Shogun 2 : Total War — Battle of Sekigahara

23 Feb

Total War has always been “the game for me”. I get weak-kneed around military history, and the Total War franchise has always been what I jump into after finishing this or that book or movie. I’ve had my fill of the early and late Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, and the Napoleonic era. And after a long stint of learning how to maneuver lines of infantry with muskets and light sabre cavalry, I’ve been salivating about getting back into consolidating lines of spearmen, saturating an area with flaming arrows, and driving heavy cavalry into infantry flanks. As well, I missed out on the first Shogun and was very curious in regards to any different tactics that would come into play in Japanese-oriented warfare.

It’s common for Total War demos to feature a historical battle; not something I’m into in the full games at all — but the scenarios chosen for their demos are always incredible. As seems fit for a game about the era of samurai, this scenario was the hardest yet.

In the Battle of Sekigahara you take control of Ishida Mitsunari, but with the unique advantage of hindsight. In reality, Ishida was betrayed at the moment of battle by his allies and was crushed. In the scenario you are tasked with trying to climb out of the historic death pit that Mitsunari was placed in.

On the map below, Shimazu Toyohisa commands three units of two hundred mounted samurai — represented by the topmost blue markers. Kobayakawa Hideaki controls a considerable force of mounted and foot-katana and -naginata samurai, separated by the narrow river crossings in the bottom left corner. Both these men will betray you in time.

Your primary foe, Tokugawa Ieyasu, controls an army of similar size to yours. He has ashigaru (militia) spearmen and archers like you, plus ashigaru horsemen (light horse) — but he has one chilling advantage: gunpowder samurai. These units are both devastating ranged units as well as normally trained high samurai; they are positioned at the center river away from the main force.

Your own units are separated in three places: your general and a retinue of mounted samurai form a backbone with archers and spearmen near a chokepoint formed by the two parallel rivers at the top. It’s a sufficient chokepoint to hold, but it’s not ideal as the mountain can be traversed and you can be flanked.

Below and under Toyohisa’s force is the fulcrum of your army: more mounted samurai, archers and spearmen but most importantly some units of foot-samurai that you desperately need for staying power.

And the most important piece, just barely visible on the map: two more units of foot-samurai dangerously close to Hideaki’s army.

So, I’m outnumbered by just over a thousand. Most of those soldiers are samurai. Most of my soldiers are not.

The first time I tackled this scenario I thought I would consolidate forces as quickly as possible. As Tokugawa sends his primary force to deal with your general, I fortified the position and waited — sending spearmen to the choke with the archers just behind them to pepper enemies on the approach. Leaving behind one unit of spearmen to easily deal with Tokugawa’s two units of light horse who charge for your main force at the tree line, the rest sprinted for the more defensible position.

A few things went awry fast. Even sprinting, the two units of four hundred samurai at the bottom of the map cannot make it through the river fast enough to avoid the advancing gunpowder samurai. I thought at most I would suffer a few volleys as I ran past — but they were able to close ground and charge. Being regular samurai as well, those two units were trapped.

Then, Shimazu Toyohisa is the first ally to throw a wrench into your plans. While he doesn’t outright defect, he refuses to order his cavalry forward. This would have been a disaster if I had committed to the battle in the left of the map. So I took what units I had and settled up around him.

Finally, Kobayakawa Hideaki betrays you. But when this daimyo betrays someone, he goes all in and turns his elite force against you. Outnumbered two to one, I fought a hopeless battle of static defense culminating in a brave charge at the line with my general, Ishida Mitsunari, and my surviving mounted samurai.

It was a disaster: we killed about 2,000 opponents but were utterly defeated. And the shame.

After sitting back for a while, I came upon what I thought would be a winning strategy. Two big parts of Total War are Morale and Stamina. With such a large numbers disadvantage and without hardier troops to put on display, the morale battle is something I can’t win — in fact it’s something I have to protect against with strong formations and keeping the general alive and close to his front line troops. But the stamina battle, that is something I can win as a defender. The map is huge, and fighting is also a huge wear on unit stamina.

My plan? To drag these bastards all the way up the map and hope I have enough fresh troops left to either outfight the enemy at the line or to shock them into retreat with a few flanking charges.

Yes, it’s not much of a plan — it’s more of a desperate Hail Mary.

I start over. Not consolidating my troops into a well-protected block of soldiers is hard for me to do. I like to have fresh troops in the back to cycle out, and to thin out formations with lots of archers. But I know what I have to do. All of the troops who aren’t lucky enough to begin the battle near my general are ordered to hold the line at the woods on the left side of the map. As the most brutal combat is going to take place on the left, I send my general down to be with his more elite troops.

The first course of action is to ensure that my samurai make it across the river un-assailed. When the field is littered with corpses, it’s going to be those samurai that will still be fighting for me at a sixth of their unit strength. Always treasure the troops with the highest natural morale; they are the ones that matter when everyone is exhausted but still have to fight it out.

So I form up the spearmen and order them into the spear wall formation to take the cavalry charge, hiding the samurai I already have in the woods for later. I deal with the cavalry charge easily and nearly wipe them out before they have a chance to route. But the advancing gunpowder samurai are really making me sweat. I need to tie them up and make sure they don’t catch my samurai all bunched up as they cross the river.

My brave mounted samurai are given the insane order to charge the gunpowder samurai. As they do I realize I’ve been neglecting my troops at the river chokepoint up top. The idea was to take a combined arms charge with my dispensable spearmen (that’s what they’re there for, to die before my samurai and to tire out the enemy samurai) and to bring my other mounted samurai down the mountain to hit the enemy flanking maneuver when they circle around behind the spearmen to hit my archers.

Unfortunately the enemy samurai manage to cut down a unit of archers before they can make the space to run without being engaged, and without the quick assistance of my cavalry most of my spearmen are lost. But crossing over a mountain is not easy, and my mounted samurai cut down everything that doesn’t have a yellow flag tied behind its back before moving to support the main line. Behind them, the rag-tag militia survivors of my botched defense are walked down. At this rate they’re so worn out and wounded that it’s useless to run them anywhere anyhow; at first sight of an enemy flag they’d turn and run and my other troops wouldn’t find that especially comforting. So, they get to stroll down to the killing field.

Now, things get really ugly. While I was away up at the top of the map, I foolishly forgot to turn my lines of spearmen around. They were charged by three units of samurai from behind. They didn’t stand a chance.

While my militia units slowly dissolve and retreat, the battlefield turns into a clumpy mess of samurai from either side joining in combat. Even though I’ve made a few flanking maneuvers, the enemy outnumbers me so terribly that their troops aren’t too upset about fighting on three or four sides.

Fortunately, by pulling off cavalry units from one fight and charging them at the rear of an enemy formation, I’m able to slaughter a good chunk of enemy samurai. But it’s at this point, as Tokugawa falters, that Hideaki joins the fight and starts to move across the river crossings.

However, I have a plan. I round up three units of cavalry and one severely wounded unit of foot-samurai with my general — who has just finished bravely defending the left flank by helpfully inspiring a unit and joining in himself — and send them across the river to the right side of the map to attack and kill Tokugawa and his retinue. Hopefully, if I start killing their generals, their morale will falter.

My little assassination force makes it across the river, only to find out that this Tokugawa character is more of a fighter than I thought he’d be. He sends one unit of cavalry retreating immediately, but eventually he’s encircled and killed.

An unexpected side effect of this foolhardy attack is that Hideaki has sent two units of four hundred naginata-wielding samurai to deal with my general. Of course this is bad news for my general, but it’s excellent news for the tide of battle for two reasons: more immediately he’s taking four hundred troops out of the main battle to deal with about one hundred of my troops, and in the long term those troops he sent will be so exhausted that they’ll never be able to contribute anything when it really counts.

So my brave assassination unit fights a tough battle at the river crossing, unfortunately unable to make it to the river in time to charge through the clumped samurai. But my general and his men do manage to kill at least their own number in enemy samurai before they are defeated. Strangely, after killing Ishida, the naginata-samurai turn immediately for the main battle. Dazed and confused, my remaining unit of fifty samurai stand in the river crossing and rest. They deserve it.

But Hideaki himself is having none of it. He’s charged straight into my line personally, and although his troops are tired they have been rallied and are fighting well. Without enough troops to screen my archers, they are being charged and cut down.

I really hadn’t thought this far ahead, or perhaps I hadn’t realized how devastated and disparate my army would be after fighting so many separate engagements. My only option now, with three units left on the field and on the edge of retreat, is to run for Shimazu and his cavalry.

If I make it close enough, and have units alive when I get there, just maybe his fresh mounted samurai will be able to kill or intimidate the 1,000 pissed off samurai chasing me.

As my two units who survived the primary engagement crest Shimazu’s hill, I almost cheer out loud. His three units of mounted samurai charge headlong into the massive swarm and cut a hole through the center. Seeing this, I order my remaining unit of archers to open fire on the rear units fighting to get close to Shimazu’s cavalry. I’m also surprised to find that the other unit I still have taking orders is a unit of samurai. I stop them running and turn them around to charge the right flank and prevent Shimazu from being encircled.

And then, after about a minute, Hideaki dies. The center of his line collapses and runs, and the flanks shortly follow. My unit of samurai gloriously cut down the routed samurai that just a second ago threatened to overwhelm them. Shimazu charges the two units of naginata-samurai, which flee immediately.

Strangely, Shimazu cleans up most everything but the samurai who killed my general. How thoughtful. I quickly send my two samurai units after them; crossing a river and up a mountain, the last enemy samurai is cut down near the summit. My troops, on the brink of death-by-exhaustion, raise their katanas and cheer.

We won.

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One Response to “Shogun 2 : Total War — Battle of Sekigahara”

  1. Oliver February 23, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    Nicely done 🙂 I very nearly won this battle. I bulked up my forces in the central hill, pulling the samurai by Hideki to the middle of the hill and my spearmen at the bottom. The force by my general secured the chokepoint just north of the middle hill (2 archers and 2 spearmen) and amazingly fought off, for the most part, the force that attacks your general. I managed to wittle the enemy down to about 700 men (mixed samurai) mostly hideki’s men, But I was only left with around 160 Samurai cavalry, who were exhausted. Their downhill charges managed to kill around 150 or so but it was too much and they then proceeded to rout. ;[ so close!

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