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David G. Cox Esq.
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A Most Dangerous Time

Board Game: A Most Dangerous Time: Japan in Chaos, 1570-1584


Military Simulation of the Japanese Civil War, 1570-1584
Designed by Tetsuya Nakamura
Developed by Adam Starkweather
Published by Multi-man Publishing (2009)



Board Game: A Most Dangerous Time: Japan in Chaos, 1570-1584



Critical Issue #1 – The Historical Setting

The Sengoku period, or Warring States period, lasted from the middle of the 15th century until the beginning of the 17th century. A Most Dangerous Time covers a very small period of the civil war when Oda Nobunaga was almost able to achieve the unification of Japan. In 1852 he fell to the treachery of one of his generals. This was a period of history that I had been previously ignorant of. A cursory reading of the topic makes me believe that treachery was a significant and ongoing factor in this period of Japanese warfare. Many generals betrayed their own clans and turned traitor. Many generals, after defeat or betrayal, decided to commit seppuku.
Oda Nobuaga is represented in the game by a leader counter and an activation chit. Apparently he was Napoleon-like in his ability as a leader.
A Most Dangerous Time has several features that make it stand out as an unusual design. The design features, while I initially found them off-putting, seem to accurately reflect aspects of the war in question and give A Most Dangerous Time quite a unique feel.
In the game there are two factions made up of several alliances. One player will control the Oda Faction, which is made up of the Oda Alliance which contains 5 different factions. In real terms all this means is that the Oda player has one really big military force and a central position.
The Anit-Oda Faction is made up of six quite separate alliances. This means that the Anti-Oda player (or players – there are rules for a three and four player game)six different forces that will all active separately. The Anti-Oda player has forces basically set up around the edges of the map while the Oda player is firmly ensconced with control of the centre of the board.
To win, a player needs to control Kyo (Tokyo) at the end of the game. The game begins with a large Oda army controlling central Japan and Kyo. The Anti-Oda player has to take control of Kyo by the end of the game. The Oda forces are larger and stronger than the Anti-Oda faction at the start of the game. As the game progresses the forces facing the Oda’s increase significantly.


Critical Issue #2 – Japan in Chaos
Japan in Chaos is the subtitle for the game, and most apt. My initial reaction to the game was to consider it quite excessively chaotic and this is reflected in some of the previous reviews of the game. I’m glad I played it more than once as with repeated plays I found the game to actually be a game of ‘chaos management’ rather than simply pure chaos. As in life, the game has a myriad of random aspects. The players have the choice of simply being overwhelmed by the chaos or by trying to assess it, analyse it and then overcome it. Some of the aspects of the game that lend themselves to a feeling of chaos are:
1. Activation Chits
2. Movement Rules
3. Combat Rules
4. Event Cards
That just about covers all the main mechanics that drive the game.


Critical Issue #3 – Who’s On First?

Turn order is driven by activation chits. Most factions have a single activation chit. Three factions have a Daimyo (a significant leader) who have their own activation chit. As long as these leaders remain on the board (that means they don’t do something foolish like die or lose a battle) the alliance to which they belong has a second activation chit. That means that the Oda, Takeda and Uesugi alliance all have the chance of activating their troops twice each turn. If you are on the attack and have things to do this is really good. If you are being attacked by one of these Alliances it is actually quite ‘uncool’.
In addition to the Faction activation chits there is also a ‘turn end’ activation chit. When it is drawn the turn finishes. This means that, each turn, there may be several factions that have not been activated – bad luck – get over it.
It is not unusual for a particular faction to sit on its haunches and do nothing for three consecutive turns. Yes, it can be frustrating.
What is really nice about the activation system is that it adds a realistic element of uncertainty to the game. You don’t know for sure when you will be able to activate your units or even if you will be able to activate them at all. This makes coordination of troops difficult. It seems realistic given the nature of the times.


“Critical Issue #4 - The Tokyo Express
A Most Dangerous Time uses point-to-point movement. Movement is by roads and trails. At the start of each activation players roll a die to see how many movement points they have for the turn. That means that you may get a single movement point, or six points, or anything in between. You can use each movement point to move a stack of eight counters along a main road or four counters along a track. When moving within controlled areas you can double your movement rate via strategic movement. For some reason I don’t understand, the Alliance controlling Kyo adds two to its die roll and so will receive between 3 and 8 movement points. It’s not as though the bullet train was operating back then so I don’t know why the rules are written that way but I just accept it.
Each alliance has a home castle and must be able to trace a line of communications or suffer the consequences. It is possible to threaten player’s lines of communication. The consequences of no communications from home are rather severe.
What is really nice about the movement system is that it adds a realistic element of uncertainty. You don’t know for sure how much movement you will get each turn. It is an element over which you do not have complete control.

Board Game: A Most Dangerous Time: Japan in Chaos, 1570-1584


Critical Issue #5 – You Have To Crack A Few Heads To Make An Omelette
Believe it or not there is a lot of uncertainty regarding the combat system. Players who feel most comfortable in the safety of a predictable Combat Results Table probably should avoid this game altogether.
When armies of opposing factions meet on the field of battle both players roll a dice for initiative. If you roll high and your opponent rolls low you will roll dice against him and he will do zip, zero and zilch. If he rolls high and you roll low you will joyfully accept all the pain he can inflict and do nothing in response. If you roll about the same as each other you will both get a chance to roll dice.
In combat you roll a dice for each unit involved and cause casualties for each ‘6’ rolled. If you have an effective leader he will add a positive DRM. Combat continues like this until one side has been eliminated or retreats.
Personally, I think this sort of combat system takes a bit of guts. There are several things you can do to give yourself an edge in battle. Going in with leaders who give you positive modifiers for the initiative roll is useful. Having more troops than the opponent is useful. But it basically takes a bit of guts. Units can be replaced each turn so having a disastrous military defeat may not be the end of the world.
The combat system is random – it takes guts – you can do things to make the odds a little bit in your favour.

Board Game: A Most Dangerous Time: Japan in Chaos, 1570-1584


Critical Issue #6 – You Want to Be My Friend, But Can I Trust You?
Betrayal and trust. They are just a couple of words but in A Most Dangerous Time they have a totally different context as far as a two-player wargame goes.
A Most Dangerous Time has a deck of event cards. Each turn the player controlling Kyo draws a card. The other player draws a card every time they capture/liberate a new location.
There are several types of cards and all are useful. The most potent cards are betrayal cards. Some of the leader counters show a diplomatic ability. This allows these alliances to roll a die to try to get a neutral or enemy unit to swap sides. Alternatively, if you have the betrayal card for a particular leader, and play it when he is in proximity to enemy units he will simply swap sides. Not only that, but if he has troops with him they will swap sides as well.
This can be hellishly frustrating but…damn…that’s the way it was. At least you don’t have to commit seppuku as a consequence.


Critical Issue #7 – When in danger, fear or doubt - run in circles - scream and shout.
In the midst of all this uncertainty, one thing is certain. If you intend to win you need a plan. You need to stay focussed but remain flexible in the ever changing military situation that is A Most Dangerous Time.
The Oda clan has the position and the strength. If they can take out the green faction and control the black Ikko-ikki units they are looking good. It takes strength of character to ignore other threats and concentrate.
The Anti-Oda Faction has inferior force, unless the Ikko-ikki units can cause massive revolts and increase their military strength. Their big advantage is that they have lots of activations and can come from all directions. The big questions are when to push forward, when to hold and when to pull back.
I think that A Most Dangerous Time is a most brilliant design. You are placed in a most chaotic situation but you have a lot to analyse and a lot to assess. Just because there are many random factors impacting upon you in this game doesn’t mean that you can’t take control of the situation and assert your will through both military action and through the threat of military action.
This is a very subtle game and I like it a great deal.

The components are attractive and functional. Adam Starkweather again shows what a fabulous developer of games he really is.

Sayonara.


Board Game: A Most Dangerous Time: Japan in Chaos, 1570-1584




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Re: Critical Issues OR Is There An Unpleasant Oda In The Room
da pyrate wrote:
To win, a player needs to control Kyo (Tokyo) at the end of the game.
Tiny nitpick -- Kyo is actually modern-day Kyoto. Tokyo (Edo at the time) was a relative backwater during this period, way off to the east.
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Re: Critical Issues OR Is There An Unpleasant Oda In The Room
sdiberar wrote:
da pyrate wrote:
To win, a player needs to control Kyo (Tokyo) at the end of the game.
Tiny nitpick -- Kyo is actually modern-day Kyoto. Tokyo (Edo at the time) was a relative backwater during this period, way off to the east.
Thanks for the heads up - the GPS has been reprogrammed.

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Re: Critical Issues OR Is There An Unpleasant Oda In The Room
Sounds like the combat system takes guts...
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Re: Critical Issues OR Is There An Unpleasant Oda In The Room
sdiberar wrote:
da pyrate wrote:
To win, a player needs to control Kyo (Tokyo) at the end of the game.
Tiny nitpick -- Kyo is actually modern-day Kyoto. Tokyo (Edo at the time) was a relative backwater during this period, way off to the east.
With this, I suspect the logic for the extra movement points for controlling Kyoto is that it would give access to the imperial highway/the one really really high quality road at the time I believe.
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Re: Critical Issues OR Is There An Unpleasant Oda In The Room
負けるが勝ち
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Re: Critical Issues OR Is There An Unpleasant Oda In The Room
To lose is to win.
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Re: Critical Issues OR Is There An Unpleasant Oda In The Room
jollyrogergames wrote:
sdiberar wrote:
da pyrate wrote:
To win, a player needs to control Kyo (Tokyo) at the end of the game.
Tiny nitpick -- Kyo is actually modern-day Kyoto. Tokyo (Edo at the time) was a relative backwater during this period, way off to the east.
With this, I suspect the logic for the extra movement points for controlling Kyoto is that it would give access to the imperial highway/the one really really high quality road at the time I believe.
Assuming that the roads run both ways wouldn't any army attacking the person who controls the Imperial Highway get the same benefit - unless of course they have to stop and pay a toll.

 
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Re: Critical Issues OR Is There An Unpleasant Oda In The Room
GeneSteeler wrote:
Sounds like the combat system takes guts...
Nice of you to have noticed...
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Re: Critical Issues OR Is There An Unpleasant Oda In The Room
KillerB wrote:
To lose is to win.
You sure hit the nose on the head with that one...
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Re: Critical Issues OR Is There An Unpleasant Oda In The Room
That's what it says on the "field of honor" on the board. Just sayin'

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Re: Critical Issues OR Is There An Unpleasant Oda In The Room

    So can anyone out there in TV Land speak to the Japanese preference in wargames? A heavy dose of chaos seems to be the general rule from what I've seen, but I only have experience with three. I like the chaos vs. control aspect of this type of gaming but I think I'm in the minority here.

             S.


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Re: Critical Issues OR Is There An Unpleasant Oda In The Room
KillerB wrote:
To lose is to win.
After having traded for this game, and having read the rules, I think the person who lost this game won.
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Re: Critical Issues OR Is There An Unpleasant Oda In The Room
Well I wouldn't say A Victory Lost is chaotic, and that is a Japanese design. Chit pull activations just add a bit of unpredictability. I don't like chaotic games but I want to try this one before I come to a conclusion. I think MMP has published excellent games from the Japanese designers so far.
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Re: Critical Issues OR Is There An Unpleasant Oda In The Room
Great review! I like this game. I'm fine with chaos and chaos management and unpredictability. That's How The World Is.

da pyrate wrote:
This can be hellishly frustrating but…damn…that’s the way it was. At least you don’t have to commit seppuku as a consequence.



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Re: Critical Issues OR Is There An Unpleasant Oda In The Room
Thumbed just for the title, wise guy
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Re: Critical Issues OR Is There An Unpleasant Oda In The Room
Never played this game, but I know enough Japanese history to recognize the pun in your title. shake

Thumbs and gold, OP. Thumbs and gold.
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>After having traded for this game, and having read the rules, I think the person who lost this game won.

The rules as written are a bit of a mess, but it really is a good game though a bit long. Excellent for Vassal play by email.
 
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da pyrate wrote:
...when Oda Nobunaga was almost able to achieve the unification of Japan. In 1852 he fell to the treachery of one of his generals.
1582 whistle
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Ozludo wrote:
da pyrate wrote:
...when Oda Nobunaga was almost able to achieve the unification of Japan. In 1852 he fell to the treachery of one of his generals.
1582 whistle

and in 1852??? whistle
 
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...in the Indian sub-continent a small but elite band were awaiting the publication of 1853 so that their Sundays might be fulfilled in other ways, since they were getting fed up of building railways on the Isle of Wight.

And that's the best I can come up with at short notice.
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