Musing and enthusing on samurai

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For the last couple of months, I’ve been experiencing a  lack of major motivation for painting or gaming.   Nothing has really grabbed my fancy for a new project, and in fact I’ve been starting to think that perhaps my time in this hobby had finished.  But in the last few days my imagination has finally been stirred anew, and I’m finding myself enthusiastically day-dreaming again about a potential new period to game – samurai!

shogun 2
This new enthusiasm first emerged from watching a re-run of the old TV 1980 mini-series, Shogun.  This series, set in Japan in the early 1600s, really brings feudal Japan to life.  It features an English ship pilot, whose vessel is wrecked upon the Japanese coast. He is forced to deal with the two most powerful men in Japan, who struggle for the title of ‘shogun’, which will give ultimate power to the one who possesses it.   Whilst quite slow-moving, the story is beautifully told and filmed – every scene is so exquisitely Japanese in its setting, colour, custom and language.  I was entranced.

child of vengeance Then on a recent trip to my local library, my eye was caught by a novel about samurai, David Kirk’s Child of Vengeance.  With an endorsement on the front cover from well-known historical writer Conn Iggulden, this looked like it could be an entertaining read. And so it turned out.  As the Amazon blurb states, this novel is ‘a bold and vivid historical epic of feudal Japan, based on the real-life exploits of the legendary samurai Musashi Miyamoto’.  I couldn’t put it down until it was finished (and, fussy reader that I am, that really says something!).

makers_foundry_1 Truth to tell, this is not the first time that samurai have caught my attention.  A couple of years ago I also began thinking of getting into this period.  I was initially inspired by the Wargames Foundry range of wonderfully characterful samurai figures.  These were originally old Citadel figures from the 1980s, I believe, before Wargames Foundry re-released them.

bushi no yume I even went so far as to purchase a set of skirmish rules, Rich Jones’ Bushi No Yume.  These are a very interesting set of rules, written by a guy who has been into Japanese ‘bujutsu’ (martial arts) since he was a child.  The core rules themselves are deceptively simple, but they have oodles of character-adding special rules and ‘karma’ cards covering both history and (if you want) Japanese fantasy.  So you can easily recreate the feel of a ‘chanbara’ movie, the Japanese equivalent of a spaghetti western.  

But something else must have distracted me from my burgeoning interest in samurai, because I never took this project any further. However, the idea has remained lurking somewhere in the back of my mind, and has now re-emerged as a result of watching Shogun and reading Child of Vengeance.

But what really inspired me this time was reading about North Star’s forthcoming release of factions (or ‘buntai’) of 28mm figures as a tie-in with the new Osprey skirmish wargames ruleset, Ronin.


This is a set of skirmish wargame rules set in late 16th century feudal Japan. Players build small warbands of models and battle each other, as well as non-player factions, in duels and skirmishes. The rules pay tribute to the films of Akira Kurosawa such as Seven Samurai and Yojimbo.  North Star have produced four buntai so far:  samurai and ashigaru, Buddhist warrior monks, martial arts school students, and bandits.


As you can see above, the North Star samurai/ashigaru buntai looks fabulous painted up.  Colour schemes can vary wildly depending on which clan you’re representing.  All in all, I feel these figures capture the look.  Right now there is also a special deal, in which you can buy all four buntai plus the Ronin rulebook for 100 pounds, with free postage anywhere.  I’m tempted by this, maybe as a shared project with other locals …

maker_perry_samurai fightingHowever, North Star aren’t the only options for samurai miniatures.  One maker in particular that is really worth considering is Perry Miniatures.  Their samurai figures look just as nice as the North Star ones, albeit not so heroic in stature (though that could be just the photos).  However, they don’t sell the figures as ready-made packs for each buntai, as this range seems to be aimed more at larger armies.  So it would be a matter of picking a number of poses and mixing them into a themed buntai myself.

maker_perry_samurai everydayLike North Star, there is no doubt that the Perry figures have captured the Japanese look and feel.  I especially love this set of samurai in everyday clothing.  They look as though they’ve just walked out of the Shogun TV series.

One thing I’ve learned from this latest rush of enthusiasm is that (like Western history) there are huge differences between samurai over the period of time.  The North Star and Perry miniatures figures are set in the 1500s and 1600s, or the ‘Sengoku’ (warring states) period.  Armour by this time had simplified from its hey-day.  For the much more lavish and boxy samurai armour, you have to look at earlier periods before the introduction of gunpowder.  And one company that makes figures for these times is Westwind Productions.  

Samurai warriors of the early periods were skilled archers.  These figures show the unusual quivers and asymmetrical bows used in Japan.  Whilst the figures themselves, from these photos, don’t look quite as good as those by North Star and Perry, there is something about  the boxy armour and the typical side flaps to the helmets worn in this earlier period that I really like.  And they appear to my eye more like those old Japanese samurai prints, such as the one heading this article.

Another maker of samurai from the earlier periods is The Assault Group.  They also look like quite nice figures.


This photo from The Assault Group’s gallery shows just how colourful the early armour is (in this case from the Gempei War that took place from 1180-1185).  What a wonderful challenge to paint! This particular figure was painted by Kai Teck.  

Back to the later Sengoku period, and there is yet another option – plastic!  Wargames Factory have put out a number of boxes of samurai troops. You assemble these figures, and can end up with a very reasonably priced army.  As can be seen here, they paint up well.  My only gripe is that they look a little wooden in pose.  I would prefer something akin to those dramatic exaggerated  poses seen in the old Japanese prints – which I think most of the previously mentioned ranges gave captured to some degree.

However, wooden poses or not, there is no doubt that painted up,  these figures can indeed look superb.
Yet another option – going bigger!  Steve Barber puts out a small range of 42mm samurai figures from the Sengoku period, which look rather well-done judging from  the photos I’ve seen.

At their large size, these would be awesomely impressive models.  That spear must be about 8-10cm long.  I also like the way Steve Barber has captured the asymmetrical bow correctly – many makers have their archers holding the bow in the middle as if they were European bows.

michtoys figure
If I’m looking at bigger figures, then I should also look at some smaller ones.  These are plastic 1/72 scale samurai made by the Russian firm Zvezda.  According to Plastic Soldiers Review, the Zvezda samurai are very good miniatures indeed.

The posing of the Zvezda figures in my opinion is great, with lots of dash and vigour.  If I was to go small-scale, these figures would certainly be worth considering.  And at the lower price, they would make large armies possible.  But I must say that I’m not used to painting figures this small, and I’m not 100% convinced about soft plastic.



So far as scenery is concerned, most of what I already have in the way of roads, rivers and trees will suffice (though with maybe a bit of cherry blossom added to some of the latter!).  However, to give it that Japanese feel, it would need some buildings or other typical Japanese bits and pieces.  Sarissa Precison do some attractive 28mm Japanese buildings as pre-cut wooden kitsets.



Another interesting scenery maker is  and Plast Craft Games (Fukei), whose simple but characterful buildings would really give that oriental feel.


Plast Craft Games also make some nice resin pieces, such as this Japanese grave set.

Anyway there it is – as you can see, my mind is churning over with the possibilities of collecting samurai figures and terrain.   Even the process of writing this posting has got me more enthused.  There are just some major decisions to make first, not the least being what scale, what manufacturer, what period, what rules …   Ah, the daydreaming will keep me going for some time!

さよなら, everyone!  


38 thoughts on “Musing and enthusing on samurai

      1. Why resist? The rules seem cheap (I actually preordered a set last night for less than $20NZ including free postage). And the amount of figures needed for a game is small. I think it is a very do-able side project.

  1. Much to ponder Samurai Roly … though Ronin Roly is maybe one of those clues that fate throws our way every now and then! 8O)

    An instructive post. Bravo … or whatever the Japanese equivalent is.

    von Peter himself

    1. Ronin Roly? I’ve been called many things in my life … but Ronin Roly?!

      But, yes, fate seems to be re-directing me back to samurai …

  2. Always an enticing period! Shogun was cool, I enjoyed it the first time around… and have done my fair share of martial arts in the past…

    If it keeps you in the hobby – go for it!

    If I was you I’d probably go with the Perrys, due to the quality and proportion of the sculpts, though if you want something easier to paint then go with one of the bolder scales…

    For pity sake, dont go soft plastic – yuck!

    1. I do really like the Perrys, Scott. And they’re a known quality (ie very high).

      For me it is more a question of whether to go for the early samurai in boxy armour (ie not Perry), or the later samurai with the colourful sashimono (flags) on their backs. ,

      It’s kind of like choosing between Norman knights or renaissance Landsknechts!

      And, no, nice though those Zvezda figures look, I’m think I prefer 28mm metal …

  3. My wife was watching the “Shogun” DVD as I was reading this post . . . *grin*.

    You might well get a few samples from the various figure makers to see how they look in person (and to see which ones might be usable together) before making your final choice as to figures.

    In any event, I do look forward to seeing your photos of this projected period as time goes forward.


    — Jeff

    1. Getting samples would be a good idea, but shipping them here means that in the end each set of samples becomes quite expensive.

      My ideal would be to see some other local gamers’ samurai figures from various manufacturers, but I don’t think there are too many around here to see.

      For example, The Assault Group samurai look somewhat unimpressive in the b&w photos, but from coloured photos I’ve seen, they may actually be hiding their talents under a bushel, as they look very good. But without seeing them somewhere, it is a bit of a plunge, as photos can lie (one way or the other).

  4. Really nice post, quite informative, especially about the range of figures available. I have pre-ordered Ronin. I have some Perry figures on hand, mostly unpainted.

    Thanks for posting.


    1. I’m glad you liked the posting. i too have now pre-ordered Ronin (just the book, not the figures). I was surprised how cheap this rule set was here in New Zealand – less than 20 dollars, even including postage. Can’t argue with that …

  5. summer grasses,
    all that remains
    of warriors’ dreams.

    For some inspirational fiction, permit me to recommend Cloud of Sparrows by Takashi Matsuoka. It is set shortly after Commodore Perry has forced Japan to admit western traders, but prior to the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the Mejii Restoration. Beautifully written prose.

    As for samurai … it is a subject I’m interested in. Like you I’m curious about the forthcoming Ronin rules. However, since I’ve a huge amount of Clan Wars figures already I will forgo most of the buntai boxes. The exception is the Sohei set. No monks in the collection and both the sohei and the ikko-ikki interest me.

    As for Zvezda, they do make 1/72 hard plastic figures for their new Samurai Battles game. One does not get as many with the soft plastic sets, but at least they should take paint properly. Should you be interested in the game, here’s the official website.

    Good Gaming!

  6. Thanks for that, Ancestral Hamster (love the name!).

    I’ll have to try some of these Japanese novels people are mentioning.

    Thanks for the info on Zvezda. Yes, I had seen their hard plastic sets. But I think in the end my mind is set on metal, anyway. .

    Must admit I didn’t know much about Clan Wars – I’ll have to look that up.

    1. You’re welcome.

      As for the nickname, thank you. Ironically, it is from the Legend of the Five RIngs CCG ( which sparked my interest in samurai. Though L5R is essentially a Japanese-themed fantasy, it made me want to learn about the historical basis which served as inspiration for the designers.

      Clan War ( was the miniature game based on the L5R CCG, and was a natural follow-on for me from the card game.

      Speaking of Japanese-themed fantasy games, Kensei is one such miniature game. They have some fine figures such as this kensei ( who bears a resemblance to Toshiro Mifune! They are on the large side at 30 mm, so they probably aren’t compatible with the 28 mm you are considering. (Still, hero models should be larger than life …)

      1. Thanks for that information.

        Another somewhat heroic-sized 28mm range is a Canadian company called Kingsford. I’m reading very good reviews of them, so,(assuming I settle on the later period samurai) they might just be worth a go.

        My other choice, at the moment is Westwind for the earlier period.

      2. I know this threat is pretty old, but Kensei is NOT a “fantasy game” in the strict sense. It is located in an imaginary country, yes, but the “fantastic” part is optional. And their miniatures are much much better than those of North Star (their katanas are horrible in my opinion)

  7. You’ve clearly put a lot of thought into this, Roly. How do you feel about painting all that intricate armour? Your skills are certainly up to it, but do you think the time it would take to paint each figure would lead to a loss of interest?

    But it’s a great idea. I remember watching “Shogun” as a youngster when it first came out (and having to plead with my parents to watch it because they thought it wasn’t suitable as it was too “adult” – they gave in when I persuaded them that I’d read the book anyway). I’d love to watch it again, so long as it’s a version where all the Japanese dialogue is actually subtitled.

    Best wishes


    1. Because I’m only looking at skirmish gaming, I’m quite happy to spend a lot of time painting each figure. In fact, knowing my gaming (or lack there of), they’ll probably never see a table anyway. So the painting is what actually interests me.

      I didn’t mind the lack of subtitles in ‘Shogun’ – it seemed to give it even more an aura of authenticity. And you could sense what they were saying anyway.

  8. I’m kinda tempted to get a few Perry packs and make up a buntai. It’ll probably never et played but the painting would be fun!

    1. I know exactly what you mean about painting vs gaming! I don’t think my buntai will ever actually see a gaming table either … but does that even worry me? Nope!

  9. You forgot to Mention the Movie .. the last Samurai .. filmed there in NZ over in Taranaki …
    Theres a scenario for you .. 🙂

    1. I was looking for a DVD of that movie in the library the other day, Paul. Too late period (by a couple of centuries at least) for my project, but would still be fun to watch for inspiration about the country and people. And, yes, it was filmed in New Zealand with Mt Taranaki filling in for Mt Fuji!

  10. Hi
    Found your blog through your excellent Maori Wars coverage, as this is a period I am just starting, really enjoyed this Samurai post as I to have just pre-ordered the Ronin deal from Northstar, like yourself I have been interested in Samurai since childhood (many years ago now) and have been meaning to game this period for a long time. Ronin did it for me due to the small amount of figures required, along with the fact that they have produced a set of figures based on my all time favourite movie “Seven Samurai”, I would like to add my recommendation of Oshiro Model Terrain, they are definitely not closed and the owner is an excellent chap to do business with.
    I will be contacting you shortly re ordering those excellent paper trees.

    1. Thanks for that, Simon. I haven’t ordered the pre-deal, as I’m not 100% sure about choosing their figures. I’m also tempted by Perry and Kingsford.

      I must watch Seven Samurai – I saw bits of it once, but probably need to source the whole movie.

  11. Zvezda products are amazing and look better than many metal figures, especially the chubby Dixon metal blobs. Nevertheless, if you want to stick with metal in 1/72 = 25mm, take a look at DT Models:

    DT Models Kopp & Mahlendorf
    – Thomas Lauble –
    Hausacher Straße 1
    77709 Wolfach
    Tel. +49 (0)7834 869753 /…54
    Fax +49 (0)7834 869755
    “Thomas Lauble” (very nice Chinese, Koreans and especially Japanese Ashigaru y Samurai)

    The company address is Mr. Lauble’s day job, so please restrain from bombarding them with game-related enquiries via phone or fax. I am not asociated with Mr. Lauble or Hagen Miniatures in any way, but I like the products a lot and thought that you might perhaps, too. 🙂


  12. For my part, I prefer battles to skirmishes, so my Oda and Takeda forces are in 10mm. The Sengoku era was about armies in the scores of thousands, not individual heroes. “The Seven Samurai” is as good a guide to Momoyama battles as “For a Few Dollars More” is to the ACW.

  13. I enjoyed reading about the various miniatures. I don’t do war games but I have been looking for mini samurai figures for roleplaying games such as Bushido. Some of the less expensive options seem like good possibilities if they ship overseas. These figures look like a lot of fun just to have around. I would recommend the book “Musashi” by Eiji Yoshikawa for a truly great novel about samurai.

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