Feudal (Japan) Patrol

Feudal Patrol is the Medieval version of Buck Surdu’s WW2 rules ‘Combat Patrol.’ I really liked Combat Patrol, but I’m not the biggest fan of platoon level WW2, so I haven’t played it that much. I was keen to see how the system would work in an earlier period. When the rules arrived on pre-order, I dug out some Sengoku Jidai figures (inevitably) and gave it a go. This was a fight between Oda clan retainers attacking a village ikki somewhere in Iga province.

^ All is peaceful in the village of Takomura

^ The Oda arrive. An exchange of teppō fire ensues

Central to Feudal Patrol is a deck of 50 cards, one deck per player. The cards handle the resolution for shooting, movement, combat and morale. At first look, the cards seem very complex, but at any one time you are only consulting part of the card. Effectively the card deck is like a 50-sided dice and a lot of results tables, but because everything is on the cards, the resolution happens much more quickly than rolling a die and consulting a table.

^ A sample card. Looks complicated, but really isn’t when you get the hang of it.

Activation works by rolling a die for each unit leader and each higher level leader. This is their activation number for the turn. The activation deck is made up of 2 sets of 6 cards numbered 1-6 and an end of turn card. When a number is turned, any unit with that number activates. If a higher level leader’s number is turned, he may exchange his die with a subordinate unit that hasn’t yet acted to get it to activate instead. When the end of turn card is turned, the decks are shuffled and numbers re-rolled.

There’s a lot you can add to this system. A better trained force could have some number cards of a separate colour added that only they can use. Random event cards can be added. A second end of turn card so that the turn ends only when both are turned etc etc. One thing that runs through the game is how versatile it is, and how you can tailor it to your own specifications.

Combat is resolved through the cards, a card is turned to see whether you hit, then one is turned to assess the effect. The effect will be a certain amount of damage to a body location, which can be reduced by armour on the figure, or by cover. In the most basic game, hit location doesn’t matter, but the hit effect resolution is so quick in that all the information is on the card, that adding a hit location doesn’t take any longer. Even where location doesn’t matter, having hit locations adds to the immersion of the game.

^ The ikki assemble

In the Avenues and Alleyways….

Morale is handled by drawing cards and consulting the morale section of the card. As a unit takes hits or near-misses it accumulates morale markers. When the unit next activates it must draw morale cards equal to the number of markers. This can result in one or more figures in the unit being stunned, retreating or running away, or possibly charging the enemy, or the whole unit becoming ‘pinned’ (this keyword should probably have been changed from the WW2) meaning it effectively only activates half as often as it would normally.

So that’s the basics of the game. But there’s a lot you can add. You can play at a ‘low resolution,’ where all figures in a unit have the same stats (there are 5), or you can go up to a ‘high resolution’ where each figure is different. Or anywhere in between. Also, because the cards make the resolution of game events so quick, you could add a die roll in to fine tune the game. For example, I think that skirmish games are usually a bit too lethal, and in reality there would be a lot of hesitancy, so I could add a blanket saving roll for all figures to turn wounds into stuns. Really, the rules are a toolkit that is easily adapted to get the kind of game you want.

More ikki troops rush into the fray

The matchlock gun: the Gucci kit of the 16th century.

It’s worth mentioning here that the cards allowed the designer a lot of control over the kind of events he wanted. For example, movement is random, but the cards allow a bespoke bell-curve of probability to be created with the 50 outcomes, similarly with damage and to-hit rolls. Using cards as a combination of finely tuned randomiser and results table that takes next to no time to resolve an event is a great idea that really should be explored more in game design.

The rules include a few scenarios across different periods, with example of ratings for troops. Again, if you want a low intensity skirmish, you can lower the fighting skills of the combatants without impacting their morale or reactions.  There are also rules for character advancement if you are playing a campaign or linked games.

My biggest issue with Combat Patrol was that there was no overall force morale, and while Feudal Patrol also doesn’t have this it has a very interesting solo variant. In this, each turn, hits and misses by each side are totalled and this results in the AI ‘player’ adopting a particular attitude. The better they are doing, the more aggressive they become and vice versa. Setbacks move them down the aggression track, while successes move them back up. The current attitude is keyed to a table that dictates how the AI units will act when activated. At first glance this seems a bit fiddly to keep track of, but I’d be inclined to use this in normal games to track the state of morale of the whole force, and in some cases force units to act accordingly.

There are a lot of great ideas in Feudal/Combat Patrol but I would say to get the best out of it, you have to be prepared to do a bit of fine-tuning to get it to suit your period, and to get the game to suit the number of figures involved and time available. The more complexity you add, the longer a game will take with a lot of figures. The other issue with the game using two bespoke card decks is that the cost goes up markedly, and this may be a barrier to taking a punt on them. The author has provided extensive designer notes for Combat Patrol here, so you should be able to get a sense of whether it is for you or not.

2 thoughts on “Feudal (Japan) Patrol”

  1. I am a huge fan of both Combat Patrol and Feudal Patrol. I have run many retro sci-fi games at conventions and game club meetings using Combat Patrol with some modifications such as discussed on my blog on WordPress ( I also have an upcoming supplement for Aztecs, Conquistadores, Tlaxcalans, Incas and other forces in the Spanish Conquest. It will be a free download at some point in the near future. I think you have a very nice post here and looks like a great game! Pics were great too. To be totally transparent, Buck and I are long time friends and went to West Point together. Still, I do think the game mechanics are genius for a skirmish game.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for giving the rules a try. I find that people really don’t grok them fully until their third game. While the basics are easily learned, because they are so different from most other games, sometimes people have trouble adjusting. They keep trying to fit them into what they are accustomed to. I am glad you find the. Easily adapted to suit your play style. That was by intent.

    Liked by 2 people

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