Sunday, May 10, 2015

Ronin - Skirmish Wargames in the Age of the Samurai

Ronin is a set of skirmish rules for miniature battles in 16th century feudal Japan. Models represent individuals that move and fight independently; there is no unit/squad structure as in some 'skirmish' games like Saga. Each player controls a force, or Buntai, of between 4 and 20 figures. Ronin is historically accurate, with a few cinematic elements from classics like the Seven Samurai. It stops short of the over-the-top action from movies like 13 Assassins, but it would be easy enough to add some of those elements to the game with house rules.

The starter sets from North Star are 200 points and consist of  8-10 figures. A small 100 pt battle can be fought to completion in 30 minutes on a 2' x 2'. The recommended size for a standard 200pt game is 3' x 3' and should not take more than an hour. 


The rules are available in both pdf and softback. Production values are great for the price - the softback is $13 on Amazon. I am not a big fan of the cover, but there is a decent selection of Osprey art on the interior. My one real complaint is with the layout. New army lists start an inch from the bottom of pages, and new rule sections begin without any real breaks or delineation. With the wide selection of art available to Osprey, it seems like they could have structured things a little better.

Force Lists
Army lists are provided for a wide variety of forces. Bushi, Bandits, Warrior-Monks, Martial-Arts schools, and even Peasants. Each of these can add extra figures from the Swords-for-Hire section like Ronin or Ninjas. The types of models available to each list are drastically different. A Bushi list can choose to have nothing but Samurai, each of whom are at least as skilled as the commander of a Bandit list! The lists detail the troop types available as well as options for their equipments and abilities. The forces have unique special rules, morale levels, and methods of earning/losing victory points.  

The composition rules could be a little clearer. For some lists, they felt like logic problems: the number of rank 1 and rank 2 figures must be greater than the number of rank 3 or higher figures, if any rank 1 or 2 figures are included. (I'm pretty sure that is a quote from one of the six bullet points on Bushi forces.)

The inclusion of lists for other time periods was a nice touch. If you want to fight battles with Mongols, Koreans, or later Westernized Japanese forces you have everything you need. Rules are given for special training and equipment available in those periods.


The sequence of play is divided into five phases: Priority, Movement, Combat, Action, and End. 

Priority Phase - Initiative is determined, and morale checks are taken when necessary. 
Movement Phase - Players alternate moving or shooting with each of their models. 
Combat Phase - Each melee is resolved. Players alternate choosing which battles to fight.
Action Phase - Models are allowed to shoot again and take other miscellaneous actions like reloading, looting, and resting.
End Phase - Models check to see if they recover from being stunned.

  • Movement, morale, and shooting are similar to most games. 
  • Alternating one figure at a time instead of one player doing all of their moves and attacks before the other makes for good interaction. 
  • Non-killing wounds are possible on the lowliest peasant, but even the mightiest samurai can be struck down by one lucky strike. 
  • Melee is a back and forth strike, parry, counterstrike between the engaged models. (see below)

The most unique aspect of Ronin is the use of attack and defense chits to resolve melee. Models get between one and seven combat chits based on their skill level and special abilities. These can be used to increase the chance to strike first, make attacks, or parry. Deciding which chits to use is a neat twist. When the combatants are both very low level it often boils down to each making a single attack like in other games, but skilled fighters can decide between playing it safe or attempting to make multiple attacks.   

Other Stuff
In addition to the rules and army lists, the book contains a selection of scenarios, basic campaign mechanics, and recommendations for tournament games. The scenarios are pretty basic, but have good flavor. My favorite pits one force against a band of Ninja assasins whose sole aim is to kill their commander. The campaign section isn't very robust, but is a decent starting place. I expect to see homebrew ideas springing up online.

This is not a set of rules that would be worth picking up for background material or historical information. The book is very bare bones. If you are interested in that aspect, pick up one of Osprey's tradional books on the period.

Overall, the rules are concise and well written. You can be ready to play in just a few minutes, and it is very easy to teach to new players. I don't think Ronin is a game that will inspire many people to buy and paint minis, but if you have some old lead laying around I'd highly recommend grabbing a copy. The small cost in money and time is well worth it to have an excuse to blow the dust off your samurai and get them on the table a few times.