I’m going to die in dishonour, my people bowed under the yoke of my bastard neighbours. I’ll try to prevent it, I’ve got a yoke of my own after all, but it’s going to happen. I’m playing Sengoku, you see, the new grand strategy game from the clever people at Paradox. I’ve been looking forward to it for ages and now it’s finally time to start my nefarious domination of Japan. But I’m already worried. It all seemed safe at first; it looks enough like Europa Universalis III (same engine) and feels enough like Crusader Kings that I was confident for at least a few minutes. But the more I see, the more I realise that I’m out of my depth. Should a mildly neurotic Englishman, wired up on coffee, ever take charge of a Japanese clan at such a turbulent point in the nation’s history? I think not and I’m going to show you exactly why that is.
Here’s how it works. I’ll be a leader during the Sengoku period, a time when the country was in a near-constant state of warfare as rival clans sought to unify the country under their own banner. At least that’s what Wikipedia just told me. I don’t even know if they actually had banners.
You see, there’s a problem here. I’m a dab hand at Crusader Kings, the Paradox title this seems closest to, and I’ve even managed to play a few games of Victoria without feeling hopelessly lost, but I know a fair bit about the real life history behind those games. Feudal Japan is a mystery to me. That’s exciting but it could also be my undoing. I’m going to try and learn a little as I go but I’m effectively going into this one with giant cultural and historical blindspots on every side of me.
The first thing I need to do is choose a clan. It’s quite daunting because there are so many to pick from and I know nothing about any of them. If this was Europe, I’d go for Ireland because I like Guinness and James Joyce. I’m in the dark here though. I briefly consider going for the clan that rule Kazuo Ishiguro’s birthplace but in the end plump for the Nanbu clan, whose line is traceable and lives on today. That's added pressure. I doubt they'll read this but I still sincerely hope I don’t humiliate their digital ancestors.
Not surrounded by too many potential enemies, the Nanbu seem ideally situated to take over a chunk of the north from here. Rather than being a case of simply building loads of swords and marching on neighbouring territories, conquering other clans in Sengoku requires political machinations. They need to be softened up before the killing blow is struck. More on that later once I start actually machinating, or, more likely, am machinated upon.
Let’s see who I am.
Unlike many strategy games, Sengoku has characters. Loads of them. My current clan leader is Nanbu Nobutoki. He’s 24 years old, he’s ambitious and he’s a misguided warrior. Ambition is good. Misguided not so good. But at least he’s some kind of warrior. It’s better than being a misguided lover, I suppose. Less risk of finding him in bed with a koi carp.
The three main stats behind every character are Martial, Diplomacy and Intrigue. Nobutoki has a strong 7 in martial and scores 5 and 4 in the others, respectively. Not too shabby. He could be a leader of men. He’s already married but there’s bad news on that front. You see, darling wife Chacha (cha!) doesn’t actually like Nobutoki very much. It’s mainly because she has an envious trait, I think, but perhaps there actually has been an incident with a koi carp as well. Having an envious wife could spell trouble. Oh yeah, she’s also an ‘underhanded rogue’. She’s going to plot against me, I know it. I haven’t even started yet and I already think my own wife is going to murder me in my sleep. This is terrible.
I’ll deal with it later. Probably by marrying a few nicer wives. I can have up to four apparently. I expect my marriages will be made for political reasons but I’m going to try and keep the fourth slot free in case I fall in love. You never know.
People may already be plotting against me but I’ve got a plot of my own. The Namioka clan to my west are my first target and I’m going to bring them down. Japan is split into kori and kuni. Koris are smaller provinces and kuni are larger groups of land. If one clan controls all the kori that make up a kuni, their leader gets the daimyo title for that kuni. Make sense? It will. For now, just know that titles are good and daimyo is a pretty neat title to have. I hold all the land necessary to form a kuni, except for the few territories held by the Namioka. So that’s my first objective. Crush them.
I've drawn up a complicated battle plan.
I shall be keeping the chronicles of the Nanbu clan as our every move backfires and we stab each other in the back repeatedly, vigorously and underhandedly. Or, who knows, maybe I’ll manage to succeed, at least for a while.
Not with Chacha watching me like that though. That woman will be the death of me, I just know it. The next installment of this diary should reach you shortly, stained with tears and blood.