Category Archives: Samurai

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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‘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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Filed under Colonial New Zealand Wars, Empress Miniatures, Eureka Miniatures, Samurai, Tribal

Home improvements to 4Ground’s Japanese shogunate houses

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A couple of novels I’ve been reading over the Christmas break have inspired me to do some home improvements to my 4Ground shogunate houses. You can see the result in the above photo, as some 28mm Perry Miniatures samurai warriors battle it out in the garden (click on the photo for a closer view).

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The novels responsible for this burst of enthusaism are David Kirk’s pair of bold and vivid historical epics of feudal Japan, based on the real-life exploits of the legendary samurai Musashi Miyamoto.

In Child of Vengeance, Miyamoto is a high-born but lonely teenager living in his ancestral village. He takes the samurai’s path awash with blood, bravery, and vengeance, culminating in the epochal battle of Sekigahara.

Sword of Honour depicts the feud between Miyamoto and the esteemed Yoshioka Sword School in Japan’s former capital of Kyoto.

Now, I can’t say how accurate or not these novels are, as I am not too knowledgeable about samurai. However, what I can say is that they definitely provide the feel of the place and period. The characters aren’t just western heroes transposed to an oriental setting, but instead act and talk as thought they really are Japanese – helped no doubt by the fact that the author himself lives in Japan.

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After reading the novels, I decided to pull out my existing samurai scenery. I’ve got several 4Ground buildings, which I’ve been very pleased with (see my 2014 review of these kits). But seeing them out of storage for the first time in a while, I’ve realised that the teddy-bear fur thatched roofs look like … er … teddy-bear fur. You can see this in the above picture that I took a few years ago (with a couple of Kingsford miniature figures in the foreground).

I recall in shows where I’ve used these buildings that several little children seemed to take inordinate interest in the roofs of my houses, more than anything else on the table. Now that I think about it, I even heard one of them whispering to her parents that it looked like my roofs were made out of a teddy – can’t fool kids!

So, some home improvements were in order.

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This morning I took a big brush and sloshed a watery burnt umber artists’ acrylic paint all over the thatch. Once this was completely dry, I dry-brushed the roof with a range of ochres, yellows and even white. The results now look a lot more realistic (and certainly a lot less teddy-like!).

Whilst I was at it, I thought the original wooden verandah roofs and ridge decorations were a bit too stark. So they all received a watered-down burnt umber wash as well.

Hopefully the occupants of my little houses are happy with the renovations. Sayonara!

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