The Kensei: The Awakening rules are contained within an A5 softback book consisting of 189 pages. They are a set of Samurai-era rules, which blend the historical with the mythological to create a unique background. Using forces of 25 – 60 miniatures in 28mm scale, this is a set of rules for large scale skirmish / small scale battle scenarios, which uses a D6 system.
The rulebook begins with a guide to how to make best use of the rulebook, the basics of what is needed to play and a brief guide to the Bushido Code, which binds the samurai in a code of honour or conduct. The emphasis is placed upon understanding the background as much a possible, hence the index outlines where to look for information about the various faction options as much as where to look for the rules. .
The use of an introductory section enables players to access the central tenets of the rules. The main facets such as movement, combat, the different types of die rolls and a sample turn are covered using written and pictorial examples, simplified explanations and similar techniques. This is a handy place to start with the rules, whilst also serving as a reference point before, during and after games.
The next section focuses upon the troops and units used in the game, tackling the purpose of the various troop types, their in-game stats and attributes, plus the basic formations and how they are used on the battlefield. There is also a focus upon the important of particular troops types, such as standard bearers and army and unit leaders, who add additional bonuses to combat, the all important Honour (morale) roll and add their prodigious talents to combat. A key feature of the rules is the use of clear explanation and examples of every aspect, in this case the Line of Sight and Cover rules, with simple photographs of miniatures. After each section, there is a piece of narrative fiction that helps to emphasize the setting and maintain the atmosphere of the game, which is a nice touch.
The game is focused upon scenarios, with 6 being included in the book. Much is made of preparing the battlefield in a fair fashion, suggesting that this is a set of rules intended for use in tournament play as well as general gaming. The outline of a Turn Sequence is shown, with the various phases being explained in more detail. There are two turn examples which clarify the rules, again a useful resource. A key factor is the giving of orders, which are classified into 5 types and then organized into whether they are Action or Reaction Orders. Having rolled for orders, players may either provide one or two activation orders to the members of their force. Troops cannot usually use two combat action orders in a turn, unless it is dueling with an enemy. When attacked, a player may choose a reaction order from those listed. Detailed but easily accessible descriptions of the various orders are covered, again with exposition and pictures. A nice touch is the use of so-called Static, Support and Spiritual orders, which range from taking cover to the fantastical spiritual beings using their unique powers, based upon their Ki.
The Combat system is relatively easy to grasp, whether in Hand-to-Hand or Ranged. For hand to hand, each combatant creates a pool of dice based upon their stats, weapons and any other factors. Both attacker and defender roll that number of dice at the same time, with the base difficulty being a 4+ on each D6. This base is modified up or down as dictated by circumstances. Each success counts as Impacts, which can cause Damage, and a further D6 roll is made to calculate the amount of damage caused by both Attacker and Defender. It is possible to fight one on one or multiple combats, with modifiers based upon orders given, although those outside the combat may only be given Reaction orders. The Ranged Combat system is similar to the hand-to-hand combat rules, with different modifiers and a damage chart. Resolution is based upon the level and scale of casualties caused, with a subsequent effect upon whether the trooper or unit removes wounds or casualty figures, retires, makes a modified Honour roll to stay in the battle and whether a victorious enemy follows up the vanquished.
Having learnt the basic rules, the Intermediate rules bring in the use of Command Decks, useful for adding bonuses to your die rolls. The Occult Powers section adds more of the fantasy and mythological elements to the game, including Spiritual Troops, Mythological Creatures and more. War Machines also feature, with full rules for their use within the game.
The outline of the various Clans enables gamers to choose from the variety on offer, each with their own quirks and special rules, from the human to the undead, the religious to the ninja. A guide to the creation of army lists refers to an online army builder but still contains information on how to do this with ‘pen and paper’, including a summary of special rules and points costs. The Battle Scenarios are explained with everything from scenery to set-up and victory conditions. An Appendix to the rules has a number of sample Army Lists, with a further appendix covering an alphabetical listing of the special Abilities listed on the various stat profiles.
Overall, this is a very well laid out set of rules, which flow remarkably easily and focus on building upon rules rather than simply making them more complex. The book itself is in full colour, with some fantastic artwork and photographs of miniatures that really help to evoke the atmosphere. They could function just as easily as a set of historical Samurai combat rules, but the background presented is a rich and varied one, embracing some of the classic elements to be found in Japanese myth and legend. This is also another good example of how to not only layout a rulebook, but make it into a usable resource when gaming, with plenty of easily accessible examples and support. A great set of rules with an interesting and different premise.