Boshin War: Plans and Schemes

Hello! Not a lot of games around here at the moment for obvious reasons, but I for one have managed to maintain my interest in wargaming, mostly with plans, schemes and painting for future games. You could say I mean to hit the ground running when the world has settle down a bit after the pandemic. However, I thought that I would share that process with you all in Blog form. Most of this installment will be me being fairly verbose about the planning process, as I can’t find my decent camera in order to take photos of the figures I have already finished. So I will save them for next time.

The Boshin war and the Bakamatsu era is a period of history that recently I have been finding intensely interesting. It is certainly a period that is covered in layer upon layer of rather confusing stereotypes. The Popular preconception is that the Shogunate forces eschewed the use of firearms in favour of the traditional weapons of the Samurai and were overcome by the modernised army of the Imperial forces who had the common sense to realise that modern firearms are actually effective weapons.

The truth is somewhat different. Japan had never dropped the use of the Matchlock after the Sengoku Jidai, however the two hundred years of peace had robbed it of its relevance. However training and use remained alongside the spear as the principle weapons of war. The Result of the First Opium war shocked many in Japan in to action, if China could be humiliated by the Western Powers, then they could be next. The Shogunate reacted by starting to buy a rather large number of Muskets from the Dutch in the 1840’s. The “Opening of Japan” by the US only accelerated the process and by the time of the Boshin War in 1868, there was a rather large amount of contemporary firearms in Japan on both sides of the Shogun/Imperial divide and whilst there are references to a small number of warriors bringing spears to battle the overwhealming majority of Soldiers on a Bakamatsu era battlefield would have had a gun of some description. Be it a Converted percussion cap Teppo, a Gewehr musket, a Minie rifle or if they were lucky, a breach loading rifle such as the Enfield-Snider.

Training could also be very variable. The Central army of the Shogunate was very small, and there was certainly no central Imperial army. This meant that the armies of the Boshin war were mostly composed of contingents from various domains, who’s leaders chose one side or the other. Some clans, predictably enough modernised more quickly and completely, whilst some lagged behind. The reasons for either could be due to circumstances, finances or even conservative elements within the clan Governments resisting change.

So what does this mean for the Wargaming Table? Well. No one makes Boshin war Specific rules. So I needed to find an acceptible set of rules that could be adapted. With the variety of weapons and training as well as the time period in which the war takes place, the American Civil War seems to be a natural starting point. Many of the Actions in the Boshin war also seem to be quite small, and so the “Large Skirmish” End of the wargames industry seemed to be a good starting point. Two natural contenders leapt out ahead of the pack to try, Rebels and Patriots by Osprey Games and Sharp Practice by the Lardies. Both seem like really good sets of rules but I decided that the latter is where my focus will lie in this project.

Sharp Practice is fairly character driven, which I think could be quite good for the Boshin War. There are several interesting personalities involved in the war to various degrees and that character focus would allow them, or their dopplegangers at least, make an appearence on the tabletop. It also has (in my opinion) a rather nice set of campaign rules in Dawns and Depatures in which your small force strives to complete an objective in the face of the enemy. This may mean I get less games as I act as Campaign Umpire… but Oh well.

Other advantages of the set of rules include an open architecture for creating units (In the form of the Sharpulator) so that I can adjust units as my research continues and fairly good Boshin War army list already written. Whilst I personally disagree with some of the choices in it, it is certainly a decent starting point. So with that settled… I started to think a little bit of the minutia.

The actual Scale of Sharp Practice is somewhat… mystical. Its aimed at being a large skirmish, suggests that your overall force is a company and yet you can have artillery and cavalry in the same force. This is also added to the fact that reliable information (in English) about troop organisation in the period is somewhat lacking. I decided that the general scale that I will do is that a Group in Sharp Practice is about a hundred men, give or take a few and a gun probably represents one or two pieces. This means that I can turn the scant amount of information I can find about various actions into somewhat useable “Orders of battle” for Sharpe Practice.

For Example…

The Toba Encounter of the first day of the war. In fact, where the first shots of the Boshin war were fired. As a rough outline, we will consisder the Satsuma Force. It is mentioned to be 900 men and having 4 Cannons. So with the above conversions, that gives a force of 9 groups of Infantry and 2 Artillery pieces, which certainly seems doable and I believe the rules of the game could handle, espiecially if it were posed as a day game for a club.

Satsuma “Snipers” are mentioned in some accounts, so one of those groups of Infantry I would rate as Light Infantry with good rifles to act as Sharpshooters, whilst the remaining 8 would be split into two battalions of 4 groups each. 400 men seems about right for a battalion of the day anyway. Leadership comes next, and we know the force was commanded by the rather able Saigo Takamori, who I would rate as a Status 3 overall commander. Each of the Battalions would leadership too, I would suggest each having a status 2 Officer and a Status 1 aide for each. The Sharp shooters and the arty would get some big men too. Leading to the rather deadly looking force outlined below…

Saigo Takamori – Status 4 Leader

Status 2 Battalion leader
Status 1 Aide
4 Groups of Satsuma Infantry with breach loading rifles

Status 2 Battalion Leader
Status 1 Aide
4 Groups of Satsuma Infantry with breach loading rifles.

Status 2 Leader
1 Group of Light Infantry with breach loading rifles

Status 2 Leader
2 Groups of Heavy Artillery (Armstrong Guns)

Whilst this is a little larger than your “Normal” game of Sharp practice, I certainly think it is manageable, and serves as an example of how information about a historical action can be translated to a plausible force on the tabletop.

Anyway, I am going to stop rambling on, and when I will make another post in a few days when I am able to take pictures I am happy with of my existing forces and my plans for the future.

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