Even if you’ve never played a tabletop game before, when you play Bushido the first time, you’re bringing in preconceived notions. Whether its from movies, history books, fantasy novels and shows, or video games, certain words and phrases conjure thoughts, strategies, and ideas. When you hear “Charge” a certain image pops into your head. It may be a band of underdogs running into a final fight. It may be a cavalry line stampeding to destruction. Bushido is going to use words that you think you know what they mean, but in this game, they’re different.
It’s worse if you’re coming from other war games. Coming from Warmachine, Reach threw me for a loop for months. I kept wanting to stay 2 inches outside of BTB and attack. War games use a lot of identical terminologies, and they often derive from similar uses. Even more so, a lot of games are copycats and variants of each other. 40k has dominated the hobby for decades not just on reputation, but because it is the standard other major companies hold themselves to.
Fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss has talked about maps in fantasy books and asked, “Why?” Why does every fantasy book have a map in the front? Because Tolkien had a map. Tolkien included one because his characters were using one. Everyone since has included it because its what you do at the front of a fantasy book.
Tabletop gaming has begun to see something similar, with Games Workshop viewed as the Tolkein stand-in. They don’t ask why they’re including certain mechanics, they just know they need to include them because that’s just what war games include.
With Bushido, GCT has pushed back against that trend. There are still similar names and terminology, but rather than mimic the games that came before them, they created unique reasons for including them.
I am going to highlight the four biggest preconceived notions that Bushido throws to the wind. Things that feel wrong at first, because everything you’ve ever played has done it differently, but once you wrap your head around the way Bushido intends for these skills to be used, you’ll start to see results.
Since adopting these facets, I have seen my play turn around considerably. I don’t win every game, but I can draw almost any game to a draw, and when I lose, I make my opponent work for it.
The Goal of Combat: The combat mechanics are already unique to Bushido, and are one of the big selling points of the game. Counterattacking and defending at the same time while exhausting both the attacker and defender is enough of a standout from the traditional rules to not have a lot of preconceived notions about it.
However, it’s so rare that you get to do it in wargaming, new players often feel like they need to do it. They feel like they need to take advantage of every attack to get their own licks in. If you’ve been following the blog I’m sure you can pick up on the theme through all the profiles: Roll Defensive!
Killing all your opponents doesn’t automatically win you the game. There is no caster kill default victory. The only thing you gain by killing your opponent’s models, in most scenarios, is throwing wrenches in your opponent’s plans, and the factions that lack combat power, have better mechanisms of disruption
Some factions want to be more aggressive. Ro-kan can afford the dice to throw attack and defense. Prefecture operates most of their Special Attacks off offensive prowess. Ito needs to get the attacks out to get the poison spreading. This isn’t to say every dice ever rolled should be a defense dice. This game would become very dull very fast. But knowing when to go on the offensive is the trick.
Combat in Bushido is about more than killing your opponent’s models. Sometimes, you just want to exhaust an enemy. Sometimes, you want to put a specific state on them, or change their facing, Push or Pull them off an objective. You can not only win, but dominate a game without ever dealing damage. Every other game I have played, once combat is engaged, the only objective is delivering damage and killing your opponent. Bushido adds several other layers to it that certain factions rely on over damage output.
Try running a game where you roll nothing but defense dice. Not a single attack. Even when you initiate, roll all defense. Watch how even the weakest models take turns to take down. Watch what ends up taking down the big models. Stacking States, reducing dice pools is the secret for a lot of the factions that shun brute strength. Jung can bring down anyone once they’re Prone, Stunned, Exhausted, Outnumbered, and Surprised. A defensive Ryu can out tank a mildly aggressive Minimoto. Ro-kan becomes slipperier than an attack happy Tengu.
Knowing how your faction uses the combat dice is important to learn. Just because you can roll Attack dice while defending, doesn’t mean you should.
Devastating Charges – War games love the Charge. It’s the first assault, the big assault. The heavy crusher. You get the extra distance, the extra damage. But every time I charged in Bushido to get the action rolling, to get that utterly devastating blow…I whiffed. Or succeeded on success level 0 to 1. Two activations spent on 1 wound. Not a good trade.
There are four times in Bushido where you should charge:
1) You need the extra distance. You’ve got only 1 model that has any chance of engaging combat with a model that you need to tie up, but you’re a few inches short on a walk. Rather than taking two turns to get there, you charge to get there in 1. It doesn’t matter if you flub the attack, the goal has been achieved.
2) You need to benefit from a Charging Bonus. Gaining fearless so your 1 ki model can ignore the Fear(6) you need to overwhelm. Tetsu smacking enemies Prone on the charge.
3) You have every advantage on the charge. They are reduced by 2+ dice, and you’re up. You can practically guarantee a success level 3 or higher.
4) The model is exhausted and you don’t want to give them 2 chances to roll defenses. If you need to stay in combat, and they’ve got Sidestep Defense, putting it all in one swing is better than giving them the opportunity to slip away multiple times.
Charges should often be the second or third man in. Get those states stacked on first. Have one model engage. Knock them Prone, Stun them, Blind them. Now when you charge in, they’re likely down 2 dice. Most models will be down to 1 dice meaning they have to roll defense and freeing you up for an all-out attack. Now you’re looking at success level 2-3, where the extra damage will result in an extra wound. If you’re up high enough, you can afford to drop dice for those special attacks you can’t justify in most combat exchanges.
Charging in Bushido should never be about the damage. +2 to the damage roll often means only 1 extra wound. If you’re spending both activations on this one attack, make sure you have a reason beyond just damage. If you are going for damage, eliminate as much chance as you can. Charge on your terms. Dictate the play,
Ranged – Move. Shoot. Melee. That order has been driven into people’s skulls through games, movies, and history. Two armies square off, fire some arrows across the battlefield as their infantry gets into position and the clash ensues. Ranged is often seen as a way to get damage out early. While it can chip away at wound tracks the first few turns, ranged becomes crushing late game.
I learned ranged using Jung’s Reload(2) pistols so my focus was making sure I never wasted a shot. Taking those same tactics with other factions has lead to consistent success at range.
Go through the Ranged Challenge Number Chart. Aim to get as many minus categories as possible. Pick the biggest target first. Position yourself as close as possible. Those aren’t there as bonuses, those are the goal. Like Charges, Ranged attacks are more often crucial as finishing blows, instead of instigating ones.
Ranged units need help from the melee units. Not just in protecting them from melee, but in setting up their shots. Use melee units to turn your opponent, exposing their rear arc, and get out of melee. Sidestep, Push, Throw, and Disengage are all excellent ways to free up an enemy for worry-free potshots.
Any ranged unit with Sidestep Defense will be your new best friend. Wait for the enemy to attack you, sidestep into their back arc, and fire your counterattack. Short-range and surprised, even 2 dice ranged attacks hit consistently.
If you have any way of knocking models prone, bring them along and let them do the heavy lifting first. Throw a model down at the feet of your ranged unit. Sweep them down and walk away.
Especially when there are reload markers involved, give yourself every advantage before firing. If the best you can do is a success level 1 attack, there’s probably a better time to shoot.
Disengage – The biggest change in play came when I took advantage of the Disengage. There’s a stigma around disengaging. It’s the retreat. Admitting you can’t win in melee. Its the last resort. In every game but Bushido.
Getting out of combat is as important to some factions as getting into it is for others. Disengage lets you make a full walk after a successful defense. For high mobility models (Speed 5+) they can get out of combat and get out of range from a counter-attack in one move. You can use disengage to draw enemies to board positions of your choosing. Models with ranged and Oppoosed Ki feats are great for this, as your opponent has to engage or face attacks from a distance. As they pursue you, you draw them back into your zone, where other models swarm into their back arc and surround them.
The Scenario is always the number 1 priority in Bushido. Disengage actions put the focus back on the scenario. Similar to playing a game rolling just defense, try a game where you disengage from every combat. See how it frees up your models and sends your enemies chasing after you. It’ll help you see board positions and the strength of mobility.
In all goes back to combat on your terms. Don’t dismiss disengage. It’s not running away from a fight, it’s having more important things to do.
Coming up on a year with Bushido, our group is still learning about the game. New factions and new models highlight new rules. There’s enough original content that we are constantly finding new things we’ve been playing on assumption. Seeing the rules unfold a year in is part of what keeps bringing us back. New challenges, new puzzles, every game. Keep an open mind. Everything is there for a reason.