Into the Fray – Test of HonourJuly 27, 2018
Into the Fray is an ongoing series of articles exploring skirmish wargames.
Two warriors stare grimly at one another, their hands resting on the hilts of blades passed down from parent to child generation after generation. A silent moment begins, stretching into the peace of eternity, infinity, before some unknown signal shatters the bliss of nirvana and both swordsmen draw, slash, and disengage. They stand motionless again, as if their engagement never happened. One smiles slowly and after taking a single breath his head falls from his body in a spray of blood, severed by a blow as perfect as the blade that cut and the hand that wielded it.
What is Test of Honour?
Inspired not just by history, Test of Honour: The Samurai Miniatures Game brings all the bloody glory of samurai warfare to the game table. Samurai films have been hugely influential on pop culture over the years but until now there has been a paucity of wargames in the genre. Test of Honour is a wildly fun and highly accessible skirmish game set in a fanciful interpretation of Japan’s Sengoku period.
Published in 2017 by Warlord Games, the brainchild of developer Andy Hobday (Footsore Miniatures, Gangs of Rome), Test of Honour has proven to be more than a flash in the pan and is supported by ongoing releases. The two-player starter is a truly excellent value and sets a new standard for its product category. Retailing for $50.00 US it includes far more than enough for two players to begin playing, including not just 35 plastic miniatures that lend themselves well to conversion and simple paintjobs (though, they can be a bit finicky to assemble), but all the tokens, cards, and other accessories necessary to get you started. Splitting this set with a friend could be the best $25 you’ll ever spend in minis gaming.
The core mechanics of Test of Honour are simple but elegant. Its rules are divided into two small pamphlets, a 16 page Main Rules book, and a 12 page Battle Guide offering advanced rules and scenarios.
Like many, if not most, miniatures games, you begin by determining a points level with your opponent (12 is a good starting point, 24 pushes the upper end of the game’s system)) and then choosing your force from your available models. Each model in Test of Honour comes with an associated card detailing its statistics and points cost. Begin by choosing a Samurai Hero (your general) and then commoners.
You can also choose bases of commoner warriors like spearmen or archers that are composed of 3 miniatures slotted temporarily into a larger round base and offering increased abilities before taking casualties. Each card you take will be accompanied by a token representing a commoner or samurai and placed in a bag along with your opponents and three neutral Fate tokens and give them all a good shake.
With your army on the battlefield you can play any of the several scenarios included in the two-player starter or create your own. Each turn you’ll draw a random token from the bag, determining whether you can activate a samurai or a commoner. Actions run the standard gamut of moving, shooting, charging, or making a cautious advance. After making your activation, place the token on the associated card.
If you eventually draw a token for a figure that can’t activate (only Samurai can make multiple activations in a round, and they can only make 2-3) you’ll hand the token to your opponent who uses it as they wish before taking their next turn. Draw one of the three Fate tokens and instead of activating a model you’ll draw a random card from the deck of Skill cards, which may give your samurai a bonus skill, an increased stat, or a secret trick to play at a critical moment.
The round ends when all three Fate tokens have been drawn. This creates a wonderful tension to the game as a round can end with inactivated models anytime after the second Fate token is drawn.
As for the resolution of play, models move a standard of 6” or 3” and make a shooting attack, or make a few other specialized forms of movement that offer benefits. Actions like shooting and wounding are made by rolling the game’s specialized six-side dice. Each die has a number of sides with Swords, Xs or blank faces. You’ll roll a number of dice determined by the attacking model’s stat card. Roll 3 swords (one side of each die has 2 swords) and you succeed. Roll 5 Swords and apply the relevant Weapon Bonus, usually doing more damage or inflicting a nasty penalty on the target. Roll more Xs than Swords and you Fumble; the model suffers a penalty determined by the kind of weapon it’s wielding.
Wounded commoners typically die on the spot, but all models can suffer Light Wounds and are marked with a token. For each Light Wound an opponent rolls an extra dice of damage against that model. Samurai are tougher and can even take Tests of Honour to try and shrug off wounds. If they pass the test they draw a random injury card that applies a penalty for the rest of the game.
This is further embellished by the Samurai-only ability to take Dishonour cards. These cards grant +1 on the next roll they make but the next Test of Honour made by any model in their force will be at -1.
A small number of other advanced rules can be added to the game to create a richer experience but the core rules can be mastered by even the freshest player in just a couple of games. The average time for a game is about 30 minutes making Test of Honour a great pallet cleanser between larger games or letting players binge numerous matches in an evening.
The game has also seen regular support since its launch in the form of additional units featuring new rules (mounted samurai, ronin, ninja, and more). Due to the small model count necessary to play each of these new releases also functions as a fully functioning army in its own right, or can be split up and integrated into a player’s existing forces. Naturally, any 28mm Sengoku era miniatures can be used for Test of Honour. Footsore Miniatures has just released a wonderful set of models that will admirably serve even the fussiest daimyo.
Peripherally, Test of Honour is also being supported by an extraordinary set of laser cut terrain kits from Sarissa Precision. These kits are well made, easy to assemble and paint, and offer an affordable and accessible level of immersion for players no matter their hobby skill. I really can’t endorse these kits enough. Just a couple of these kits painted up and added to a simple green mat battlefield will draw you right into the game.
The only notable criticism I’ve found about Test of Honour is that it will probably not satisfy dedicated historical gamers looking to recreate massed battles with a high degree of historical accuracy. It leans on more heavily on Kurosawa movies and the novel Shogun than it does on serious history, but it does offer a fantastic game for dedicated fantasy or scifi gamers to dip their toes in the historical gaming pool. Test of Honour is the game I will be using to introduce new players to hobby wargaming for a long time to come.