Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Test of Honour


It was early last year that I first became consciously aware of a game called Bushido, which is a very cool table top skirmish miniatures game set in Japan in the age of the Samurai. Bushido is a very beautiful game: with gorgeous character/stat cards, exquisite (though costly) miniatures,  and amazingly high quality components, such as attractive rule book, sublimely intricate dice sets (even the dice bag is aesthetically pleasing to the eye ) and the purchasable table  top terrain for Bushido is almost out of this world, it`s so good. But I reiterate, it`s not an easy game to buy into, unless you have a fairly fluid surplus of spare cash to hand, or you are prepared to be patient and collect the game a bit at a time, over a long period of many months – or even longer.

It was Andy from Da Gobbos Grotto who first got me intrigued by this genre of game: 

though I knew I would never pick it up and collect it myself (the price was simply too rich for my wallet). BUT it is because of Andy`s endless enthusiasm for this subject, and his dogged focus on this game.. that I became aware of a far cheaper alternative which arrived on the shelf recently. When Warlord Games first released “Test of Honour ”the game literally sold out within the first two weeks of it hitting the shelves. The facebook page for the game started with 15 subscribers in the first hour, and by the end of the first day alone, had risen to 15000 people. So wow, this game immediately started to make its mark. Especially as the game is now (as of last week) available again… and Warlord Games have produced a `second wave`  for all those not fortunate enough to have bought the starter set on the initial run. What`s more, they offered a special `bundle package` deal which meant that for £100 you could order the base box set game.. but you also got ALL the expansion sets with it. All included in that special one off price. I don’t think I need to spell it out too much for anyone. Basically, this deal has made it possible for a fledgling enthusiast (like me) wanting to get into Samurai style gaming, to be able to buy into the hobby as a one time (fairly affordable) purchase, without having to spend literally hundreds and hundreds of pounds to do it via the other.. far more expensive (but beautifully alternative) route.

So with everything currently available for Test of Honour as a one-time only lump purchase, I found I simply could not say no, and ordered myself the whole bundle deal.

Whereas Bushido is a lot more about fantasy and mythology, with the inclusion of monsters, and animals, and familiars, and magic, and all that kit and caboodle: Test of Honour is more of quasi historical, big cinematic block buster - Hollywood style (aka “The Last Samurai” and “The Seven Samurai”) type affair.  And what more can I say, it`s pretty darn addictive, gripping, and stunningly attractive stuff.
Test of Honour focuses more on the Hollywood myth of the Samurai. A sort of East meets West, Spaghetti western style shoot-em-ups, with a heck of a lot of role play narrative added in for good measure. This creates table top glory, honour, love, courage, betrayal, dishonour, and all the bits in between, all meshed into a fabulous miniatures game of true eastern promise.
And I absolutely bloody love it. The first couple of test games I played through to get used to the rules, was enough for me to be able to state categorically, that for me (personally) this is one of the best games I have played and enjoyed in a very long time. And as an added bonus, for the solo gamers out there, I can confirm, this game is a ruddy miracle. It is a solitaire hobbyists dream game. Quite frankly,  could play this game on my own for hours and hours at a time and not get tired of it.
Like most of Warlord Games miniatures, the bulk of this stuff is plastic. The miniatures are HIGHLY attractive although I have to say, a negative about them is that they come on spru`s, unassembled, and they are without a shadow of doubt THE most complicated, fiddly little buggers I have ever had to assemble in my life. I was planning on assembling and playing a tentative first game through on the same day I received the parcel in the post. But would you believe it took me a full day just to assemble the first 12 figures needed to play the first scenario in the Battle Guide (mission/scenario) book. Painting the models wasn’t difficult (I have my initial 12 figures half painted at this stage), but that was another day`s session just to do that, so all in all it wasn’t until day three that I was finally able to get down to playing my first game with some nicely half painted pieces
I took a leaf out of Andy`s page, and instead of being frustrated by all this complicated and difficult assembly, instead I treated each model as Andy would for his Bushido collection: effectively making each thing I did feel special, and unique. This turned a chore into something I was able to enjoy.. simply by appreciating  each and every miniature I assembled, as opposed to moaning and cursing when the fiddly little swines kept refusing to go together how I wanted them to (never again tell me superglue is perfect for modelling… it`s simply NOT hahaha). But in the end I got there and was, all in all, utterly delighted by the results. When assembled these lovely Oriental guys had all that wow factor I was hoping for… and more on top. Once the first 12 figures were assembled, I sat there looking at them and going Oooo and Aaaaa for quite some time I can tell you.

What I like about this game is the way you don’t, right away, have to assemble all the 35 miniatures that come in the base starter box set. The first scenario calls for only 12. After that, you have various build options for each successive scenario you play in the introductory rule book five/six part campaign. Do you want commoner bowmen, musketeers, a banner -man, a sergeant, a musician, and so on and so on? So yeah, it`s actually wise not to assemble everything straight away, because you will have many decisions to make later on, just how you want to build your Warband(s) for future games…. the base set alone gives you lots of leeway for customising your two starter set forces. By the time you eventually add in the bumper deal expansion sets, oh man, you will have yourself one hell of a complete and eclectic collection. And with more expansions looming in the imminent horizon, we can look forward to Ninjas, The Imperial Army, female Samurai… and Lord knows what else Warlord Games has in the pipe line, to tempt and offer us in the foreseeable future.

The game rules themselves are simple, but not too simple. *hmmm, thinking of a few example comparatives**  I would say the 16 page rule book for Test of Honour is about on par with “Zombicide” or “Last Night On Earth,” when it comes to ease of understanding and playability; and I would say that “Song of Blades and Heroes” or “Mutants and Death Ray Guns” could definitely be considered slightly harder to learn. So that gives you an idea of the scale of complexity. But what I really like is how the game has a lot of strategy to it, meaning the rules won`t ever get old and samey. .. especially by the time you keep factoring in the additional pages of rules contained within each new expansion box of miniatures you add to your games: rules for Cavalry, rules for Geishas, additional rules for campaign games, etc etc.

Terrain makes a good game come alive.

Would Test of Honour be any use to someone who already owns Bushido. At this stage I would say YES.  This game is all about recreating block buster Hollywood, larger than live Eastern Samurai narrative adventures. Bushido is something altogether different. And the two games should be totally compatible on the same shelf. Two entirely different takes on a similar subject. Owning both would be a bit like owning Warhammer 40K and Necromunda. Or owning and playing both Pathfinder rpg and Frostgrave. Similar, but ultimately different.
                                                                                    And so I set to task thinking about my painting. But I had not been idle while I waited for my parcel to arrive. I set to work studying. First I scoured the blogs and websites for examples of other people`s Japanese Samurai style modelling prowess. And then I started to devour all the images I could find from historical sites, graven images, woodcuts, silk painting, the lot. And this is where I ran into a blindingly clear contradiction. Almost all the miniatures I found on line were gaily painted, like in the block buster movies, in gaudy reds, yellows, gold, green, blues, orange, and so on and so on, creating a really attractive collage of colour. Most atmospheric and conducive to the genre, I thought. But then I started to see the discrepancies between this and a more stoically realistic appeal. This was all myth. Start looking at real woodcuts and especially silks (from the actual era), you quickly discover that the real life Japanese look is far more muted, more sombre toned, and strangely co-ordinated in tone and symmetry.
Look at the following for example:
Notice how few colours are used here. And this is an accurate image of geisha silks.
And again here.

And again here, with this Samurai woman. See.. only three colours: yellow, red, and blue.

You can see, a pattern is starting to immerge here. Here exists, a minimalistic use of colour to create an overall aesthetic symmetry.

I would not say I have found something incredible or undiscovered d. But for me, it has given me a focus to want to create an original/unique overall theme to my miniatures. Where most go for the Hollywood vibrant display of colour, I knew I wanted to create a more muted, minimalistic approach. And the best way I could do that was to paint my Test of Honour guys in inks… a technique I haven’t employed in years, but one I am very familiar with from my modelling past (Many years ago I used inks to paint my entire Pulp era Heroes, Chinese Hoodlums, Tramps, Dames, Gun Molls, Femme Fatales, Gumshoes, Gangsters, Mobsters, and good old Boys in Blue).
Some examples of my inking can be seen in the first test game I played. Though they are only half finished. They are done enough for you to get the idea.
Battle 1: First Clash
Two Rival Clans clash on a deserted forest path. One clan, the Motsamya, are moving slaves up the Mei Pou trail. These commoners are carrying empty containers (ready to be filled) to an illegal rough saké wine still hidden deep within the trees.
Nearby the wine still.. Inside an old hut, an old man and his loyal daughter argue about the business about to take place. The old man feels trapped and must do the Motsamya clan`s bidding. He has no choice but to harbour the illegal wine still on his land. His daughter is vehemently opposed.

(these are old miniatures from former gaming days… desperately in need for a nice re-paint. However, they will do as `walk on walk offs` for this sample game).
Clan slaves eventually arrive at their destination. There in the trees, lies the old wine still.
But suddenly, through the canopy of jungle trees, there is a noise. It is the sound of approaching soldiers. The cowardly slaves run for their lives, vanishing into the trees.
The slaves run from the field. Vanishing into the trees.
The Motsamya who had been accompanying the slaves, stand their ground. Led by a brave young Samurai Lord, they feel confident they can see off anyone trying to interfere with them.
Standoff. It is rival Tya Cuma Jitsun clan, led by an equally brave and stubborn young Samurai. Both Samurai Lords have much to prove. This will be a test of honour.
The Motsamya samurai sees his rival, the Tya Cuma Jitsun Lord ahead on the bridge.
The two samurai standoff..  not moving. Standing like statures, and stare fixedly at one another.
Shots are fired left and right of the pair, as clansmen shoot their bows at one another. Nerves are apparent on both sides, and no one is hurt in the exchange.
Spear armed clansmen taunt and curse each other through the canopy of the trees, but no one seems overly keen to come together in close combat.

I love my token cup, a lovely find lying about the house, and now commandeered… by me. It looks most in keeping: and will make an excellent addition to my games from now on.
Suddenly, upon an unspoken word. The two Samurai pair off in mortal combat Both exchanging blows almost faster than the eye can see.

Suddenly, almost as quickly as it begun: it is allover. Tya Cuma Jitsun is cut down…. bleeding from a severe wound to his midriff. Honour is served. Motsamya will keep their hidden still, and the contested ground now belongs to them.
The injured Tya Cuma Jitsun will be escorted away by his loyal followers. The rules of engagement have been satisfied.
Today…. The Tya Cuma Jitsun lose. And must concede the field.
The victorious Motsamya.

 .......Meanwhile! While the old man and his daughter are still arguing over the illegal wine still: the daughter`s two innocent young cousins are playing happily outside the hut, oblivious to any danger. When suddenly! Out of the blue, a terrible, foul smelling fiend approaches them from out of the shadows. The girls scream and........  ooops, hold on. Wrong story! That’s a different tale altogether.
.... and  CUT!

 Article by Steve





  1. Never tried this game, bit it sounds great! And after reading such a fantadtic presentation, difficult to resist : beautiful and atmospheric terrain, figures (love the umbrella girl and the courageous slaves), write-up...and dices, nice ambiance! One more saké please...

    1. Thank you Phil, your words encourage me, and such high approval from you is praise indeed. Your own posts are always absolutely astonishingly good. Almost unreal in their brilliance. Although I will NEVER be able to match your extraordinary painting skills, my finished Test of Honour Samurai and Commoners WILL look a LOT better once they are completed. These are only half painted, with only their basic undertone in place.

      Watch for the next AAR, they will look much nicer :)

  2. I've been waiting for this to appear and I have to say I'm not disappointed. Lovely review of the game and as the rules are available free to download from the Warlord site (I know, cos I've got 'em), it gives people an opportunity to read through them to see if they suit their style of play.

    Your initial skirmish was full of flavour and whilst it may not have appeared action-packed, it felt right for the genre. My rice bowl is empty - may this dishourable one have a second portion?

    Wait a can't all the Gods! Mongo?! Lol

    1. What`s Mongo?

      **tilts head, confused** lol

    2. {{Lovely review of the game and as the rules are available free to download from the Warlord site (I know, cos I've got 'em)}}

      You would have gotten a lot more of an in depth AAR Jez, but you can blame Hils for not getting that HAhahaaha. I played the game late yesterday evening, taking photo and making some notes as I want, but mostly it was in my head.... and then herself wanted to watch a couple of films, and asked me to watch them with her. Great night of TV but by the time the films were over (5 hours later) I was like >>gulp!<< noooooo!!! I had completely forgotten what half the photo meant any more, had lost all the fine detail that had been fresh in my head, and only had a bare shell of memory, a nucleus of the story remaining, of the game as it had originally been played uuuugh!!!! lolol. I had even taken photos of all the dice rolls and everything, and could have shown move by move what happened, and it was REALLY cool too, and played like an episode of a cool tv show. What you ended up with was a bare scaffold of what once was.

      women huh ^^

    3. yep, it LIVES.... Mongo lives WOOOHAHAHAHAAHahahahahahaahahah!!!!111

    4. I have to admit I was expecting a little more 'meat' regarding the rules, so your explanation makes sense. At least you've only got one to contend with at

      The rules read well and make sense, although I've not got as far as the 'flavour' part yet. Yeah, I know it's only 16 pages...and my lips move when I read.

      I look forward to reading the next part - it feels like the first episode of a tv show. Will the losing clan seek to regain their honour? I shall be waiting to find out.

      As for Mongo, I can't imagine he'll manage to stay out of trouble for long. 😉

    5. I got feeling he`s gonna be bit of a "Where`s Wally" ^^

      Yeah, the original game plan was going to be a hell of an in depth write up, but it simply wasn't to be lol. Still, no matter (glass half full and all that), just means I have more to look forward to and can make the next one super cool instead - and with finished minis too, woohoo!!!

      Yes, young Samurai lord "Dagon" of the Tya Cuma Jitsun clan wont take that defeat lying down, not for long I don't think... though he sure is lying down at the moment ouch!!! that rake across his stomach must have hurt some {will have to pull an injury card next, to see if he carries any permanent wounds, and if so... what effects}.

  3. I like the way the game itself felt like a tiny cameo of something much larger and ongoing - like a scene from Shogun or something (anyone remember that old tv series hehe?). I know the opening mini adventure (the intro scenario) from the Battle Manual is meant only to be a short 20 minute game, so I am surprised and pretty impressed how much narrative you can pile into such a tiny `slice` of a game: and of course you played it solo too. I think the genre suits this style of play well, and obviously when you get round to the big sweeping epic battles, these will be very exciting and thematic.

    1. you are right Hillers, this game has a wealth of untapped potential, and I have barely begun to dig into its depths. This will be an amazing journey I think.

  4. Even though your minis are only half painted, I actually see where you are going with this one. Already they have style and form that I like. What will you do for the jerkins and leather, red and black: Green and white: Gold and blue? Wow you have so much scope and I cant wait to see what you end up with once you complete them.

    I actually love what could almost be perceived as a negative about the game scenario itself. i.e. Not lot happened! But for an intro scenario designed to introduce just some of the (basic) rules, it really felt right. Thematically, it felt like in episode of something, and therefore consistently integral. I assume the ToH rules are designed in a modular way, and you are supposed to keep the results of that intro game, and build upon it, in successive campaign building block scenarios right?

    1. Hi Dave mate, glad to see you back (you are back right... or still away working?)

      You are absolutely correct as well. For a simple little game with a very loose set of rules contained on only 16 pages, it includes a wealth of information. As you rightly surmised, from page one of the second book (the adventure book) even intro game one is useful and you keep the results at the end of the scenario; because at the end of the game you keep the stats and add victory skill card(s) to your victorious hero and team. Its all quite magical really.

      Bear with me and trust me, the finished minis will look pretty okay I think ^^

  5. Like Dave, I think I can see exactly what you have planned with the painting. I think the end result will surprise many. I`ve seen you use this technique before and the end result took my breath way. Nothing like they look at the middle stage when the inks just form a matt layer - like a pallet or canvas to work upon, adding the real detail one layer at time.

    The game itself felt very right. I wanted more detail, and look foreword to this developing as you get to grips with it all and the tale grows. I like how the game scenario book which comes with the game gets you involved straight away, even with the tiny introduction game.

    1. I`m glad you have faith in me Tar`, yes the finished minis WILL look very different than they do now lol.

      The game is a dream hun, and I cant wait for you to see it in action.

  6. Great start Steve, I've been really, really looking forward to seeing your ToH stuff, I must admit that when I first saw the game I very nearly went all in and buy it up but I'm v invested in Bushido and it still holds my focus. However this is still calling my name......

    1. Mate, I don't want to tempt you, but I have to say..... OMG mate its AMAZING. I know the tiny batrep I included didn't really DO much, but it played out fantastically. I just wish I hadn't delayed in writing it all out, as I lost %80 of the details of what happened in the game itself.

      The game is amazing, that's all can say really.

      Sorry about the half (more like a third) finished miniatures, but trust me, they will look far nicer when they are done - in time for the next AAR I hope :))

  7. What an incredibly pleasing post to read Steve. I thoroughly enjoyed this, even when it looked like frustration was about to set in with the 'fiddly' minis and despondency at not being able to play the game as quickly as you had hoped. Fortunately your perseverance and enthusiasm kept you going and the BatRep is a nice testimony to your love of the game.

    I must say though that I'm far more interested in your painting approach to these minis, than the period. "Steve Barber Models" [] have been tempting me for years to dip into the genre, but it has never gripped me for some reason. Certainly not to the extent it clearly has you - I'm rather envious tbh as its clear you're undertaking a very enjoyable journey within the hobby which I can't follow; albeit I'm currently treading the path of early AD&D which you have walked before :-)

    I'd definitely be interested in some WIP shots of your honourable warriors if that's possible, just to see the cumulative effect of your inks over the models? The half-painted ones look tantalising as they are, so the additional layers should really help bring out the sculpts' detail.

    I also think the pic of you peeking over the top of your game box rivals the one you posted when you first received "Super Dungeon Explorer". What a cracker!! :-)

    1. oh WOW Simon, those Steve Barber Samurai are simply AWESOME aren't they.

    2. Steve Barber does some corking minis Tarot, but I find his sculpting style to be rather unique, and therefore ill-fitting with some of the other ranges I like. I guess that's why I've always given his stuff a miss, despite them looking lovely.

    3. Hi Simon, cheers for looking in. Yeah those fiddly minis sure were a bit of a pain, but I was determined to make every last measure of experience with this new project into a positive one. I do love everything about this game and I only wish I could encourage you somehow to `finding the path to glory` with it. But don't worry, you may not realize it, but old school ODD D&D and AD&D is a deep, DEEP passion for me as well: its one of the original roots I branched along when I discovered this aspect in the hobby in 74, and was only superseded by an even earlier love of wargaming Napoleonics, Colonial, and WWII - going back even to the late 60`s (before I was even ten years old even) will happily enthuse for hours about AD&D, and the more you write about it on your blog, the happier I`ll be :))

      Those "Steve Barber minis are stunning Simon, I see why you like them so much.

      Hmmm, here`s a couple of links to some of my old inking method. These go back to a website I used to co-own with Gabriel Landowski, many years ago.

    4. {{I also think the pic of you peeking over the top of your game box rivals the one you posted when you first received "Super Dungeon Explorer". What a cracker!! :-) }}

      OMG you remember that shot hahaha. it was a fun shot wasn't it, caught just in THAT moment by Hils quick camera work.

  8. This looks rather nice, and an interesting take on a genre I've never gotten into myself, the miniatures look really well detailed too, I can see your take on the miniatures working very well, though I'm afraid I would have gone all "Mikado" with mine (I like a touch of the theatrical, you know!). Great AAR gave a good flavour of the game, and some nice scenery too, Oriental gaming seems to be one of the "in" genres at the moment, not a bad thing really as it is a feast for the eyes.

    P.S. £100 is still pretty rich in my books, but I know what you mean.

    Cheers Roger.

    1. The "Mikado" look is really appealing though, isn't it. I think if you are already playing an (admittedly) Hollywood style approach to a `hammed up` subject, I would be sorely tempted to go the whole hog and paint my little guys as colourful as a carnival in high summer **grins**

    2. Hi Roger, good to see you again. I`m really glad you enjoyed the post. I don't think you will need to worry too much about the eventual look of the minis hehe. The way they look now in their half finished state, is nothing to the colour they will have on their cheeks by the time I`m done. Even in their muted and toned down aspect, they will still be a pretty pageant to the eyes ^^

    3. only £35 for the base boxed game set ^

      I know I know, Im bad. *tempt tempt tempt*

    4. It is tempting, but as those who know me know me know I haver signed a pledge to not buy any new miniatures this year! So ALL I CAN SAY IS "GET THEE BEHIND ME SATAN!!". ;-)

      Cheers Roger.

    5. Now Simon on the other hand is terribly easily led.....but I never told you that (shhhh.)


    6. hehehehehehehehee, you guy are terrible lol.

      Now WE are capricious (its our prerogative) and can say one thing and do another.. or so himself is always telling me, is what I do.

    7. {{{ Now Simon on the other hand is terribly easily led.....but I never told you that (shhhh.) }}}

      hehehehe, kinda yeah, shhhhhh lol

  9. What a tremendous post! Like you, I have found Andy's enthusiasm for Bushido contagious and when it came to deciding upon, and painting, a faction to play alongside the pupils from our school club, his blog was the place to go; his terrain building articles being a particularly rich vein of inspiration. This, however, is yet another sumptuous distraction, you have managed to take a bundle of plastics, that I had dismissed out of hand, and presented me with a world of possibilities! I now find myself digging out my Kurosawa movies and wondering, 'what if?' Still I must be good, but then again...

  10. hi Michael, hey its really nice to see you here. I`m absolutely delighted you found this week`s post useful (anything which promotes enthusiasm and inspiration in our beloved hobby is a good thing) Your old school club sounds fantastic and just the sort of thing Hillers and I drive miles to attend (we visit two such clubs regularly... both of them, a good hour and a half drive away). `m so glad you liked this post, I truth it should have been a lot more, but I delayed too long in getting the AAR down on paper lol, and by the time II did, I had forgotten what half the photos were, and couldn't remember the sequence of events for the narrative uuugh, totally my bad that. But I`m pleased it still got the creative juices working anyway. But Yeah, it was indeed Andy`s constant focus on Bushido kept my desire for this game alive: so that when ToH came out, I was like "YESSSSssss, this I can afford."

    Incidentally, the base set of Test of Courage, which gives TONS of minitures, all the token, some card terrain, the dice, the rules, and a full campaign adventure book, currently only costs £35 (check the link below Michael).

    1. £35 you say? My word that has made it even more tempting!

  11. I know, I know :( that's what happened to me. I initially intended to get just the box set, but then decided at the least minute to get the complete `bundle` deal as a one time pre-order price (To my delight, even though it was pre-order purchase, I only had to wait a week before they shipped it to us anyway... and still arrived before the official release date).

    Anyway, I digress. Yes sure I have all the expansions now, but quite honestly, what you get in the basis boxed set is enough to keep any gamer happy for a very long time... made delightfully possible by the fact that you only have to assemble 12 mini for the first scenario (6 per side), then the second carry on/linked adventure gets you to assemble a coupe more (with lots of lee way how you want to build and grow your warband, which I nice), and so on and so on: So that by the time you have played the entire campaign from the starter box set, you have a stunning 35 miniature all assembled. Not bad for your £35 right :)))

  12. >>>> ALL I CAN SAY IS "GET THEE BEHIND ME SATAN!!". ;-) <<<<

    Oh but its so gooooooood! Sometimes is GOOOD to be bad ^^ such times, you just HAVE to be bad to be good.