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.
The Renaissance Blog
What started as a blog about Renaissance gaming in general quickly turned into a blog about samurai miniatures.