8 July 2016

Impression: Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun

As a casual gamer, most turn-based strategy games that I've played are essentially JRPG at heart: Strong storyline, large cast of memorable characters, and awesome ultimate moves that let a single man (usually main character) to turn the tide of battle...or rearrange entire landscape. This kind of turn-based strategy games naturally revolve around pitting a few but very strong units (your main character and his sidekicks) against large number of inferior units (enemy mooks). More hardcore-ish games such as Fire Emblem series (permanent character death!) or even harder ones like Battle of Wesnoth already give me headache.

Enter Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun.

Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun
Having so used to games that give you complete control on every unit, level advantages and plot armours, a heavily rule-based game that tries to simulate historical battles as realistic as possible and let you and your opponent fight on (more or less) equal terms can feel extremely hard. I play mostly skirmish and, aside from a couple lucky victories, mostly end up with me on the losing side.

But great fun I've had.

And I especially loved the almost perfect blend of very awesome music, ukiyo-e art style, ink brush calligraphic characters and East Asian seal button interface.

Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun is definitely a must-have for wargame enthusiasts and lovers of East Asian history. Anyone interested can grab it here or from Steam.

Opinion on various factions in game
(Revisited and updated on March 16, 2021 to reflect my current understanding of East Asian warfare.)

As befitting the nature of this blog, I will not delve too deep into the gameplay and mechanical aspects of the game, but rather spell out my impression on different factions, especially the Chinese ones in the game. I will still discuss a little bit about the game itself later on though.

I was drawn into this video game because I get to play as Ming (just look at the title of this blog), although I end up playing as Jurchens most of the time. In general, the developers really have done a good job keeping all sides balanced while maintaining a relatively high degree of historical accuracy.

Ming Chinese
I am overall impressed with the developer's decision to make a shooty Ming army, as that's how I imagine Ming Chinese fought historically (modus operandi of Ming army: Shoot'em, shoot some more. Blast with cannons and rockets when enemy get closer. Engage close combat and mopping-up. Avoid pursuing too far.) Then again, I do think there's still room for improvements:
  • Ming faction as a whole should do better in close combat. Getting slaughtered by samurai in close combat is understandable (however debatable), but they should be able to fight ashigaru on more or less equal footing at the very least. Seeing Ming troops losing to non-warrior monk Joseon infantry in close combat simply defile belief.
  • All Ming units, both on foot and mounted, should come in mixed battalions with access to ranged weaponry including bow, handgun, matchlock, salvo (to represent rocket), and regimental guns.
  • Single capability units should be limited to smaller "specialist detachment".
  • All Ming cavalry should be armoured or well-armoured, as well as of average, superior or elite quality. They should also make up the majority of Imjin War lists and Northern Army lists. 
  • No heavy European cannons in pre-1620 lists. Come to think of it, I am fine with only one type of artillery unit (medium artillery). Ming army has more than enough light artillery in the form of attached regimental guns anyway.
  • Similar to regular Ming units, tribal auxiliaries should also come in mixed battalions, except they use crossbow and javelins instead of bow and matchlock.
  • I would like to see a Wokou-era list that emphasises on unarmoured infantry, tribal auxiliaries, and Qi's army (i.e. Mandarin Duck Formation), as well as a historically accurate Ming Northern Army list with war carts, cavalry, mounted infantry, and dragoons.
  • I would also like to see various Southern Ming/Ming remnant factions being represented.


"...for such is the quickness and nimbleness of the Tartars (in which they excel all Nations, and idn which also they place their chief art) that in a trice, they either prevail in their Designs, or retire: and the little skill the Chineses had in the use of Musquets, was no small hinderance to this War."
Martino Martini, in his book Bellum Tartaricum.

Jurchen is my favourite faction in the game (cavalry are tons of fun!), yet it is also the least fleshed out faction. Current Jurchen just feels like a recolored Mongol to me, but this is understandable though, as very few researches had been done on early Jurchen/Manchu history. Since I don't usually discuss about Qing military history in my blog, I will take this chance to write something about them.

The biggest difference between Jurchens and Mongols was that Jurchens were NOT nomads. Jurchen people were sedentary or semi-agricultural people living in hilly and forested area, and their lifestyle naturally lend to very different military composition and tactics than the Mongols. Despite horseback archery being their best known trait, Jurchen warriors were equally deadly in close combat and on foot (as mounted infantry). Their expertise in foot combat was one of the reasons they were able to tear down Ming wagon forts and defeat them whilst the Mongols were hard-pressed to do so.

One particular feature of early Jurchen army is that they were very well-armoured. Almost the entire Jurchen army was armoured, and a significant portion used bardings and wore multiple armours at the same time. Jurchen troops utilised their war carts offensively, not just in siege but also in field battle, to counter Ming wagon forts and field fortifications.

In game terms, Jurchen faction should be a hybrid of (original) Japanese and Ming Chinese, featuring heavy emphasis on armour, shock tactic and close combat like the Japanese, but with mixed units like the Chinese. In a sense, Jurchen/Manchu should be the overpowered faction of this game. After all, they managed to roll over a militarily improved Joseon Dynasty, TWICE, with only half the troops mobilised by Japan during Imjin War, and in a much shorter time span (not to mention they also gave Ming one hell of a beating).
  • I want my Sanggiyan Bayara (lit. 'White-armoured guards') elite cavalry. Seeing my generals and their guards slaughtered by mounted samurai feels utterly ridiculous, since historically Japan had the worst cavalry out of all involved factions.
  • Jurchen cavalry should be well-armoured cavalry of superior or above quality with light lancers, swordsmen, and bow. They should no longer evade charge.
  • Jurchen (mounted) infantry should be armoured or well-armoured, with 25% spearmen, 25% heavy weapon, 50% swordsmen, and 50% bow.
  • Jurchen army should have access to offensive war cart unit that acts as damage sponge.
  • Skirmisher cavalry should be renamed Khorchin Mongol auxiliaries.

The portrayal of Qing army is generally fine, although the lack of spearmen bothers me. Historically, Qing army gradually became lighter armoured as time went on. By eighteenth century, they already ditched most of the heavy armours of their Jurchen predecessors, although some bannermen still wore light mail shirts or two-piece brigandines to battle. They also switched to Western-style cannons and had their own names for different cannons.
  • Depending on the period, a Qing army list can consist of armoured cavalry and mounted close combat infantry supported by Han Chinese artillerymen, or masses of unarmoured horse archers and matchlockmen (and a few spearmen) with even more cannons.
  • Remove all Chinese cannons and replace them with equivalent European-style cannons.
  • I would like to see the famous Tiger of War being represented.

The game divides the Mongol faction into Western Mongol and Eastern Mongol, although I don't see many differences between the two. Mongol army lists are okay for the most part, if a little uninspiring. Historically, Mongols during this period actually received a lot of influence from the Chinese, to the extend that they actively adopted Ming-style armours and equipment such as San Yan Chong (三眼銃) and Chinese cannons.
  • Compared to Ming Chinese, a Mongol list should have lower ratio of armoured cavalry, higher ratio of superior quality cavalry, and no infantry.
  • All Mongol units should be made cheaper to reflect the superior mobility of steppe nomads and their ability to concentrate larger number of troops for any given battle.
  • I would like to see a "militarised" Mongol list with higher ratio of armoured cavalry, cavalry armed with both bow and handgun, and some mounted infantry with regimental guns.
  • A Dzungar Khanate list that has flintlock-armed cavalry, dragoons, musketeers, and camel cannons can open up highly unusual army composition and playstyle to the otherwise bland faction.


Since Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun is a primarily a Japan-focused game, Japanese army lists in the game are fairly detailed and highly accurate. There are no outright unhistorical unit such as katana-wielding samurai or female samurai in this game (unlike certain other Total War game).

I do, however, have serious issue with Japanese cavalry. Japan is the only faction in game with access to all-superior and elite cavalry, all of them armoured. This put the faction above not only Chinese and Koreans, but Mongols and Jurchens in cavalry warfare!

Historically, mounted samurai made up as little as 5% of the army's combatants, and even armies with higher numbers of mounted samurai rarely went above 15%. Moreover, many mounted samurai took up commanding roles, and those that actively engaged in combat usually fought together with their foot retainers, or formed the mounted element of a larger, mixed formation. Only a very minuscule number of mounted samurai actually fought as true cavalry, and these were usually formed on an ad-hoc basis. As such, Japan was seriously lacking in the experience of large scale cavalry tactics and warfare. 
  • The basic unit of Japan faction should be sonae, a mixed battalion that can do a little bit of everything. 
  • Single capability units should be limited to smaller "specialist detachment".
  • Nerf mounted samurai, no so much in their quality, but in their numbers. Mounted samurai should come in significantly smaller units (50~300 men per unit, in contrast to Ming cavalry that can go as high as 1,000~3,000 men in a single unit), and there should be fewer of them. 


I will only touch a little on Wokou, as more detailed information about them can be found here.
  • A Wokou list should be made up of massed of unarmoured warriors and mobs of varying qualities, supported by small numbers of superior quality crack troops (i.e. rōnin).
  • Wokou units should be small in size (i.e. fewer troops in a single unit), but cheap enough that the player can field a lot of them.

Joseon Korean
Despite Ming and Joseon being close ally during this time period, my knowledge regarding Joseon military is fairly limited, since I can't read Korean at all. Generally speaking, Joseon army during the onset of Imjin War was extremely weak, so much so that it simply crumbled before the might of Japanese warriors without putting up much of a fight, losing seven out of eight Korean provinces in mere months. Nevertheless, at least a portion of Joseon army was retrained by officers of Ming Southern Army during the interbellum of Imjin War, and took on a more Chinese characteristic afterwards.
  • Considering the abysmal performance of Joseon army durin the Imjin War, I find the notion that Joseon troops overpowering Ming troops in close combat difficult to swallow.
  • Joseon regulars should be of raw to average quality across the board, but come in fairly large unit size.
  • Righteous army infantry should be represented by superior quality warriors with no noteworthy combat capabilities to better reflect their high motivation/determination but poor training and organisation.
  • Joseon cavalry (especially cavalry from Hamgyong Province) should be comparable to Ming cavalry in quality, but with poorer equipment and less access to handgun.
  • Joseon army should only have access to light artillery in the form of jincheonroe bombard and/or hwacha. 

These opinions will probably completely overturn current game balance. I was probably asking for too much.

Other Tidbits
  • While I understand the current game rule is based on Pike and Shot, which is itself based on Field of Glory tabletop wargaming system, I do wish for more control of my unit, especially during the melee phase and automated pursue. Even a simple "rally" option from nearby general (with a leadership based success rate) can give me much more sense of control.
  • Option to toggle off reactive shooting for unit in hiding.
  • As archery still played a major role in warfare in this part of the world, I think a clearer distinction between different types of bow (just like Field of Glory: Renaissance did with arquebus and musket) can make the game much more interesting. Generally speaking, Ming, Mongol and Joseon bows have longer range and consistent damage (even more so if we take Pyeonjeon into consideration), whereas Manchu and Japanese bows have shorter range, but extremely powerful up close.
  • Both Japanese and Mongol/Jurchen horses are said to be very adaptable to rough terrain, perhaps this should be reflected in game.
  • I hope the game simulates enfilade fire with archers and crossbowmen, instead of just artillery.
  • Equivalent of Honjin or camp for other factions, preferably something that other unit may "park" inside. 
  • Native names for Jurchen and Mongol units. Manchu units can keep their Chinese names though.
  • Weather effect that affect gameplay, such as heavy downpour or strong wind.


  1. Thanks for the comments. We didn't use Pike ability because they are not the thick European style pikes. So when paired up against European units (not currently in the game but modable by users), there would be a difference. Though it is debatable as no one knows really what would happen if a European and Asian like block meet.

    1. @Jayson

      Yeah, I know why FOG:R decided to put Yari and Chinese spears as "spear" instead of "pike".

      Don't get me wrong, you do a fantastic job with this game. I just let my imagination go a little bit too wild in this blog post. It is a fun thought practice to think of how an army fought historically, and then conceptualise them "in game term".

  2. The Dzungar Khanate is represented by the Western Mongols list together with the Oirat. But they are similar to the Eastern Mongols for now. Understand the Dzungar also fought dismounted and used that famous camel wall.

  3. Interesting to see your review, especially since it is clear that this blog was a source of inspiration to the game designers.

    You mentioned a few potential historical inaccuracies in the depiction of Ming troops, and I would be interested to hear more about them, i.e.;

    1. What do you feel is inaccurate about the inclusion of foot archers? Elsewhere on this blog you describe archery as an important aspect of Ming tactics. WOuld archers be mainly mounted infantry?

    2. Likewise, what do you feel is inaccurate about the Mandarin Duck formation? These are the only Ming spear armed infantry, which you have argued should be more prevalent. Do you think the game depicts these formations inaccurately, or do you feel they are too prevalent outside of a limited time frame?

    3. How do you feel about the vast majority of Ming infantry being depicted as unarmored? You have discussed the prevalence of brigandine and textile armors in the Ming army. Would this apply mainly to cavalry, or to rank and file infantry as well?

    1. Good day Sedo, and welcome to my blog.

      1. Yes, mostly for horse and dismounted archery in the North, particularly the Nine Borders. While archery was also practiced in the South (sometimes), the bow used was weaker than North China bow, and archers did not form an important tactical element in Ming Southern army.

      Likewise, when Ming Southern army retrained Joseon army during the interbellum of Imjin war, the resulting army "samsugun (三手軍)" had three different contingents : The "posu (砲手)" or artillerymen/matchlockmen, “salsu (殺手)” or close combat troops, and "sasu (射手)" or archers. This must be Korean's own adaptation of Qi Jiguang's tactic, as Ming themselves only had the first two.

      (It also indicates Southern Chinese were not as good as Koreans in archery)

      2. Not that Mandarin Duck Formation is inaccurate (except for the rocket part), but since this game does not simulate the effect of Lang Xian, they were just another bunch of spearmen.

      As a side note, if I am to model in the effect of Lang Xian, I will suggest Ming troops auto-disorient enemy infantry (as if they traverse through rough terrain) when charged from the front, as long as they maintain cohesion. This effect is immediately lost if they are disrupted/fragmented. (Probably too overpowered, heh)

      3. I am actually fine with that, for Imjin war list anyway. Most armoured Ming troops would be Northern troops, whether mounted or on foot. Southern troops rarely wore armour (except the "tribals").

      By late Ming and Southern Ming (Ming remnant) period however, even Southern troops were heavily armoured.

    2. Anyway, while I say most Ming Southern troops were unarmored, they were not completely devoid of armour either. If you enlarge the "Ming pikemen" picture in my 100th post rambling, you can actually see their armours.

    3. (as a note)from the logical point of view - could unarmored/unprotected standing(professional) troups, i.e. not a militia or especially poor tribals, even be a thing in the archery-intensive warfare?

    4. @Igor Shenderski
      I'd say ideally most troops would want some padded armours at the minimum, but masses of unarmoured troops in archery-intensive warfare is still possible.

  4. Actually after reading your review on the game, I read also on the book , that Kato Kiyomasa during the occupation of Hamgyong province in Korea did make an incursion into across the Yalu River. His unit did attack a small Jurchen fort across the river, and killed many of of its inhabitants. The fort at that time was not occupied by many Jurchen warriors. There was an indication that the Jurchen under Nurhaci offered "help" to Joseon court , but rejected. However it was unknown , if Nurhaci offered after or before the attack by Kato Kiyomasa unit. It would be very interesting , if that clashes were to happen between the Jurchen and Japanese invading forces because at that time, Nurhaci forces was approaching their peak power which later on after the Imjin war was over, the Jurchen defeated the much of the Ming forces in Northern China.

    1. You are right, I think Nurhaci offered help after the incursion (although the incursion is only attested in Japanese source AFAIK), but got rejected.

      Jurchens at the time was still far from the serious threat they would become later, as Nurhaci was still in the process of unifying different Jurchen tribes.

      After the Imjin war, many surrendered Japanese were redeployed to the border (by both Korean and Chinese) to defend against Jurchens/Mongols. For a time Koreans thought that Japanese was the best choice to defend against nomadic raids. Chinese attempts were less successful, while at first Japanese warriors were effective, Mongols quickly figured out that Japanese was only one-trick pony, and annihilated them with ease.

  5. Wow, this review is...so awesome, I have to put it up here. Go read it!

  6. A lot of the Joseon/Ming forces are mixed formations. As I understand it, the game considers them to only have 50% melee weapons and 50% ranged weapons which weakens them in combat. Did the Ming have matchlock in their spear formations? Did soldiers use both matchlock and spears or only one or the other?

    What are your thoughts on the latest expansions? They added another Joseon army list for the Manchu invasion that seems more musket heavy than the Imjin War force.

    Incidentally, this game is actually quite easy to mod once you find the correct file directory. Digging around on the forums, you can find files you can open in Excel (forgot what filetype) that have the morale and weapons values for all the troops. I don't know any coding but changing the weapons used in an Excel file was quite straightforward. I was just messing around and gave troops ridiculous loadouts though. I don't know how to make the unit models though. It is possible to easily test out the "balance" changes for giving troops certain weapons/characteristics.

    1. Good day and welcome to my blog!

      Ming matchlockmen usually fought in their own unit, or together with artillerymen. Other Ming troops did use more than one weapon (spear + bow for example).

      Ming infantry weapon ratio is so varied that it is hard to pin down a "standard" version. Anyway, if I am to adjust a list, I will put it into something like this:

      20% sword, 40% spear, 40% bow* (represent both bows and crossbows) 100% javelin, protected.

      I am not sure if that ratio is even possible with the game engine, in any case, drop the javelin if it can't fit in.

      20% sword, 80% spear, 40% rocket (or whatever ranged weapon that can represent rocket),0~20% bow, protected.

      Do away with the Kuijia Bubing.

    2. I have not actually tried Mandate of Heaven or Gold, due to other priorities. Is there any significant change, especially to the Jurchen/Manchu list?

    3. Looking again, I actually think the Manchu invasion is one of the smaller DLC, so there seems to be no army list changes there that I can find... Kind of a shame.

      Mandate of Heaven and Gempei Kassen seem to be the ones with very different units, but not much changes for the Jurchen. For MOH, they did add a Zheng army, and also a Dzungar force with dismounted muskets, though I can't vouch for any accuracy.

      I've just gotten into the history of the period from the game, so thanks for keeping this blog alive. I hardly ever heard any kind of Asian history in detail around the 16/17th century so its cool to see that there was a lot going on.

    4. The Qing-Dzungar war is one of the more extraordinary war in that we can actually see a foot-slogging, almost purely musket-based Mongol army for once. Qing actually made heavier use of cavalry and horse archery than the Dzungar.

    5. @kvnrthr1

      After I learned more about Japanese sengoku warfare,it seems to me that on the scale of the game, Japan army also deployed in mixed tactical unit (sonae) not unlike the Ming as well.

  7. Just found your blog, ... great post here.

    Quick question, the Jurchen fought the Japanese briefly during the Imjin War when the Japanese briefly invaded Manchuria. How did the battle go? There is not much material out there.

    1. Good day Der and wellcome to my blog.

      Well, Katō Kiyomasa's incursion into Manchuria was but a small episode in the Imjin War, so I didn't research very deep into it. That being said, most Japanese sources I skim across claim that:

      1) He rapidly defeated 4~5 Jurchen camps or villages, as well as one Jurchen city, killing some 730~900.

      2) He (or one of his subordinate) resisted either one or several Jurchen counterattacks, each numbered 10,000 to 30,000, and killed some 230 ~ 2,000 every time, which terrified the Jurchens, and he torched every Jurchen villages he came across. Total Japanese casualties was purported to be mere 90.


      3)He suffered heavy casualties due to Jurchen counterattack, and retreated to Korea.

    2. Thank you for the prompt reply.

      A pity there is so little evidence.

      Would you consider the Japanese forces during the Imji War to be over rated then? I mean the Japanese were defeated and driven off the Korean Peninsula by a numerically inferior Chinese force.

      Also, a What If scenario: what would have happened if the Ming court decided to accept Nurhaci's offer of aid during the Imjin War. How would have the Jurchen fought the Japanese you think? and how would they have faired in that fight?

      Thank you again for the response.

    3. @Der

      It is pretty clear that Japanese was no pushover. From their performance in the Imjin War, they (IMHO) had terrible navy, and clearly lacked experience dealing with mature cavalry tactics. They wouldn't fare well in open field battle against an enemy with proper cavalry (even mediocre one).

      On the other hand, they excelled at luring enemy into ambush (they were insanely good at it) and utilising terrain to their advantage/defending chokepoints, as these were essentially what they did during the Sengoku Jidai.

      The "overateness" probably come from later Japanese sources' propagandas and exaggerations, and the relatively better exposure of Japanese history to the world at large.

      Inviting Nurhaci of all people to Korea would probably be bad news for everyone, particularly Koreans. Nurhaci at the time was still (nominally) loyal to the Ming, and yet to become really powerful.

      Nevertheless, Japanese already had trouble dealing with Chinese and Korean cavalry, so I can't imagine they fare any better against Jurchens. A couple thousands extra Jurchen cavalry present might well turn the tide of Byeokjegwan. Besides, Jurchens were pretty good siegers too, and could contribute in the siege as well.

  8. I never knew the Japanese were so weak in cavalry. Although the Takeda were famous for their cavalry were they not, and Samurai started out as mounted cavalrymen?

    And to think Hideyoshi wanted to conquer China and India with only infantry, weak cavalry and weaker naval forces. But I have always thought that this mad scheme by Hideyoshi was to remove potentially restive and rebellious Samurai clans away from Japan who might threaten his rule, what better way than to have them die on a Korean battlefield? Why else did he himself not go to Korea and lead his forces? I think the story of the Imjin War has not fully been told.

    1. I don't think Samurai were terrible horsemen individually, but Sengoku armies were essentially feudal, and a large army basically consisted of numerous smaller, feudal armies led by their respective lords. So they lacked experience of large-scale coordination between thousands of cavalry, as well as countermeasure against such tactic.

      They also mostly fought among themselves. It is hard to gauge the capabilities if there's no other standard to refer to.

      Hideyoshi seems way too serious about his plan for this to be a ploy of getting rid of potentially rebellious subjects. Plus the damiyos that went to Korea were generally the loyal ones, while potentially rebellous ones (i.e. Ieyasu) stayed in Japan.

  9. The Japanese as mentioned in above posts were indeed no push-over. I definitely wouldn't say they were driven out primarily by the Ming forces, though they are certainly a major factor. Korean guerilla activity, naval stranglehold by Yi Sunshin, and Hideyoshi's death are pivotal reasons as well. This is from reading Yu SongNyong's Book of Corrections, Kenneth Swope's Dragon's Head and a Serpent's Tail, and Sam Hawley's Imjin War, containing sources from both Korean and Chinese sources. Both Choson and Ming have a healthy respect for the Japanese (on land at least). The most effective and feared Japanese weapon of course being the matchlock, and by this time they have perfected volley formation. But seems all three nationalities have their notable strengths. Japanese for their matchlocks and swords, Chinese for their cannon and cavalry, and Koreans for their navy and archery.

    1. Japanese invasion force was already on a general state of retreat well before Hideyoshi's death. The three failed Ming counteroffensives (Ulsan, Suncheon, Sacheon) were...well, offensives after all.

      Japanese invasion force at that stage was essentially forced to hole up in their castles and no longer possess significant threat to the rest of Korea. They defended their castles exceptionally well, but even that could only delay the inevitable. Hidoyeshi's death only accelerated what was bound to happen, and I can't help but think that the news of his death must sound like a godsend to the Japanese generals that were stuck in the Korean hellhole.

    2. Great way of putting it, thank you. the Imjin War was an example of asymmetric warfare where the combatants had different strengths and weaknesses instead of being essentially the same like Warring States China or Napoleonic Europe.

      Besides different arms and soldiers, I find the way Ming China and feudal Japan mustered their armies differently fascinating as well. Ming China had a military bureaucracy and the Ministry of War to organize everything (whether they were very affective is debatable) while Japan was the epitome of the Feudal system with Daimyo bringing over their Samurai militia. Ming China employed soldiers, Korea had guerillas and Japan had Samurai warriors.

      Very interesting.

    3. The Imjin War for Japan is what the invasion of Vietnam is for Ming China in the 15th century, a costly fiasco.

    4. You can even say that Vietnamese fared much better against the Ming than Japanese ever did. However the terrain favours Vietnamese in their uprising against Ming, while it favours neither in Imjin War.

      Speaking of which, it'd be interesting to speculate the "what if" scenario of Siam entered Imjin War.

    5. Siam entering the Imjin War? I'm not sure about that, they may be good fighters but Thais from the jungles of South East Asia may not find the Korean winters to their liking, ... just like the Mongol armies of Kublai Khan or northern Chinese troops of the Ming didn't find the hot jungles to their liking. Isn't that why Myanmar now is not a part of China today even though Qing dynasty troops under the Qianlong emperor invaded (and were defeated) in Burma?

      In your opinion, which side had the better generals and strategists in the Imjin War?

      Thank you again for all the responses!

    6. Ming did ponder the possibility of requesting Siamese reinforcement, but the plan was shot down. However Liu Ting's personal retinue did include some Siamese troops.

      Ming actually had a series of border conflicts with Myanmar as well, which end up with Ming losing the modern day Mongyang and Hsenwi to the Burmese. Generally speaking they are not really playing the same game, as even if Ming could defeat Myanmar force in battle (which they did), Myanmar tend to bounce back when the army wasn't looking. So it is either "defeat them and quickly pull out the army" or "stay too long and run into serious logistical problem + malaria". In fact, Qing army ran into similar problems as well. They generally had no problem in open battle, but once the Burmese army holed up and forced the Qing into prolonged siege, Qing army would basically disintegrate from within by malaria.

      It wasn't until the invention of vaccine that any foreign army could campaign successfully in SE Asia of extended period of time.

    7. On a strategic level I'd say Japan did best, as only the Japanese put together anything like a coherent strategic plan and set it into motion (Hideyoshi's wild ambition nowithstanding). IMO Korean command basicaly fall apart while Chinese respond was somewhat ad hoc.

      On tactical level, obviously Yi Sun Sin was the best general in the war, but overall I have to give this to the Japanese as well.

    8. Thx for all this info. Actually off topic, regarding the Ming-Burmese border wars can you possibly do a posting on that topic? I know Chen Lin was fighting the Burmese for a bit before being sent off to Korea, but i find very little on what went on.

    9. @Rayray
      Actually it was Liu Ting and Deng Zilong that participated in the Ming-Myanmar border conflicts. The conflict reached its most intense phase during 1580s, during the reign of Bayinnaung of the Taungoo Dynasty (and later Nanda Bayin).

      While there had been several fairly large mobilisation during the war (i.e. the part where Liu Ting and Deng Zilong participated), Ming for the most part couldn't be arsed to care about the threat from (what it considered) some backwater region, especially when it had bigger problems to worry about. So essentially it let the Burmese do as they please.

    10. Ah thanks for the correction, yes it was Liu Ting and Deng Zhilong in Burma. Chen Lin was fighting pirates and the minority tribes in the south prior to being sent to Korea.

  10. The Japanese were overall better? I'm surprised you would say that. The Japanese had a numerical superiority, better arquebes forces and battle hardened Samurai and Ashigaru forces for sure, but their command and control structure was pretty primitive, made up of feudal lords leading their own retinues and private armies. Kato and Konishi's rivalry hurt the Japanese war effort did it not?

    While the Ming had a more 'modern' command and control with a recognized Supreme Allied Commander in Li Rusong who coordinated not only Chinese but also Korean military assets. I think this is why, despite the Japanese numerical superiority and more battle hardened army, eventually lost in Korea.

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    1. Indeed Japanese army was effectively feudal, it is a wonder they still managed to raise an invasion army that large and kept everything from falling apart. They were also able right their past mistakes and respond to new threat (i.e. destroying Korean Navy during the second invasion).

      While having an overall more organised structure, Ming also had its share of rivalry between generals and different units (which IMO was way worse than the Japanese). Ming generals certainly made more stupid mistakes than the Japanese side, especially during the second invasion.

    2. I take your point. The rivalry between northern and southern Ming troops was detrimental to the war effort against the Japanese. And yes, the Japanese being able to raise so many troops using a feudal system is indeed amazing. I have also read that the Ming forces were made up of mercenaries as well, making them again different from the Japanese and very much like the contemporary European armies who were mostly made up of mercenaries. I wonder what they thought of the Japanese, I know that the early actions of the Imjin War, the Ming generals (as well as the Koreans) greatly underestimated the Japanese and their war making abilities. They were too arrogant, which they paid dearly for.

    3. Rivalry, credit grabbing and lack of coordination between different generals (i.e. Suncheon) caused Ming to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, several times. Two out of three counteroffensive sieges during the second invasion could have been won if not for the bad performance of Ming generals (Sacheon was pure back luck though).

      I wouldn't call the Ming troops "mercenaries". They came from many different backgrounds, but none of them resemble the "fight for the highest bidder" mercenary. By that time many troops were basically "volunteer career soldier" with their salary paid by the government, not unlike most modern militaries.

      Chinese had been fighting Wokou for several decades, and generally had a pretty good grasp on the capabilities of Japanese troops (VERY fierce, good matchlocks, terrible naval capabilities, bad against cavalry).

  11. Regarding the assessment of both northern and southern Chinese troops. The Koreans generally have a much friendlier relationship with the southern generals (Wu Weizhong, Luo Shangzhi), and thought their infantry was most effective against the Japanese. I know some of these guys were even originally officers/soldiers from Qi Jiguang's Zhejiang units. Even Choson eventually took Qi's Jixiao Xinshu as the basis of their military reform. But how truly effective were the Qi's training/tactics during the Imjin War against legit samurai/ashigaru? The wokou (Chinese imposters + ronin minority) of several decades back I assume were very different in composition and tactics vs. the feudal armies of 1590's Japan.

    1. (I should make clear that during Qi Jiguang's time, Ming had been fighting Wokou for decades and most of the major "Chinese" Wokou had been killed. Most Wokou that Qi Jiguang fought were considered "new wave" of pirates, and many were actual Japanese. If you read Qi Jiguang's bibliography (written by his son),you can see that he made clear distinction between actual Wokou, those forced to work for them, and Chinese bandits. Once he even turned down the plea of some villagers because "his mission was to defeat Wokou, not bandits", although he later defeated the bandits anyway.)

    2. As for your actual questions:

      These ex-Qi Jiguang officers and troops fought admirably during Imjin War (first to breach Pyongyang, stayed behind and fought even after the rest of Ming force fled during the Battle of Sacheon), but to be honest I found their performance mediocre at best. Certainly they were no longer the powerful anti-Wokou army of Qi Jiguang's days.

      As for whether Qi Jiguang's tactics was still effective against legit samurai and ashigaru rather than pirates - Yes, it was effective. However, IMHO it is a misconception to treat Qi Jiguang's famed Mandarin Duck Formation as some sort of ultra-specialised, super effective anti-Wokou tactic. While it was indeed adapted to narrow terrain, the formation itself was simply a regular battle formation - nothing out of the ordinary. Put it another way, the formation stayed effective as long as wars were still fought with swords and spears (it doesn't really matter whether they fought untrained misfits or elite samurai).

      What made Qi Jiguang's army so dangerous, and the reason why Korean adopted his method, was not some kind of magic anti-Japanese tactic, but his ability to raise, organise, train, equip and command his army. Ji Xiao Xin Shu is effectively an "Organise an army for dummy" book and encompass most everything you need to train up an effective army - command structure, army organisation, discipline, military law, training curriculums, intelligence, logistics, tactics, military communications etc. An army that properly implemented all these aspects effectively obviously beat another army that lacked these, regardless of what combat formation they end up using.

      Coming back to Wu Weizhong etc. While they still retained the fierce sprit of the old Qi Jiguang's army, they were effectively gimped from the start due to lacking many elements that make Qi Jiguang's army effective in the first place (command, intelligence, logistics etc). Basically they were no longer an "army", but just "troops".

  12. Some comment on my recent findings.
    Isn't it a bit too early to mention Russian/Korean interactions?
    1618: first russians reach the Ming(it was more of a trade route scouting). They even brought a letter back to Moscow, which ironically couldn't be translated for many decades to come. As an interesting point, they also mentioned huge attention and importance of firearms in the Ming military.
    1620s: first few actual chinese found by Russians(captives from skirmishes with Daur cavalry, from the number of chinese, impresserd into Jurchen/Daur service).
    1640s: first chinese which won't just disappear. Decades later they are going to serve as translators for the next event.
    1675(!):first true official embrassy from the tsardom of Russia to Beijing. Almost ended up with a war between Qing and Tsardom of Russia, because of these very chinese(han) translators. They tried to instigate this war, but were ultimately cought through cross-check(russian embrassy could not speak chinese, but mongolian was not a problem).

    But kossack parties being anywhere near Korea...? It is just too early.

    1. I mentioned Korean/Russian interaction in this blog post in the context of Sino-Russian border conflicts (1652 - 1689), which resulted in the Treaty of Nerchinsk. Qing employed a contingent of Korean musketeers in the conflict.

      Given that the army list for Qing Dynasty appears to be a fairly late version, I assume the timeline of this game extend to late 17th century.

  13. Thanks for the article. I recently bought this game on Steam and played some historical battles (Byeokjegwan), the mechanism of the game is interesting but I found out that this game does not represent the historical Ming army very well. While searching more info on the internet, I came across your article and it's really informative. It is strange to see in the game that the Ashigaru units are as heavily armored as the "Ming Armored Cavalry" ... Sure the samurai of 16th century had great armor protection such as the Tousei Gusoku but those were only for the Daimyo, Busho and elite samurai, not every one, and certainly not the Ashigaru. The armor of Ashigaru varied greatly depending on the quality of the troops and the wealthiness of the Daimyo who commanded them, some of them were unprotected, some wore Hara-ate which covers only the front upper body, the best quality Ashigaru could wear Doumaru or Haramaki. The Ming armored cavalry in the game is supposed to represent the cavalry of northern Frontier Army, who wore full body brigandine of 45 Jin (26.55 kg), the helmet weights 7 Jin (4 kg), by comparing the weight of armor, they were even more heavily armored than the average samurai from the same time period. Looking at the paintings and the historical records, the horsemen of northern Frontier Army were partially equipped with lance and polearm, the game put them all as "swordsmen". I spent some time to modify the squads.csv file of the game to make it more historically accurate in terms of combat strength, armor and weapon of each unit, especially for the cavalry. I like the weapon ratio that you listed above for the Ming infantry, I'll see if I can tweak for something similar that works under the game mechanism...

    1. Come to think of it, I think some info in this blog post is outdated, i.e. Ming army should have much higher ratio of cavalry and less "mounted infantry", and Japan also fought in mixed unit formation (Sonae).

    2. Indeed, the sengoku army does not employ large "homogeneous" cavalry units on the battlefield, and except for the daimyos from the Kanto region (Takeda, Hojo) most of the samurai armies did not have sufficient war capable horses to form large cavalry units. The ratio of horsemen to other units in the sonae (equivalent of battalion) was usually less than 10%, the best horses were assigned to the samurai commanders, the daimyo's retinue and his "aide-de-camp", this makes the horses dedicated to frontline combat even less available. The cavalry charge of samurai armies was usually organized in "squad" size of a dozen men, fighting together with the ashigaru, nothing like what was portrayed in the exaggerated battle scenes from TV drama and movies. The unit in the game includes thousands of men in one samurai cavalry unit, which is not historical. Though for the Ming there were large units of cavalry "battalions" in the Frontier Army. I couldn't find a way to represent the sonae correctly in the game, the ratio of weapon and armor can be tweaked but to mix cavalry with infantry in one single unit doesn't seem to work, there's also the aspect of cavalry fighting dismounted which occurred quite often during the sengoku period.

    3. I find with the P&S/Sengoku battle system, it's best to design for effect rather than get the exact mix of weapons right.

      I had decent luck modelling Japanese Sonae as Medium Foot, 50% Arquebus, 50% Heavy Weapon. The interactions are as follows, assuming equal troop quality.

      Vs most of the pure melee infantry: Even on impact. +50 in melee against spearmen, but even if against heavy weapon.
      Vs Korean mixed infantry (50% Heavy Weapon, 50% Bow): Even on impact, +25 in melee for better armor
      Vs Chinese mixed infantry (16% Light Spear, 84% Arquebus or Bow): Even on impact, +100 in melee for heavy weapon, additionally +50 for armor if against bow or +8 for armor if against arquebus
      Vs Korean Warrior Monk infantry: -100 on impact, +50 armor advantage on melee
      Vs Cavalry: -100 on impact, even on melee against armored cavalry, +50 on melee against unarmored cavalry

      With this mix of capabilities, the Japanese can outshoot most Korean infantry easily. The Ming infantry will in turn out shoot them (not sure if that's correct, since I thought Ming was superior in artillery but inferior in infantry firearms?), then the Japanese can win in close combat. But they need to hide from enemy cavalry as they cannot withstand charge (given their kind of loose formation and lack of experience against massed cavalry charge, I think it's ok that they only have Heavy Weapon capability rather than Spearmen, as the latter makes them repel cavalry charge too easily.)

      With regards to the small number of horsemen in the formation, I think they should pretty much be ignored. A small squad of cavalry not particularly well mounted, will hardly affect the 250/400 horsemen in a squadron on this game scale.

      I'm also trying to browse through this site and make similar edits for Ming infantry. But since a lot of the formations discussed are either too large (~3000 men) or too small (squads) it's hard to fit it into the game scale of Sengoku, where the basic unit is the 500 man battalion. Not sure if on this scale such a unit would be mixed, or if we can keep separate battalions of shooting and melee.

    4. @kvnrthr
      Years ago I dabbled in Segoku Jidai modding to try to make historically accurate lists, but gave up soon enough. I find it nearly impossible to make a list that is both accurate and fun to play (and it's difficult to wrap my brain around POA interactions between different weapons/units). I actually find it equally difficult to gauge the capabilties (effect) of a unit as finding accurate mix of weapon in that unit.

      Ming army mostly operated at Ying (營)/regiment level with something like 3~5,000 men per regiment, but there are a few examples of smaller formation that operate at similar scale to Sengoku Jidai game.

      For example, Qi Jiguang's famous mandarin duck formation could operate at larger formation (basic "combined" mandarin duck formation was 160 mandarin duck troops + 40 arquebusiers/artillery, operating as five 40-men platoons, but this can be scaled up to multi-regiment size.)

    5. Hmm, if we can take the ratio of 160 melee infantry troops to 40 arquebusiers and artillery for a large army, the in game Ming army probably shoots too much and lacks close combat strength.

      On a kind of related note, was mandarin duck the standard infantry formation of units in the late 16th century Ming army? Or were only certain infantry units organized as mandarin ducks, and other units had a different method of fighting?

      With SJ modding, it's hard to get desired effect without knowing the way the game calculates combat advantage. All the interactions are coded in Data/Scripts/CombatTools.BSF, where you can see all factors affecting POA, and even mod in different abilities for weapons in a text editor.

    6. @kvnrthr
      Wait, isn't 80:20 melee to firearm ratio skewed heavily towards the melee side? The firearm ratio would actually increase further in later iterations of Qi Jiguang's formation.

      (BTW There are still many unanswered questions on Qi Jiguang's Wokou-era organisation structure. I will need to revisit later)

      As for your question, the answer is no. China is too large to have just one type of universally adhered formation. Qi Jiguang's was quite famous during his time and his tactics were influential and no doubt studied by his contemporaries/other commanders that came after him, but even then they didn't universally adopt the same tactics.


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