Bushido is a skirmish wargame by GCT Studios and is based in a fantasy feudal Japanese setting. Everything you need to play Bushido is available on GCT’s website including the rules, the stats cards for each character, even the counters are available to print and cut out and you can then use proxies for the miniatures to try the game out, but why would you want to? The Bushido miniatures are what first drew my eye to the game, and what miniatures they are. Across the range each different character sculpt captures detail, motion and personality and with a solid range of different factions, there’s enough appeal for nearly every wargamer. With Bushido being a skirmish wargame, forces tend to be comprised of between 4 to 8 miniatures, so the buy-in is reasonable as well.
There isn’t a two-player starter pack for Bushido, but there are starter packs for each faction that has the solid core to build your force from, and with all the rules and stats available online, you’re able to try out different forces before buying to see if you like the feel of them. GCT Studios sent us a copy of the Bushido: New Dawn rulebook as well as the Tengu Descension and Ito Clan starter packs. This review will cover the Bushido rules, as well as take a look at both of those factions. We will cover the other available factions in later reviews.
The Bushido New Dawn Rules System
Bushido takes place on the Jwar Isles where the many factions battles for supremacy.
The different available factions are:
- The Prefecture of Ryu – Samurai warrior clan.
- Temple of Ro-Kan – Skilled monks and martial artists.
- The Cult of Yurei – Dark sorcerers that command the undead.
- The Savage Wave – Evil creatures from myth and folklore, oni (demons) and the like.
- The Ito Clan – The Ito Clan warriors are masters of poison and deception.
- Silvermoon Trade Syndicate – The Silvermoon look like a merger of a circus and a criminal gang, colourful with spectacular weapons.
- Tengu Descension – God like beings in the forms of giant birds of prey.
- Jung Pirates – Daring criminal pirates.
- Kage Kaze Zuko – The warriors of the shadows. The Ninja.
Bushido uses an alternating action system, where one player activates a miniature, then the next player activates a miniature, then back to the first player and so on. Each character has several available actions and during their activation and will go through three different states during each game round, which are Rested, Tired and Exhausted. During a round, a character can perform two simple actions or one complex action. Simple actions are split, so that you can perform one at the start of the round, then another later on in your next go. If a simple activation is performed, such as running, or attacking, the model goes from either Rested to Tired, or from Tired to Exhausted. Exhausted character can perform no more actions that turn, and they incur a penalty when attacked.
Close combat in Bushido has a very interesting secret gambling system. Every character has a combat value on their character card and this is the amount of dice you have to use in melee or ranged combat. When a character engages in close combat, both they and their opponent allocate their dice between attack and defense. For example, if a character has two dice, they can allocate both to attack, both to defense or one each to attack and defense. This happens in secret, then both rolls are made together and the attack dice results matched against the defense results for both combatants. Dice are resolved by taking the highest dice roll from your pool, and adding 1 to it for each other result that isn’t a 1. For example, if the attack dice roll was a 1, 4 and 5, the result would be 6 (5 + 1 for the 4 and the 1 being ignored). 6’s add and additional +1 to the result, even if they are used to supplement the roll. Only two additional dice may be added to supplement the roll, so even if you roll several dice, you will only be choosing the highest and a maximum of two additional dice to add to the roll. By rolling more dice you will simply have a better chance of boosting your highest roll. This helps to offset setting up huge attacks that there would be no chance of beating.
Another balancing rule is that if a character’s dice pool is ever reduced to 0 they always roll one die, which ensures there is always a chance of defending or attacking. Instead of your dice pool becoming negative, your opponent instead gets a dice bonus to their roll.
If after all results have been worked out, and the attack total is higher than the defense total, the attack is successful. After the damage is calculated and applied, if the character who was attacked is still alive and not knocked over, and they assigned dice to attack, their attack value is compared to the attackers defense value to see if their attack is successful as well. At the end of combat, regardless of who instigated the combat, both characters are considered to have completed a simple activation and change their state from Rested or Tired.
There are several factors that affect a character’s ability to attack, and this is where Bushido really shines in its tactical challenge. Characters have a 180 degree front facing arc, attack them outside of that and they lose a dice from their pool. When characters are engaged in close combat, they turn to face their attacker, opening up their blind side for attack. As mentioned above, if a character is Exhausted, they also lose a dice from their pool, so attacking a powerful character with your expendable characters not only reduces their options in terms of picking their own targets, but also lines them up for reducing their combat effectiveness when attacked by your own heavy hitter. If those expendable characters also survive, then being outnumbered also removes dice from your pool. These factors creates an environment where leaving your combat monster to attack last exposes an opportunity for your opponent to charge in and take away their action, but if you attack with them first, it could make them less combat effective later in the round.
The above is the essence of playing Bushido, and what makes it stand out, but the available options go so much deeper and can be very confusing in your first few games. For example, each character has some special traits listed on their character card. Examples of these are Dodge, where you can re-roll some of your opponents attack dice, or Forward Deployment, where they can deploy further forward than the rest of your force. Characters also have Ki Feats, which are activated with Ki that the characters generate each turn. Each Ki Feat has a little equation of costs and timings which are easily learned over time, but can be difficult for your first few games. Characters also have access to Special Abilities for attacks and defense, such as Powerful Attack, which increases the strength for attack damage, or Push Defense, which pushes the attacker 1″ away if the defense is successful.
All of the above, combined with the activation counters, counters for the build up of Ki for each character, and recording damage on the characters cards (it is advised to keep the character cards in a plastic sleeve and use a water based marker to dot the damage chart as they take wounds), can provide some very complicated first games as you come to grips with the system. There will be a lot of rulebook searching in your first few games, but this will get easier and games will eventually become very streamlined. In the starter packs, each player only has a handful of models, so learning all the abilities for them isn’t complicated after you’re settled with the system.
Bushido New Dawn could benefit from a refined on-boarding process for new players, like some scenarios with a striped down rules system with 2 characters each to start, then a scenario that adds in the extra attack and defense abilities, with the next adding in more characters and the Ki system along with the traits of the units and as a player of the game now. That’s how I will teach beginners to play, but for two beginners going at it from the start with a starter pack each and the rulebook, there is a huge learning curve.
The above isn’t a criticism of the system, far from it. Despite the small amount of units involved in a game, the sheer availability of options make each character very unique that plays into the theme of their faction. This won’t be for everyone, some players want a set line of stats with some easy to learn special abilities for their army, but you won’t find that here. I would compare Bushido almost as a having simplified roleplaying game character sheets for the depth of each character available.
One aspect we haven’t mentioned is the damage system, and that because we didn’t want it to get lost in the rules description above. Damage in Bushido is worked out on the table shown above which takes the difference between the attack and defense roll, and finds the result based on another 2D6 roll to give the damage result from the chart. Damage charts are generally considered pretty old-school for wargaming. I haven’t used one in a long-time, but the damage table for Bushido has a very relevant part to play. The difference between the attack and defense dice details how well the attack has performed. A difference of 1 is pretty close and as a result, even a roll of 12 on the damage comparison chart won’t do many wounds as it’s clearly a glancing blow, but a difference of 8 means that you’ve clearly out-matched your opponent so even a low roll on the damage comparison chart will result in a significant amount of wounds. A high number on both sides of the chart means that you are probably cutting your opponent in half. Most attacks that go through will do damage, and most of the human-sized characters in Bushido will be taken out by a couple of undefended attacks. Samurai duels and battles were known to be brutal affairs, and Bushido really emphasizes that fact and for that reason, the damage table really works and we applaud its inclusion.
The Ito Clan Starter Pack
The Ito Clan were a normal samurai clan, but they have embraced their snake-like nature along with some members taking on the physical appearances of snakes, they are masters of venom. The starter pack includes 5 figures and their character cards. The characters are:
- Itsunagi Ito – A incredible swordsman and a real danger in combat. Has some huge abilities to allow him to reroll combat dice, and also force opponents to reroll some of theirs. Some of his abilities come at Ki cost though, so he can quickly end up burning through his Ki.
- Sakura – Sakura is a very interesting character and can poison enemies from a distance. Poison damages a character at the end of the turn and can be very costly if allowed to build up with multiple counters. Sakura can also give her Ki to other characters, like Itsunagi, who burns through his Ki very quickly.
- Chiyo – Chiyo is a low level combat character who’s main purpose in this starter set is to protect Sakura and tie up opponents so Itsunagi can deliver the fatal blow. her abilities allow her to remove the prone (if knocked over during combat) condition for free and ignore some terrain when moving to engage opponents effectively.
- Akimoto – Akimoto’s purpose is to generate poison and then give it to enemies when he damages them, unfortunately he’s the worst fighter in the starter pack, so timing his attacks is key, or you can just use him to soak up attacks from enemies.
- Temple Bushi – The Temple Bushi has the same stats as Chiyo, minus some of her abilities. His Ki ability gives him Lightning Reflexes, which means they attack first in combat, so like Chiyo, his job is to protect Itsuagi and Sakura and attack to reduce the choice of attacks for your opponent.
The Ito Clan are are very interesting clan to play, they’re not straight-forward and require some thought to use, but after getting used to their abilities, they can be very effective if used tactically. The miniatures are also incredible, Itsunagi especially who’s pose really captures his arrogant contempt for every opponent.
Tengu Descension Starter Pack
The Tengu Descension are minor gods and spirits that have come down from their mountain. Most of their warriors are humanoid birds of prey, but others are druid-like in their appearance. Maneuverability is a big part of their battle plan with many of their warriors having Fly and others being able to act as forward scouts. The starter pack includes 5 characters which are:
- Kotenbo – A huge imposing warrior that has some basic stats but very interesting abilities. His Command trait lets you activate 2 other models with the Bushi trait. They use an activation as normal, but if used correctly, could allow two of your units to attack before you opponent activates a unit, taking out an enemy, or moving them out of range of opposing attacks. He has Armour 3 and 7 wounds, meaning he is harder than average to take out, but also has an Ki ability that means he doesn’t die instantly when reduced to 0 wounds, and could get all his health back with a good roll.
- Tarobo – Tarobo is a mobile ranged-attacking scout. He can be used to damage your enemies from afar, while being very good at avoiding damage himself.
- ZenKibo – ZenKibo is a mobile brawler, well used to getting into combat and burning through your opponents activations. He has Armour 2 and Dodge to help him avoid taking too much damage in return.
- Nuniq – Nuniq has some scouting abilities, allowing her to remove opponents camoflague, deploy further in and she gives you a positive modifier to the roll to chose deployment.
- TaliriKtug – TaliriKtug is a durable fighter that has a Ki ability that boosts his attack rolls.
The Tegu Descension starter pack warriors are slightly more straight-forward to use than the Ito Clan, as they are mainly geared towards mobile combat, but they do have a lot of abilities to learn and keep track of. They can really control combat and push your opponent into situations that demand answers and punish them when they aren’t addressed. The models are very detailed and impressive, Kotenbo is very imposing and Tarobo looks like a true scout, covered in weapons and birds of prey.
The Bottom Line:
Bushido is an amazing skirmish game, and should really appeal to you if you have any love for Japanese history and folklore. The basic rules are straight-forward, but the characters abilities and crunching the numbers in combat can be complex and requires some rules checking especially for your first few games. The system is tactical and enjoyable and the miniatures are great, being both full of theme and motion. A gentle on-boarding process isn’t present with the rulebook and starter boxes, so some perseverance will be required if learning with two beginners, but the dedication will be worth it, as you will be left with a balanced and tactical game.
Both of the Ito Clan and Tengu Descension starter packs, when played against each other are quite balanced, with both factions having interesting tactics and abilities.
Get this game if:
You want a brutal game of tactical combat.
You have any love for the setting or Japanese folklore.
You like you wargame units to be full of detail and character.
Avoid this game if:
You want a straight forward wargame with minimal rules checking and abilities.
You don’t want to put miniatures together.
This copy of Bushido and the faction starter boxes used for this review was provided by GCT Studios.
Bushido takes some time to grasp, but after learning the rules and abilities it becomes a very tactical and challenging game. Bushido is full of theme and fast paced brutal action, and the starter sets are balanced and fun to play with.