Grey For Now Games have just launched a pre-order for their new edition of Test of Honour. Having never played the first, I’m tempted as I’ve already got a collection of suitable 28mm miniatures. Whether it’s classics from Kurosawa, Hollywood blockbusters like Last Samurai, or Manga such as Ninja Scrolls, tales of epic sword fights from the east have always had an appeal. Can Test of Honour recreate these on the table? I got in touch with Graham Davey, the game’s lead writer, to find out more.
The Basic Concept
If, like me, you haven’t played the first edition you’ll no doubt want to know the core principles of the game. Borne out of a love for the types of movies that I listed, Graham, along with Andy Hobday, created a system which was intended to be fast play; getting stuck into the action and never static. Fighters wouldn’t be ‘trapped’ in combat allowing samurai to emulate that visual, graceful dance of battle. Additionally, it was small scale stuff so that each die roll would essentially represent the swing of a katana. The aim to reproduce that flurry of strikes and parries. Lastly, they wanted the possibility that a lone warrior could exert themselves and cut through swathes of inferior enemies; an unashamed nod to the silver screen.
With these concepts in hand, rules were written, forces marshalled, and games play tested. Campaign elements were added to allow for the development of your warriors and the learning of new skills. Following this, a range of scenarios were written such as the quintessential protect, or attack, the village. Flourishes such as weather rules and clan abilities rounded out a comprehensive skirmish game. Considering whether it would be possible to get the game published, Warlord happened to have a deal with a range of plastics and the rest they say, is history.
So, why a 2nd Edition?
To give a person an opinion one must first judge well whether that person is of the disposition to receive it or not.Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai
With the set up of Grey For Now Games (a name a lot of us wargamers will appreciate), there’s an opportunity to become the game’s new publisher and introduce a number of improvements and additions. I’ve been told the core game hasn’t changed so if you enjoyed the original, fear not! For all you newbies, here’s a breakdown of the gameplay.
Everyone needs a hero
Recruiting a force in Test of Honour starts with a single hero. What’s their story? Are they a noble from a powerful clan? Are they a master-less ronin walking the land doing good, or ill? Or maybe they’re even a ninja lord!? This hero, after receiving a suitable name from yourself, will be the linchpin of your force. They’re the character that will slice and dice their way through the enemy lines and gain experience as stories are told of their exploits.
In addition to your hero, they’ll bring along up to two friends or companions. Maybe they’re retainers befitting of your noble’s station, or bandit friends made over dice and saki. These fighters will share in your hero’s experience and renown but at a lesser rate.
The remaining bulk of your forces will be made up of followers such as ashigaru soldiers or peasants. Equipped with a variety of arms, these troops will be fielded singly or in groups of three. The idea behind the game is that your hero and companions, if they have any, will be the same from game to game whilst the rest of your force you can select after determining scenario.
The Turn Sequence
Rather than the somewhat traditional ‘I go, you go’ sequence most of us will have encountered, Test of Honour has a random alternating activation mechanic. At the start of the game, you’ll add tokens to a bag and then you and your opponent will take turns to select one. The type of token pulled from the bag will determine whether you get to activate a character or a follower. It’s important to note that these tokens aren’t tied to the force, so you don’t initially need to worry about pulling an opponent’s token. That said though, as followers can only activate once, if you run out of relevant models, your opponent will act instead. To keep things interesting, the bag will also have three fate tokens. When the third is drawn, the turn ends!
Combat, or the way of the sword.
Whether it’s melee or archery, the system is essentially the same. The attacker will roll dice to see if he strikes true. Successes will be indicated by the blade symbols on the special dice. The defender can then attempt to avoid the attack, assuming they have an action. If the attack wasn’t averted then another die roll will be required for damage. Damage is split into heavy and light wounds. A light wound will mean any further hits are more likely to become heavy wounds whilst a heavy wound means they’re unable to continue the fight. The system is intended to be quite brutal so I’ve been told to expect that warriors may well die easy. Tactics, not just luck, will be required to win the day.
To help differentiate between your fighters, the game includes bonuses for different weapon types. These could take the form of spears being more likely to cause a heavy wound or bows being harder to avoid. In addition, there are also skills which can be employed during the game. If you draw a fate token rather than an activation, you can take a skill card for one of your characters. What I think is nice, is that you can chose to ‘master’ these skills and retain them for future battles. An interesting twist for developing your heroes, or villains, from game to game.
Respect, Honesty, Courage, Rectitude, Loyalty, Honour, BenevolenceYamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai
The game also makes use of an Honour & Dishonour system which I think adds a lot of flavour for the setting. In a nutshell, certain actions may be employed which offer quick rewards but lasting penalties as your troops are shamed by their leaders behaviour. Contrary to this, honourable actions may carry an initial penalty for lasting rewards. The noble samurai allowing the defenceless opponent a chance to recover their blade inspiring his ashigaru retainers is a good example.
For someone like me, this sounds an intriguing game and right up my street. I’m drawn to skirmish games in general as they’re far easier to set up and play in an evening; particularly as we all get older and have constraints on gaming time. The fast play nature means I’ll also most likely be able to get a few games in or even a mini campaign without needing to rush!
Pre-orders for Test of Honour 2 can be made here.
Have you played the first edition and looking forward to this? Maybe you want to share your thoughts for newcomers below or over on our Facebook page. We’d love to hear your opinions. There’s also a Test of Honour community group over on Facebook too.