The most iconic feature of samurai warfare must be the use of various flags and other devices to proclaim the legacy and ambitions of the soldiers assembled beneath them. As a wargamer of the period, it can be incredibly interesting yet also challenging to bring these to your tabletop.
Before we begin to go into detail, I'll cover a short history of these heraldric tools. They changed a lot over time, both in design and use, so you'll be well off with understanding why and how they developed. After that, I'll cover different types of flags, and what to consider when using them in your armies.
Origin of Japanese Battlefield Heraldry
The use of battlefield heraldry evolved over time in Japan, just like in any other place. It had a humble beginning in the form of flags with family crests used during battle. So during the Gempei War in the 12th century, the Taira and Minamoto would raise their red and white banners, telling friends and foe. But while some individual flags existed, they were not part of a comprehensive system yet. It's not even clear to what extent these banners had the family crests that we associate the two factions with, or if they were purely red and white respectively. Instead of the family crests so familiar to us, early samurai flags often consisted of written prayers to the god of war, Hachiman. The prayer style flags would continue to exist later on as well.
These early flags would primarily be long poles with a horizontal bar attached to the top by rope, with a streamer type flag hanging down from the bar.
A simple system of fighting under a simple coloured banner worked as long as a central government existed, and most wars were basically between two sides. However, it doesn't take long before we see the beginning of individual designs used to tell people apart on the battlefield. In contemporary depictions of the Mongol invasions (1274 and 1281) we start to see coloured flags with family crests on them. Individual lords would use heraldry to stand out, and then let artists depict the battles with these heraldric flags as evidence when claiming rewards for their feats in combat.
These were still more like regimental flags, not individually carried flags like the ones appearing later. But they worked well for distinguishing which part of the army fought under which general.
After the Mongol Invasions, the political and military power fractured. In practice a feudal system replaced the Emperor’s hegemony, with a central military government led by a Shogun. This increase in importance and wealth of the warrior caste only helped to fuel their interest in standing out on the battlefield.
As the Ashikaga shogunate fell and the country devolved into civil war in the mid-15th century, the soldiers in the field needed new methods to both tell each other apart. The regional administrators had cut their ties to the central government, preferring to rule the land themselves as daimyo. By now the battles could be between complex allegiances, with several families on both sides. In this new world, heraldry became more important than ever before.
Organization Through Heraldry
The Sengoku Jidai, or civil war era that followed in the 15th and 16th century, saw two distinct phases that both introduced new needs for heraldry. The first part of the period saw the country fracturing more and more, with a huge increase in the number of local lords. These lords became masters of small domains as the central government crumbled. They would often come from rather humble beginnings, with more ruthless and cunning individuals overturning the old nobility. As a way to legitimize their claims, they would make their own family designs to impress their peers and subjects. Some would even fabricate a more noble heritage, such as when a part of the Ise clan decided to change their name to Hōjō and to adopt the heraldry of the clan that had previously ruled as the power behind the throne during the Kamakura period, creating the "Odawara Hōjō" or Later Hōjō.
The second half of this age of war saw the reverse process, as these lords repeatedly fought each other. The stronger lords would recruit more and more vassals, either by diplomacy or conquest. As their armies grew they included more divisions from more and more families, requiring new means of organization.
These developments led to several new types of flags. Divisions and regiments would start to carry tall banners called nobori, so that the lords could easily identify their forces. The lords and generals would introduce "horse banners", uma jirushi, which were unique flags that made them easy to find in the crowd. Their messengers and bodyguards would carry billowing balloon-like contraptions on their back, horo, to make them easy to see. And finally, even the individual soldiers would start to war flags on their back, sashimono, that made them easy to identify asarmies grew bigger by the year.
Types of Flags Used for Battle
Now let's take a look at various kinds of flags used on the feudal Japanese battlefields. Its' important to keep in mind that while these followed trends and some ways to use them were more common than others, there were no laws or regulations covering the entire country. So while we can look at what would be the typical use, there could always be exceptions.
This is the kind of flag attached to a bar attached to the top of the banner pole. They were not completely phased out as newer types of flags developed. Instead, they continued to exist in some armies, either as an alternative to the nobori banners designating units, or as uma-jirushi banners of an important lord or general.
These pictures show some common types of designs on nagarebata: text written on a coloured background, a symbol or family crest, and a simple geometric design (in this case two horizontal lines). This example also shows them being used together with nobori flags in the same army.
These flags identified larger units, and developed from the nagarebata. By attaching the flag on two sides, they became more sturdy and the designs became easier to read.
Initially these would be of a similar design, but many armies quickly developed more complicated schemes. The family crests or designs could be used on different coloured backgrounds, or use additional geometric shapes, to designate different units.
As the number of different flags in the army grew, the army HQ would include a standard bearer carrying a copy of each flag. In a large army, this meant that there would be a multitude of flags gathered around the HQ.
If you are making a tabletop wargaming army, you can consider putting at least one of these in every unit of your army.
Literally "horse insignia", these flags started out as a way to identify a lord on the battlefield. Initially they tended to be similar to the nobori, but with a big square flag with the clan insignia, rather than a tall rectangular one.
Like the other types of flags, these evolved over time. When generals started to use their own uma-jirushi, the more powerful lords naturally wanted to stand out even more, which lead to the distinction between "small horse insignia" (ko-uma-jirushi) and "great horse insignia" (ō-uma-jirushi). The latter tended to take new shapes, often unique ones that became famous for a lord, such as Toyotomi Hideyoshi's golden gourd banner or Tokugawa Ieyasu's golden folding fan banner. While these three dimensional designs were popular, other famous examples were written text on a large nobori style flag, such as Takeda Shingen's "Wind, Forest, Fire, Mountain" (seen in the drama series Fūrin Kazan), or the zealous Katō Kiyomasa's banner that featured a mantra of the Nichiren sect.
Faithful to the theme of this article, the use of uma-jirushi escalated as well. Some lords would adopt additional flags to celebrate important events in their careers, sometimes demoting an old flag while still using it as a "small" flag. Their sons would inherit uma-jirushi, and then add their own ones. But during this they would all be carried together with the individual they represented, ensuring that the fighting would be fierces on both sides wherever they were seen.
Much of what is preserved about feudal era heraldry comes from a series of publications, also named "ō-uma-jirushi", released over a period of time in the first half of the 17th century by the monk Kyūan. This book covers a large number of lords and their personal heraldry. Unfortunately, it naturally covers the clans that actually survived the wars, and in some cases the descendants of the Sengoku period lords, but it still provide us with the most comprehensive documentation of these flags.
Sashimono 指物, 差物
These smaller sized banners were worn by individual soldiers, strapped to their backs. Most common were rectangular banners, usually a bit bigger for mounted troops, with either simple coloured designs or family crests of the lords they fought for. Anther rather common version was to wear between two and five smaller poles with thin strips of cloth attached to them.
Elite troops would sometimes wear three-dimensional sashimono, similar to miniature uma-jirushi, to distinguish them from the rest of the army. These would often be painted gold, have streamers attached to them, or in a similar way make the wearer stand out in the crowd.
Originally a type of cloak, the horo turned into yet another way to show off heraldry on the battlefield. This cloak would billow in the wind when a mounted wearer rode quickly, almost like a parachute, and both stand out and allegedly protect from arrows from behind. These grew in size, and would eventually even be affixed on a kind of frame so that it was always balloon-shaped.
The horo were usually worn by tsukaiban, a kind of elite cadre that would act as bodyguards, messengers, and similar tasks of highest importance. The horo could feature the family crest, often on a background that contrasted to the ones worn by the rest of the army. They could also be completely different, such as the centipede worn as a symbol for Takeda's tsukaiban. Finally, some simply had a single colour, or geometrical shapes such as lines.
Sode and Kasa Jirushi
These were smaller alternatives to the sashimono, either tied to the shoulder guards (sode) or to rings attached to the helmet (kasa). Made out of strips of paper or cloth, they would either have some text or heraldric design to identify the wearer and which side they fought on.
These are initially not very advanced, but often a piece of cloth or paper tied to the armour with a name or message written on it. These are called "sode jirushi" when attached to the shoulder plates, or "kasa jirushi" when attached to the helmet.
Winging It - Making Your Own Improvised Heraldry
If you are a wargamer and you just want to put a samurai army on smaller force on the table, a simple way to use heraldry is to adopt a family crest as your starting point. Several companies have water-slide decals that you can use if you don't want to attempt to paint multiple copies of these often intricate symbols by hand. A great generic heraldric device is the sun disc, which many families used for their battlefield heraldry and relatively easy to paint.
Then, you can use that clan symbol on a coloured field for your various flags. You can either use the same colour for the entire army, or different coloured versions for your units. Say, a white crest on a green flag for one part of your army, and a black crest on a yellow flag for the next, and so on.
Another way to distinguish your armies is to include simple shapes to your various units, such as drawing lines of different thickness at the top or bottom of the banners, black triangle fields at the bottom, and so on.
Finding Sources - Painting It Perfectly
This was just a short introduction to the topic. The follow-up question you might have by now is probably "so what kinds of banners should I use for Lord X at the battle of Y?"
The first issue to adress is that the most complete documentation on heraldry was done after the civil war period ended, with an emphasis on the winners that shouldn't surprise us. Battle screens, especially the contemporary ones, do help a bit to cover the gaps. But all these depictions focused more on the lords and generals, while sometimes not giving as much information on the rank and file troops.
That said, you can find a lot of nice information online. The Samurai Archive has a lot of information, especially in some threads on their forums, and also a lot of knowledgable people you can ask. More specifically, I'd point you to this thread on the old version of the forums, by Emmanuel Evalerio. He is probably the most knowledgable artist when it comes to samurai heraldry, and the thread covers the heraldry of a lot of important samurai, using different sources.
Books on Japanese Heraldry
When it comes to books, there's an Osprey title on samurai heraldry that is ok, but not great. Typical to Osprey titles it will give you a quick overview of the topic, and some interesting pictures, but it's not as useful if you are looking for heraldry for a specific lord, or if you want to look up the meaning behind a specific symbol.
Instead, there are two books in English that are great as reference books if you are really interested in the topic. The first one is the o-uma-jirushi. And by that, I mean the compendium written by Xavid Pretzer. It's a translated and annotated version, with the entire 206 pages of the original scrolls together with some essays about japanese heraldry and the context in which it was (and still is) used. I got the book when it was kickstarted a few years ago, but you can still find it through some online retailers.
The second one I actually didn't know about until I did research for this article. It's Japanese Heraldry and Heraldic Flags by David Phillips and the aforementioned Emmanuel Valerio. It's a new book published this year, with one part that basically explains the grammar of Japanese heraldry, and one part with may illustrations from Valerio where he describes the heraldry of various families and lords. While the second half might be of more interest for a wargamer than the first, I like the whole book as it gives a lot of information. Since I can't find a link to any available copies of the O-uma-jirushi, I'd say that this is probably the best available book right now.
If you have a question about a specific flag, don't hesitate to make a comment below, and I'll happily did through my sources and see if I can find something useful.
Part One - a Colour Guide
I was asked by a club member to give some pointers for painting samurai, so I thought I might as well make a short introduction to the topic. In this first part I will not go into specific paints and techniques. Instead, this guide will give some overall pointers that you can use no matter which kind of painting techniques and painting ranges you prefer. Later on I plan to make some more specific guides based on how I paint my samurai, but that’s for another day. I will also do a separate guide for horses, as that's a pretty big topic in itself.
I’ll begin with the topic that I’ve gotten the most questions about over the years that I’ve painted and posted samurai online. What’s a good paint for Japanese skin? My simple answer is that the paints you currently use for whatever you paint will do just fine. Japanese skin is far less yellow than some painters assume, going towards what can end up as almost an old comic book caricature hue.
What you can do is to avoid skin tone paints that tends towards a pinkish hue. Personally, I tend to start with a brown base colour (like Vallejo's Cork Brown) that I mix up with successive coats where I add more and more of a neutral skin colour.
If you want to distinguish your troops lower on the social status, such as ashigaru and lower ranking samurai, you can make the effort to paint their skin as more tanned. At the start of the Sengoku period a lot of them would be part-time soldiers, toiling in the fields under the harsh Japanese sun inbetween campaign seasons. The more peripheral and less influential the clan, the more likely that their troops would not be full time professional soldiers. And even professional ashigaru would spend campaigns like so many other soldiers throughout the ages: digging ditches, carrying heavy loads, and generally doing hard labour while their officers could stay in the shade.
A Very Very Short Historical Period Guide
If you are new to collecting and painting samurai, it's not easy to keep track of the periods and more importantly - what they mean to you as a wargamer. Here's the three most common times you might see in wargames, how to recognize them, and what they mean.
1. The Time of Horse Archery
Once upon a time, the samurai were primarily horse archers. Japan was ruled by an Emperor (sometimes two), and warfare was centered on samurai clans fighting each other for supremacy within this system, or as agents of the Emperor fighting against rebellions, or against Mongol invasions.
The most known military highlights for a Westerner are probably the Gempei War between the Taira and the Minamoto that levelled large parts of the country in 1180-85. and the Mongol invasions 1274 and 1281. While the shogunate had been installed in the latter war, the Emperor was till a potent force and would temprarily overturn the Shogunate through the Genkou War. While this kind of warfare covered several periods, you're probably going to wargame the Heian (794–1192) and Kamakura (1192–1333) periods.
So, what does this mean? Basically, the armies were smaller, and battles would be more like skirmishes. The samurai wore bulky armours that gave maximum protection from arrows, and that were not ideally suited for dismounted combat. The helmets were very wide and combined with huge square shoulder plates protecting weak points while shooting arrows. Since battles were small, back banners were not used as much to identify people, but there were still army banners carried by hand to separate the opposing sides.
Meanwhile, the foot infantry would mostly be part-time soldiers, wearing much less armour and tasked with surrounding the mounted samurai to protect them from being swarmed by opposing foot infantry and torn down from the saddle.
So: no back banners, huge helmets, mounted archers everywhere, and big boxy armour plates.
2. The Time of Huge Armies, Samurai Lords and Flags Everywhere
Takeda Shingen and Kenshin Uesugi traded blows at the 4th (!) Battle of Kawanakajima, but got separated and both survived. Some parts of the older armour style survived, especially with generals who might not expect to see frontline combat (check the unusually big curved plates on the seated Shingen's helmet).
After the Gempei War had burned down most of Kyoto, the power of the Emperor gradually declined. Instead, local samurai lords claimed more and more freedom, until Japan was ruled by feudal lords, each one master of their domain. Then there were a whole bunch of wars as these lords battled it out, often taking defeated enemies as their vassals. As the remaining lords became more powerful, armies grew larger and battles bigger and messier until everything ended up with a big bang, as two halves of the country met at Sekigahara in 1600. The defeated forces tried for a come-back that died with the siege of Osaka castle in 1615, ending this period - the Sengoku (in popular media) or Muromachi (in academic texts) period.
This is the big one for most wargamers. Hundreds of lords with their own armies, large battles, but also tons of opportunity for skirmishes. And if you want to you can involve China and Korea, through the Imjin Wars when Hideoyoshi tried to invade the continent. If you know of any pre-modern battles of Japan, chances are they are from this period. Most ranges of minis are from this period as well.
Typical of the period is that armour styles were simplified. Large armies needed efficient equipment, and the expensive horse archers had no chance against large missile troop formations. So the big boxy plates that sucked for dismounted combat got smaller. Mass produced armour with less lacing became common. And large armies meant a whole new emphasis on making it possible to see which side you were on, with the introduction of back banners and clan crests painted on armour parts as identification devices. Basically if you could stick a flag on it, they did.
3. The Time of No Armies, Lone Swordsmen and I Guess Emperors Again?
Once the Tokugawa clan and their allies had won the civil wars, they pretty much organized the entire political and economic society around making it impossible for rivalling clans to ever grow strong enough to usurp them. This worked surprisingly well, and from 1615 to 1868 there were very few military campaigns. The period is called Edo, after the old name for Tokyo, which became the capital of the Tokugawas.
This is the most popular period in Japanese historical movies and TV shows. If you have seen any movie or show where a tough dude walks around and swordfight lots of people, chances are that it does not take place in the period of actual wars, but during the Edo period.
Typical of this period is the lack of armour, and by this time indigo had become a defining colour for the samurai caste. Most common historical conflict, prior to the next bunch of civil wars, is probably the Akou Incident (known as the revenge of the 47 ronin, or Chuushingura), but a lot of skirmish games are heavily inspired by fiction set in the Edo period (Lone Wolf and Cub, Yojimbo, Harakiri, pretty much everything with a ninja in it). You can also reenact the chaotic ending days of the Shogunate, where agents on both sides fought in vicious urban close combat skirmishes.
Few armies had anything close to a uniform clothing during the Sengoku period. However, some areas of Japan were known for specific ways to make and dye cloth, such as the shibori technique that sprung up around Nagoya at the beginning of the Edo Period. The availability of local dyes and some feudal lords providing equipment for their ashigaru is excuse enough if you want to have a sligthly more uniform force.
Lower ranking soldiers would dress in less bold colours, and you’re safe to go with more earthy tones such as unbleached whites, greyish blues, browns, dirty yellows and greens. If you want to spruce them up, a good way is to introduce simple patterns such as stripes, spots or chequered patterns.
For both Ashigaru and Samurai, the clothing visible on miniatures would usually be a pair of pants and a jacket, though you will often see pictures of ashigaru wearing no pants during summer (they would then just wear a jacket and a fundoshi loincloth mostly covered by the jacket).
Ashigaru would normally be wearing just sandals in summer, but in colder times could be wearing tabi style socks as well. For poorer owners, unbleached whites or dark colours are a safe bet when it comes to socks. I've found dark blue to look quite nice, and it's a common colour still for tabi boots worn by carpenters in Japan.
The social ladder for samurai covered a large span, and in the end of the Sengoku period the ashigaru were simply the lowest tier of it. So you would have samurai that were not better off, and would wear just as simple clothes. But as their income increase, you’ll find them wearing more and more elaborate garments, both in terms of boldly coloured silk, intricate patterns and even silver and gold embroidery.
So basically, the sky’s the limit and you can do whatever you want. Which is not a very helpful statement. But fear not: there are some ways to reign in the creativity and get good looking painting schemes for your samurai. One way is to use the traditional ideas of kimono dressing. These are based on seasonal colours, and set ideas of which colours go well with each other. Use any of these, and you should be fine.
Samurai would sometimes be wearing gloves. These would usually be made of very fine deer skin, but could be dyed in many different colours as well. So if you want a high ranking officer to stand out, a pair of coloured gloves is one way to do it.
Most armour plates would be laquered black. It was the common colour on breastplates, shoulder plates, etc. The easiest way to get this effect is to paint them black, and then give them a layer of gloss varnish. If very worn the sheen of the laquer might be toned down, and you get get this effect using a matte varnish instead.
Trailing behind black comes red, brown, and rusty reddish/brown colours. And way, way less common would be spectacular colours like gold and white, sometimes attributed to the most wealthy of lords. But generally, if you see armour that is not black, red or brown, it’s something produced in late Edo period with more modern methods, long after the point that they were regularly used in the field.
Some armours would have a solid metal breastplate, while other would have several strips of plates that would be tied to each other with silk lacing. The smaller the armour strips, the more lacing. In the example above, the strips are narrow, so the lacing covers more area than the plates themselves.
The big one for many painters, especially when they start out. This is where the colour on the armour comes from, not the plates themselves. These are silk chords tying the plates together, and can be a bit fiddly to paint.
Generally, the earlier the armour or the wealthier the wearer, the more lacing. Later on, the types of breast plates without lacing or with minimal lacing became more popular, especially for less wealthy soldiers.
There are three very broad categories to use as a guide.
Other Armour Details
Some parts would be covered with cloth or leather. These areas can be found at the top of some breastplates for example. These can be painted in a single colour, or given a pattern, depending on how confident you are in your freehand skills.
Sangu - Leg and Arm Protection
Sangu the term for three parts of the samurai armour protecting the arms and legs: the sleeves, the shin armour, and the thigh armour.
On all three parts, if it looks like chainmail, it is. You’ll often find this on sleeves, with metal plates affixed like brigandine armour. Paint it as you would normally paint chainmail. Sometimes it appears a lot darker than your typical Medieval chainmail, even almost black, so that's also a solid option if you feel that a bright metal chainmail would distract from the rest of the colours.
Armour sleeves (kote)
The armour plates on the arms would usually be affixed to a separe pair of sleeves, that are tied around the arms on top of the jacket sleeves. So these could often be a different colour than what you’ve painted the jacket.
Thigh armour (haidate)
This is the part that looks like your regular European style padded armour or brigandine armour, and covers the thighs. These could be lacquered metal plates sewed to cloth, or more fancy versions with laced plates, or even chainmail stitched to a layer of cloth. If you want to stay safe, paint them black, brown or red. If you want them more colourful, paint the edge of it in a more fancy colour, or go hog wild and paint a pattern on them.
Leg armour (suneate)
There are similar to the kote. The thing to keep in mind is that the shin armour is often attached to a cloth base that is wrapped around the leg and tied over the pants. So the back of the suneate can often be a different colour than the one you use for the pants.
Cords and Sashes
There are several cords used on a samurai armour – around the waist to hold the scabbards in place, the helmet chinstraps, and chords holding the various armour parts in place.
For wealthy samurai these would be silk or fine leather, while lower ranking soldiers would use simpler cloth or rougher leathers to make belts and similar. This means that pretty much any colour goes. On top of single colour cords, striped cords often turn up.
Since pretty much any colour goes for these, I try to go for something that complements the rest of the painting scheme: such as a light blue if the rest of the model is primarily red. If in doubt, you can always go for white, as it will stand out and make the rest of the colours more distinct.
The back banners, or sashimono, saw their peak during the Sengoku period. These would be worn primarily by mounted soldiers and close combat troops, and less often by soldiers armed with bows or muskets for practical reasons.
The purpose of the back banners were to distinguish friend from foe (remember the lack of uniforms) in the heat of battle, and for commanders to easily see formations. Usually these would be how you saw which army you belong to.
The important part of the sashimono was usually not the colour, but the family crest or other design on it. Different parts of the same clan, and sometimes even soldiers following different members of the same family, could use colour variations of the same design. So within the Takeda clan, you could see many different versions of basically the same flag:
As you can see above, additional patterns such as stripes were often used to make variations of the basic heraldry to distinguish branches or members of the main clan.
The flags of the samurai lords of Japan were only systematically written down in the O-umajirushi, published over a period that was 20 to 40 years after the Tokugawa clan had killed off a lot of their opposing clans, or a generational shift or two could have overturned previous designs.
This means that you have a lot of lee-way in that there doesn't remain complete documentation for the sengoku period heraldry for a lot of clans. Was there a lesser known sub-branch of the Azai clan that used a purple version of their clan heraldry on their banners? It's probably hard to prove there wasn't, so go ahead and improvise if you want.
The back banners would be strapped to wood, so paint these in whatever wooden colour you prefer.
Then there are back banners that are not just flags, but that's another rabbit hole that we can cover later.
You have probably seen a lot of samurai swords already, so I won't go too much into details of them.
Sword hilts would preferrably be covered in ray or shark skin (samegawa) wrapped in a a tight pattern. These could be white or black, or dyed. Red and green seems to have been popular, but pretty much any colour is possible.
Sword scabbards were usually laquered wood, so black or red would be most common similar to the armour laquer.
While later sword guards would often have fanciful patterns and be made of exclusive materials, during the period when swords were actually used they would be more practical and made of steel.
Spears would be made out of hardwood or glued together strips of bamboo, and preferrably laquered to become water resitant. So basically any wood colour or the same colours as for the armour (red, black or rusty browns) will work. The fitting that keeps the blade in place can often be brass.
The bows used for war in Japan were laminated and made of wood, bamboo and leather. The construction method makes for the iconic stripes, often in black, red or light leather colours. These stripes can be of different width, so just go with whatever width you prefer, and you can readily mix them as the picture above shows.
That's it for now! As mentioned, this is far from a comprehensive guide. Instead, I hope it will be enough for you to tackle your first couple of samurai miniatures in case you were worried about getting it wrong.
And always keep this in mind: when in doubt, do a search online! There are tons of pictures out there of actual armour parts or clothes. Woodblock prints are a great source for inspiration as they are usually very colourful and makes it easy to see patterns. So if you don't find anything useful, add "ukiyo-e" to your search words.
The rebasing of the infantry turned out to be a bit more eclectic than the shooty troops. They draw from two separate collections, one for Warhammer Fantasy with larger blocks of troops, and one smaller that I made primarily for a convention game of Ronin. The army was based primarily on the Eastern army at Sekigahara, while the skirmish troops were based a blue team versus a red team. Together with a few other odds and ends, I had to think a bit about what my focus would be from now on.
I pretty quickly decided to keep the theme of Sekigahara, and to build on the units I have. The more irregular troops were based together, and will be used as unit fillers until the infantry units are large enough, and after that I can repurpose them as ronin units. Given that Field of Glory calls for pretty big infantry units (6-8 units), I'm counting on needing unit fillers for a long time!
Trying to photograph these larger units really made me realize that I need a larger lighting box, sorry for the bad picture quality.
Ashigaru pikemen, "The Red Company"
These boys carrying the Tokugawa heraldry mark are still my biggest unit, with six bases. They are from Perry Miniatures with steel pikes that unfortunately seems to be discontinued. I've drilled the bottom of the bases so that the pikes are stuck into them, which does wonders to keep them from falling off. They still require some care when handling, though. Another two bases of standing ashigaru would neatly finish these off.
Ashigaru pikemen, "The Black Company"
These are also from Perry. These were a complete mess to play with when they were individually based, as they were impossible to carry to the club and the pikes would just fall off in droves! Basing them like this made handling a bit easier, but I'd still recommend shorter spears for this pose.
This unit also got a command groupd with a Tokugawa banner, and they also got spiffy gold accents on both the back of the haori (jacket worn over the armour) and their pikes. Since I've only painted three bases I'm considering what to do with this unit, if I should get enough Perry minis to get it to eight bases or if I should go with plastic Warlords to add to the back ranks.
Ashigaru pikemen, "Kobayakawa's Company"
The third ashigaru infantry unit are made out of the plastic minis that used to be sold by Wargames Factory, but are now sold by Warlord Games as their Test of Honour range. The pikes are a bit shorter, but I think these minis are at their best making up bulk infantry units. I bought a Test of Honour starter box and an expansion as well, so I should have plenty of minis to fill these up to fighting shape over the summer
I painted these up as belonging to the Kobayakawa forces. Kobayakawa Hideaki was a decisive actor at the battle of Sekigahara. His loyalty to the Western army was highly questioned, as he had been disgruntled with the Toyotomi for a long time, due to a slight from Hideyoshi back in the invasion of Korea. Unknown to Ishida Mitsunari, the commander of the Western forces, Kobayakawa kept a secret line of communication with Tokugawa's Eastern army, promising to switch sides.
Kobayakawa was positioned to guard the Western army's flank, but refused to get stuck in when he was needed the most. Yet, he also refused to support the hard pressed Eastern forces. Tokugawa Ieyasu gambled on forcing him to act by orderign his troops to shoot towards Kobayakawa's men, upon which Hideaki made up his mind. He charged towards his supposed allies, practically sealing the fate of the Western army.
Ronin, Tramps and Thieves
This warband of miscreants are a happy mix, primarily from Black Hat but also a hidden ninja from Dixon and an unarmoured spearman from AW Miniatures.
These are based five on each base, unlike the previous ones. Initially I chose five per base because there simply wasn't enough space! However, afterwards I started to think if five might be enough. This way I'll be able to stretch the miniatures over more bases, and honestly I think the bases look dense enough, especially for minis with more energetic poses.
These guys will beef up the other infantry units until I've had the time to paint more ashigaru.
These are troops where I simply only had enough for a base or two. They'll be standing in the back of units, acting as placeholders for now.
Despite being more of a stereotype than actually historically based, warrior monks like these tend to find their ways into any samurai collection! Making an entire unit is far at the end of the to-do list, but these The Assault Group monks look great. If I go for an entire unit I'll try to make them more historical by mixing in "normally" equipped samurai among them.
These Perry naginata-wielders are simply a result of Warhammer Fantasy rules: when playing my army as Empire, there was a big boon for having tiny flanking units of halberds. The painting scheme is way fantasy (purple armour was not standard for rank and file troops), but I like how it works with the yellow.
These retainers from AW Miniatures are ready to dutifully carry the luggage of any unit in need. These are extremely useful as unit fillers, as I can make excuses for putting them in more or less any kind of unit!
Finally, this command base of Perrys can represent a high ranking officer in one of the Tokugawa units, flanked by musicians, a bodyguard and a nobori banner. I have Perry's seated Tokugawa miniature, otherwise this could represent the main man himself, but it would feel a tad wrong as he didn't lead most of his famous battles from the frontline, but rather from a fixed camp.
A snapshot of the army in its current state. It's only about two thirds of a "starting" army for FoG! :O
Next steps for infantry
The obvious thing missing is, of course, "proper" samurai units. I have quite a few Perry samurai that are more or less painted, but need to be fixed up a bit. Once the half-sized units are done, it would be nice to finish at least two units of spear-armed samurai.
I also have a whole lot of unpainted infantry from Zenith, but most of them are in smaller groups of 5 or 10 or so, so I need to beef them up before I can make proper units out of them. I plan to add more through the Kickstarter, once the pledge manager goes live.
Finally, we have plans to play some fantasy themed battles, which makes me want to add something thematic to my infantry. Undead samurai conversions are high on that list!
With the Summer heat comes a less crowded schedule for me. That means the scent of lilacs and drunk graduates is being mixed by glue and paint! A lot of projects are still keeping me from finishing the samurai army, but by using the same basing scheme as my French Napoleonic army, a lot of time can be saved. I'm adding some extra tufts and flowers and stuff to them, to make the ground look a bit more verdant, but by using the same materials I can streamline the work on the two armies a lot.
First out will be the shooty bits of the army. Most of these are Perry Miniatures, and some of the units are still a bit small for Field of Glory. I'll have to decide if I want to get more troops to enlarge each unit, or mix a few together as I have more unpainted shooty guys from Warlord and Zenit as well.
Archery was central to the very existance of samurai. It was their skills in mounted archery that made them the top dogs of the battlefields, and even after that role had changed in the 16th century, archery remained one of the most respected skills. But at this time the sharpshooting skills of individual master bowmen had been replaced by large volleys, often fired by lower ranked samurai or even peasants.
Behold, an almost decently sized unit! These are from Perry, and I made a base with an archer captain with his own conch blower and banner (from the Tokugawa clan). Some close-ups below:
Then I have some left-over monks with bows, from The Assault Group. I got these for a warband back when I briefly played a Japan-based Mordheim hack at my old club. With only four monks, I'll see if I end up just using them as unit fillers or if I'll get a bunch more of them to bump them up. Overall the TAG minis are nice and a bit chunkier than Perry, but close enough to mix.
The use of gunpowder rapidly spread in 16th century Japan, due to how relatively easy it was to to train gunners and the guns ability to pierce armour. A classic misunderstanding of samurai warfare is that samurai considered gunpowder "dishonourable", and that they would rather die than use them. Quite the opposite! Just like archery, marksmanship with a gun was highly respected, and at first it was rare weapon mostly attainable by wealthy samurai. Only later on, when mass production made it possible to afford it, did the arquebuses become a weapon for the masses.
My first unit of arquebuses are a bunch of samurai fortunate enough to afford both guns and servants to reload them. These are some of my favourite miniatures in the entire Perry samurai range:
With too few bases to form a unit in FoG, I'll temporary bolster them with some ashigaru gunners:
Finally, I fixed up an old cannon. This is a conversion of a Warhammer Fantasy cannon, with crew from Perry. Cannon were mostly used at sieges, and at first they would use ship cannon, often quite small ones, bought from European merchants. Later on they started making their own cannon, and that's when you start to see larger pieces.
Again, this one has a Tokugawa family crest on the mantlet protecting the crew.
Next Stage of Shooting
There are a few things I want to do with this part of the army. The samurai arquebus unit is capped at three bases in FoG, so that one is done. But the ashigaru unit needs to be beefed up to six bases. I also have some converted dragoon style samurai, mounted handgunners, which I'd love to make a proper unit out of. But then I'd need to paint up maybe two or three more of them.
The army could use another big unit of missile troops, and I have a whole bunch of the Warlord plastics that would fit the bill. I'm thinking of making these up as mixed units, with both bows and guns. The Japanese armies experimented a lot with how to use guns, and while the European counterparts combined them with blocks of pikes, the Japanese made mixed ranged units. The guns had the killing power, especially up close, while the archers could keep up a stream of arrows that practically "suppressed" the enemy. Each team of around five men would often be led by an officer, who would have his own retainer(s), and they could bolster the unit with their spears if anyone got close enough for a melee.
Finally, I'm thinking of adding some more artillery. Either through Zenit's latest kickstarter, which has a lot of cannon, or AW Miniature's large calibre arquebuses. These were in the grey area between large handguns and small cannon, and would fit the light artillery entry in the FoG army list. You can see examples of those monstrosities in this video:
Next up, we'll check out the infantry units this far. Cheers!
The samurai army is still pretty small, so I'm currently sticking with one goal in mind: bulking out the army with as little effort as possible. Sounds great, right?
That means fixing the paint jobs of a lot of the old stuff I have around, and rebasing it together with a few new additions. I'm trying a new painting method where I start out with a light grey primer, and then use washes to get the shadows. Compared to how I painted the old stuff, with a black primer, it comes out a bit more colorful, but also with less contrast. I'm not sure which one I prefer. Here's six new pikemen that I painted up (left), compared to a base of old ones (right):
At least that makes that unit six bases strong. I also took a bunch of Black Hat figures that I painted up as bandits for a Ronin scenario, and based them. Two bases got most of the spears, and the other two got most of the swordsmen. I can either go for increasing the size of this unit later, or use them to fill out other infantry units where I'm missing a base or two. I found some other odds and ends to fill out the bases, including a spearman from Museum Miniatures and a ninja from Dixon!
Speaking of unit fillers, I had some naginata warrior monks from The Assault Group as well. If I ever decide to make a separate unit of these, I'll have a head start. Otherwise, this base will serve as a unit filler as well.
Same goes with these naginata-wielding ashigaru. The purple armour is [i]extremely[/i] non-historical, but I liked the yellow and purple combination, and actualy re-used it on a part of my 6mm samurai army.
One of the few additions that includes new painted miniatures is this unit of samurai with arquebuses. I already had six painted up, and the Japanese army in Field of Glory: Renaissance can have a unit of 2-3 bases of them. So with a second pack of 6 painted up, we have our third missile unit..
With these 10 new bases, the army is looking a lot bigger. Now that I have quite a lot of the light infantry in place, I should start to focus on heavier infantry and cavalry. Oh, all that lovely cavalry.
Pictured below: a roughly half of what the finished army should look like.
The Ashigaru Backbone
The New Year holiday was a perfect time to get some work done on the light foot troops - the ashigaru. These became more and more essential to Japanese armies as the 16th century went on. As local lords got wealthier and the armies grew more professional, they also grew in size. a big part of that growth was these semi-professional non-samurai soldiers that were pressed into service when their manpower was not needed in the rice fields.
Eventually, these ashigaru would be less and less "semi-professional", and more full time soldiers. The switch from arming them with bows and spears to pikes and firearms was also crucial for this development. In the latter part of the 16th century, the transformation was completed when Toyotomi Hideyoshi declared in 1591 that an uncrossable line between villagers and samurai would be drawn, and that the ashigaru was on the warrior side of that line, officially becoming the lowest rung on the samurai social ladder.
In game terms, it seems popular for samurai armies in Field of Glory to not take a lot of ashigaru spearmen. But since they were a large part of the manpower of a late 16th century army, I have collected several ashigaru, both with pikes, spears, bows and arquebuses. Some of these were the very first miniatures I painted when I got into historical gaming some 8-9 years ago.
The Mini Restoration
Looking at the minis, I realized how much detail I skipped when I painted these the first time. This is actually a good thing, as it should comfort anyone who is afraid to start painting a Japanese army because of all the small details such as the lacing on the armour. You can actually skip them and get a perfectly playable army.
Step 1 in the restoration is to go back and cover chips and other damages in the paint
Step 2 is to give a highlight on some parts that needed them: for example, the black armour on many of these miniatures were just a coat of black primer, with nothing painted over the primer coat at all! So, a highlight on the red and black armour plates it is.
Step 3 is to add some patterns on some of the cloth pieces. Japanese clothes have always used lots of patterns, and even just a few dots and line will add a nice look to your samurai minis.
Step 4 is to go over the lacing, seen only on the kuzasuri tassets (the plates hanging down from the cuirass over the upper thighs). These are some of the trickiest parts for me, and I pretty much just try to draw them as a line, from bottom to top, and then give them a dot of highlight to stick out.
Step 5 is to give the minis a good coat of varnish, with matte varnish over the entire mini, and gloss varnish over the armour plates to recreate the look of laquered iron.
First out are the archers. Later in the period it would be more and more unusual to field large units of archers, and mixed units of archers and arquebuses would be more common. But since I had tons of archers, this is my first legal FoG unit, with 6 full bases. The command team has a ashigaru captain and a big banner declaring them to be part of Tokugawa's forces.
The archers are supported by these arquebusiers. Japanese armies were using volleys to good effect, and staggered volleys with kneeling and standing shooters was a part of this. A mere three bases won't make do though!
The first meat-and-potato part of the army: pikemen! These also come with a Tokugawa banner, and as you see I'm aiming to include a lort of banners in my units. It's just not a proper samurai army if you don't go heavy on banners! This was the first unit I bought when I picked up this army actually, so they sparked a nice nostalgic feeling.
Here is the start of the second ashigaru pikemen unit, under the banners of the Kobayakawa clan. These are from the plastic Wargames Factory range, that I got to inexpensively bulk out the army. They do look a bit wooden next to the Perry miniatures, but they'll do for now.
I also could not get them off their plastic bases, since the bond was so strong that I feared I would break the legs of them if I tried! Since they were glued to bases without the obvious Games Workshop-style gap that my other units had, it was less of a problem to leave them on. Instead, I glued them to sheets of plasticard, with magnetic sheet underneath.
Finally, a quick army progress shot. This is about one third of the size of a normal FoG starter army, and maybe about half of the infantry that are at least somewhat painted. I ordered some more pikemen to fill out the Tokugawa block, and I'll see if I can find another box of the plastic minis, even though they are currently unavailable because of the business deal between Warlord Games and Wargames Factory.
Not a bad start to the new year!
This talk about Renaissance period games at the club is the perfect reason for me to get back to a project that has lingered far too long. A pretty large collection of 28mm samurai miniatures, bought for the purpose of playing playing Warhammer Fantasy more than a decade ago. Much of it got painted, but I never finished the army.
Now it can be found in army transport foam trays, shoe boxes, and probably even in many of the cupboards around the house:
A sad example of a disorganised, demoralised army indeed.
Anyway, now that we are discussing the topic of Renaissance era games, I looked at what I would have to do to get this rabble whipped into fighting shape.
First, I would have to touch up on the miniatures. The painted ones have been chipped and damaged from gaming, mediocre storage solutions and moving houses several times. Others are just half-painted, and the painting level is a bit uneven overall. They all need at least a few brush strokes.
Secondly, I would probably have rebase them. Individual bases work for large battle games such as FoG, and you can count six individual bases as one FoG base. But it is just a drag to pull two hundred individual bases out of a box and deploy them, and a lot of the time it just looks better.
Third, I would have to fill in the missing gaps in the army with either new miniatures or some of the unpainted lead mountains in the darker corners of my wardrobe.
These all sound like reasonable things to do as a side project, so let's get started! I chose six ashigaru (light infantry) pikemen from Perry Miniatures, which were some of my very first miniatures I got way back.
I realized that the painting varied a lot: some of them had more layers of highlights than others, some of them had gloss varnish on the plates, and some details were not picked out in the same way. So I went over them and covered up the chipped off parts, and gave them a more uniform painting scheme. I also gave them a new healthy coat of varnishes, both matte and gloss, with the gloss varnish only covering the laquered metal armour plates.
After that it was just a matter of pulling them of their bases, and see how they would fit on a bigger group base. The steel pikes have a tendency to break off, so I drilled holes in the base to glue them into:
Glossy indeed, but not too shabby. I plan to wait with the actual bases until I have a few units, so that I can get a nice uniform basing solution.
Six down, some 250 or so left to do. Yay!
Italian Wars With a Twist
The Italian Wars were always there in the horizon, even as we got the initial platoons ready for WW2. One major reason was simply that we collectively had a whole bunch of Renaissance style troops already, puff-sleeved men that had served as Empire or Dogs of Wars units in Warhammer Fantasy Battles. Another reason was the period's strong visual and tactical appeal, and the great variation it offered to painting drab 20th century uniforms and tanks
But if we have maintained a rather respectfully historical approach to our WW2 forces and campaigns, several circumstances have lead us to take a more flexible attitude towards the Renaissance. The first reason is simply that we have several players who used to play Warhammer Fantasy Battles, and now look for an alternative for wargaming with large blocks of infantry, now that the game and setting abruptly disappeared recently.
The second reason is that it would be appropriate if a certain someone who already have a large collection of Landsknecht orcs could use them. There are also people like me who have other historical armies that fit the period and never get a chance to field them. For example late 16th century Japanese.
Finally we wanted to be able to play purely historical as well as semi-historical or full on fantasy style games or even campaigns in the period, depending on the players and what they feel like playing at that time.
Playtesting Field of Glory: Renaissance
This means that our criterias for a Renaissance game it that it should be flexible enough for us to introduce semi-historical and purely Fantasy style troops, and enable us to put blocks of 28mm miniatures on the tabletop. After that, it's all about finding a ruleset that is both fun to play and fulfilling as a tactical wargame. We looked at the pros and cons of two games initially, Field of Glory and Pike & Shotte, and decided to try FoG first.
We just had a simple trial evening of pitting four units against each other on a kitchen table to see how the mechanisms work:
It's hard to say anything after just such a simple test, but we did learn a great deal.
There will always be more pikemen.