By Adam Smith on October 5th, 2011 at 12:46 pm.
(See here for the story so far.)
“We live on the promise that we will not inherit the problems of our fathers in this time of Sengoku but will instead be Lord of the new worlds they have wrought, able to take pride in their works and in turn grant our own children the honour of a name and the produce of rich and stable lands. It is the dream of every generation to improve the lot of the next, to elevate their position in society and their power over the weak and the wanting. We live on the promise that our fathers are not fools and some of us will die on the empty, rotten nature of such a promise. Screw you dad. Screw you with a shinai.”
Nanbu Akifusa, January 1478
When we last saw Nanbu Nobutoki he was celebrating a great victory by encouraging his people to drink themselves into a stupor for fear that without the numbing effects of alcohol they would realise they were being taxed excessively to pay for a war they never asked for and in which hundreds had perished. Little did anyone know that holding the north coast, with the threat of revolt molasses-thick in the air and the fields of newly conquered Tsugaru stained with blood, would represent the high point of the Nanbu clan’s meteoric rise to subpar mediocrity. In fact, let’s question that whole concept of meteoric rises. Don’t meteors tend to fall, which is in many ways the opposite of rising? So let’s call the Nanbu’s meteoric trajectory precisely what it is: a shower. A meteoric shower of shit.
Nanbu Akifusa, whose wise words gently lead us into this tale of deceit, treachery and gross strategic deficiencies, is the first-born of clan leader Nanbu Nobutoki and his long-suffocating wife Chacha. Technically, we should say second-born, since Nobutoki’s first-born died at a tender age, but who’s actually keeping count? There are plenty of Nanbus to go around as Chacha seems to do little except twirl her moustaches, mutter in an increasingly paranoid fashion and give birth once every couple of years. A lady has to have hobbies.
The important point is that if all goes to the increasingly shambolic and hastily improvised plan, Akifusa will be the next leader of the Nanbu clan. He’s got the skills, being a natural warrior and skilled tactician, and I’ve already got my eyes on a strategically important marriage with the daughter of the Osaki, our powerful neighbours to the south. I originally stated the importance of not becoming boxed in by the Osaki but then I got boxed in by the Osaki. I can’t fight my way through them and then expect the rest of Japan to tremble before me because if I try marching through them they’ll cut off most of my limbs and there’s nothing awe-inspiring about a man reduced to holding a sword between his toes. So I’m going to have to apply brainpower, cunning and lapdog-like subservience to my superiors.
“It is not dishonourable to bow one’s knee before a superior man but forcing your son to marry his deranged and celibate daughter and describing your heir’s marriage chamber as a suitable place to “offload the genetic deadwood” isn’t impressing anyone. Thanks, dad. Hope you’re rotting in Jigokudo.”
Nanbu Akifusa, January 1482
The possibility of a peasant rebellion was curtailed by two things, or at least it was curtailed and I did two things that I think were instrumental in the curtailment. I built theatres full of slapstick and farce, and I sent my noble and wizened Master of Arms Harusada to restore peace in the newly conquered Western provinces. There was a third thing too and it was the worst mistake I made, the beginning of the end of the Nanbu and all the miserable drunken excess that their particular brand of honour represented. Because I now held six territories, stability was difficult to maintain, Nobutoki not being the most efficient of administrators. Therefore, I’d already decided to cede control of at least one kori (the smallest unit of land) to a member of my court. He’d love me for the privilege of it all, my honour would rise due to my bureaucratic benevolence and the people would be overjoyed that more attention was being paid to them.
Who better for the job than Harusada, the grizzled veteran who had helped me to conquer the kori and whose influence had becalmed it? I sent the old warhorse out to pasture and appointed a new Master of Arms from what I noted was a rapidly dwindling court. In fact, the best man for the job was good old Akifusa, my next of kin and soon-to-be bargaining chip in the grand old game of political marriage.
Yes, those are wedding bells you hear, or more likely they’re not because we’re all Buddhists here and don’t even know that Christians exist yet. Even if bells were an option though, I think this is the kind of union better announced by the sound of wedding rubber stamps and, as we’ll see very soon, the sharp and haunting echo of long knives on whetstones.
“My father always maintained that his failing was to reach for too much too soon. Anyone who knew him will tell you that, inveterate drunkard that he was, he wouldn’t even reach for the bottle if it involved leaning forward from his heavily-cushioned throne.”
Nanbu Akifusa, January 1486
Political marriage of physical inconvenience to mighty Osaki clan – check. Borders protected by castles and armies – check. Annoying Kasai clan still cluttering up my northlands – doublecheck. I could plot against the wretches but they’re on their last legs. Might as well just send in the troops. What harm can it do? I’ll take a minor knock to my honour for declaring war but then I’ll give the kori to senior Nanbu citizen Harasuda, reclaiming some of my lost honour and making a loyal servant even more loyal. Or, as it turns out, I will place my petards ready to be hoisted by them.
In march the armies and after a nine month siege, I’ve wiped out the Kasai and own a fairly significant chunk of the north. Now the only two clans who are of real interest in my immediate future are the Tozawa and the Osaki, who are engaged in a fight to the death. The poor Tozawa don’t stand a chance and my best course of action seems to be inaction; let the dust settle and then try to ingratiate myself further with the Osaki, since I don’t stand a chance against them in a test of power. Akifusa’s marriage to their daughter is going along swimmingly, with another couple of baby Nanbus already knocking about the place. I’m a grandfather!
Owning my little enclave in the north makes me feel a very safe and happy grandfather. The Osaki act as a buffer between me and the rest of the warring clans so I can sit back and concentrate on my dealings with them, maybe try to turn some of their vassals against them and start a civil war that tears them apart.
“There is nothing civil about war. Or peace if you’re unlucky enough to be born a Nanbu.”
Nanbu Akifusa, January 1491
Bugger. My vassal has turned against me and a civil war is tearing me apart. The blue portion of the map there, which used to represent the lands of my aged vassal Harasuda, are now in the hands of an independent clan led by the crazy old fool. After two decades of loyal service, he’s decided enough is enough. I noticed that his opinion of me was decaying so I married off one of my daughters to him. She was 17, he was 59. Rather than making him love me, it just made him hate me slightly less and made her hate me just as much as he used to.
At first I thought his treachery was predicated on simple ambitions of his own and I approached the Osaki to see if they’d help me clean up the mess, counting on the fact they wouldn’t want instability on their own borders. It was only then that the depths of my predicament were revealed. Far from fearing instability, the Osaki had fomented just such instability. As far as I can tell, and it seems my far-telling abilities are sealed in a myopic miasma of sake-fuelled trust and friendship, the clan leader of the Osaki and my own Harasuda have been in bed together for some time. Not literally, you understand, but I wouldn’t discount the possibility of a great deal of daughter-swapping. My own daughter-swapping having been ineffectual, making me seem more like a cranky old pimp rather than a cool political bargainer, I find myself in a rather tight spot.
I raise my armies and send desperate emissaries to the all-powerful Uesugi, who already own the lion’s share of our island and surely see the Osaki as their biggest potential threat. If I can convince them to join me in a plot, I could turn the tide of battle in my favour and ally myself with the man who will surely be the future shogun, unless I can somehow have him assassinated once he has served his purpose.
For good measure, I dispatch ninjas to kill the heir to the Osaki clan. It feels more spiteful than purposeful but then so do I.
“As I sit in a dungeon, awaiting my fate, I ponder the mistakes of my father and am saddened by the fact that I never even got the chance to be one of them.”
Nanbu Akifusa, January 1493
Thousands upon thousands invaded my lands and my own troops could not stem the tide. My loyal ninja murdered a sullen teenager though, so at least it’s not all bad.
And that, I’m sorry to say, is where our story ends. Nobutoki’s only friend turned on him, Chacha unexpectedly stuck by him until the end, and the only survivors of the never-proud clan were probably the daughters who managed to marry into better families. In those final months, I rallied every army I could, hired ronin by the handful using the handful of coin that remained to me, and tried to stand against the combined forces of my erstwhile clanmates and the blitzkrieg unleashed by the Osaki. I didn’t stand a chance, outdone by sheer weight of numbers.
Or perhaps more than that. I still don’t know exactly why Harasuda turned on me, although I believe he and the Osaki formed a plot together. If it were possible to simulate the game into the future after being wiped out (a feature I’d love incidentally), I imagine the Osaki quickly turned on Harasuda’s upstart clan. They used him to destroy my Nanbu because we were the bigger threat, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.
As for the mighty Uesugi, the message I received from them after asking them to engage in a plot with me basically read: “Who are you?” If I could do it all again, and I can and will, I’d try to engage with the Uesugi earlier, rather than simply concentrating on my geographic neighbours. Having a better relationship with the most powerful clans in the land would not only allow me to call on them in times of need, it would position me to perform devious acts in and among the ranks of their vassals.
It’s usually the case with a Paradox game but although this first playthrough was something of a disaster I have learned from it and hopefully you’ve enjoyed watching me fail, just like the parents of other children used to do at school sports days. Once I’ve had chance to play a few more games and test out the plotting mechanic in more detail, I’ll write up some impressions. I can say already that I’m still waiting for Crusader Kings II a lot more eagerly than I’m looking forward to playing more Sengoku but now that I’m getting to grips with the interface, I’m hoping to unlock more depth. And more disaster.
“Ambition is the ladder we must climb
though the rungs are splintered
the lips we must kiss
though soaked in poison
the land we must love
though its limits evade us.
Ambition is madness
and we were the mad.”
Nanbu Nobutoki, 1493