The Ballbusch Review: Ronin

Today we’re looking at Ronin,
the game of 16th century samurai skirmish.  And you know what that means?  Romance! 
Terror!  Katanas!  The best excuse for anime babes I’m ever
going to have!  So, tighten the cords on
your helmet and grab some deep-fired-octopus-on-a-stick (it tastes worse than
it sounds) we’re in for an adventure. 

Looks like a nice town with friendly people.

Craig Woodfield
64 (Softcover)
Osprey (2013)
Price (2015):       $11.08
Ronin is the work of devoted Australianist Craig Woodfield.  And was recommended to the Ballbusch Review
by notable Australianer ‘The Beat Ronin’. 
Is this proof of a far-reaching Austrian conspiracy?  I didn’t think there is any way you can look
at it were it isn’t. 
As with all of Osprey’s wargaming books, Ronin is packed
full of illustrations.  Pictures don’t
quite make up the majority of the book, but it is close.  These provide a good, basic painting guide
for those just starting out.            
The actual rules are very short.  I counted sixteen pages total for how-to-play
rules and most of those contain at least one picture or chart.  The remained of the book is given over to
faction (army) lists and a quick reference sheet.  Ronin
has a point system, so the size of a force is variable, 10ish looks around
average.  This is not a large-scale, or
even a large skirmish game. 
Completely typical 16th Century Samurai warband

Each turn is divided into five phases: Priority, Movement,
Combat, Action, and Ending.  These are
mostly self-explanatory.  Ronin uses the phase-based IGO-UGO
system increasingly common in games that have come down the pike over the last
decade.  Within each phase of a turn
Player A takes an appropriate action with a single model; Player B than does
likewise, and so it continues until both player have no further actions to
take.  The play than moves to the next
Priority is established by dice roll at the start of each
turn.  The player with Priority gets to
activate a model first in each phase. 
Additionally, during the Priority
both players test for morale. 
As a force’s morale degrades it becomes increasingly difficult to coax
fighters into combat until the force breaks and everyone attempts to leave the
board by the quickest method possible. 
This means that play continues once one side has begun to rout and the
game is only over once all of one player’s figures are removed.  By extension, both players could find their
forces fleeing at the same time.
The Movement Phase
is movement there is not much to say on the subject.  One point of note is that a model armed with
a missile weapon may make an attack in this phase and/or action phase.  Creating some tactical flexibility to when
the player decides to give fire.        
For most of history the samurai were actually mounted archers rather than hand-to-hand fighters

Combat is resolved by contested die rolls.  If the attacker’s score is higher than the
defender’s the figure is wounded.  Wounds
are not ‘hit points’ but genuine injuries that reduce the model’s effectiveness
and may prove ultimately fatal.  The
seriousness of a wound is determined by the extent by which the attacker’s
score beat the defender. 
Each figure has a Combat
based on his marital prowess, which may be allocated to either attack
or defense within a single combat. 
Points allocated to attack allow a figure to make an attack and an
additional die may be added to the attack roll by expending an additional
point.  Defense points let the player
roll an additional die in defense.  Both
players take turns attacking until both sides have exhausted all of the points
allocated to attacks or all of the combatants on one side of the melee are out
of action.           
The Action Phrase
give each figure an opportunity to perform an action.  Fire a missile weapon, take the head of a
fallen enemy, engage in some recreational looting, etc.  This is generally important to scenario and
faction related victory conditions where the goal might be to take as many
heads as possible or snatch some item. 
The Ending Phase
is simple bookkeeping to close the turn. 
 After hours of ‘research’ I’ve determined that most ninja are/were buxom young women
The winner of the game is decided by victory points.  Victory point table vary by faction and
reflect that forces goals in battle. 
Bandits are only really interested in loot, for example, with heroic
deeds and even opposing casualties being secondary or irrelevant. 
Opinionated Commentary!!!!
The samurai benefit for excellent PR.  The image of peerless warrior armed with a
sword of matchless quality is almost completely mythological.  In reality the samurai were handily defeated
by every foreign power they encountered. 
Even in single combat they proved no match for European swordsmen.  On the other hand, the Ming beat the tar out
of everyone they came cross.  But,
professional soldiers led by a competent officer corps and backed up by an
efficient bureaucracy aren’t sexy, so their military achievements are largely
There is some awesome PR for you…

Ronin defiantly
leans towards the fictional image of the Late-Mediaeval Japanese warrior.  It is a ‘historical’ game to the extent that
there are no really obvious fantastic elements. 
However these can be very easily added and there are approved lists for
Oni and the like floating around.   
This isn’t a bad thing though.  The whole reason you’re playing a samurai
wargame is because samurai and ninja are cool. 
Depicting the former as petty toughs and the latter as a complete
fiction wouldn’t be any fun.  In that way
Ronin strikes a healthy balance.  Being romanticized, but not
Nothing says fierce warrior like pink hair

The combat pool mechanic keeps combat interactive and
interesting.  However, very skilled
combatants are going to be able to cut through lesser fighters with relative
ease.  Nothing like WHFB with heroes
chopping down the rank and file in their dozens, but the ability to enhance
both attack and defense means that even several poor warriors will struggle to
injure a skilled combatant.   
Overall I really like Ronin.  It is simple and easy to pick up.  The need for lots of counters means that a
large game might get a little bookkeeping heavy, but that just means you need
to keep it small.  This is never going to
be anyone’s main game; nonetheless it is great for a low-key evening’s
game.  Even people who shy away from
historical games will enjoy it.      


This is a new section here at the Ballbusch Review.  Since “Awesome!  Where do I get figures?!” has come up before,
I’m going to include a short list of sources for appropriate figures.  This isn’t an endorsement or a review.  It is just intended to point people in the
right direction.

Historical Figures:
Pseudo-Historical Figures:
Fantasy Figures: 

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