In Hagakure Kikigaki, a practical and spiritual guide for the Bushido warrior code, the author, Yamamoto Tsunetomo, states that:
“There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man's whole life is a succession of moment after moment. There will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the moment.”
When I first encountered Warbands: Bushido fostering a sense of mindfulness was certainly helpful. The problem was that the game launched with a major problem, namely, prolonged and often doomed attempts to connect to the server. Thankfully, the developers have since switched servers, which means that although there is still the odd problem, at least now I can actually play. So, if you were one of those people put off by any frustrating initial experiences then now may be the time to give the game another chance.
Warbands: Bushido puts the player in command of a band of warriors from medieval Japan. The game is portrayed using a traditional hex-grid battlefield, viewed from an isometric perspective. The designers strive for the look and feel of a traditional, if rather simplified, tabletop wargame. In effect, you are playing a simulation of a wargame, which in itself is a simulation of actual warfare. The game tries hard to capture the feel of tabletop conflict; the nicely detailed units are unashamedly unanimated and there are no flashy attempts to hide the game’s simple dice-rolling mechanics. The boundaries of the map display the table edges and you can even earn pots of paint to customise your units.
Before battle can commence, you need to create your warband of individual units. You can set up different bands for multiplayer games, single-player scenarios, and arena battles. Each unit costs a number of your limited supply of war points to enlist. In multiplayer games your experience level sets the limit, whilst the solo scenarios specify how many units you can enlist and the number of war points that you can spend.
Just as significant as the battles, are the game’s collecting aspects. You can use your hard-earned coins to purchase new shiny boxes of miniatures and crisp packets of order cards – all designed to get the obsessive collector slobbering with glee. The real pleasing aspect is that all purchases are made using hard-earned coins, with not an in-app purchase in sight.
The overall structure of Warbands: Bushido is heavily influenced by Hearthstone. You fight to gain achievements, which earn you coins, which are spent to buy new units and cards. The random acquisition of these items is somewhat alleviated by the ability to turn them into magic powder that can then be spent to purchase items of your choice. The multiplayer matchmaking, arena battles and your constantly fluctuating level, as you win and lose battles, are all very reminiscent of Blizzard’s popular classic.
Combat is quick and straightforward. The order in which units act depends on their agility, which also determines how far they can move. When conflict occurs, both units roll a number of combat dice based on their current toughness levels. The dice have X’s that represent misses, skulls that signify hits, and banners that are special hits that also improve morale. The player with the most hits reduces the total by the number of hits achieved by their opponent. The remaining sum is subtracted from the losing unit’s toughness. Some units have armour points that will absorb damage.
Players also have a selection of order cards that they can use, as long as they have enough morale points. These have a range of interesting powers such as “Touch of Wind,” which thankfully isn’t a bout of mild indigestion, but an opportunity to increase a unit’s movement range. Each unit also has a special ability card that also costs morale to use, for instance, the archer may be able to perform a powerful steady shot if he hasn’t moved that turn. Later in the battle special equipment cards will appear on the map, which can turn the tide of a battle.
Some may find the choice of units a little bland and uninspiring, with the gunpowder wielding unit probably the most unusual. The designers go for an historical theme; there are no sorcerers, creatures of folklore, or even any sneaky ninjas. Units are organized by rarity, which will determine the experience level they can reach and the corresponding new powers that they can acquire.
The tutorial is very brief and inevitably leaves a lot of questions unanswered. It gives an overview of the combat system, but to understand the actual structure of the game you will need to make constant referrals to the rules section. Even then there will be instances when things remain unclear. The different types of warbands are not adequately explained, and neither are the modifiers for flanking and rear attacks. There are also a few unwelcome hangovers from the PC version that have ninjaed their way over. The font size is too small, and the way in which the windows are organized is untidy. Furthermore, the instructions refer to clicking the right mouse button, which doesn’t really fill you with confidence. Another small annoyance is that on some levels the scenery can obscure the dice rolls.
Warbands: Bushido is designed as a game of quick ten-minute skirmishes, with strict time limits. Do not look too deeply for tactical challenges and be prepared for luck to play a significant role in battle outcomes. The developers should be commended for resisting the obvious urge to fill the game with in-app purchases, especially since the format of the game lends itself to such transactions. This does mean that you will have to invest a significant amount of time and effort if you want to create some powerful warbands. The three solo scenarios are a nice addition, they can be played across three levels of difficulty, but they cannot be played offline.
Warbands: Bushido is the sort of game that relies on building a solid following to ensure that finding a range of equally matched opponents is easy. Sadly, the game’s reputation hasn’t been helped by early problems. Mistakes happen, but to charge for a game that is virtually unplayable is pretty unforgivable and a marketing nightmare. At least the developers have admitted their mistakes and made efforts to put things right as soon as possible.
Let’s conclude with some more of the wise words from Yamamoto Tsunetomo:
“Even if it seems certain that you will lose, retaliate. Neither wisdom nor technique has a place in this. A real man does not think of victory or defeat. He plunges recklessly towards an irrational death. By doing this, you will awaken from your dreams.”