Copyright 1998 - T. Sheil & A. Sheil - All Rights Reserved

Tanegashima Sandman

Samurai Combat Rules

The excitement and action of 16th Century Japan.  You are a daimyo leading your personal army against your rivals.  Armed with spearmen, ninja, gunners and your elite Samurai warriors, your forces bring the battle to the enemy!

These simple rules make for a fast, fun game with plenty of action.  Play on the beach, in the backyard or living room.  Adaptable to almost any scale, from HO to 12" action figures.  

Here's what you need:

Making tools:

String should be cut in lengths of 4 feet, 3 feet, 2 feet and one foot. Each string is then divided by thirds. You can tie a knot to separate each 1/3.  These are Range Cords representing distance, and noted as R1, R2, R3 and R4.  They measure both movement and weapons range.  For larger figures, you can make the cords longer - for instance, R4 can be 8 foot instead of 4.  Doubling or tripling distance also helps when you have large armies in a large area..

The disk has to be four quarters. Draw a cross over the center to do this.

Click here first - The Basics of the Sandy Hook Battle Games

The battlefield:

On a normal battle field, the area is divided into three zones. Each side takes an end area. The middle zone is "no man's land. Troops must move into no man's land to fight.

In a regular castle siege, the fort is on one end of the battlefield while the attackers start from the other end.

Save the Castle is a version where a fort is already under attack, and its side must send troops to reinforce it before the enemy wipes it out. The besieged fort my be in No Man's land or even the enemy sector.

Defense: one side defends and wins if it keeps the attackers out, the other must get through and take an objective and hold it for five turns. You can also have a game where both sides have objectives. Use your imagination!

Troop types:

Ancient Japanese foot soldiers were sent forth in units, while Samurai and Ninja could act as a group or as a mob of individuals.  These are the standard troop types that apply to all armies:

Light spearmen: unarmored or very lightly armored soldiers

Medium armored troops: spearmen, musketeers and archers in half armor

Samurai: highly-trained nobility, fighting as individual heroes.  They may be on horseback or foot.

Ninja: stealth warriors, light or unarmored, used i nthis game for quick attacks, raids, etc.


In the middle ages, troops were organized according to the weapons they used.  Mainly, foot troops were of 3 types: pole-arms (spears, naginata halbards, etc), small arms (axes, short swords, kusari kama, etc.) and Missiles (archers or musketeers).  When you organize your army, it helps to organize troops this way.  Here are classes of weapons we use in the game:

Pole-arms - weapons mounted on poles and fitted with a stabbing spike or blade.  Includes spears, pikes, bisento glaives, naginata halbards

Small arms - hand-held weapons such as axes, maces, short swords, war clubs, kusari kama.

Samurai swords: long katanas and tachis (swords) used only by Samurai.

Thrown weapons: darts, knives and shuriken stars thrown by hand at an enemy

Archery: the bow and arrow.

Muskets: old firelocks with short range, used by units

Lances: pole-arms wielded by mounted men.


Movement is by turn: one moves, then the other, and then fighting and shooting take place.

Here is how far a unit can move per turn (we use the same distance as the Range cords):

Light troops: unarmored troops (some may have a steel cap) and ninja - 1 1/2

Medium Troops:  half armored footsoldiers, samurai - 1

Heavy troops: fully armored samural -1

Unarmored horsemen: 2

Armored horsemen:1 1/2

Wagons: 1

Towed siege gear: 1

Pushed siege gear: 1/2

It takes 1 turn to hook or unhook a weapon to be towed


Different aspects of the land affect movement.  Here is how speed is affected:

Hills:  climbing a gently-sloping hill  - 10 degrees to 44 degrees- slows troops and cart speed by 1/3. A steep hill - 45 to 80 degrees - slows them 2/3.  (Hills over 80 degrees can only be scaled by Ninja with climbing gear.)  Carts and horses cannot climb steep slopes.

Troops may push cannons up steep slopes at one-third the normal pushed cannon speed.

Going down hill on gentle slopes does not affect movement.  On steep slopes, movement is slowed by a third.

Rivers: on coming to a river, a unit must stop immediately.  If the river is fordable, all movement through the river is slowed by one half.  On climbing the far bank, the unit must stop.  

Bridges, Passes, Tunnels, Gates: when a unit comes to cross a bridge or go through a narrow pass or tunnel, choose one piece as the lead figure.  It moves as far as you wish, and everyone else follows behind.  

Lakes: crossing lakes involved using boats or barges.  It takes one move to get on the boat, and one move to get off.  A boat or barge can move R1 per turn.


Missiles fire and have a certain impact.  The range is shown by a number following the letter R (as in R2).  Impact is 3 numbers, denoting close, medium and long range.  The amount of times a weapon can fire per turn is indicated in parentheses.

Thrown weapons: R1, 1-1-1 (1)

Bow and arrows: R3, 4, 2-1 (2)

Musket: R2, 6 - 3 -2 (1)

Cannon firing direct: R2 8 - 6 -4 (Every other turn) Counts as 4, special rule applies

Armor protection from missiles

Armor protection works so long is the damage of the attacking weapon is lower than the armor's rate.  If the weapon equals or exceeds the number, it breaks the armor.

Light troops - 1

Medium half-armor troops - 3

Heavy armor - 5

Siege gun - 4

Siege tower - 5

Ram - 6

War Wagon - 4

Castle gate - 6

How we shoot

A unit of men fires at another unit.  Casualties are removed, starting at the front of the unit being hit.  

Roll 2 dice.  You need a 6 or better to hit at close range, 8 or better for medium range and 10 or better for ling range.

To hit troops fighting behind walls, you subtract 2 from the dice roll.

To hit troops hiding behind wagons or houses, subtract 1

If you fire at a unit that has not moved for one move, and you have not moved either, add 2 to your dice roll.

Cannon direct fire: A cannon will hit any man in its path, hitting up to 5.  Place the range string from the cannon to its intended target.  Aim at the target as you would any regular shooting.  If it hits, anything in range behind him touched by the taut string is hit - he may hit up to 5 men.  We consider the 5th to have stopped the cannonball, so that anyone over 5 is unharmed.  

Ballista: a ballista's direct fire is like a cannon.  It will do 4 damage and it will hit up to 3 men.

Cannons also fired grapeshot.  This is how it works: At an attacking unit of troops R1 or closer, artillery fires grapeshot. Lay the cup on its side, the bottom facing the gun. Everything under the gun is hit as if it were shot by rifles. Medieval Grapeshot can hit up to five targets and it does 5 damage. Those troops and things closest to the gun are destroyed first.

Hand to Hand Fighting

When two units come into contact, they are involved in hand-to-hand fighting.  All infantry and light cavalry fight as 1 man each.  Heavy cavalry fights and receives damage as 2 men (with exception noted below), chariots fight as 3.

When fighting a unit of 6 or more spearmen, unless those spearmen are already involved in hand-to-hand combat with another unit, heavy cavalry and chariots fight as 1 man.  The spearmen are considered to have made a shield wall, which impedes horses and chariots.  However, spearmen already in a fight cannot use the shield wall advantage.

To simulate close fighting on the battlefield, units cancel each other out.  We do this based on armor:

2 foot Samurai or 1 Samurai cavalryman (remember, he's acting as 2 troops except against spearmen) eliminate one enemy per turn.

3 medium or half-armored troops eliminate one enemy per turn

4 light troops eliminate one enemy per turn

Eventually one side can choose to run - a side running is considered so panicked that it runs its normal speed plus 1/4 of that speed.  

When the numbers get uneven, the side with more troops takes the smaller side prisoner.  Thus if you don't have enough men left to eliminate any more enemy and he cannot eliminate your troops, he is taken prisoner.  

It takes one man to guard 8 prisoners and march them to his own lines.  once there, one man can guard 20 prisoners.  If the guard is killed, escaped prisoners must escape to their own lines or fort before they can fight again.  If they are attacked while escaping, however, they can defend themselves.

When archers are charged, half of them can fire once before starting the hand-to-hand combat.

Musketeers can fire only if their guns are loaded that turn.

A cannon can fire grapeshot if it is its turn to fire.  If not, the gunners must defend as light troops.

Aiming: place the quartered disk over troops.  Archers can turn up to 3 quarters of a circle to fire. Musketeers, ballista can turn up to 1/2, cannons, mortars and catapults can only turn 1/4 of the circle to fire.

Castle Siege

It is very hard to break a castle walls.  A ram that stays in place 4 turns can open a gate, but it takes 7 turns to open a breach in a wall.  Troops in the castle can counterattack by shooting or throwing stones and boiling oil.  Boiling oil sets a ram on fire, and troops must stop for one move to put out the fire.  That means the ram must stay one extra turn in order to break a wall.  A castle only has 3 bottles of oil, and it must use them against other siege tools.

Siege crews pushing a ram or tower are considered hiding behind it, out of range of missile fire.  However, when the tower gets next to a wall, it can be set afire.  Troops cannot climb the tower.  They roll a dice.  1 to 3 means the fire is too big to put out, destroying the tower and anyone riding on it.  4 to 6 means the fire is out, but no troops may climb it that turn.

Ladders are hard to use.  A soldier with a ladder can be shot along the way.  If he places his ladder on the wall and enemy defenders are within 1/3 of R1, they can push it off.  Roll a dice 1 to 3 means the ladder is pushed, 4 to 6 means the solder can climb to the top and fight.  If the ladder soldier wins, he comes onto the parapet and another soldier is placed at top of the ladder.  If he loses, the defenders can again try to push off the ladder.  Whenever there are no attackers left to defend the ladder, a defender can try to push it off.

Samurai and Siege rules for Hand to Hand

Samurai always fight as individuals, whether confronting one man or many.  The only exception is when the face a unit spearmen.  Spearmen - troops armed with polearms - will tear an individual samurai apart!  Agaijnst spearmen, the unit had-to-hand combat rules apply.  However, when confronting troops other than spearmen, the samurai and his adversaries fight as described in this section.

In a siege, men are not fighting as units while they defend the walls.  Each soldier in a fight roles a die.  If it is one man against one, high roll strikes.  In the first roll, the one with the higher score wins. Now we must see if he gets past his enemy's armor.  He rolls again.  He needs 1 or higher to eliminate a light soldier, 3 or more to kill a medium, and 5 or more to defeat a heavy.  Where one man fights several, he rolls only once but each of his enemies roll.  The one must choose one enemy as his target.  If he beats that man's roll, he rolls the second die.  All of the enemies who beat his roll get to roll for damage, however.  A roll is both offensive and defensive.  Offensively, it denotes a strike on one enemy.  Defensively, it is how well he protects himself against all enemies arranged against him.  Any enemy attacking him who beats his roll gets to roll for damage.

Samurai always add +1 to any die roll!  This compensates for their great skill.

Ninja add +1 to any die roll, except when fighting Samurai.  This compensates for their great cunning.

Note: three men can fight one man at once.  However, if his back is not to his own troops, a wall or open area, or fighting from inside a doorway, etc. a fourth can get behind him and join the attack.  

Battle - How We Fight

There is a way in which troops fight on the battlefield.  Samurai will normally seek to fight other samurai first.  Footsoldiers will fight as they are directed.  As you can see, a single hero has quite a hard time when confronting groups of soldiers trained to fight together as a unit.

Non-samurai and non-ninja fighters must be placed into units.   A unit must consist of at least 4 men.  If a unit's strength goes below 4, the men will have to join the nearest friendly unit.  For every 20 regular soldiers, there has to be an officer on the field.  The officer is charged with commanding the units.   The officer must be within R2 of his unit.  He is normally the last man killed, unless intercepted ir challenged by an enemy Samurai.  If an officer is killed, his unit stands fast for one turn. If engaged i na fight, they will remain until it is over.  Once fighting is over over, or if not in a fight, the soldiers will then run to other units or retreat if no other unit is within R2.  When the number of men per officer Samurai exceeds 20, excess men retreat to the rear.

Ninja are used mainly to raid or ambush.  They are of limited special use on the conventional Japanese battlefield, but since so many people like them, we added them to the rules.  Ninja can act alone or in small groups.  They do not need an officer.  

Musketeers usually fire as units, and are brigaded next to spearmen.  After firing, musketeers reload while spearmen fend off any attackers.

Winning the War

So what is the goal of this war?  Like the fictional Fanrengi space profiteer, Quark, the daimyo's main goal is Acquisition.  He wants lands and goods and power to enrich his little fiefdom.  To make winning fun,. you might make small bales to represent rice.  Each side has a certain amount of bales stashed in their territory - say one per house, ten per castle, etc.  The goal is to carry off as much as you can.

Prisoners are of no value: after the battle, they are tortured and decapitated.  That's Medieval Japan!

Of  course, Japanese buildings burn easily.  If you must fight in or beside a building, a coin must be flipped to see whether it may have caught fire.  Close combat usually entails knocking over things like furniture, lamps and candles.  A burned house yields no treasure.

If you feel your cause is lost, you can choose to burn down an enemy town provided you hold it for at least fourturns.


Why settle for a battle when you can have a war?  If you and your friends plan an ongoing war, made of occasional smaller battles, you have other factors to consider.  When is it prudent to abandon a battle, to fight another day?  Can you afford the losses of defending one insignificant area, knowing that troops will be more valuable elsewhere?   Sloukd you risk losing the troops to hold an enemy town long enough to burn it down, or is it better to retreat and save them?  And can you afford to lose a key town if it means losing the ability to recruit new spearmen?  Aaah - politics and logistics!

A campaign means drawing up a map of the warring provinces.  Each army will be of a set size - say 200 men.  In a given battle, fifty would remain at home guarding the fort, another fifty might be sent to a skirmish in one place, and perhaps a hundred can be dispatched to a large battle around a key location.  It's every daimyo for himself here - no alliances allowed - so protect your resources!

The value of towns is that they are sources of fresh troops.  You mjay replenish your forces up to the agreed number of men.  Some towns might provide specific types of troops.  One may produce good spearmen, another musketeers or archers, and still another is a ninja village.  Of course, Samurai come from the main castle itself.  How do we work this?

Easy!  Say you have your wars weekly.  Then each town can produce up to five replacements per week, up to your army's full size.  If you lose a town, you lose those replacements.  If the town is burned down, for instance, it will take 4 weeks before a new one is built.  

And if the enemy captures a town, he gets the five replacements instead of you.  That means his army's strength is now higher, for having the town means he can have more troops.  His army just grew to 205 men, and your maximum force dropped to 195.

The more towns  a daimyo captures, the larger his army.  

Ninja are loyal to a fault, so capturing a ninja town does not yield up replacements.  No, it means that town is eliminated.  The loser gets no more ninja.  Not that taking a ninja town is easy.  A ninja town always has ten men to defend it above and beyond the defending army strength.  These additional defenders may not leave the town.  They are considered to be the elders of the ninja clan.  Destroy the ninja elders and destroy the town - if it's worth your losses - and you have deprived your enemy of his second best class of fighters.

Campaigns - which are actually ongoing wars - can be exciting.  Use your imagination to add your own twists and turns.  These rules are but a guidleine for you to develop the ultimate Samurai war game!

These are only very basic rules for using Ancient and Medieval troops.  Send any comments or suggestions to us

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