Test of Honour by Warlord Games is a historical skirmish wargame set in feudal Japan. Warlord Games have deliberately made it more Dynasty Warriors or Akira Kurosawa than factual history, as the aim was to have your heroes performing epic actions throughout the game, rather than slugging it out with swathes of line troopers.
The Test of Honour core box is designed as a complete two-player starter set, with enough miniatures, cards, rules and accessories, as well as a Battle Guide containing six linked scenarios for you and your opponent to battle through. The missions in the Battle Guide all have an effect on the next battle for the victor and loser and play out really well as an introductory campaign. The full Test of Honour rulebook is available to download for free from Warlord Games.
The Test of Honour core box has 35 miniatures (20 ashigaru spearmen, 10 ashigaru armed with bows or muskets, and 5 samurai heroes). There are multiple options for construction and each warrior has around 10 pieces each, so while they are relatively easy to construct, the sheer amount of options available requires some thought and aren't entirely beginner-friendly.
As an example, each ashigaru spure has enough for 5 ashigaru soldiers, with 5 legs, 5 torsos, 10 different head options, 5 back flags, and 5 diasho sword pairs in sheaths (a diasho is the combination of katana and wakizashi, long and short swords the samurai traditionally carried). There is also the option for a katana-wielding sergeant, a couple of different musicians, a standard-bearer, and a soldier carrying a backpack along with several spear-wielding arm options.
We assembled ours as shown in the pictures below, but for reference:
- 5 samurai
- 1 bowman seargent
- 6 bowmen
- 3 musket troopers
- 2 ashigaru sergeants
- 2 standard bearers
- 2 musicians
- 14 spearmen
What I would advise to all beginners, and is recommended in the Campaign Guide, is to construct the models as you play through the six linked scenarios. The first scenario requires only 12 models for both players, so construct these first and then the rest as you need them for the other missions. This will also allow you to take your time over the miniatures. It's very easy to rush when trying to prepare and construct a lot of models when first getting hold of a starter box. Taking your time with each model in the Test of Honour box allows you to really concentrate on them and make the most out of making each warrior unique.
A round in Test of Honour is played by each player taking turns to activate a unit. Each unit gets a number of activation tokens (for example, ashigaru troopers get 1 and samurai heroes get 3), which are all mixed randomly together for all players in a pot, along with 3 fate tokens. Players take turns drawing from this pot and activating the unit they draw. This turns out to be a very interesting mechanic, as it completely randomizes which troops you can activate and when. If a player has several samurai, they can activate any of them with a samurai activation, but once they've used all their activations for the turn, they can't be activated again. When a fate token is drawn, the player who drew it from the pot gets to draw one of the random upgrade cards from the deck, these upgrades can be placed on any of your heroes, of which they can have a limited number at any one time. These upgrades are items and abilities like "One with Nature," which allows the samurai to ignore rough terrain when moving.
The round ends when all three fate tokens have been drawn, which means that play can end before players have activated all of their units.
Combat and anything that requires a dice roll always has the same requirement, 3 blades in total on the dice roll. The sides of the dice are 1 blade (x2), 2 blades, blank (x2), and a cross, so the way to improve your chance of achieving your aim is to add more dice to your total, which can be done either through upgrade cards or acting dishonourably, which gives the unit a bonus dice for that action but a negative effect later on. Crosses only come into effect when more crosses than blades are rolled and causes a critical failure, with the results depending on the roll that was being made and the weapon the unit is carrying.
If a player draws an activation token for a unit they can't activate, it passes to their opponent to activate their unit and they still get to draw the next activation token, which leads to some scenarios where a player can activate three times in a row.
Units can also use an activation token to dodge a ranged or melee attack, which has to be done if they have an activation is available (the token is then drawn from the pot). This is a great mechanic as you can attack your opponent's samurai with line units in the hope of hitting and forcing their samurai to burn through activations, restricting their options and leaving them open to an attack from your own samurai later on.
The difference between the samurai and ashigaru troopers is obvious during play and particularly deadly in favor of the samurai who can cut through swathes of lesser warriors as they flounder ineffectually around them. The samurai vs samurai battles are where the core of the gameplay lays and the winner is usually the one who has tactically managed their attacks and defensive actions up until that point.
When creating your army, each unit has a points value and players either agree on a points value total for their forces, or it is dictated by the campaign rules. Each unit has a card that has the unit's stats, as well as the points value and some units, contain one warrior or a small unit of three warriors, as is the case with ashigaru spearmen or ranged troopers.
A game of Test of Honour out of the starter set is very balanced but very random. The activation draws can make or break your game. If your opponent draws well and you draw badly before the third fate token is drawn and a new round starts. This randomness does apply to both players however, but it's worth noting and does encourage you to make the most out of each activation. The activation draws combined with the dice rolls and the random upgrade card draws does make games very interesting, but a little unstable for competitive play.
Despite the random nature of the turns, games of Test of Honour are very tense and very enjoyable. Players with a passion for samurai action will find much to love. Playing a linked campaign is especially tense as you build your samurai up from game to game, trying to avoiding having them cut down in brutal combat, but having to push them forward as they are your most combat able troops. Combat is usually quick and bloody, as you would expect in a fight to the death between expert swordsmen.
Test of Honour does ooze theme and the linked Campaign Guide plays out very well. We especially like the battle descriptions for each scenario as they are short and punchy, giving a great account of why the battle is taking place. The rules are extremely straight forward, but the Errata/FAQ from Warlord Game is essential as there are some key additional rule clarifications in it, the main one being what happens if you draw an activation token you can't use. Playing the first game with two players with no wargame experience is entirely possible as it is very straight-forward, constructing the miniatures however does require a higher level of hobby experience than the difficulty level of the rules. It must also be noted that the ashigaru spearmen miniatures do have relatively long spears, which does require some working transportation wise depending on your chosen method of carry-case.
The Bottom Line:
The Test of Honour core box is a great 2-player starter set for anyone looking for a samurai skirmish game. The rules are extremely straight-forward and balanced, but games can be very random depending on activation draws. The miniatures can be difficult to put together if you don't have a lot of experience with the hobby, but there are a lot of options for each figure, even the basic line troopers. The product has a lot of replay value straight out of the core set, but can also be expanded on with other Test of Honour releases if players want to take it forward as a full skirmish wargame.
Get this game if:
You want an easy to learn skirmish game.
You want to have epic samurai tabletop battles.
You want miniatures with lots of flexible options for construction.
Avoid this game if:
You want a competitive skirmish game with very little random factors.
You don’t want to put miniatures together, the Test of Honour miniatures have an above-average amount of pieces per model.
This copy of the Test of Honour Core Set used for this review was provided by Goblin Gaming and you can pick up a copy from them with a 20% discount off the RRP.
Have you played Test of Honour? What do you think? Have you expanded past the Core Set? Are you thinking of picking it up? Let us know in the comments below.