Painting finished – the Seven Samurai

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‘One guard for each direction takes four. Two more as a reserve. You’ll need at least… seven, including me.’ [Kambei Shimada in Seven Samurai]

At last my own seven samurai are ready to protect the peasants’ village from marauding bandits. These figures are from are North Star’s 28mm Koryu Buntai set, which I finished painting and basing today. They are modelled after the eponymous characters from the 1952 movie Seven Samurai.

Seven Samurai is set in war-torn 16th-century Japan, where a village of farmers look for ways to ward off a band of robbers. Since they do not themselves know how to fight, they hire seven ronin (lordless samurai) to fight for them. If this plot sounds familiar, that is likely because it has since been copied in other movies such as The Magnificent Seven and A Bug’s Life.

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From left to right in the above picture, you can see:

  1. Gorōbei Katayama – a skilled archer recruited by Kambei. He acts as the second-in-command and helps create the master plan for the village’s defence.
  2. Shichirōji (back row) – an old friend of Kambei and his former lieutenant. Kambei meets Shichirōji by chance in the town, and he resumes this role.
  3. Heihachi Hayashida – an amiable though less-skilled fighter. His charm and wit maintain his comrades’ good cheer in the face of adversity.
  4. Kambei Shimada – a ronin and the leader of the group. The first samurai recruited by the villagers, he is a wise but war-weary soldier.
  5. Kikuchiyo (back row) – a humorous character who initially claims to be a samurai, and even falsifies his family tree and identity. Mercurial and temperamental, he identifies with the villagers and their plight, and he reveals that he is in fact not a samurai, but rather a peasant. Eventually however, he proves his worth.
  6. Kyūzō – initially declined an offer by Kambei to join the group, though he later changes his mind. A serious, stone-faced samurai and a supremely skilled swordsman whom Katsushirō is in awe of.
  7. Katsushirō Okamoto – a young untested warrior. The son of a wealthy landowner samurai, he left home to become a wandering samurai against his family’s wishes. After witnessing Kambei (the leader of the Seven Samurai) rescue a child who was taken hostage, Katsushirō desires to be Kambei’s disciple.

This cartoon picture I found online was quite useful in working out the characteristics of each of the seven members of the group:  Kikuchiyo, Kambei, Katsushirō, Shichirōji, Heihachi, Gorōbei and Kyūzō.

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As I have mentioned in my previous posts, this was a challenging project. Those patterns, which might look reasonably easy in the photos, are actually incredibly small. I used a technical pen for some of them, which worked well initially, though I had some problems with the ink smudging when I got to the varnishing stage.

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Having re-watched the movie the other day, it has been great fun painting each of the characters whilst they were fresh in my mind.

I kept on jumping round as to who was my favourite character – in the end I couldn’t decide between dapper young Katsushirō, pudgy Shichirōji  in his plain peddlar’s outfit, or Kyūzō who looks as though he had just wandered in from a Clint Eastwood western. And of course who couldn’t like the exuberant Kikuchiyo?!

Who is your favourite character in Seven Samurai?

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First three of the Seven Samurai painted

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I’ve completed the first three of my North Star ‘Seven Samurai’ figures so far. Painting them has been a challenge to say the least.

I’m definitely no Kevin Dallimore. I’ve been slavishly following his painting guide for this set of figures, but – jeesh! – he paints details so small that I can’t even see them.

And as for picking out the freehand designs on the samurai clothing – I’ve painted the patterns as fine as I can get them, but they’re still twice as large and much rougher than Dallimore’s work! He must have exquisite brush control.

So far I’ve painted:

  • Katsushirō Okamoto (left figure) – a young untested warrior. The son of a wealthy landowner samurai, he left home to become a wandering samurai against his family’s wishes. After witnessing Kambei (the leader of the Seven Samurai) rescue a child who was taken hostage, Katsushirō desires to be Kambei’s disciple.
  • Kikuchiyo (middle figure) – a humorous character who initially claims to be a samurai, and even falsifies his family tree and identity. Mercurial and temperamental, he identifies with the villagers and their plight, and he reveals that he is in fact not a samurai, but rather a peasant. Eventually however, he proves his worth.
  • Heihachi Hayashida (right figure) – an amiable though less-skilled fighter. His charm and wit maintain his comrades’ good cheer in the face of adversity.

So, challenging, yes. And I’ve proven that I’m no master-painter, that’s for sure. But it has certainly been fun. And hopefully from a reasonable distance they’ll be recognisable as the Seven Samurai.

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‘Seven Samurai’ project underway

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My latest mini-project is to paint the eponymous characters from the 1954 Akira Kurosawa film ‘Seven Samurai‘.

These 28mm figures are from North Star, and come as part of their Koryu Buntai set. The figures are specifically modelled on the ‘Seven Samurai’, each character recognizable by costume, weapon, and even facial features.

I started with a black undercoat, followed by a grey dry-brush. This is my normal method of undercoating all my figures, as the black provides natural shadow, whilst the grey gives a natural highlight to the covering hues.

I’ve done the flesh tones on all the figures as a mass painting process, but from here on, I plan to paint each figure separately.  I’ll be following the research I’ve done online as to the colours worn by the actual characters. This isn’t as clear-cut as it sounds, because ‘Seven Samurai’ was filmed in black-and-white, so there is some conjecture as to what the actual colours might have been.

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You’ll see the North Star set actually includes nine figures, not seven. The two on the right of the above pic are additional figures from other samurai movies.

I’ll post more pics as I complete this little project.

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‘Tribal’ pre-gunpowder skirmish rules – Māori, Aztecs, Japanese, gladiators – oh my!

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Tribal by Australian company, Mana Press, is a set of skirmish gaming rules designed for recreating pre-gunpowder inter-tribal conflicts.

The aim of Tribal is to capture the essence of the heroic skirmish style warfare that existed in many pre-gunpowder cultures, who exalted the feats of the individual and their courage and prowess in battle.

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Central to this type of warfare (and to the Tribal wargame) is the concept of honour. Honour determines why one is fighting, how battle is conducted, what sorts of tactics (both honourable and dishonourable) are used, and who becomes the victor at the end.

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Tribal takes an innovative approach in using playing cards, rather than dice. In fact, you need neither dice nor measuring tapes for this game! Activation, movement, fighting are all driven by a couple of sets of ordinary playing cards. Other than that, you just need some tokens to represent ‘honour’, and of course some figures and scenery.

Whilst the splendid cover features a tattooed Māori warrior, these rules specifically cover other pre-gunpowder fighting than just Māori inter-tribal warfare, such as Vikings, Aztecs, Heian Japanese, and even Roman gladiators. But overall, the rules do have an emphasis on the Māori inter-tribal wars (no doubt based on the writers’ Kiwi backgrounds).

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Australian manufacturer Eureka Miniatures actually makes a set of Māori figures specifically designed to work with Tribal, as illustrated in the pics above and below, borrowed from the Eureka website.

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Or you could use Empress Miniatures figures for this game – the ones without firearms (like some of those in my picture below). Or, of course, you could use Vikings, Aztecs, Samurai, Roman Gladiators etc.

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As they stand, the Tribal rules won’t be suitable for colonial wars, as they don’t include rules for using firearms. But I think I’ve heard that Mana Press are interested in expanding their rules to include them (can anyone confirm or deny?).

From my initial read-through, Tribal seems to be a characterful yet relatively simple game. Of course, this opinion is yet to be borne out one way or the other through actually playing the rules. But at only $10 to download the PDF in two formats (one lavishly designed, the other more printer-friendly), Tribal is a good deal even if you just read the rules rather than actually play them!

POSTSCRIPT: While I was writing the above article, I forgot that I’d already written a overview of Tribal back in June 2016 (and in more detail than the posting above)!!! So if you want to know more about Tribal, have a look at my old article too!

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Pt2: Crown forces of the New Zealand Wars (1840s)

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Here are the forces available to me for a British/colonial army for the New Zealand Wars of the 1840s, using The Men Who Would Be Kings wargames skirmish rules to fight my Māori war-party.

Rather than the blue jumpers worn by British regulars in the 1860s regulars, in the earlier 1840s conflicts they wore red shell jackets.

Some of these figures also feature in my 1860s force, for example the sailors, militia and rocket tube, as they can adequately cover both time periods.

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I’ve also been able to add one more militia unit, dressed in a rag-tag collection of civilian clothes and part uniforms. This could perhaps represent a hastily-recruited militia or Civic Guard unit.

That’s it for my figures and terrain, and a tabletop to play on. Now I just have to purchase lots of 6-sided dice, and then it’s game on!

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Crown forces of the New Zealand Wars (1860s)

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Here are the British and colonial forces to face my daring Māori in games of The Men Who Would Be Kings. They’re dressed in the distinctive blue uniforms worn by the British in New Zealand during the 1860s. Click on the pics for a closer view.

The combined units in these photos total more than the 24 points that the rules recommend for a field force, so I would select from these units for each game.

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Included are three units of British regular infantry, one of colonial militia, and one of Royal Navy sailors. There is also a unit of cavalry or mounted infantry, an artillery piece, and a rocket tube.

They’re a mixture of 28mm Empress Miniatures and Perry Miniatures.

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Māori war-party for ‘The Men Who Would Be Kings’

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I’m starting to play round with my existing Māori figures to see if I have enough for a 24-point taua (war-party) for use with The Men Who Would Be Kings colonial wargaming rules.

I have 48 warriors/chiefs, plus a 3-man carronade, all made by Empress Miniatures. Hopefully I’ve got enough figures for a full 24-point Māori force.

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The warriors are mainly armed with muskets, but 13 have (tupara) shotguns, and 10 are armed only with clubs or axes. I may mix up the weapons in the units, as I don’t think units would’ve all had the same weapons.

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The carronade will only be of limited use, mainly to defend a pā.

I’m not sure yet what I’ll be classing each unit as under the TMWWBK rules, although ‘Irregular Infantry’ 12-man units (at 4 points a unit) rather than ‘Tribal Infantry’ 16-man units (at 3 points a unit) seems the way to go. I’m still pondering how many optional points up or down I should adjust them to best replicate the Māori fighting style.

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