Had my first games of Test of Honour last night – good to finally have a go as been wanting to try it since I saw it at Salute last year, (and the sold out before I could buy it).
Have to say its pretty good fun and nicely fast paced; (managed to have 4 games in one club night – something of a first – though that was largely due to the fact that the first couple of games I charged my samurai hero in alone, only to have him rudely cut down).
We played the basic introductory set-up game – so 2 bowmen, a group of spearmen and a samurai hero each (normally you take a predetermined points worth of minis, up to which 2/3rds may be spent on samurai, (you must include 1 samurai hero) and the rest must be used on commoners; but there are a lot of choices for commoners including spearmen, bowmen, arquebusiers, as well as banner bearers, musicians, sergeants, etc).
In this setup, whoever loses their samurai hero first loses the battle, (the samurai hero is kind of ‘you’ – in other scenarios you can have specific objectives and samurai can also have ‘quest’ cards with their own unique objectives).
Gameplay is pretty fast – players alternate drawing tokens to activate characters to perform an action (move, shoot, etc). There are commoner tokens and samurai tokens and you must activate a character for the type of token drawn. Commoners can only act once per round, but samurai can act 2 or even 3 times. If you draw a token but have no one left to act of that type then you must pass the token to your opponent, so you have to try and keep your force balanced or you will be giving away activations.
Because Samuari can act more often than Commoners, it means you will generally draw Samurai tokens as often as Commoner ones, but you have to resist the temptation to have them getting ahead of the support of your Commoner troops.
There are also 3 Fate tokens in the pot – draw one of those and you miss your activation and when the third one is drawn the round is over, even if you had characters that had not acted that round. Nicely mixes things up a bit without being too random.
When you attack a character, they must try and Avoid it if they have not acted that turn, which ‘burns’ one of their activations for that round. Makes a nice tactical choice as attacking someone that has already acted means they cannot Avoid, so you will more likely kill them – but attacking someone that has not acted means you will force them to lose one of their Activations, (which for a commoner can mean they won’t act at all that round), even though you’ve less chance of killing them.
Also, when you move a character you can choose to move cautiously at half pace, but that then gives them a free Avoid chance when they are next attacked. So you have to temper moving swiftly with defensively.
If an attack is successful, (and assuming the target cannot or does not successfully Avoid), but does not do enough damage to kill, then the target will get a Blood Spot, (ie a Wound) – having more Blood Spots then makes you easier to kill from subsequent attacks, so there is a general process of attrition even if characters are not being immediately removed by attacks.
For any roll, (using custom dice) there is a ‘critical’ and ‘fumble’ threshold. The probability of both seemed about right and added a lot of nuance; (there was a tense moment in one battle when my samurai hero stumbled after avoiding an attack and fell to the ground, only to be pounced upon by the opposing samurai. He did manage to ward of the attack and regain his feet, but it cost vital actions and he was cut down as he stood. In the final game, the opposing samurai hero launched himself into a group of my spearmen, viciously cutting one down with a critical damage roll and allowing him to follow up and immediately attack them again).
All very simple but enough to mix it up and offer some tactical depth to play, as well as being a lot of fun and giving good narrative focus. It can be very cat and mouse, which I actually think captures the cinematic style of samurai films really nicely – tense pauses as opposing warriors eye each other up and shuffle for position, then a sudden blur of activity, swords flash and the bodies drop.
The last game we player (which I actually managed to win) was the most interesting and fun as we included the additional element of the cards.
In this, you have a ‘Fate’ deck, which comprises skills and abilities you can apply to your samurai. But you only get to draw a card from you Fate deck to use when you draw the first or second fate token from the pot and each samurai in your force can only have a number of cards applied to them equal to the number of actions they can perform (so 2 or 3).
Because of the card limit per samurai character and as cards range from one-shot to ongoing abilites, I can see a lot of fun with this as it seems you are free to tailor your fate deck, (and in a selling point, different faction box sets also come with different Fate cards to use).
The Fate deck also ties into the suggested campaign element of the game, where a samurai hero can gain permanent Fate card Abilities to use from the start of a battle (rather than having to draw them).
We also used the Injury card deck – so when a Samurai gets their first ‘kill’ against them they can instead draw an Injury card to valiantly battle on; (in the last game I got an early lucky shot against the opposing samurai hero, leaving him with a debilitating leg wound that dropped his Avoid roll for the test of the battle).
Again, tying it to the campaign play, Injury cards can carry over between battles.
Something we didn’t try though is Dishonour, (just because no one committed any Dishnourbale deeds) – when a samurai makes an attack they can take a Dishonour card to pump up their attack rating – the downside being that when that force is required to make a Test of Honour (ie morale check), the Dishonour cards they have accrued then come into play as a penalty.
There is also a nice interplay between the Dishonour cards and various Fate ability cards – ie you gain a penalty/bonus if you have more/less Dishonour cards than your opponent.
If I had a grumble it would be that, like a lot of rule sets these days, to keep things ‘light’ some elements of gameplay do seem to be missed out or skipped that then inevitably cause questions whilst playing.
There are some optional rules and a FAQ document to download, which maybe addresses some of these.
All in all though, I’m really looking forward to a few more games of this and especially towards having a crack at the linked battle ‘campaign’ play.
Report by Mark Booth