adding and subtracting modifiers to get a wound result. Maybe playing with the Edge of the Empire dice had spoilt me - I am now craving a narrative result all the time.
But half an hour later I was warming to the little Aussie rippas. The intitiative and combat pool saved the day big time, and not just because it suggests using GO stones. Initiative took me back to the good old days of early 2Hour Wargames NUTS... Individual rolling to see who goes first within each combat. Just a d6 (the game only uses d6) roll plus the initiative stat of the figure (which can be changed by being stunned or wounded) to determine who has the chance to pass or strike first. This remains the case even in multi figure combats. The actual combat roll is what I took as being pretty mundane, roll 2d6 v. 1d6 and add fight skill and a few modifiers based on weapon, status and armour of target. If the result is a plus to the attacker then they have hit, the wider the differential the better the effect (ranging from 1 = stunned to 6+ = dead). BUT and it is a big BUT good old Craig has thrown the combat pool into the mix. Each figure gets a combat pool rating of between, a norm, of 2 and 5, characters ganging up pool their 'pool'. The player secretly choose white or black stones to this amount (one is defensive use and the other offensive use) and then these are revealed. Note this is done before initiative is rolled, one can spend a stone to alter the initiative roll. When attacking the character who wone the initiative gets to choose if they want to attack or pass. If they attack they spend a stone... This gives them 2d6 to attack with (plus their fight etc) and the defender then chooses to defend with 1d6 (plus stuff) or spend a defence stone (if they chose to have any) to give them 2d6. A final decsision is then made by the attacker to power the attack by spending another attack stone which gives them the option of rolling 3d6 and discarding one. At this point the dice are rolled, modified and totaled and we are back to the slightly mundane. But the bit in the middle is surprisingly addictive and effective. Overall the figures do as they are supposed to do in a small level skirmish game, the better characters with more abilities can wade through the dross at a very chanbarra style rate. BUT they are always only a crap dice roll or mismanagement of the stones away from being taken out, especially if the dross is out in force,
This gives a WAY better samurai film type feel to the game than I thought it would. Turn sequence and movement, morale is fast and simple. Missile troops get the chance to fire twice (if they are capable) but at negatives (once in the move phase and once in the action phase - it goes move, combat, action, tidy up) or stay still and effectively aim until the action phase. Game play is kept simple and therefore very fast, There is no facing, morale is easy but effective and the only real thing to keep track of is wounds, but that will always be the case in a 'detailed' game, and what characteristics/abilities the better characters have.