Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Samurai Blades - review

Samurai Blades is a 1984 game using the Cry Havoc system. Unlike it's Europe-based sister games (Cry Havoc, Siege and Outremer) it's a completely standalone product with one small exception. This isn't a surprise, as the game's theme is man-to-man combat in feudal Japan, which is a few centuries and many thousands of miles away from the medieval Euro-centric world of the other games.
Systemically, however, it's exactly the same. Betraying its mid-1980s wargame roots, the game uses the usual attack factor-defense factor-movement factor system so familiar to wargamers along with an odds-based combat result table for melee combat.
Missile combat is handled somewhat differently, with die rolls on a table based on the target type with modifiers for cover and range. There's only one type of missile weapon, the longbow, making that aspect of the game a little simpler than the others.
The turn sequence is also familiar for experienced wargamers. Archers fire, everybody moves, archers fire again and finally adjacent figures battle in melee.
Samurai Blades is more limited in scope than the other games of the series which have a fairly large number of available scenarios included in the published games. (All games in the series also have fan-generated material available).
Of the six scenarios included in the game, three involve unique sets of characters that aren't used in any other scenarios.
The other three could be called the "saga of pack 8" as all of them involve characters from the set called "pack 8" in the rules, sometimes alone and sometimes combined with other packs. One of the three "pack 8" scenarios also uses the Crossroads map from the original Cry Havoc game. Other than that you don't need any of the earlier games in order to play.
Compared to the other games the scenarios in Samurai Blade tend to be small to medium sized, using a dozen to two-dozen characters in total.
While a couple are fairly straightforward battle scenarios, some of the others are notable riffs on famous Japanese movies or stories including a scenario based on The Seven Samurai, one based on the Kagemusha (Shadow Warrior) and a ninja assassination scenario.
The physical presentation was superior for its time, with full-color artwork on the board and the character counters, although the counters and boards are thinner stock than many would prefer.
The rules were written in the informal British style which assumes everyone will make a good-faith effort to play within the spirit of the game and is therefore ill-suited for groups infested with rules lawyers.
Not every 24-year-old wargame holds up well, but Samurai Blades does better than most and it's well worth snagging a copy if you're interested in the topic.

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