Bushido – A Review

No not the way of the warrior, but the skirmish game by those fine chaps at GCT Studios.

For those not in the know, Bushido is an oriental skirmish game set, roughly, in feudal Japan. As with any skirmish game you control a small band of dudes with varying levels of awesomeness and use them to clobber your opponents small band of dudes.

What makes Bushido so different is not only its setting but its utter embracing of the myths and legends from ancient Japan. Every illustration, model, and faction background is steeped in that heritage which goes to show the love that the team put into it. Even the Savage Wave (evil nasty demonic baddy types) have their models firmly rooted in Japanese culture. Google Bakemono if you don’t believe me.

The crux of the game focuses on Ki which is across between magic and life force. Think Final Fantasy VII and you’ll get the idea. If you’re too young to have played/heard of Final Fantasy VII…fuck you. Needless to say that there are elements which wish to harness Ki to rule over all, others to bring balance to all life, and those who want to use it for various gribbly deeds. GCT really went to town with Bushido and gets under the skin of Japan’s myths and legends, as well as captures the essence of the factions from the age incredibly well. And they really did their research. The Naga, for example, is a group of serpentine deities so they came up with the concept below. This game is backed full of fluff and as someone who loves their fluff I could give them a big manly kiss for it. My only grumble on that front is, at the moment, all the fluff is online which means you have to be on an electronic device to get the most out of the game so it’d be nice, long-term to see faction booklets made available. Although you can download the rules and all the faction cards for free so I can’t complain too much.

I got to tinker with two factions – the Temple of Ro-Kan and the Cult of Yurei. In a nutshell warrior monks and undead. I opted for these because I wanted to try and go for the two most different forces I could. For those keeping score, starter sets are £28 each include five metal models, dice and a combat version of the rules. So for you and a mate £60 to play a table top wargame isn’t bad at all, and rivals Spartan for low initial investment. But be aware, it’s a skirmish game and there are tonnes of awesome models out now so that £30 won’t be the last you spend.

The Temple of Ro-Kan

But because of the setting of the games the models are, aside from being brilliant sculpts, unique yet familiar. There’s something strangely comforting about a zombie Geisha. Not from experience I should clarify, that would be weird, frightening and illegal. By having a game set in feudal Japan with Samurai, Ninjas (coming soon), warrior monks etc, the concepts are familiar, in the popular mind (Last Samurai anyone) and way cool. Throw in the fantasy elements of the Savage Wave and the Cult and you have yourself a very fun game.

I absolutely love the Puppet Master (pictured below). The detailing is outstanding and the ethereal being whispering in his ear is just awesome. Not to mention the little marionette on the base. Love. It.

The Cult of Yurei

On to the game itself. Bushido is designed to (a) be quick and (b) played over a small space. This bodes very well for those of with little time and little surface area. Arguably you can have a good scrap over the average sized coffee table in your living room without it being too much of a case of ‘everyone run into the middle and mang each other in the face!’. Although that can be fun too.

The game mechanic is simple enough. Each model can perform either 2 simple actions or 1 complex action. Simple actions include, as one would expect, the usual sorts of things; run at people, aim at people, mang people in the face, shoot people in the face, reload from shooting people in the face, stand up from being manged in the face, and Ki people in the face.

Complex actions are slightly more cunning and add a real strategic element as certain actions allow you to activate other models, mark targets for members of your party that wouldn’t otherwise be able to see them, or even improve their state of being. These states are a critical element to Bushido as models can become exhausted – from using up all its actions – which make it vulnerable to attack – frightened, surprised or even tired. Needless to say these states come with their own perils and pitfalls and so your offensive actions are always tempered by the possible consequences. For example, making a model perform two simple or a single complex action within reach of an enemy model will render it exhausted and therefore will struggle to defend itself should it be attacked. These conditions also have the added benefit of making the game way more cinematic. Which is a good thing.

Combat is resolved using offensive and defensive dice with various modifiers depending on factors mentioned above. Quite simply, one model will over power the other. And then mang them in the face. The beauty of this, aside from being elegantly quick is that it accurately represents a one on one face manging without the need to look up lots of different tables. This is a good thing.

The factions themselves have profile cards, as mentioned, for each character. I have a bit of a love hate relationship with profile cards but this is entirely down to having spent 70% of my life writing army lists and I simply don’t like having to flip something over to get all the special rules. Because I forget. I have the same problem with Spartan Games and, as such, I shall now write everything out rather than use the cards provided with the models. But with the Bushido cards I have two grumbles. The first is that the icons that depict attacking, shooting moving etc on the right side aren’t massively clear. This is purely a cosmetic grumble but I had to really stare at each icon to figure out what each one was. This could be me being a bit thick though.

The other is that I’d really love to see the option to create generic nameless forces that you can make your own (ala Mordheim and the like). Set characters with static profiles, for me, limits the life expectancy of a game as it won’t take long before you (a) have all the models for your faction and (b) identify how best to use or defeat the various characters. I’d really like to see rules that allow gamers to create their own warbands within the established factions that they can develop in both stats and skills and with it expand the story GCT has created for themselves. Tie it in with rules for campaigns and it’ll be an absolute winner in my book. Those points aside, the cards are beautifully realised and have all the information you need for your characters in one handy place and all the special rules capture the factions personality and fighting style perfectly as opposed to coming up with a few dozen generic special rules and trying to assign them as closely as possible.

Overall Bushido is slick and incredibly fun. The models are ace and the fluff is grounded and relatable whilst still having plenty of fantasy elements (like the big massive demon with the big massive hammer) that keep the game fresh and add a real sense of peril to the canon. As I mentioned I’d like to see the option of more generic, open ended, factions and campaigns but as a narrative based game it ticks all the boxes…including ‘does the game have Ninjas’. All these things, combined with the fact that all the guys are so passionate about what they do means that long-term we can only expect good things.

7 thoughts on “Bushido – A Review

  1. Thanks for the review! At first I rejected this game, but recently I’ve found myself looking at it more positively. This review helps push me to find the rules and check it out.
    And can you believe there are people out there who don’t know FFVII? Blasphemy!

  2. “If you’re too young to have played/heard of Final Fantasy VII…fuck you”

    FF7 was released in 1997. In a non-english speaking country such as my own, the language skills necessary to play a role-playing game in english is achieved at the age of 12 at the earliest. To be 12 in 1997, one would have to be born in 1985, making the individual 27 years old today. This can of course fluctuate with say 5 years. Either way – way to alienate your readers there, old man.

    1. It was a joke relating to the age of the game, regardless of when it was or was not released in specific countries, my age and the age of younger gamers who look at me blankly when I make the reference.

      My humour isn’t for everyone but living with free speech sometimes means we get offended.

  3. Excellent review, thanks. Bushido was one of the games on the radar, and this really clarified a lot about it.

    (And I cracked up at the FF7 joke.)

    1. I’m glad you liked it. It’s an ace game and not mega bucks to get into which is a bonus. And glad you liked the joke.

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