Category Archives: Samurai

A 28mm Japanese tower that looks Japanese!

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There’s something distinctive about Japanese towers that even the uninitiated can identify them straight away. However, this characteristic look can be quite elusive, as many of the model Japanese castles I’ve seen for sale to wargamers just don’t capture that distinctive shape properly.

However, that is certainly not an issue with the latest model building I’ve bought to go with my 28mm samurai figures. This wooden yagura ichi tower kit from Tre Games Inc definitely looks Japanese!

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What I love about this model is how it has captured the archetypal sloping base-walls, visible rafters and the complicated roof structure with the interesting gables. The shuttered windows, the holes in the walls for shooting weapons, and the crazy stone-work of the base all add to the look and feel.

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My model is made up from two kitsets: the Japanese yagura ichi tower ($US40), and its accompanying fortified stone base ($US20). The kits are made of laser-cut 1/16″ ash hardwood and 1/8″ birch plywood. Altogether, the completed model measures just over 7.5″ tall, and the base’s footprint is just a tad under 6.5″ square.

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I decided to do a bit of extra detailing to what was already a very good model. The roofs come off each floor, but whilst the floors already had a patterns of wooden panels, the walls were bare. So I simply used a black marker pen to draw in the beams, following the pattern of the exterior beams of the model, and shaded them in with colouring pencils.

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The base was a little tricky, as there are a lot of angles. I used rubber bands and pegs to hold the parts in place whilst they dried, then used a sander to round off the sharp corners. There was also a slight gap between the upper and lower walls, which I filled with glue.

Painting the base was easy: a spray coat of black, followed by a dry-brushing of grey, and finished with a very light dry-brushing of white. The base also comes with a separate set of stairs that you can place beside one of the two doors on the tower.

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The walls were very easy to assemble, despite the complex shape. I pre-painted the beams in dark brown, and the wooden sidings on the walls with a lighter brown, before glueing them together.

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The most extensive change I made was to the roof. The model comes with a roof that resembles a wooden planks. But I thought a tile roof would be more characteristic of a Japanese tower. I used some corrugated card from a craft shop, which I scribed horizontally with a metal ruler to produce the look of tiles.

I then simply glued the card onto the supplied roofs, spray-painted them black and dry-brushed them grey. Finally, I assembled the roof as per the instructions. Fitting the parts together was a little finicky, and overall there are some bits I probably didn’t get to fit quite right. But from a distance it all looks pretty good, and I’m happy with the overall effect.

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So there you have it – a perfect Japanese tower that’ll make a fine centrepiece for my gaming table …

Pros: Most importantly, it really looks the part! Not too many of the visible tabs that mar so many wooden kits. Removable roofs. Everything fits well. A  great price!

Cons: A little smaller than the 28mm Japanese buildings I have from other manufacturers. No interior detail other than the floors (though that is easily fixed).

Overall, very highly recommended!

Tre Games Inc is owned by writer, illustrator and entrepreneur Tim Erickson from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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Lighting for the wargames table

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Just like a stage production or movie, you need  good lighting too really bring a wargames table to life. Up till now my study’s lighting hasn’t really cut the mustard. But this week I’ve installed a new LED light suspended low from the ceiling, right above the table.

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The stage is set for war! As you can see, good lighting centres your attention on where the action is taking place.  Besides the new overhead lighting, I also still have my existing reading light, which I’ll be able to move around to highlight particular parts of the table.

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Even during daylight hours, the extra lighting helps bring the scene to life.

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From above, you can see how the table is evenly lit, and the colours really come to life.

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By the way, my table is currently set up for samurai warfare. The terrain includes my latest MDF buildings (centre and right above): two 4Ground ‘Jwar Isle’ hovels specially designed for GCT Studio’s Bushido rules – though I don’t play these rules myself.

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One thing to note about these two buildings is that they are slightly over-scale against my other 4Ground and Plastcraft buildings, as the Bushido range is designed to fit with their 32mm figures rather than the 28mm Perry Miniatures figures shown here. But other than the large doors, these houses still work OK.

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A bucolic scene as life goes on under the bright Japanese sun … er … under my new light.

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Japanese house – a blotz on the landscape?

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I guess I have to finally admit that I’m not really a wargamer, but a terrain enthusiast! The most enjoyment I get out of my hobby isn’t playing wargames, nor painting figures. It is making scenery. Not big messy projects like terrain boards, but small features to decorate the table, especially buildings.  I’m no scratch-builder, either. I prefer taking an existing kit and embellishing it.

And so it is with the project that has been entertaining me for the last few nights – building another model house to add to my burgeoning shogunate Japanese village. This MDF kit is from a British manufacturer I hadn’t tried before – Blotz (as in Buildings, Landscapes and Other ThingZ).

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Making this Japanese house kit felt quite familiar, as it uses many similar concepts to 4Ground’s kits, whose buildings form the major part of my Japanese terrain. For example, the walls from both companies are formed of a frame with inserted panels and separate inner walls.

However, unlike 4Ground, the Blotz kit isn’t pre-coloured, so it requires some painting.  I found this easier to do before breaking the pieces out of their sheets. The only parts that required some care were the interior walls, where you have to paint straight lines between the white and natural wood parts.

A particularly nice feature of this kit is that there is only one place where you can see any of the interlocking joins or tabs that so often mar otherwise attractive MDF models. And even this one visible join is on the inside, and so can’t be easily seen, especially when disguised with a little bit of paint.

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The sliding doors work (though they are a bit tight). I glued some tracing paper onto the back of the frames. This looks really good from the outside, and adequate enough for the few times you’ll ever see the inside of the house.

Another feature that often gives away such kits is the use of teddy-bear fur for thatch. However, I find that if you slosh the finished thatch roof with heavy washes of watered down dark-coloured paints, then dry-brush it with lighter colours such as yellow and white, the fur ends up looking more like thatch … well, at least not so much like it came from a skinned teddy bear!

So there we have it, yet another Japanese house for my samurai games – if I ever get round to actually playing one!

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A Japanese castle complex at last

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Ever since I first started collecting 28mm samurai figures, I’ve yearned for a Japanese castle to go with them. That dream is finally starting to come true!

Over the years I’ve seen a few castle models advertised on the internet, but they were either too expensive, or didn’t quite capture how I thought a Japanese castle should look. But when I spotted the latest new models in Plast Craft Games’ Fukei range, I realised straight away that they would fit both the traditional appearance and the affordable cost I  was after.

Even better, I found out that my local friendly wargaming shop (The Hobby Corner of the Paraparaumu Beach Pharmacy) could obtain them – and so the deal was clinched!

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I’ve previously bought some Plast Craft models, and have been very pleased with them. But they came unpainted, whereas these latest offerings are fully coloured. I especially like the weathering effects on the white walls, which really look like they have faced the rigours of the weather. The stonework isn’t just a monochrome grey, but gets more ‘mossy’ the closer it is to the ground.

The new models also use a wider range of materials, including pre-cut plastic, MDF, very heavy card and flexible rubber sheet. There are no printed assembly instructions – instead, you download them from Plast Craft’s website.

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These models took me only a couple of evenings to construct. The pieces pop out easily, and can be attached with super-glue. The fit of the pieces was good, but I did have some difficulty putting together the first level rafters, roof, platform and balcony of the corner tower. You need to be very careful to make sure the many separate sub-assemblies that make up this part of the model all fit together snugly.

The roofs are made of a flexible rubber material, which means they shape quite well. This material is quite springy though, so you need to use superglue to hold them in place. [I noticed after I posted this article that one of the upper roof corners of the sumi tower has come unglued!] 

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The main thing I did to improve the models was to hide the visible joints and to paint any bare MDF. For the former, I painted the exposed sides in colours as closely matched as I could get, and marked in the stonework or wooden planks with a fine black felt-pen, as you can see in the close-up picture above.

For covering the bare sides of the MDF, I quickly learned that the easiest way was to paint the back of the whole sheet before popping out the separate pieces. I used a chocolate-coloured acrylic paint that stained the bare surface, but was translucent enough to not show if it splashed onto any of the pre-coloured surfaces.

I also added some bits of vegetation around the bottom edges of the stone walls to further disguise some of the joints, and to merge the buildings into the terrain.

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As I mentioned above, I was initially captivated by how much these models really look like my impression of a Japanese castle. But to be honest, I don’t know much about the architecture of Japanese castles. So if what follows looks like I know what I’m talking about, it is only the result of an hour of googling! But this quick research shows that my initial impressions of the models’ accuracy seem to be correct.

Sumi tower

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The tall sumi yagura (literally ‘corner tower’) is constructed in the sotogata (‘multi-leveled’) style, and has a hip-and-gable irimoya roof. It is built on a stone base constructed in the haphard ranzumi pattern.

This model unfortunately has three quite visible tabs on each side of the lower wooden section. I’m pretending these are extra yasama, or rectangular arrow slits. But in hindsight, I should not have popped out these holes at all, but removed the corresponding tabs on the supports behind the walls – these tabs and holes are really not necessary.

Castle gate

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The gatehouse is in the watariyagura style, where a low protective tower spans the gap between the two stone buttresses. The doors open and shut (but are sadly only coloured on one side). Not depicted on the model is the trapdoor sometimes found in the floor above the gate that could be opened to drop stones or oil on attackers.

Castle walls

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The two walls of stone and dobei (white mud and clay over a bamboo lattice) are crowned by simple pitched kirizuma roofs. They are pierced by rectangular sama (loopholes) for arrows, and triangular sama for guns. The model does not depict the inside of these loopholes, which should be shaped like hourglasses in cross-section.

Behind each wall is a wooden ishi uchi tana (or ‘rock throwing platform’) on which the defenders can stand.

So, my verdict? Well, I think these models definitely do meet my requirements of looking Japanese at a reasonable cost. Assembly is fun, and (apart from the complex lower roof of the sumi tower) is relatively simple. Most of the visible joints that disfigure so many MDF models are easily disguised. And the models look particularly impressive posed together.

It is fair to say that for wargaming purposes these models may have some drawbacks, which may or may not be minor depending on the rules you use. There are no interiors – and the complex roof assembly means that it would be hard to convert them to have interiors. Also, there aren’t any obvious doorways to get into the buildings!

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But, hey, these drawbacks are nothing to the sheer ‘cool’ factor that these models will bring to any wargaming table, even if just arranged as a scenic feature along one edge! So I am more than happy with these models, and thoroughly recommend them.

Missing from this range is, of course, the centre-piece of any castle: the multi-storey tenshu or keep. Maybe it is on Plast Craft’s radar? It would certainly be an impressive model if they ever did make one!

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Sneak peak of my latest Japanese terrain

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Just a very quick peak at what I have been spending my hobby time on this weekend – the building on the left. More info to come soon when I have completed this little project. Sayonara for now!

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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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