To the Strongest! - Imjin War playtest

I am still trying to decide how I feel about To the Strongest! as a go to ruleset for my sword and spear level gaming.  I have managed to play a few games with Jon using Ancients and Renaissance armies, and decided to give the rules a try with my own Imjin War (1590's) era Korean and Japanese armies.  This would also provide an excuse to try out the new 12cm Impetus Sabot bases I picked up from Warbases last month.  The allow me to mount 8 models to a base or four cavalry.  I used the 6 figure sabots to represent the missile troops and more open order units like the samurai. 

Since I am also in the midst of a terrain kick, I opted to update/rehabilitate one of my felt gaming mats.  I added some new fresh colors, flock and sand.  I then finished it off with a generous coating of satin coating.  The final step was to go through with a silver sharpie and mark out the corners for 15cm grid squares.  You can make them out in the pictures but I do find them rather unobtrusive during games.  The overall mat size is a little bigger than 6'x4'  (8x12 squares)

Close-up of the grid

Final product.  
I decided to play around with the period army and came up with the following (based on the Sengaku period Samurai list on the Oriental Army lists)  :

Japanese Army

  • Moutned Superior Army General -Kato Kiyomasa
  • 2x Veteran Samurai Units
  • 2x Samurai Units
  • 5x Ashigaru Spearmen
  • 5x Ashigaru Handgunners w/Pallisades
  • 1x Ashigaru w/ Bow
  • 1x Saker Cannon

Samurai armies of the period tended to focus on gunpowder weapons, as one commander sent a request back to Japan essentially requesting fewer spears and more guns.  I used the palisades to reflect a more defensive posture with the assumption of using a Ming supported Korean force on the attack.

Korean Army

  • Mounted General
  • 2 Veteran Spear Units
  • 4 Hvy Infantry (2 with Bills) 
  • 3 Hvy Archers
  • 2 Archers
  • 4 Garrison Infantry
  • 2 Hvy Cavalry
  • 2 Horse Archers

For the setup, I put the Korean Infantry formations two deep.  Rather than go with 3 hit deep units I opted to give the rear rank the option to swap forward as a difficult activation.  For the Japanese, the tactic was normally for the Arquebus to do most of the fighting, with the Spears and Archers to provide cover when they needed to reload.  Thus the Arquebus would "evade" a charge by swapping with the Spearmen behind them.

For Set up, I established the Ashigaru behind their pavises with the Samurai Protecting the flanks.  The Koreans would attack with the Heavy Infantry in the center flanks by the weaker garrison infantry.  The Korean Cavalry would move along the flanks to harass with missile fire, before closing to attack. 
The battle opened with the Korean Archers moving forward to duel with the Japanese.  A series of early Aces would result in a fairly static infantry line.  The Cavalry pushed a little too close on the right flank and were driven off by some fairly aggressive samurai. 

As the game progressed, the Heavy Infantry would continue to falter while the Garrison infantry managed to make their advance.  The difficulty in maintaining a coherent battleline would plague the Koreans for much of the fight. 

Early on, the fire from the Japanese Teppo proved superior to the Korean archers.  Both sides eventually ran low on ammunition and fire became more sporadic.

The trailing of fire finally brought about some action from the Korean center, as the heavy infantry advanced in line.  At this point the Cavalry on the Korean right had been driven off.  The Left, however was doing much better. 

The Korean cavalry on the left achieved a breakthrough even as the Garrison infantry faltered. 

Both sides were worn down across the middle, and it was the Japanese who met their breakpoint first.  The game was very well suited to solo play as the Japanese essentially provided static fire agains the Korean advance.  The victory came down to several close combat engagements with both sides heavily damaged. 

For the second outing I deleted the Saker gun and added another commander to each side.   One of the Samurai units was added to the battle line.  The Japanese were split between the 2nd division on the right and the 1st division on the left.

New Battleline

Japanese 1st Division

Japanese 2nd Division

"Ming" Heavy Infantry

Korean Garrison infantry with Archers forward. 

Initial Battlelines. 

The cards were a little more favorable to a general advance, and the Korean lines stayed relatively close together for this attempt.  The Samurai made another effort to drive the Korean cavalry out of the woods, but the battle otherwise settled into a shooting match for the first several turns. 

Eventually the ammunition and/or archers gave out and the infantry closed to finish the conflict. As with the first battle, the activation cards tended to favor the Korean garrison infantry more than the heavy infantry across the center. 

The Korean garrison troops would engage in an indecisive back and forth across the center  
 The Samurai on the Right managed to drive off the Cavalry, and turned to threaten the Garrison infantry.  In the end, however, poor activation cards would leave the force hanging and eventually destroyed by the resurgent cavalry. 
The Korean Right is fully engaged. 

The 1st Division had significantly more success in depleting the heavy infantry as it approached. The Korean heavies stumbled and then faltered.   

Things went sideways very rapidly as the Korean general managed a double ace on the save, dying in the melee that cost most of the elite center unit. 

two aces is bad.  
 The loss of coherence in the Korean right prompted a counterattack by the Japanese 2nd division, that would wrest control of most of the center and counter the loss of units on their right.  In the end the losses would prove catastrophic to the Koreans and the would be forced to withdraw.  The actual results seemed much more lopsided that the game played, but the line of expired Korean units far exceeded that of the Japanese line.

Overall thoughts. 
I am still fairly luke-warm to To the Strongest! for these later era games.  I quite enjoyed it in the Egyptian vs. Assyrian outing from last December and it seemed to capture the period well.  It works well for the close press of spear armed units and does allow for some rather large, quickly played game.  It is comparable to Commands and Colours in the command activation system with one significant difference:  I can't bank on a somewhat balanced number of activations per side.  In C&C you play a card that allows usually around 4-6 units to move.  In this game I would have a run of luck that would allow multiple activations for most the units in one command followed by only 1-2 activations in response before the 1st ace was pulled.     This tendency towards the more significant swings definitely increased the uncertainty of the game, and made fore a more excited solo play.  I think it is more frustrating in matched play as it can lead periods of extended inactivity for a player with some poor draws. 

The other piece I am looking for is something to give it more of a flair for the time period.  I placed 'heroes' in each of the infantry units to reflect their better equipped commanders, but still wanted something to make the game a little more unique for the timeperiod.  Samurai Battles for example adds their honor system (and simplifies unit combat) to create and C&C engine that works well for the feel of the Sengoku period.  I am looking for something similar for a set of rules for this time period, as well as for our renaissance era games.   That is not to say, that I am not a fan of the rules.  They play very cleanly and allow for relatively large battles played in very short order.  I plan on fielding both my Kushite Egyptians and Qin Chinese using these rules in the near future. 

Samurai Battles still holds more allure for me for this time period for Samurai vs Samurai games.  It doesn't work for the Imjin war, perhaps Impetus will be a better fit.

GMT is finally releasing C&C for the medieval period (at least they charged my credit card after 2.5 years of waiting)  Hopefully it will have a few novel ideas that may inspire me. 


  1. Cool looking armies, Jake! I want to see these armies in person. Your terrain cloth looks good too. Being a bit colorblind, the colors of the groundcloth escape me. What colors did you use?

    I think TtS! would be well-suited to solo play as you note and may be a great strength of the system. It certainly plays fast without many headaches. I may be looking for more too but it works for me (mostly). I found the disregarding of the first brigade failure helped a lot. I look forward to more battles as we come to grips with the system.

    1. Primarily a mix of whatever camouflage sprays I had in the garage. The original mat was a mix of desert yellow, charcoal gray and oak brown, the added sprays brought in Khaki, tan, Forrest Green, Army green, and more desert yellow.

  2. I await your review and first impressions of C&C Medieval too. I didn't preorder it but I bet Kevin and Scott did.

    1. I had forgotten I pre-ordered it until the charge announcement came through. I think it first hit p500 back in 2016-17

  3. Great-looking game. I've been waffling about taking these rules out for a small solo run. Might see if I can pry some time loose in the next couple of weeks.

    1. It is worthwhile to give them a try. I like the speed of play and simplicity of organization if nothing else.

  4. Looks great, and the rules got the troops out on the table for a game... or two! Adding some period chrome shouldn't be too hard, especially with other sets for some ideas to borrow!


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