An in-depth look at the Shiho

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We bring you an extremely in-depth piece on the Shiho samurai and ashigaru, as well as some of the cards available to them. More on what’s available to the Shiho next Friday as we reveal another hidden facet of these exciting, guerilla warriors.

In most factions, samurai are the undisputed masters of melee and mayhem.
And so they should be. Samurai from every family dedicate their lives to perfecting the art of swordsmanship taught by each respective clan from when they can first hold a sword. It is a lifetime of hard work and pure, undiluted discipline. The Samurai are the very essence of the Way of the Warrior.

More than that, the Samurai Characters in Bushido are iconic, the stuff of myth and legend almost, and their abilities on the table make them firm favourites with Bushido players. As much as we look at their swordsmanship to define who they are, we also judge them by their bravery: “To possess one without the other is to have only one bucket with a large hole in the bottom“, said Master Ekusa once, long ago, ”it looks like it is capable for the task at hand, but upon closer inspection, one sees that it is clearly useless.”

This aphorism did not apply on that fateful day when the samurai of the Shiho clan - almost to a man - stood side-by-side, bleeding and dying together, knowing that every second they fought gave the rest of the Shiho the chance to escape and live again. They lacked neither bravery nor skills that day, a day the Takashi won but paid for dearly in the blood and tears of their own.
Elders say that only five samurai of fighting age survived the Battle of Sagoya. This may be true as the devastation to the Shiho clan will be felt for generations to come, rippling down through the ages, fueling the fire that burns in their bellies for revenge against the duplicitous Takashi. Those precious children, saved that day, have grown under the tutelage of those now too old to fight. But they have learned their lessons, learned them well in fact, and now wage all-out war in the thickets and jungles of Jwar against a Takashi overlord.
Most Shiho samurai, however are not fully trained or battle-ready. The new generation has studied the blade under the elders like any other clan, but they are too young to have seen much actual combat. They have sparred and practised, but only now has Hiroto started to include them in his battle plans.

In the game of Bushido, Samurai have a Melee Pool 3 or 4 (Or sometimes even 5!). They have the Prowess [Melee] trait making them highly reliable. They often have a selection of the best Special Attacks and Defences in conjunction with awe-inspiring Ki Feats to dominate any melee combat they may find themselves fighting. Samurai in the Shiho clan get many feats as Instant while most others get them as Active. Being Instant partly defines the sword fighting skill and style of the Shiho clan, or Shiho Koryu as it is known.

It also gives the Shiho some unpredictability; usually, the offensive feats are Active, so models can only use them if they are activating and attacking in a Melee Exchange.
A player could not use the Precision Strike if the model were attacked, giving an armoured opponent some valuable information. However, the Precision Feat can surprise your opponent, adding another layer to the ‘melee dice mind games’ that flow throughout the Shiho playstyle.

The profiles make Shiho a different faction. The Samurai have significant Special Attacks and Defences. They also have the best melee Ki Feats (As I mentioned above, they often have Active Ki Feats changed to Instant to make them even more unpredictable). Still, the young inexperienced samurai and those now far beyond their prime have Melee Pool 2. Melee Pool 2 is a challenge for Shiho; if you can even these odds, you have very Rice Cost-effective melee models, but if you can’t, then it's hard to leverage their abilities as you may have to defend too much to get the attack dice you need.

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Eventually, however, Flank and Booted and later, other abilities allowed the Shiho Samurai to even the odds. In particular, Shiho models often attack with surprise. No other faction plays quite the same. Shiho are designed to be unpredictable. The samurai are the core of this, as almost all of them have the Flank trait. Shiho with Flank also receive the Booted trait. Booted is a potent ability that allows flanking models to move when they arrive from Flank. Most Samurai will likely be left Elsewhere to take advantage of this.

While their Melee experience leaves them with a relatively low Melee Pool, the Shiho have not shirked learning the bow. Shiho Shota is a Master Kyudoka, practising the old martial art of longbow combat. A careful and precise style allowing those who have mastered it to loose arrows unrelentingly, ignoring movement, darkness and cover.
Several Samurai, both old and young, are practitioners of this technique. They also use sword forms to get away from their enemies and continue to rain arrows rather than remain in a protracted melee. Another thematic part of the Shiho samurai is the “Rightful Rulers” mechanics. There are a few of these, including the Deference and Awe Ki Feats. 

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These show how the populace of the Jwar Isles treat the Shiho with great respect and reverence. Their instinctive reaction to a Shiho samurai is to kneel, head to the ground rather than to ever think of attacking. Another thing about most Shiho samurai is the Loyal keyword. These Samurai are loyalists, loyal to Shiho Hiroto and not the Takashi who are nothing but treacherous rabble! Loyalty such as this works with some of the Theme Lists, Special Cards and The Eagle Banner.


Let's look at the Heimin.

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“But they aren’t samurai”, you may say? 

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Well, they may very well be samurai! That’s the whole point, the element of surprise!
Heimin in Jwar are peasants, usually a higher class of peasant, generally living in large towns or cities and not the villages and hamlets.
They usually wear long cloaks and wide straw hats to hide their appearance and go about their business without drawing unwanted attention to themselves.
Sometimes Shiho samurai disguise themselves in this manner to attack the enemy who has let their guard down, thinking they are dealing with nothing but a lowly peasant. As soon as the samurai throws back his cloak, revealing his blades, it’s usually too late for the enemy, and the resulting surprise can be fatal. Any Loyal samurai that is Elsewhere (Usually waiting to Flank) can suddenly replace a Heimin. The enemy model attacking a Heimin is surprised, which is a huge bonus and an opportunity to trap an enemy model where your opponent saw an easy victory. For an opponent, you have to consider that every Heimin model could be a samurai and that they could be any of the samurai! It's a lot of variables and allows the Shiho player to be even harder to predict.


Shiho Keita

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Keita is a crucial support model. If you choose to include him, his Virtue benefits will shape how your Warband plays. Giving the suitable model the Virtue Token is key to best using the ability. Endurance may be the most powerful ability we have put on the Virtue mechanic so far, any model with it at the head of your line to block off certain lines of the enemy attack or simply use it to move out of melee with an enemy. There is an excellent defensive ability, as well as the deceptively powerful 1” walk.
Keita needs to be safe while he hands out his benefits, and between his 1” walk when anyone uses a virtue token and his Deference Ki Feat, he has the tools he needs to stay alive and only commit when required.

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Shiho Takuya

Takuya is different from all the other samurai; he is not from the new generation, too young to know what battle is, nor is he one of the older men. He represents what a Shiho samurai in his prime can be, the epitome of a brave, loyal and honourable samurai. He also has Melee Pool 3, which is a big deal in this faction.

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Takuya has many supporting abilities, Leadership is always worthwhile, and Tactician helps you determine where and when the fight will be by choosing who will activate first in a turn.
Move It is excellent in the Starter Set where Takuya can use it on both ashigaru but as you expand your Warband to 100 Rice taking a third ashigaru makes this feat great.

Takuya’s final feat went through several changes in testing; called initially “Majesty” its effect was to stop enemies moving toward Takuya, but it proved to be troublesome, so we looked for other ways to represent the same idea. We changed the feat to Awe and made it cause enemies to be Frightened. Applying this state to multiple enemy models at once is very powerful, and we had to restrict its use, but when he unleashes it, it can make for a significant turn for the Shiho. Takuya is fantastic, in the true sense of the word. People look at him and see the ruling clan of the Jwar Isles. 


Shiho Wimpie

Wimpie, the Shiho with the best name, is an excellent example of a melee samurai for Shiho. While he has a Melee Pool of 2, his Nuki Do Ki Feat does impressive things for 1 Ki.

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The Shiho Sword style is defensive; it waits for the enemy to make mistakes and punishes rather than being aggressive. Wimpie exemplifies this; he can become a superb melee combatant with Dodge, Parry and Melee 3 if he is not the attacker. 
Initially, he had some Special Defenses, but this proved a bit too good for his Rice Cost slot. 
Note he also has access to Pierce (1), as many trained samurai do. The Shiho make good use of their Precision Ki Feat, representing their stabbing technique. Stabbing with a curved blade is not easy. Most schools simply ignore it, but the benefits of the extra reach and the point more easily penetrating armour make the Shiho learn it despite the time it takes and the difficulty of manoeuvring correctly.


Shiho Ashigaru

Some Shiho ashigaru are long time veterans from the days where the Shiho ruled Ryu. Others are newly recruited or even the children of older ashigaru.
Most have fought in many skirmishes, trying to keep the Takashi away from their liege lords or executing ambushes in Hiroto’s guerilla war.  Similar to the Shiho Samurai, these ashigaru have the Loyal keyword, which interacts with many other parts of the faction.

Like most clans, the Shiho have ashigaru dedicated to both Ranged and Melee combat.
The Yarimen may not have the advanced training of the Ryu Yarimen - with the Dragon’s unique technique designed to keep enemies at bay before they can attack - but they have a burning desire for revenge on the usurpers. 
They cannot keep their armour maintained while constantly on the run from the Takashi, so they now go to war unarmoured, but the many years of fighting alongside each other have forged ties of loyalty far stronger than steel.  Attackers trying to fight one Yariman will often find many more leaping to the aid of their comrade.
While this was designed as a combat trick to allow the ashigaru to outnumber attackers easily, people soon used it as a movement trick. It's easy to get a few additional inches out of this feat and reposition; using multiple in the same turn can change the battlefield in ways your opponent may not predict.


Maki

Maki has managed to learn some two-weapon fighting techniques instead of the spear.  She still has the excellent “Hold the Line!” Ki Feat but also has Unassailable. This is a cheap Ki Feat; she can use it every turn, and it allows her to fend off multiple opponents, so when the ashigaru gang up elsewhere to get a kill, she can happily deal with the two or even three enemy models that are left unchecked.

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Her +1 Strength and special abilities also make her stand out; once she has held fast against an outnumbering enemy, she can usually disengage and get away, leaving them behind and out of position.

Ashigaru of most clans also learn to attack from range. The Shiho do not dishonour themselves with firearms, so their fighting men learn to use bows. Usually, these would be “Peasant bows”, but many Dai Kyu were saved from the Dragon’s betrayal, even as their owners were slain. The Shiho decided to teach commoners the Samurai bow techniques, and they now have some of the best-trained bowmen in the Jwar Isles. Though few, the Shiho have more Masters of Kyudo than any other clan.


Special Cards

We’re going to look at a few of the special cards for the Shiho. I won’t go through the whole deck, but here’s a selection of some of the ones I find most interesting.

The Black Eagle’s Coalition

This is one of the things players have been waiting for. The whole array of Hiroto’s army in one list!  While the benefits are not the best theme list abilities, the sheer number of things permitted makes a difference. The Leadership and Scout do help make this a theme to consider.

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Unorthodox Strategy

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Pass Tokens. Like them or not, it's a viable strategy to abuse pass tokens for several factions in the game. Hiroto has you covered. Just choose the turn where they need their pass tokens most and say “No”.

This effect is called a “Balance” effect in development because “It affects both sides in a balanced way”. Except it never does. You will only play this for a massive advantage for the Shiho, so it's a considerable swing and can take away a crutch the enemy Warband needs. Ninjas and The Prefecture of Ruy both hate this card, but if your Warband is large, you can always make some use of it.

Improper Conduct

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Our test games have shown that Shiho get Surprise attacks a lot; this means gaining Assassin can be a massive advantage for the lucky samurai to get this card.

Michiharu’s Jitte

This little toolbox of a card is a homage to one of Jason’s inspirations. Let’s see if players can work out where it’s from? Using this gives a wide range of options; I look forward to seeing what players come up with.

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Eagle Feather Arrow

I mentioned this card in the Ashigaru article; it’s a favourite with testers; many used it to get that little bit of additional damage. Early in testing, it was very different; it allowed one shot that ignored LoS and cover; the idea was the arrow soared to a great height and came down on top of an enemy. The flavour text still represents this, but it proved to be a difficult card to balance. The change to a simple Brutal was made, and Shota immediately became a problem, so we made it an ashigaru upgrade, and now it's a popular upgrade.

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Talon Medallion

Jason made this card very early on in the Shiho development. He liked the idea that some Shiho survived because this ‘lucky charm’ prevented them from being hit by a Critical Attack.
While this has great flavour and was somewhat helpful, testers were not keen on the cost; it’s a little too niche for a whole Rice. So now you get two of these for one rice, and that way (In most games), one should always have some effect.

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