A "personal perspective" of the game.
From the designers notes:~
"what kind of game should it be.........the classic Kurosawa samurai movies such as Seven Samurai and Yojimbo where incredibly skilled heroes lay waste to dozens of lesser warriors in dazzling displays of lightning-fast sword-play, rather than a slavishly accurate historical approach.
Warriors are never trapped in combat....a samurai can strike at an enemy in front of him then spin round and charge someone else and someone else, without getting locked in place in a static exchange of blows.
Each dice roll (more or less) represents a single swing of a katana, so it can really feel like you're striking and parrying in a flurry of blows!
The possibility to have that moment where a samurai slices through a whole string of enemies in an amazing display of nearly super-human ability, unashamedly based on samurai in the cinema!"
Did they achieve these design objectives? I would certainly say they did - and in a surprisingly "rules light" system too, which is easy and intuitive to learn. The "Battle Guide" provides a series of six linked scenarios, and you'll find yourself referring to the main rulebook less frequently as you progress, and probably not needing to look at anything in there except the "Weapon Bonus / Fumble" tables before you even reach the last scenario!
The game is skirmish level and intended to be played with "10 to 20 miniatures per side", though I see no reason why it won't play just as well with fewer or more if you desire (in fact, the opening scenario in the Battle Guide is played with just 6 minis per side - just to prove that point!)
The multi-part plastic miniatures provided in the core game are from the original Wargames Factory range, supplied with 25mm round Warlord games bases, plus a number of 60mm round sabot bases for groups of 3 minis each. Easily enough to provide all the minis you'll need to represent the samurai and ashigaru (foot soldiers) armed with yari (spears), yumi (bows) and teppo (muskets).
Of course, there's nothing to "lock" the rules to the minis, so there's no problem using any of the superb ranges from other manufacturers.
The special dice used in the game are supposedly designed to speed up gameplay - the rolled result IS intuitively read directly from the dice faces and saves referring to charts or tables, and those little sword blades do kind of fit the theme of the game. But are they really necessary??
The core mechanic used in the game is what I believe to be referred to as a "goal system" - you roll dice for whatever it is you want to do, and need to score a number of 'successes' to do it. The better you are at something, the more dice you roll.
eg: an ashigaru spearman wishes to strike his opponent - he gets to roll 3 dice, and as for all rolls in Test of Honour he needs 3 successes. A samurai hero wanting to strike an opponent will roll 5 dice looking for those 3 successes (because he's better trained in the arts of Bushido!)
The ToH dice faces show 2 successes (2 swords), 1 success (1 sword), no successes (blank), fail (X)
and there are 1x2 swords, 2x1 sword, 2x blank and 1x fail,
6 = 2 successes
5 = 1 success
4 = 1 success
3 = no success
2 = no success
which is pretty easy to remember too - "above 3 is a success, 3 or less is a fail - 6 is a 'bonus' success, 1 is a 'bad' fail!"
(In the game, if more fails (X's) are rolled than successes (swords) the result can be a "Fumble" - which of course, is far worse than simply failing!!!)
Having said all that, I've got the white dice that came in the core box, and I've also forked out on a second set of red ones, so I guess I must like them.......... but now you can download the free rules pdf from the Warlord Games website and give them a try with a handful of normal six sided dice!
So, what's not to like about Test of Honour?
The so-called "Main Rules" booklet supplied with the core boxed game (and did I mention available as a free download pdf?) are in fact, the "Basic Rules"!
If you want to use the Skills, Dishonour and Wounds cards (supplied in the boxed set and packaged with the "expansion" miniatures), then you'll need the rules published in the "Battle Guide" booklet - only available in the core box!
If you want the rules for climbing, leaping, entering buildings, using mounted troops, defended positions, darkness, random movement, hidden troops or carrying objects, then you'll need the "Darkness and Deceit" booklet only available in certain boxed sets of "expansion" miniatures,.....
while further, "Optional Rules" (containing unexpected actions, rivers, lakes and paddy fields, 'shot in the back', 'aftermath' and 'special events' including weather rules) are only available as a free pdf from the Warlord Games website (as is a highly recommended "Errata & FAQ")
I don't know if the above list is even complete - who knows what's been included in the boxes of minis I don't have??????
So, my gripe is that there's no "consolidated" rulebook - and yes, if one was made available, I'd want it.
Now, speaking of the boxed sets of "expansion" miniatures. The plastic sprues in the core box are great to get you started, but there's only 'so much' variety of poses available (even with their multi-part nature), and it was somewhat of a disappointment to find the early expansion releases only contain one 'new' (metal) mini along with a sprue from the core box, plus some metal 'variant' heads for those plastic warriors.
Yes the new minis are superb, and yes the variant heads are great - but for someone who's not even using all the sprues from the core box I found this a huge disappointment.
Having learned my lesson, I now look VERY carefully at the contents of the boxes, and where the above is true - hit ebay for the heads and single minis and the "Recruitment Cards" that go with them from the independent "spares" sellers. Far cheaper than buying the boxed sets and accumulating yet more sprues of old Wargames Factory ashigaru!
Before I gripe, I must mention that doing this has introduced me to a local (literally the other side of the village) "cottage industry" trader, who has become a good friend - so that's a positive comment to counterbalance the negative!
To sum up, I'm very happy with the game - especially since it got me back into a genre that I love but have neglected since my return to gaming.
How it measures up against other "samurai skirmish" rules I've yet to find out, and plan to do - but until then you can expect some more Test of Honour reports here on the blog!
Ki o tsukete.