Category Archives: North Star

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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Filed under North Star, Samurai, Uncategorized

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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Filed under North Star, Samurai, Uncategorized

‘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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Ronin samurai game at Kapiti club’s open day


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I had been kindly invited by the Kapiti Wargames Club to put on a display game at their open day today. Having recently completed painting my samurai armies and constructing suitable terrain, this was the perfect opportunity to give them a public outing.

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As I had a couple of hours to wait until my opponent Paul was able to arrive, I set up my terrain for the morning as a static display of a peaceful Japanese village lying blissfully unaware of the forthcoming battle.  And, yes – those are indeed chopsticks decorating the edges of the table to add a touch of oriental character to the display!

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The terrain consisted of buildings by 4Ground and Plastcraft Games, along with my el-cheapo Hong Kong blossom trees, and rivers and roads by Miniature World Makers.

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I populated my ‘morning diorama’ with some of Perry Miniatures’ delightful Japanese civilians, keeping my samurai figures out of sight beneath the table until the battle was due to start. This kept some open day spectators on tenterhooks waiting to see what the fighting forces would look like when they finally arrived on the table.

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The village scene included this small temple complex, complete with the typical Japanese torii gate commonly found in front of Shinto shrines, where they symbolically mark the transition from the profane to the sacred.

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This little bridge arching over a babbling brook looks peaceful enough here. But little do the mother and child know that this will shortly be the scene of the bloodiest fighting of the day.

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The peace is suddenly shattered as the opposing forces begin entering the village from each side, and villagers scurry to safety. My forces wear the yellow or blue sashimono back flags, whilst Paul’s are the figures with the red and white sashimono in the background.

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I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow description of the battle here, as Paul has already done that on his blog much more eloquently than I ever could. But here are a few shots of some of the milestone events of the day.

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I split up my force to attack each of the two river crossings. Here one of my groups rushes across the little arched bridge to assault Paul’s awaiting warriors.

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My leader in his ornate old-fashioned armour joins the stoush at the far end of the bridge, as both sides feed more and more figures into the fight.

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Paul’s leader, it must be said, turned out to be one tough samurai. Even though he was grievously wounded quite early on, he still managed to defend himself, and even inflict some telling attacks, before finally succumbing in the very last turn of the game.  He is seen here lying rather undignifiedly on the ground, no doubt to have his head removed soon as a trophy.

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Here’s the end of the game, as seen by a passing Japanese seagull.  At the top right is the final aftermath of the fight at the bridge.  Meanwhile, on the left one of my arquebusiers hides behind a rock after my attack at the ford has been resoundingly beaten off by Paul’s men.

We had to call the game quits at this stage.  But a result was still achieved, with me winning by a slim margin once the victory points were toted up.  In fact, we had both despatched the same number of enemy each, but I won because Paul’s losses were of higher ranks.  This included his doughty leader, who died as honourably as any samurai could ever wish for:   ‘The samurai’s life is like the cherry blossom’s, beautiful and brief. For him, as for the flower, death follows naturally, gloriously.’

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I also took photos of some of the other games being played, including this spectacular D-Day beachhead game.  Being a scenery-lover, it wasn’t so much the beautiful figures and vehicles that attracted me, lovely as they were, so much as the delicate portrayal of the waves lapping the beach, forever frozen in a snapshot of time.

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I’m told that despite a valiant effort, this time the Allies didn’t succeed.  In this particular universe, the war would have taken a totally different course.

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Just down the coast, meanwhile, commandos and glider-borne troops were raiding a heavily defended shore installation, with unfortunately much the same result for the Allies.

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These commando kayaks brought back memories for me.  These were the same as the first-ever Airfix figures that I painted as a youngster.  This was the first time I had seen these models since those long-gone days.  Almost brought a tear to me eye!

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I was also rather impressed with this lovely model of a Horsa glider, broken open after landing.

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Many thanks to the Kapiti Wargames Club for hosting us at their open day. Paul and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. And it was great to see so much enthusiasm for gaming from such a wide range of ages. Well-played, everyone!

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Filed under 4Ground, Kingsford Miniatures, North Star, Perry Miniatures, Samurai, Uncategorized

A look at my new ‘Ronin’ samurai rules and figures

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Much excitement here, as the order of North Star figures and Ronin rules for my samurai skirmish project arrived in the mail yesterday.

The figures
The North Star figures depict four ‘buntai’ (or groups) that you can use to play samurai games.  I’ve reported before on the exact make-up of these buntai in a previous post.  

The figures arrived in four clear plastic disc cases, one for each buntai.  These boxes looked very impressive and professional with their printed slip-covers, which include lots of eye-catching painting information.

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In each box were the figures making up one of the buntai. These models look nicely sculpted and cast. They are all in lovely dynamic poses that exude ‘Japanese-ness’. The anatomy proportions look pretty realistic to my eye, though perhaps verging on the heroic in terms of weapon to figure size – but I like that.  Overall, they’re nice and appeal to me very much … and I am fussy!

There is going to be a little bit of clean-up work to do, with some jaggy bits from casting process to remove (somewhat similar to the way Perry figures often come). A few figures require some slight assembly, especially where scabbards and ‘sashimono’ (back banners) are concerned. But once cleaned up and assembled, these figures appear as if they’ll be a joy to paint.

I plan to base the figures individually on washers, as this is the ideal set-up for skirmish gaming. And I’m already thinking of ways to make these bases look Japanese – maybe adding a little stone lamp, or bonsai tree, or even a raked gravel garden effect!

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Despite the very sturdy packaging of the figures in their disc cases, and the bubble-wrap bags containing the figures, sadly there was still one breakage in my order. (Such breakages always leave me in a quandary – do I ask for a replacement figure, in which case I feel mean at probably clawing back any profit the company has made from me; or do I live with a very fragile glued-together repair job – particularly as my talents don’t lie to replacing the long ‘naginata’ (sword-tipped polearm) with wire?).

All in all, though, a nice lot of very interesting figures.  They’ll be a fun challenge for me to paint, as I know next to nothing about feudal Japanese uniforms and armour!

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The rules
I was looking forward to reading these rules. But in hindsight, I’m not sure why, as rules generally make my eyes glaze over. I’m not a numbers person, and I’m slow at picking up rules mechanisms. As a consequence, I just don’t enjoy reading rules (and this might also be why I am not that frequent a gamer, feeling happier just building up my forces for some imaginary game that never actually occurs for real!).

What I’m trying to say is that perhaps I’m the wrong person to review the rules because of the above. The rules were for me just as I find most other sets of rules I read – not at all my cup of tea as a reading experience.  Nevertheless, I suspect they are very good rules for those who do like the rules part of gaming. So I’m going to put a link here to another blog for those of you who want a more objective review on Hachiman’s Toy Chest.

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Suffice to say, though, that the publication itself looks good, containing lots of juicy pictures of beautifully painted miniatures alternating with colourful artwork from other Osprey books on the period. So the book will be very inspiring for my painting and Japanese terrain-making.

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Overall conclusion of the figures and rules? I would think most people interested in this period will love them. I’m certainly happy with them (even with the caveat about my own personal difficulty with reading wargames rules of any type!).

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Filed under Books, North Star, Samurai

Samurai miniatures decision made

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I mentioned in a previous posting that I was mulling over which line of 28mm samurai figures to buy to accompany my recently ordered Osprey Ronin ruleset for  late 16th century feudal Japanese skirmish gaming.

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Well, I’ve finally decided, and put in my order.  This whole process of planning a new period is one of my favourite parts of the hobby, with the delicious decision-making prior to any commitment to the project, and thus allowing constant changes of mind as my fancy flits from one range to another.  And in this case I stretched out this wonderful mulling out for several weeks.

There were several contenders.  I love Perry Miniatures figures, and their samurai range is certainly extensive and made up of beautifully animated figures.   Kingsford Miniatures also came very close to winning my heart, with some lovely big figures.  And I was also tempted by the early-period samurai figures produced by Westwind Productions.

But in the end I settled on the North Star range, which is actually designed to go with the Ronin rules anyway.  The reason for my choice is that, good whilst the above mentioned ranges are, none of them have made me suddenly want to start a new period when I’ve seen them previously on the internet.  It wasn’t till I recently saw the North Star figures on the internet (as below) that my imagination was fired.  So there was obviously something indefinable about them that grabbed me.

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I splashed out and ordered all four sets of their figures, shown below (though these have been beautifully painted to a standard I won’t be able to emulate – though I’ll have fun trying).

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The first group are some samurai warriors accompanied by ashigaru foot soldiers.

Sohei Monk Buntai

This group depicts the warrior Sohei monks, who’ll be very colourful in their yellow robes.

Bandit Buntai

These bandits, led by a duo of particularly fearsome ‘ronin’ (masterless unemployed samurai), will be an interesting band to play with.

Koryu Buntai

Finally, we have some more ‘ronin’, this time in ordinary clothes. Seven of these figures are based on the characters from the famous Akira Kurosawa movie Seven Samurai.  I’m not sure who the sensei is modelled after, but presume he is also a Japanese movie character.

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So, all in all, once I’ve painted all the figures, I’ll have four factions (or ‘buntai’).  With a little bit of Japanese scenery, I’ll be all set to host various match-ups of skirmish games.

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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!

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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!).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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

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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.  

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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.

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However, wooden poses or not, there is no doubt that painted up,  these figures can indeed look superb.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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!  

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Filed under Foundry, North Star, Perry Miniatures, Samurai, The Assault Group, Uncategorized, Wargames Factory, Westwind, Zvezda