Sunday, 19 June 2011

Part 14, in which there are fights aplenty

(Just a heads up: two more posts to go, the series ends next week.)

We last left off in a bit of a tense situation, with the old clan capital besieged by the traitorous Hojo and a Hatakeyama closing in from the north. I've also neglected to describe a rather sticky standoff that has been  developing in the southwest, not far from Kyoto. My current mission is to destroy Hojo, but I can't go and attack them until all this other stuff gets cleared up, so the plan for now is quite straightforward - kill anybody that gets in the way.

Since the attitude map became useless, it's a bit trickier to present a good picture of the status quo, so I hope you like squinting. In any case, you should be able to see our latest conquests - the thin stretch of coast that used to belong to Yamana. It is actually safer and less ridiculous than it looks - an impassable mountain range makes the strip accessible only through its ends. The same applies to most of our border with Hojo. It seems that for once the labyrinthine terrain works to our advantage - wouldn't want to get our suicide armies attacked from the rear, after all.

But let's not get distracted, we've got killing to do, and defense of Kai is first on the agenda. Unlike the siege of North Shinano just earlier, the outcome of this battle is far from decided - Hojo have almost twice as many troops as us, their army is made up in large part of spear samurai units (improved morale and all), and they have three generals - new daimyo, his heir and one more random guy - to make brilliant strategic decisions, as opposed to our none.

In other words: not reassuring.

However, simply having walls between you and your enemy provides an immense advantage. Wall climbing tires enemies, who reach the top one at a time, making their overall superior numbers mean less. Good thing the AI hasn't discovered that all gates in the game are made of cardboard, or else I'd be screwed. Here, despite vastly uneven strength of forces, balance of the struggle stayed mostly equal, and with the occasional cavalry charge to keep the attackers' excitement at bay, even swinging slightly in out favor.

But that alone doesn't promise a good outcome of the whole battle. In fact, something very much like this happened before - our smaller army fended off all enemy melee units, but was destroyed by archers. And indeed - a single bow unit we have is too busy dealing with nearby enemies to do anything about the three units that keep thinning out our army from outside.

Solution? Suicide charge, of course. I send one of our katana cavalry units through the gates and right into enemy archer positions, making sure that all three units get engaged in melee to prevent them from firing any more arrows. Of course, all generals with their bodyguard join the party, and...

I call this piece "The Battle".

Back on the walls, our troops finally manage to secure the upper hand, and the remaining attackers are sent fleeing. Without a constant rain of arrows to bother them, it actually means victory. The fate of the suicidal cavalry unit is, well, suicidal - it mows down bowmen, but can't stand a chance against the generals.

This is called "The Aftermath".

The generals then go through their customary ritual of dismounting, climbing walls (each on a different side of the castle!) and being slaughtered. The victory ends up costing us two thirds of our army, but destroying yet another Hojo army is more important. Killing their daimyo a second time is nice bonus as well.

Immediately after this, Hatakeyama reached North Shinano and attacked. If you want to see how that battle went, just go to the previous post and imagine white/green uniforms instead of blue in the screenshots. They make all the same mistakes, including pointless marching across our archers' field of fire, inexplicably preferring a single piece of wall to climb, and failing to do any noticeable damage to our forces throughout the battle. Although there was one small difference - probably for the first time, generals (again, a daimyo and a hired hand) did not dismount and climb the walls at the end of the battle. Instead, they dismount and stand right outside the walls, doing nothing as they get flooded with volleys of arrows. I'm starting to suspect people in other clans are tired of being ruled by idiots and send them our way for quick disposal. Maybe I should start collecting a daimyo suicide tax or something.

With the northern borders once again secure, I can return my focus south, where this is happening:

This needs explaining.

From left to right: Mori army; Harima - town belonging to clan Bessho; our army led by the best general we have; Hattori army; our best ninja (try squinting); Settsu - Hattori town; just offscreen: Kawachi - another Hattori town. At the offset of the war, this army of ours was stationed in Kyoto, and in accordance to the grand plan of "run and kill" it set out as soon as Hattori joined the dark side. It took Settsu and Harima (which then belonged to Mori) without any resistance. It turns out Harima was once the capital of Bessho - one of 40 or so clans that were present at the start of the campaign, but have since been assimilated into 10 remaining large ones. Upon capturing it, I had a third option aside from the usual "peacefully occupy" or "loot" - I could liberate them by making them our vassals. Tempted by the idea of not having to pay for the upkeep of its garrison and gaining a puppet state an ally for whom realm divide mysteriously does not apply, I chose that option.

Then things got worse when the Mori army appeared up ahead while Hattori retook Settsu and cut off our way back. Both enemy armies are bigger and stronger than ours, enough so that I wouldn't be very comfortable tackling either in an open field, and taking on both at the same time would almost certainly mean death. Liberating Bessho came to bite us in the ass - even though we can stay in their territory as much as we like, the town itself is off limits, so I couldn't just let AI defeat themselves in a siege.

At first I planned to sabotage the Hattori army and stand right outside Harima to get that little bit of help from our vassals in fighting Mori, but then I realized that means trusting the AI, and that's just not something I can do any more. Instead, I decided to try and fight my way through Hattori and into Settsu, which I could capture beforehand with some remaining troops in nearby towns.

The battles that followed could make a full post all by themselves, but I lost all screenshots of that part of the game due to Fraps silently crashing mid-session, so I'll give cliff notes version here.

We start the battle with Hattori in a good defensive position, on top of a rocky hill - too bad we're not defending. The enemy army won't budge, so we're forced to get down and try to secure a flanking spot. On our way through a forest, we stumble into three archer units, clearly placed away from the main force for an ambush opportunity, who... drop their bows and attack us with swords? I guess surprise was mutual. The rest of enemy army, now well aware of our schemes, move out and take position on the hill we just abandoned - a clever move indeed.

While regrouping to change direction of attack, our troops bump into some more hidden enemy archer who refuse to fire arrows either. I don't know how Hattori train their archers, but they're doing it wrong. It turns out these were the last ranged units in their army, so I safely position our own bowmen and the single matchlock unit at the foot of the hill and let them shoot upwards until the enemies get annoyed enough to come down and be defeated on level ground.

After the battle, our army has just enough movement points to safely get into Settsu. Well, relatively safely - Mori are just about to attack the town on their turn, and a third enemy army, Urakami this time, appears to be on its way there as well. 

From within the walls of a fort, Mori don't look as fearsome. They still have bigger numbers and an uncomfortable proportion of samurai in their ranks, but at least I now know their AI is working on my side. I can't set up the defenses and let them work on their own like in the fortress of North Shinano, and it takes some effort to predict exactly how stupid the next AI move will be, but the battle is only moderately difficult, and we score a heroic victory.

Urakami, however, have assembled the strongest army around - a full stack, twice outnumbering our force after the losses in previous battles, also filled with samurai. Somehow, they even appear to be more competent in the siege battle - they split their attacking force into four equal parts and assault the fort from all sides. Of course, we only have enough troops to protect at most half of the perimeter.

We're saved mostly by luck - terrain and different height of walls prevents attackers from reaching the top at the same time, so with careful timing, we can fend off each wave separately and hurry to intercept the next one just as they're about to gain decent foothold on our walls. This hurts our numbers and morale pretty hard, but with liberal application of my general's special powers the walls are somehow secured, at which point cavalry (including some sweet spear cavalry units received upon becoming shogun) is sent outside to deal with a rather large remainder of archers as our own had been rendered mostly worthless. Somewhere in the ensuing mess (see: "The Battle") the Urakami daimyo and his heir (or maybe some other member of the family) are killed, and thus the battle ends.

Seeing how this all ended better than I had expected, I take the requisite silly risk and split the already thin army into three parts, leaving one in Settsu, retaking Harima with another (no liberating this time), and capture the defenseless Kawachi with the third, thus destroying Hattori. History will never forget what suckers they were.

Next time: Hojo get what's coming for them.

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