Josh Plays Shogun 2 Part 2: Sengoku Tower Defense

By Josh
on Sep 12, 2011
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

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The months of the sakura blossoms are waning, giving hold to the sweltering heat of summer. Though we’ve broken the backs of the treacherous rebel forces that threatened our leader’s hold on our home province, we now face much greater threats from without.

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And this is why the Oda have a “difficult start.” It’s only turn two, and both the Tokugawa and the Saito are poised to attack Owari. Now to me, it seems a little strange to see a major faction like this have such a difficult start in a game released in 2011 – not that I’m complaining, by any means. I like a good fight. And no matter how you play it, any Oda player is going to face three separate armies in as many turns – or less. It’s like we’re playing Medieval Japanese tower defense!

So can you believe that at the game’s release, this was actually much harder?

In a fairly recent patch, the AI for the Oda start was tweaked slightly to make it a bit less aggressive. Which is to say that in the original release, both the Saito and the Tokugawa would attack Owari at the same time at the end of turn one. It was a rare, curious thing when playing any other faction if you didn’t get the “Oda have been crushed” message at the beginning of turn two.

Before the patch, even surviving into the second turn as the Oda gave me real trouble, and most of my victories involved cheesing the AI by bringing my main army in as reinforcements behind their main force and tricking the computer into throwing away its generals on my spearmen. I’ve certainly lost more Legendary Oda campaigns on the first turn than I’ve played into the second turn.

Fortunately we’ve got a bit more of an even fight now, since I can pick each army apart at my leisure. Which is a good thing, because I sort of screwed up last turn and over-extended my army chasing down the rebels. I knew Creative Assembly had made the start a bit easier, but at the time I wasn’t sure how they’d changed it – and had the Tokugawa attacked Owari last turn, even without the Saito’s help, I would’ve been in some serious trouble.

So let’s just count ourselves lucky that they decided to stop ten kilometers outside the castle and hold a great big picnic.

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Since they’re so close to the castle, my forces in the castle will automatically reinforce my main army’s attack, so I’m saved the trouble of moving them. We do have a numerical advantage of 85 men, but as we’ll soon see, the AI won’t be slacking off in this fight.

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The terrain here isn’t very rough, but it is heavily forested. This will dampen the effect of missile fire and cavalry charges, which will help quite a bit with my strategy. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

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First, I take the time to walk my reinforcements forward to rendezvous with my main force. Once they’re formed up, I begin another slow march forward. Now, if I may take a brief aside here;I’d like to comment on how the battlefield combat in the Total War series ventures very close to “sim” territory. There is a vast swath of variables that the system is taking into account at any given time. The morale system itself is so complex, I don’t even fully understand all of its intricacies, and I’ve read a great deal about how it works. Suffice it to say, the system takes into account such nebulous things as whether there are enemies behind a given unit, how many friendly units are nearby, what nearby friendly units are doing and what their morale level is at, and the exact distance the general is from them. Try finding something like that in Starcraft.

Another system in place to increase battlefield immersion is the fatigue system – each unit grows more tired as they perform actions, and being fatigued will directly effect their combat performance and morale. That’s why I’m walking my troops across the field instead of running – I don’t want to be at a disadvantage before I even get to the enemy.

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Apparently the Tokugawa don’t read much Sun Tzu, because they’ve just been sitting around waiting for me to slowly form up my armies and stroll over to their picnic. This brings up a bit of a complaint about how the AI handles early battle action. If the AI is defending, they will almost never move first, unless your army is so tiny that the advantage they have is almost insurmountable. Additionally, on defense, if there isn’t any good ground they can form up on properly within their starting area, even after the battle starts, they will never attempt to take any more defensible land. Even if it’s a forest 10 meters in front of them. So instead they’ve opted to simply stand in the middle of an open field and wait for my army to show up. Smart.

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Once I get into archer range I order my bow units to start firing at Tokugawa, specifically their spearmen to the far right and bowmen to the left. Because my main line is completely hidden, the Tokugawa only see two bow units and two generals, and they send their right yari ashigaru into the forest towards me. Now I know some of you are thinking, “But Josh, you said last time that firing out of a forest will reduce the effectiveness of your bow units!” And this is true, but I need the protection of the forest for my own spear units.

You see, yari ashigaru have a special formation mode called “spear wall.” This puts them into a very tight, phalanx-style formation, condensing a large volume of spear points into a very small area. You can see my forward right yari ashigaru in this formation above. In this mode, they can hold their ground against much more powerful assaults, as long as they’re intercepting the attack from the front. They’re very vulnerable to flanking in this formation, and even more vulnerable to missiles. But if you can minimize the disadvantage like I’m doing – keeping their flanks secure and putting them in terrain that minimizes the effectiveness of missiles – they can even hold off threats as powerful as katana samurai.

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When their expeditionary spear unit comes close enough to see my main line, it becomes a little indecisive, stopping for a brief moment before turning around and apparently heading back to its lines. But in a move I didn’t expect, the AI turns it right around after a few seconds and begins to charge with everything. It also splits off one of its generals and begins to flank my lines, probably looking to charge into my left bow ashigaru, or perhaps even my general. Moves like this would sound completely ridiculous in earlier games like Medieval 2, where you would be lucky if the AI didn’t simply charge their cavalry head-first into your forward spear line at the very start of the fight. But with Shogun 2, the AI seems to finally understand cavalry flanking.

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Things look to be going well for me initially, but then I try to move my right spear-walled yari some ten meters to the left to plug a small gap in my center that has me concerned. The unit commander seems to have a different idea of how to interpret this command, so he turns the entire formation ninety degrees and marches the entire line forward. Lovely. Really, this was probably my fault, it’s easy to accidentally change the facing of a formation when you’re moving it. But it doesn’t make it any less irritating, since their spear-wall is now totally useless, and will actually hinder them, with the formation sticking its right flank in the enemy’s face. I pull them out of spear wall and move my yari samurai forward to assist.

You can also see my bow ashigaru ahead of my main line too. I probably ordered them to fire on the spear unit that’s fighting my own (and losing) on my left flank, and they just kept rotating the formation to get the best firing angle. An easy mistake to make, but my inattention is going to cost me their arrows, since they’re going to end up stuck in melee in a few seconds.

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At this point, the main melee fight has devolved into a massive blob of blood, steel, and death. On the other hand, my only competent unit so far, the left yari ashigaru, have routed their opponent and left me free to bring them around onto the enemy’s left flank, partially encircling the Tokugawa line. Their daimyo’s also charged into the middle of the fray, and you can see my bringing mine around to do the same.

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I’ve also managed to intercept their general’s flanking maneuver, and my spears are now chasing their general away. I’ve just ordered my general to lay chase, which will almost certainly discourage any further attacks.

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And now the Tokugawa’s main line has broken, and there’s little more to do but mop up. Now, something to keep in mind is that all of what I just described, from the moment the battle was joined, took place in the span of no more then three minutes. That’s really where the difficulty truly lies in this game – to be able to fight in multiplayer or at the highest difficulties effectively, you simply must be able to micro-manage your units well.

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Despite my early blunders, we come away with a Decisive Victory and a 2.5 to 1 kill to death ratio. Though a few of the Tokugawa’s units have retained enough men to survive their mass-rout, they are now in full retreat. The threat, for the moment, is over.

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Additionally, both Takayama and Nobuhide have leveled-up. This is a completely new feature to the Total War series, in that you can now increase the skills and specialty of your general yourself, rather than getting somewhat random bonuses as they would before. You can fill out their skill tree (I always go for strategist first – more movement means more options)…

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…And increase their retinue with new retainers.

Since both the rebels and the Tokugawa are in full retreat, and the Saito army isn’t big enough to challenge us directly, we’ve finally secured some breathing room. And I think now is a good time to discuss our grand strategy, since it will play directly into what I’ll be doing soon.

The Oda specialty lies in their superior ashigaru – conscripted peasant troops. These are actually a rather new concept in Japanese warfare – for a very long time, battlefields have been dominated by the samurai warrior caste – each samurai was trained from birth to be a warrior. In prior wars, the land-owning samurai would supplement their forces with conscripts from their own land. But in this period of constant and often-total warfare, many daimyo were forced to supplement their samurai with much larger masses of conscripted and hired peasants with no direct ties to their lands, and these ashigaru armies would go on to become the backbone of warfare during the Sengoku period.

Ashigaru are weak, but cheap to train and maintain compared to samurai. To give you an idea of how they fare compared to samurai, let’s compare the important battle stats of an Oda Yari Ashigaru – our primary peasant-melee unit – versus the stats of a katana samurai, the primary samurai-melee unit.

Yari Ashigaru:

Attack: 5
Defense: 4
Morale: 6
Armor: 2
Charge Bonus: 1
Cost: 200
Upkeep: 50

Katana Samurai:

Attack: 12
Defense: 4
Morale: 10
Armor: 5
Charge Bonus: 15
Cost: 750
Upkeep: 150

Doesn’t look so inspiring, does it? Even though you can field three of them for the cost of a single katana samurai, their combined stats would only just barely come out on top. And their reduced morale will really start to cause problems as the battle drags on.

And yet, the Yari Ashigaru is the best unit in the entire game.

And that leads us to the key to my entire strategy: Blacksmiths. A blacksmith is a special building that certain provinces posses that can be upgraded to add either melee attack or armor to all units recruited in the province. At its maximum level, a weaponsmith-specialized blacksmith will add a hefty +4 melee attack to units. And if that’s not hefty enough an upgrade, you can augment that additionally by building a Jujutsu-Dojo, adding an additional +2 to melee attack. Suddenly the disparity seems a bit smaller, doesn’t it?

Yari Ashigaru:

Attack: 11
Defense: 4
Morale: 6
Armor: 2
Charge Bonus: 1
Cost: 200
Upkeep: 50

Katana Samurai:

Attack: 12
Defense: 4
Morale: 10
Armor: 5
Charge Bonus: 15
Cost: 750
Upkeep: 150

Now of course, someone with a weaponsmith and a Jujutsu-Dojo could upgrade a katana samurai in the same way, giving them a whopping 18 attack. But this is where the cost becomes significant. For the same cost of two upgraded katana samurai, with a combined attack of 36 you could field six yari ashigaru with a combined attack of 66! Six ashigaru is more than enough to completely encircle two samurai, which would significantly disrupt their morale.

And there are more advantages to this strategy. Samurai-heavy armies typically require a large bushido-tree investment, at the neglect of the chi arts, which significantly boost economic power. Our investment into bushido will probably end as soon as we unlock the encampment building (which is the prerequisite to building a Jujutsu-Dojo – this will also give us access to another Oda special spear unit which is even more powerful). The rest of our time can be devoted to mastery of the Chi arts, and since yari ashigaru require no specific buildings to recruit, we can fill all of our non-blacksmith provinces with economic buildings to further boost our economy.

There are two provinces with blacksmiths within our reach. The Hojo-controlled Sagami province to the east:

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And the Ikko-ikki controlled Kaga province directly to the North:

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While Kaga looks closer, the mountain range between us is insurmountable, and we’d have to fight our way around. Sagami province is somewhat easier to get to, since we’re at war with the Imagawa, and our fight with them will inevitably lead us all the way to Suruga province directly west of Sagami. While I’d ideally like to hold both provinces, just one will be enough for our purposes and chances are I’ll be too busy securing our borders to take both. So Sagami it is.

We’ve crushed a rebellion, repulsed an invasion, and now we have a plan. It looks as if things might just work out after all.

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From the Archives:

  1. Zagzag says:

    I’d like to know Josh, does all the historical knowledge of this period that you demonstrated in the last part come from the game, or was it that which made you want to play the game in the first place?

    • Josh says:

      I’d say it’s probably a mix of both. I knew some basic things about the Sengoku Jidai and Japanese history in general before I played Shogun 2, but the game got me interested enough to go learn more. And this let’s play is getting me to go back and learn even more as I continue my research and go back and check to make certain that my impressions about the period are factually accurate.

  2. Rayen says:

    i’m quickly coming to seriously considerr buying this game… may have to wait for my new job though…

  3. Steve C says:

    Is the peasants vs samurai dynamic any more complex than their stats? For example, do samurai take a bigger morale hit if they lose to peasants? Or samurai charge more often because “they’re just peasants, let’s get them!”?

    • Josh says:

      There is significantly more dynamism than their stats, yeah. Most critical is that ashigaru are vulnerable to morale shocks and samurai aren’t, i.e., if one ashigaru routs, all of the other ashigaru will take a morale hit, which is compounded by their lower overall morale. These disadvantages can be mitigated through careful management though – not letting your line get flanked, using rally when morale beings to drop, inspiring units that are taking a lot of punishment, etc.

      But the stats are a key element to any unit, and six fully-upgraded yari ashigaru will beat two upgraded katana samurai almost every time.

      • Thrawn says:

        Ya, it’s not uncommon in a large battle to see ashigaru units that have not even entered the battle yet routing, especially if you get their general. I do love how the ashigaru are not useless in Shogun 2, like the peasant militia in Medieval 2 were, and you did not even talk about how bow ashigaru are almost as good early game as any other bow unit (and in large numbers, they remain so throughout the game). They do have the late-game disadvantage of filling your unit stack quickly, but by then you will be able to afford better units, of course.

        • Dys says:

          The advantage of bow samurai is that they carry swords. A unit of bow ashigaru will be easily shattered by any melee attack, the bow samurai can hold their own.

          I like to have bow samurai on walls, since they can fire at anything trying to climb up, and stab anyone who actually makes it.

      • rrgg says:

        So they fixed this? I remember in Rome and m2 when adding peasants actually hut more than they helped by taking the good troops with them when they routed.

        • Grudgeal says:

          In so many words, yes. As mentioned, ‘resistant to morale shocks’ lessens the impact of events that suddenly reduce morale, i.e. things like being charged, flanked, or having nearby friendly units flee. Despite not having this trait, Ashigaru are the core of armies in Shogun 2, simply because maintaining all-samurai armies are economically infeasible if you’re going to develop your lands at all.

          And as the Oda have cheaper AND better ashigaru than everyone else, it goes double for them.

        • Grudgeal says:

          That said, with inspiring influence and a high-ranking minister of the economy, you can have a relatively cheap samurai army.

  4. MikeH says:

    Hola,

    I actually wrote a big paper, 25 pages, on Samurai warfare as a part of a 400 lvl writing intensive class during my undergraduate classes; Ashigaru warfare was inspired by the Mongolian invasions, in which the primarilly mounted samurai could not overcome the phalanx equipped Chinese Soldiers, masses of foot archers, and hordes of Mongolian Horse Archers (the best in the world). Basicly, they aped the Chinese. The first Ashigaru mentioned in historical sources were Archers.

    What I find really interesting is that we have entirely different styles of play. I use enormous masses of bow or matchlock ashigaru in a 2-1 ratio with Yari samurai, with .5 Naginata Samurai and .5 Cavalry. So an example of my early game army:

    General
    4 Units Yari Samurai
    2 Units Naginata Samurai
    2 Units Light or Yari Cavalry
    8 units Bow Ashigaru

    • Josh says:

      If the Oda had easy, early access to matchlocks like the Shimazu (it takes a looooong time for christianty to spread all the way to Owari), then I would probably be using matchlocks as my primary offensive force, simply because they’re so powerful in this game. They make defending castles a joke and they can completely shatter formations of samurai.

      And my playstyle in terms of army composition tends to differ depending on which clan I’m playing. I field large samurai armies as the Shimazu, ninja-based armies as the Hattori, and so on. In multiplayer, back when I still played it, I favored katana-based armies with a central core of between four and six heavily-vetted katana samurai, with bow cavalry and a unit of matchlock monks as my skirmishers, two yari samurai to cover my flanks from cavalry, and two to three ninja as shock troops. It was always fun assassinating generals with a well placed grenade barrage.

      • Dys says:

        Personally I tend to make it my personal mission to prevent the spread of christianity across the whole of Japan. I refuse namban trade, burn any trade ports I capture, and use monasteries and monks to reverse any damage.

        I don’t think I’ve ever seen a matchlock fired in Shogun.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      Japan? Copycatting the Chinese? Surely that NEVER happened. ; )

  5. Dovius says:

    Nice! This is quickly becoming one of my favourite features on the site.
    Also, a relatively simple thing like surviving units retreating adds a lot to the feel of war in a game, in my opinion. It’s all well and good to have 2 bunches of dudes go in and only 1 emerge, but to truly have broken your enemy and sending the survivors fleeing in sheer terror of your own army is much more satisfying.

  6. SougoXIII says:

    Your let’s play is pretty good Josh. You actually made me want to play this game and I have never really get into strategy games.

  7. Grampy_Bone says:

    Ha ha my first game of Shogun 2 I said, “Screw the peasants, I will only allow noble and honorable Samurai in my army.” I ended up having money troubles and routinely faced battles in which I was outnumbered. Hmm.

  8. SolkaTruesilver says:

    Hi Josh. I recently bought the game because of you (thanks!) and my first game was played with the Date Clan. Because of recent successes and moments of badassery, I came to believe the Date Nodachi were genuinely very badass, but I read over the internet they aren’t that good.

    I’d like to know your opinion on the Nodachi.

    (if you want to know what makes me believe in the power of the Nodachi: I was outnumbered 2400:1600, with 2 units of Nodachi at 2/3 strenght. I set up my force defensively while sending the Big Swords up a very steep ridge. I noticed the ennemy had exposed Ashigaru Bowmen halfway down the hill, so I didn’t think twice and charged them. The computer sent 5x Ashigaru Yari to intercept me, charging uphill, thu diverting about 40% of his forces…

    My Nodachi broke 2 Bowmen and 4 Yari units by themselves, until they were defeated by the ennemy general intervening. The killcount at the end was 2100 lost men for the ennemy and 1300 for me. The Nodachi racked about 500 kills by themselves. Lost the battle, but the invasion was stopped there forever)

    • Sara Pickell says:

      I’m not the expert Josh is, but here’s how I understand the issues with the Nodachi. As an offensive charging force that kills enormous amounts of enemies, they’re actually pretty good. Unfortunately, they have low defense so you’re going to lose a lot of them. On top of that they’re an expensive Samurai unit so if you manage to loose the entire unit that’s the better part of a thousand kyoku to replace it. Lastly, they’re also slower than your average cavalry, and may not be as good of straight up killers as the naginata warrior monks (supposedly, haven’t used those myself.)

      So early game, they’re a pretty expensive unit that stands a good chance of being wiped out. Mid-game they have a kind of specialized role that they fill very well but you may not always need. Late game with all the possible options on the table and facing big stacks of mostly samurai… unless you’re really good with them it’s hard to justify why those slots aren’t going to something else.

      On the other hand, my personal opinion is if you find ’em badass keep using ’em. General wisdom isn’t always right about these kinds of things. I can see how units like these could go a bit further with a player who was willing to concentrate on them.

      • Kian says:

        Ultimately, your composition doesn’t really matter unless you are playing humans. The computer has a fatal disadvantage that means even if you don’t have the optimum build you will still win.

        The disadvantage, of course, is that while the AI, complex as it may be, is looking at the field and playing based on what its state is, the player is looking at the AI. Look at Josh’s posts, for example. He doesn’t completely understand every detail, but he knows how the computer reacts to different input.

        When the enemy is massed in the field, he doesn’t plan ‘how to defeat an opponent camped in an open field’ but how to maneuver the enemy into fighting where he has the advantage. The computer is incapable of doing the same.

        That’s the main difference between playing against a human and playing against computers. It’s trivial to start playing the computer, and most people do it without realizing. Whenever you take advantage of quirks of the AI, you’re doing it.

  9. Grag says:

    I’ve only played Medieval 1 and Rome:TW, so hearing about the enhancements is interesting to me. I may have to pick up shogun 2 when it gets less spendy.

    I think in rome I spend most of my time cavalry flanking until the enemy routs.

    Does Shogun have a system for buying mercenaries? Do those ever figure into your strategy?

    • Simulated Knave says:

      I think Shogun 2 is the best one so far (the second-place, at least for me, would be Rome, mostly because I HATE the Merchant mechanic in Medieval 2). It’s smooth, it’s fun, and you have a lot of control over what happens.

      Shogun theoretically has a system for mercenaries (ronin), but I’ve never actually seen them available.

      • Zombie says:

        You only hated the MERCHANT mechanic? Most ofthe mechanics for Medival 2 were broken or infuriating. Shogan actually looks like one ofthe best of the series.

  10. Garci says:

    Wow, I’ve never played any of the Total War games before, but this series of posts has made it unbelievably appealing, particularly with the whole Sengoku period wars. Great read Josh, I’ll make sure to give this game a try when I get the chance!

  11. Simulated Knave says:

    The weird thing is, I find the battles in Shogun 2 may be easier than in previous Total Wars. My first battle in Medieval 2, for example, ended in tragedy and tears on all sides (and I still have no idea why). In Shogun, on the other hand, I usually stomp the crap out of an AI opponent (sometimes more effectively than others, but as a rule).

    I admit I haven’t played on Legendary, though – for all I know the tactical AI gets a lot sharper at higher difficulties.

    Also, the AI seems to charge me more with its generals than in previous games, if anything.

  12. Rutskarn says:

    Reading this series really throws into sharp relief how bad I am at these games.

    “Okay, for my army, let’s go with…spear dudes. Spears are good against cavalry, right? And as many horsies as I can afford. Oh, man, I can train bowmen here? Never mind, let’s make that half the army. I can rain death before they even get within range! Pew pew!”

    • Raygereio says:

      Oh, man, I can train bowmen here? Never mind, let’s make that half the army.

      Given that particular game’s wonky balance, you’d win easily like that in King Arthur the Roleplaying Wargame.

      • Will says:

        Which is why players who want a challenge turn bow damage down a lot, because otherwise at the start you just obliterate everyone with massed archers and at the end you get obliterated because of the Sidhe archers, which are better than your archers.

    • Dovius says:

      You are not alone.
      “Ooooh, let’s make an entire army of knights! Fear my horses, groundwalkers! Wait, are those spears?” *YOU HAVE BEEN DEFEATED*

      • Grag says:

        If you really want to get a sense of how to play this game, watch Time Commanders on the youtubes.

        Spears are dangerous from the front. Cavalry flanking them is a very acceptable solution, but sometimes dangerous if they turn around fast enough.

        • decius says:

          Which brings up a different question… why didn’t spear formations drilled such that the 2-4 soldiers on the flank edges could rapidly turn to face the flank?

          Port arms, left(right) face, ready arms is a set of commands that should take about as much time as running 10 yards in formation…

          • Chargone says:

            because whoever’s commanding them can’t see THROUGH them and still be in shouting range… plus the din of battle. plus the longer pole arms are Really Freaking Awkward. (pikes are bad enough. japanese infantry spears are, if i remember rightly, Worse). don’t get the entire formation moving perfectly at the same time? half of them just got stuck or fell over.

            but yeah, mostly it’s a battlefield awareness/command lag issue.

    • Falcon says:

      That said bows are almost brokenly powerful if used properly.

      I’d usually have 6-8 bow units, enough spear and swords to cover their frontage (3-4) and fill the rest with cavalry/ generals/ siege equipment. Get some high ground and expect 50% enemy casualties before melee. Fun times.

      • theLameBrain says:

        The fact that archers are almost brokenly effective is probably due to the fact that the AI does not take advantage of the “Loose Formation” command…

        • Sumanai says:

          Strange. It did use Loose Formation in Medieval 2 from what I remember.

          • tremor3258 says:

            If there’s one thing the AI actually showed super-human coordination at was quickly getting whole blocks of different troops into loose-formation under barrage.

            Mind you, the fact the AI tended to just sit there anyway and let the arrows come in did tend to have me buying up every bow I could get my gauntlets on.

    • Vect says:

      Better than I am. My strategy is usually:

      “OK, you guys go over thyah and you guys go over hyah.”

    • Reet says:

      I’m really bad at RTS games for a completely different reason, namely I can’t concentrate on ordering more than one unit around at once. So in a game like this all my battles either end up with me sending my guys in one at a time or just having all of them charge at once and it never seems to work out very well.

    • Jarenth says:

      I generally just buy a bunch of units based of which ones have the coolest picture and throw them at the enemy until one of the armies stops moving.

    • Destrustor says:

      I just don’t have the reflexes needed to micro-manage my troops fast and efficiently. Attacking usually means “send those dudes over there and hope they’ll win” because if I try to control them during the fight they seem to become just as disoriented as me. And then they die. And then I panic and make even more bad decisions.
      It never ends well when the enemy has initiative and attacks ME.
      I’m just not good at real-time strategy. Turn-based is a much better field.

    • Zombie says:

      Stratagy in most Total War games was idiotic *coughMedival2cough*. That said, This game looks like it rewards not just rushing all your cavalry into the big group of units that is the enemy.

    • tjtheman5 says:

      I follow the time honored Russian tactic of making tons of cheap units and sending them in waves. That is probably why I enjoyed Stalin vs. Martians.

  13. Jack DeCoeur says:

    Just going to throw my hat into the praise ring for this series too. A very enjoyable read which is actually teaching me something- who’d have thunk it?

    I haven’t actually played the series since Medieval II and had all manner of issues with the AI in that game (defending towns, even when outnumbered hideously was embarrassingly easy) so it is very interesting to note the changes and updates to the series. I too may have to invest in this game when I upgrade my machine at the end of the month.

    Oh and Rutskarn, I can say with utmost certainty that you are not alone in your tactics. ‘Pointy death from above!’

  14. Dwip says:

    The only problem with this series is that it’s making me want to go back and play more of the game, and I don’t really have time right now.

    I find your plan…interesting. Sagami’s a ways away, and going through the Imagawa/Takeda juggernaut should be pretty exciting.

    (or at least I assume they’ll be one. Takeda in particular has been epic in every game I’ve played so far)

    Speaking from recent experience as the Hojo, once you finish fighting your way through there, your life will be good. Blacksmith? Gold mine in Izu? Good farmland? Hojo have it made. Pity their seige specialization isn’t all it could be.

  15. swenson says:

    “Samurai-heavy armies typically require a large bushido-tree investment, at the neglect of the chi arts, which significantly boost economic power.”

    Anything about which you can write a line like this in perfect seriousness is an awesome topic.

    I’m really loving this playthrough! I’m finding it extremely interesting. Hope you keep them coming. :D

  16. rrgg says:

    Katana samurai, grrrr. This is the one thing that has kept me from getting this game. It seems CA just can’t get over their slobbering love affair with swordsmen. For some reason in every total war game they give the very best stats to specialists that almost never existed historically and would have been redundant anyways. Swordsmen made little sense in Rome, even less in medieval (what happened to” in the battle line, one spear is more useful than 2 swords”?), and of course the samurai didn’t even carry shields.

    Though i havent actually played shogun 2. Just how bad are katana men this time around?

    • Book says:

      Samurai historically did exist, and swords are the best weapon possible in a straight up melee. But that’s not what actually matters in Shogun 2. Almost the entire game is built on morale, making units that can stay in a fight a while before getting scared and running away the real backbone of an army. What units have the best morale? Not samurai. Monks. Monks with naginata and bows. A samurai unit would slaughter plenty of ashigaru before they were outnumbered and destroyed, sure, but they are far from the best unit in the game.

      More than morale, a melee unit charging a ranged unit with time to spare or being supported by other units will definitely lose regardless of whatever is in their hands. Matchlocks are the biggest indicators of that, the sound of a single volley can turn a samurai charge into a rout, depending on other circumstances.

      Not only that, but you can play the game any way you want, with any core you want. Matchlocks, bowmen, cavalry, or just pure spear ashigaru can win an entire campaign by themselves if you play to their advantages. That includes online play too, however winning one with just ashigaru requires some intelligent strategy.

      • Simulated Knave says:

        The thing is, monks are a lot flimsier than samurai. They may not break, but they stack up like windrows if you point bows in their direction.

      • rrgg says:

        Samurai were real yes but they never headed into armed with just a sword, instead their primary weapons were bows and polearms. Swords can be useful in a swirling hollywood-style melee, but historically that sort of fighting was rare and short lived (on account of soldiers not being suicidal). The standard tactic was to fight while keeping your distance as much as possible, hence the need for weapons of reach. So 90% of the time a swordsman on the battlefield would have been pretty much useless. The other 10% when he lucks out and swords do get a chance to shine, he has the advantage right up until all of those archers and spearmen drop their weapons and pull out their own sidearms (also swords). That’s really the big idea behind swords, they’re handy sometimes, but until then you can carry them in a scabbard freeing up your hands to carry a much better weapon.

        • Grudgeal says:

          Samurai dominated the battlefields of Japan between the late Genpei war and during the early Kamakura period, prior to the Mongol invasion, and were probably composing a significant fraction of men under arms for much of the Muromachi and early Sengoku period. Their battlefield tactics were mostly inherited from traditions of the preceding Heian period (classic imperial Japan, when the Emperor was still a power figure and not just a figurehead). According to these traditions, battles were viewed as a mass-scale duel between men — many of the Samurai ways of acting seen in historic (fiction) films and books, like taking your opponent’s head or introducing yourself to your foe before fighting — have their roots in this era. We’re not talking ‘soldiers’ in a modern western sense, we’re talking a warrior cultus with an honour system that didn’t really go ‘obsolete’ until the mass peasant armies began during the Sengoku era, 300 years after the origins of the samurai caste.

          In other words, Samurai and their predecessors fought in (relatively) small-scale battles that were conducted as exchanges of arrows and then a full-scale melee that was conducted as a series of two-man duels, with the winner of each duel seeking out a new opponent. When formation fighting and mass conscripts do not exist, meaning your battles will be against equal foes without the risk of someone stabbing you in the back, and an honour system dominates a fight and your battles becomes a series of one-on-ones, polearms drops rapidly in use compared to shorter-reach weapons such as swords. The invention of the katana is believed to be sometime during the late 1300s or 1400s, and had supplanted the bow as the samurai signature weapon by the late Muromachi period. Samurai *were* probably used as sword-based shock troops, most likely intended for use against other sword-based shock troops, for a good 150-200 years between the late Muromachi period and much of the early Sengoku period.

          • rrgg says:

            Unfortunately, swords still do not have the advantage in one on one combat. Spears have a lot of leverage with two hands and can easily outmaneuver a sword, keeping

            • Chargone says:

              i can honestly tell you, having done the whole swordfighting thing and watching those who were much better than me:

              the higher the skill level of the participants, the more advantage the sword has over the spear, one on one, on foot.

              of course, to be fair, the styles i saw used were Always either two-handed weapons or paired weapons. (… no, one does not due wield longswords. not if one has a brain.)

              use the short blade in your off hand to trap/deflect the point (first stepping to the side to avoid the stab), bring the main blade into a guard against the inevitable strike with the butt of the spear, catch the head again, stab. once you get past the point the spear user is screwed. (err, reverse main and off if you’re not a weird one like me. i use a slightly odd defensive style that actually puts the smaller weapon in the main hand and the larger one reversed in the off hand. apparently very awkward to attack past or defend against, but it loses a fair bit of power in it’s attacks as a trade off)

              heck, a pair of daggers is enough. getting past the point is a Little harder, but once past it the spearman’s only hope is if he can somehow back up faster than you can advance (highly unlikely), get a lucky shot into your leg (difficult), or has a buddy to help him.

              leverage means a lot less than you’d think, unless you’re trying to overcome steal plate… which was vanishingly rare, if not non-existent, in japan at the time.

              ‘course, a single blade against a spear is a fair bit trickier. instead you need to deflect the point into the ground, step on it to lock it in the ground, then strike. but again, the sword is Faster. overcome the point and the sword’s ability to strike from the sides as well as thrust (the spear can, but is slower) at speed is a huge win factor.

              also: spear shafts are made of wood. a sword can actually cut through it. a spear isn’t going to cut through a non-crap sword.

              of course, in a line of battle a spear is massively more useful than a sword. just as a shield is substantially more useful than having a second weapon in your off hand. (arrow fire and massed charges being an issue). the two situations are rather different.

              (it should be noted that some of the best trained infantry in the Napoleonic era in europe Still carried, and used, swords in the melee. if you were properly trained in their use, they were just Better in that situation. but they still carried bayonettes so their guns could become spears to hold off cavalry. (british rifles used sword-bayonettes. same bit of kit to do both jobs. was heavy enough that it stuffed up their accuracy if they tried to fire with it fixed though.))

        • MikeH says:

          He is correct, the Katana did not even exist until the 12th or 13th century; until then they had the Tachi which was famous for breaking if looked at the wrong way.

          Interestingly enough, CA got polearms completely wrong in this game. Naginata were used for centuries before the Yari was invented (again, stolen from the Chinese/Mongolian invasion) and the first Ashigaru would have been the loan swords, in very small numbers (peasant vassals and enforcers of the local lords) then Bow Ashigaru which ended Bow Samurai as the Primary armament, replaced w/ the Naginata. Then the Yari, which everyone and their brother was armed with because it was cheaper and more deadly than the Naginata.

          When guns were introduced they pretty much replaced everything else, to the point where in primary sources we have the leader of Japanese forces in Korea after the Sengoku Jidai telling samurai without matchlocks to stay home.

          • Grudgeal says:

            In many ways, the Japanese medieval evolution of warfare was a microcosm of the European medieval one, with some major paradigm shifts happening due to contact with foreigners. Initially, we have a warrior caste, similar to European knights/nobles, who take care of most of the fighting with their lifelong devotion to weapons. They’re supplemented with small numbers of undisciplined peasants, who can’t really do much in a one-on-one, lack the time and training to use sword or bow effectively, and have no honour because they’re commoners and are therefore looked down on.

            Then comes the Mongol invasions, which introduced mass infantry and use of mass spears/bows peasants. Over the next 300 years, these start to become more and more integrated into warfare as armies grow bigger and bigger, with the warriors (Samurai) taking positions as elite shock troops (cavalry, bowmen, and with the invention of the katana, heavy shock infantry) supplemented with mass number of seasonal close-combat peasant conscripts. Other exotic, multi-purpose weapons like the naginata appears, mirroring the European halberd/billhook/glaive and allowing for greater battlefield flexibility by being an anti-cavalry weapon with infantry-repulsing ability.

            By the Sengoku period we first of all get guns, which allow peasants to mass project firepower (training time measured in days? Yes please!) and replaces the bow as more and more are forged. We get a rise of true mass formation tactics, and full-time professional ‘commoner’ soldiers (similar to the Italian militias and mercenaries like the Swiss and Lansknechts) instead of levies and feudal nobles that are bound to serve by seasons. The sword and naginata and other exotic melee weapons are replaced with the basic ‘pike and shot’, with swords becoming the emergency rather than the primary weapon. The noble warrior caste is now relegated to the supplement position on the battlefield: They’re outnumbered by the peasants, quantity and pragmatism replaces feudal honour codes and quality, long-trained bowmen are replaced by mass peasants with guns, the foot charge is now suicide, and even cavalry becomes obsolete in the face of mass pike.

            Europe had pretty much the same development between the 9th to the 16th centuries, with the major differences being the evolution of armour alongside the weapons (more protection for nobles means elite warriors stayed relevant comparatively longer) and the crossbow (introduced mass easy-trained ranged peasant conscripts to continental Europe some 300 years before the gun, except the English who trained their peasants with bows).

  17. Captain2990 says:

    Wow this is a really interesting lets play i’ve never read one on this type of game before and wasn’t even aware such intricate strategies were ever used but i’m loving reading about them, i just wish i could be nearly as good at RTS’s.

  18. Spammy says:

    Hey Josh, could we get a few gratuitous battle shots zoomed in on the carnage? Can’t be anything worse than what we saw on Spoiler Warning, you’re not killing people by exploding incinerators at them. The big shots of the battlefield strategy is cool and all, but sometimes I want to see a dude flying in the air because he got hit by a horse.

    Also, you’re a better gamer than I, I couldn’t play Rome without the pause button.

  19. Even says:

    Reading this reminds me again why I dread playing RTS like these in a multiplayer enviroment. It’s not that it’s hard to grasp, it’s just the thought of learning all the nuances and bits of detail to able to play at somewhat competent level AND actually remembering all that and actually turning all that knowledge to something useful when you actually fight the battles. Ideally all you’d need to do is give the orders and plan and your underlings would actually make the magic happen and you wouldn’t need to worry about something so ridiculous like micro-managment. And that’s not even the worst part of all of it. It’s all the damn numbercrunching and metagaming usually associated with all the high-end play which kills any fun actually trying to learn to play.

    I guess I just can’t help it. I like to dick around and go with my own flow when I play RTSs which I guess pretty much means I’m a single player forever. On the plus side, the developing e-sports around RTSs is looking promising (it’s actually fun to watch to my surprise, and I don’t watch much regular sports, except hockey occasionally). I just wish there was something featuring more sophisticated games like this.

  20. Grudgeal says:

    Personally, I always go with armoury + armourer over weaponsmith + jujutsu dojo because it’s a universal armour boost (which archers/gunners also benefit from), and because units gain better melee attack by experience anyway while armour is fixed. With a +5 armour, even the basic ashigaru or monks become annoyingly resilient in melee and allows them to stand up to samurai long enough to let my flankers hit home (or in the case of monks, butcher them wholesale). It also means enemy archers lose a lot of effectiveness, especially if you bait them with a 14 armour naginata/bulletproof samurai unit.

    I guess it’s a question of preferred playstyle. I can definitively see the advantage of +6 melee attack too, and the AI seems to favour that one.

    • Khizan says:

      Disclaimer: I’ve never played any of the Total War games, so I’m not sure how applicable this is here.

      In a lot of games, offense is often a better choice than defense because, quite often, a low defense can be partially or completely compensated for by player skill. Depending on the game, this can mean dodging, shoot-and-duck from cover, unit positioning, superior micro, tactics and maneuver, blocking, or basically whatever.

      In comparison, a low offense is often a low offense regardless. While player skill comes into the matter with tactics, offensive maneuvers, headshots, and similar forms of player skill, you often hit a skill ceiling where player skill can only take your offense so far before it starts being reliant on your weapon quality.

      In most games, when given a choice between one or the other, I’ll take offensive upgrades over defensive ones every time, just because it’s easier to make up for a low defense with smart play than it is a weak offense.

      • Chargone says:

        heh. i tend to go the other way because i just don’t have the reaction times in most contexts.

        i’ll take range and armour boosts over damage boosts unless the alternative is outright not doing damage because the opponent did the same thing.

        also gives one a chance to recover if one does the wrong thing….

        not that i disagree with your assessment at all.

  21. UtopiaV1 says:

    I am really loving this series you’re doing Josh. I actually find myself eagerly awaiting your next installment, but I admit, it’s probably for selfish reasons.

    I’m a vet TW player, I’ve bought and played each incarnation to death (Medieval 2 being my favorite, despite its many flaws, most of which are fixable with mods). While your let’s play is fascinating, I’m really just waiting to see if this game is worth my time and money. (I’ve played the demo, and it’s pretty limited, so still on the fence)

    I don’t like the graphics engine, it’s a real hog on older systems, and I’ve had crash-to-desktop issues since Empire. I’ve upgrade the cpu to quad-core, but that’s barely made any difference, the meat of the issue seems to be my lack of ram (a mere 2GB, it’s all my mobo is capable of). The way this engine downgrades in the options is awful, especially in Napoleon, where setting unit detail on ‘medium’ or lower makes dead bodies disappear! Can you believe that, a TW battlefield with no corpses? Absurd!

    I digress. Great series, and a fascinating game you seem to have started here. I look forward to how it turns out, your strategy seems sound (I have always relied heavily on upgraded peasant/militia forces myself). You want to borrow my Art of War? You may need it if you go the same way as the Oda historically…

  22. Daimbert says:

    I played the first Shogun, which I enjoyed but for some reason once I’d finished it once I had no desire to play it again. I’m sure that was on a low difficulty level, and I spent a lot of time assassinating leaders with geishas, especially at the end. But I never really got into Medieval much. I should get back into these games, I guess. But since I never really got itno the tactical parts of the game, how are the strategic options?

  23. Turgid Bolk says:

    Very cool. I would love to see a few close-up screenshots of the battles though, if possible. Exciting!

  24. BeamSplashX says:

    Did anyone else have trouble imagining the opening paragraph in Josh’s voice? I even tried to throw in some swears and I still couldn’t pull it off.

    Great write-ups, though.

  25. Zombie says:

    So how is the Cavalry in this game, are they like Rome, where their useful, but you never really need more then three of four, Medival 2, where you need them to win, or Empire, where their usless, unless the enemy has Cannons?

  26. shrikezero says:

    The first battle I played in Medieval 2 involved carefully plotting and placing and maneuvering according to all the strategy tomes I’ve read. I studied the AIs armies and structured my defense to account for the best position and cover. It took me the better part of an hour (shut up, first battle)

    Aaaand then I hit go and the AI (attacking remember) runs his army all the way across the map to the furthest corner and hides in the trees…

    Which I thought was some elaborate tactic and waited. For ten whole minutes of real time watching the AI hide in super fast accelerated time. Awesome

    Then I got frustrated and took my entire army and sent them to attack. Which resulted in a very Benny Hill like “battle” consisting of running from one end of the map and around in a big curve.

    Sounds to me like Shogun 2 at least has a more complex AI.

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