TGN Review: GCT Studio’s Bushido: New Dawn rulebook

By Polar_Bear
In Fantasy
Jul 8th, 2013

Bushido, by GCT Studios, is a fantasy skirmish game that draws its influence from many different Far Eastern sources. The Jwar Isles, where the game is set, consists of many different groups all vying for power. Which one will you command to glory?

GCT has recently released the first full rulebook for the game. The book is the culmination of several years of work, including what was essentially over a year as an open beta with the rules available online. The rules are still available online, but now players can hold an actual rulebook in their hands (something I know I’ve been looking forward to for some time).

In this TGN review, I’m taking a look at the new rulebook. Is Bushido the new master, or just a lowly student?

As-mentioned, Bushido is a true skirmish game. The standard-sized games are between 35 and 50 rice (as the points are called in the game) and your average model costs generally 5-7 rice. So in a big game with a lot of low-cost models, you may have 10 models on the board or so. Most of these models are characters, representing specific individuals, each with their own unique abilities that they bring to the table.

The game follows an alternating-activations style where one player will activate a single model and when they are done with that activation, their opponent will choose a model to activate. During a turn, models will change condition from Rested to Tired to Exhausted (or in some cases, directly from Rested to Exhausted if they choose to do a complex action). Play passes back and forth until all players’ models are exhausted, after which a new round starts.

The combat system in the game is somewhat reminiscent of the one used for Confrontation in that a model’s combat dice is split into attack and defense. The difference lays in the fact that this is done in secret. Your opponent doesn’t know how many attack dice your model is going to roll or how much they’re going to spend on defense. When both players have chosen, all dice are rolled at the same time. The player with the model that has initiative (usually the player who activated the model attacking, though some special rules give the defender the initiative in combat) chooses the die that rolled the highest and can add in +1 for up to two other dice that they rolled for attack that didn’t roll a 1. A 6 is worth an extra +1 (so a roll of 6, 6, 3 would be worth 9. 6 + 2 + 1). This is compared to the defender’s defense dice (also using the same bonus for extra dice and 6s). If the defender’s total is higher, they defend the attack. If the attacker’s is higher, than you note the difference between the two numbers. That is the Success Level of the attack and corresponds to a specific column on the Wound Chart. The attacking model then rolls 2d6, adds in any special modifiers for weapons or special attacks, and goes to the row on the Wound Chart equal to the total. Where the row and column meet indicates how many wounds are done to the other model. Then, if the defending model is still alive, the roles are reversed and the defender totals up their Attack dice and checks it versus the attacker’s Defense dice. In a every combat it is possible for both models to take wounds.

Even more tactics can be found in the use of Ki. Ki is the magical energy that most models create. Ki is gained, automatically, at the start of every round. This Ki can accrue over time if not used (up to a maximum that’s different for each model). Ki can be spent to boost a model’s movement or combat abilities or it can be used for “Ki Feats” which are special spells or miraculous abilities a model may possess. How a player utilizes a model’s Ki is a big factor in how effective it is on the battlefield.

Had enough yet? Tough, there’s more. Models also have special attacks or defenses they can use in combats. These special abilities come at a cost of dice from a model’s melee dice pool (which could then potentially be replenished by spending Ki). These add even more tactics a model can use in combat.

All of these together make Bushido a very deep game in terms of strategy. Different players can utilize the same model in vastly different ways depending on how they choose to spend their Ki or use special attacks and defenses or even just when they choose to activate the model during a turn or how they allocate their attack and defense dice.

Now, on to the specifics of the rulebook, itself:

So the first thing I noticed when I picked up the book is that it’s heavy. At 125 pages, it’s pretty standard for a minis rulebook. But even though it’s a paperback, it just feels… heavy to me. I’m not really sure why.

The next thing I always look for in a good rulebook is a good table of contents and a good index. Having 125 pages of content is nice, but if you can’t find what you’re looking for, it’s fairly pointless as you futilely flip back and forth between all of them trying to get the bit of information you want. The Bushido rulebook has both, but even more than that, at the back there’s also a Rules Reference Sheet. It’s basically a “cheat sheet” for all the things that could modify an attack roll and it also has another copy of the Damage Chart for when wounding other models.

The layout of the book puts the rules about 2/3 of the way into the book, first giving us an overview of the world of the Jwar Isles and then some more details about various places and people that inhabit that world. The rules, themselves, follow a logical progression and are fairly easy to follow. After the rules there are 6 scenarios for you to use when playing Bushido. Including scenarios for the game is always a big plus for me, as it means right away you have several different ways to try the game out, helping keep encounters fresh, even using the same forces against the same opponents when starting out.

If there’s one criticism for the book, it’s that it doesn’t include any model stats in it. It would have been nice to see at least rules for the models that come in the various faction starters inserted into the book. The stats are available online on the company’s website, but then again, so are the rules.

Another confession time for me: I love the hell out of Bushido. It’s currently my favorite miniatures game. I seem to be on a run of “review my favorite games” here on TGN, but there we are, then. I was very excited when we started carrying them here in the warehouse, as it meant to get new releases, I could just walk out of my office, into the warehouse and pluck it off the shelf. I’m thrilled to get to meet the guys behind the game at GenCon in just over a month.
I do hope you still find the review helpful and that my confessions of love for the games I’m reviewing don’t diminish how useful or honest you find them.

Oh, and we’ve got a giveaway for this one.
GCT has offered a free copy of their New Dawn rulebook to one lucky winner of our TGN drawing. How do you put your name in the hat this time?
Hmm… how about you post your thoughts on the review, plus your favorite Kung Fu movie.
Personally, I love Kung Fu movies. 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Half a Loaf of Kung Fu, Drunken Master, even the two Kung Fu Panda movies. I’ve got them and more at home (including one of those “50 movie packs” that a family member gave me for Christmas one year).
So what’s yours?
For me… hmm… I’d say a 3-way tie between 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Druken Master and Heroes of the East.

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  • Borzag

    Good review 🙂 are there any play vids at all? I ask because the combat & wound system seem overly complex (don’t get me wrong, I like skirmish games, and at this scale complex isn’t a problem, but looks so very convoluted by modern gaming standards). A demo vid should clear it up nicely.

    Re: fave kung fu movies… I will admit a fondness for Bruce Lee. Given that, will put down Enter the Dragon. Kung Pow – Enter the Fist is of course a close second.

    • It’s really not all that complex, since most of an attack takes place in a single die roll that both you and your opponent make.

      The steps to an attack are:

      1. Player without initiative (usually the player who didn’t activate the model attacking) declares what special attack/defense they’re going to use and buys dice with Ki if they want.
      2. Player with initiative does the same.
      3. Players secretly decide how many dice will be attack dice and how many will be defense dice.
      4. Players roll those dice and compare results (as discussed above in the review).
      5. Wound rolls are made.
      6. Combat is resolved.

      It’s actually fairly simple to follow and flows rather well, and as I mentioned in the review, I love, love, love the interaction between players. Most games, when it’s not your turn, you are like, “I’m gonna go get a cheese sandwich. Lemme know when you’re done killin’ my dudes.” But this, you have to be there and play a fairly active roll in your model’s defense from an attack.

      • Borzag

        Okay, that makes a bit more sense. I wasn’t aware that the defender also had a chance to wound back in the combat roll. Thematic really (parry/TINY GREEN FISTS OF FURY)

        What I found clunky was the chart; again, so many games I see now do away with a chart altogether & go off “raw” results (ie I roll/flip/play this, add mods, and compare the final value). Felt very Warhammer. But if it’s all handled in one go then it does speed it up considerably.

        • Yeah, a combat is basically a “Two roll” system, like many other games.

          Roll 1 determines if you hit (and how well you hit if you do)
          Roll 2 determines how well you wound them, doing more wounds if you’d hit better with Roll 1.

          It sounds complex above just because of how many options you have before you make Roll 1. It’s the tactical depth of if you want to use a Ki feat, or buy more combat dice, or use a special attack/defense or not. Once you determine that (which doesn’t take long, since it’s just you deciding how you want to attack), then the rolling and figuring out wounds is pretty quick.

  • Isoulle

    Good review. I’ve been looking forward to this book for a while and glad to hear its turned out well.

    As for favorite kung fu movie. Hmmm, Druken Master probably. That or Hero or Kung Fu Hustle.

  • Hieronymous

    I’ve played Bushido when it first came out and going off your review the rules haven’t changed too much which is good to hear !

    Hmm favourite has to be crouching tiger, hidden dragon !!

    • The only real changes are switching from 1d6 to 2d6 on the Wound roll, which gives a better bell curve for doing damage.
      Other than that, it’s mostly cleaning up of the rules and standardizing of language.

  • Thank you for posting the review. Yes having profiles in the book would have been nice concept art and everything, but it would add a lot of pages and made the book more expensive. Also new profiles are coming out every 2 months. So farther books would be required to keep up with new releases. This way we only need one book.

    My favourite kung fu film is The Prodigal Son. Nothing beats Samo Hun’s choreography.

    • Yeah. That’s why, even if they didn’t post all the stats available, if they just posted the stats for the “starter box” sets, it would’ve been nice. But, it’s all available online, so there’s that.

  • StratManKudzu

    I’ve been really interested in Bushido for a while, the models look fantastic and I’m a sucker for skirmish sized games. This review is a tad shallow but definitely piques my interest some more. As far as Kung-Fu movies, I’m really a fan of Jackie Chan, The drunken master and police story films, I love Rumble in the Bronx, may be my favorite.

  • James243

    Very nice review. One question: does the background give a good feel for the Jwar Isles? I always liked the mechanics a lot but felt that the background, which in part drives ongoing interest in a given game, was always a bit thin. Hoping the world is fleshed out 🙂

    Favorite kung fu movie…definitely Master of the Flying Guillotine!

    • The Fluff takes up the majority of the book. As an opener, it’s “a little bit here, a little bit there” but overall very nice. I’ve been turned off to fluff in gaming books for the most part since it seems everyone’s concept of a world is “everyone kills each other, killkillkill, all the time killing. My god they love to kill. They get off on it. See this new unit? They don’t think of anything other than killing. They love to roll around in gore the way a dog will roll on a dead, stinky squirrel. Oh heavens the killing.”

      Bushido isn’t like that. It’s more subtle intrigue and political maneuvering as much as it is outright fight scenes. I haven’t read every page of the fluff yet, but I plan on it, which is really saying something since the last time I even halfway considered that in a gaming book was probably about 5-6 years ago.

      • Gallahad

        Polar Bear, you had me laughing out loud with your very accurate description of most fluff. Funny stuff.

  • Grujav

    I’ve rarely had more fun then when I watched Legend of Zu.

    This game has been one I’ve been watching closely and have tried to get a demo of a time or two. The new rules sound great as they’ve homogenized some aspects that could have had some incredible power creep going off the few battle reports I’ve been able to find.

    How is the fluff for the Jwar Isles? Its been said elsewhere on this site that there are 6 other factions listed in the new book. Does it create a whole and cohesive world?

    • I think so. A lot of the factions that were just added are different mini-factions under the broader world. Ryu is essentially “in charge” but a lot of the other clans obviously feel they could be doing things just as well or better than Ryu is.

  • LawnDart

    Are there rules for campaign advancement in the rules, or is the game meant more to be a tournament game? I’ve just gotten into samurai skirmish lately (albeit historical), and really don’t know too much about the games that are out there. The review did make me curious about the game, and I just ordered a Ito: Takeji figure after checking out the company website online. The models look fantastic.

    I will admit to seeing Enter the Dragon at a very young age when it first came out (probably too young), and that film has always stuck wit me.

    • There aren’t official league rules yet, but I do know a couple people have created fan-made ones on the forums. In-particular I remember a map campaign existing. Sorry I don’t have a direct link to give you, but it does exist somewhere.

  • Palooka

    I thought this game sounded very interesting, but I haven’t seen too many reviews of it around, so it is very nice to see another one, and a glowing one at that. Sounds like a good, simple combat system that does not get too bogged down in record-keeping, with the added element of Ki to mix it up a bit. I have already made plans to buy the Silvermoon Trade Syndicate starter when it is released, so now I just need a shiny, new, colourful rulebook for some helpful background for home-made scenarios and scenery and to attract some fellow gamers…

    My favourite is definitely Kung Fu Hustle. Comedy AND action is always a winner when it is done that well!

    • I saw Kung Fu Hustle the last day it was in theaters in my area, on a Wednesday at noon, subtitled. My friend and I were very literally the only two in the audience, but you know what? That’s my favorite experience ever at the movies. We laughed our asses off. It wasn’t until I got it on DVD that I saw “the other half of the movie” since the first time through I was laughing so much I missed a lot of what was going on.

  • will_negates

    Thanks for the review! I’m looking forward to seeing more of these from TGN, especially for games with a limited number of reviews floating around.

    I’m not that familiar with kung-fu movies, and I’m not even sure this is classified as one, but I really enjoy the film “The Good, The Bad, The Weird.”.

  • munce

    Nice review.

    To answer some of the above:
    -Good background to the Jwar islands is included and introduces the newer factions that we are starting to see releases for.
    – As far as I can see there are no campaign rules in there – this is great for casual skirmish and tournament play with the variation coming in choice of figures for each side. There are great sections in the book providing guides on strengths and weaknesses for each of the five main factions so far (possibly scope for a further book for a similar write-up for the newer factions there, along with extra background or maybe even campaign rules? Fingers crossed on that one)

  • asperon

    Nice review, i have a couple of friends that are hooked, i hope to get the chance to try it our soon. Best movies would be Heroes.

  • Vytek

    I’ve been offered a demo but never seem to actually get the chance to sit down and get the game a play through. Very interested since it uses some of the same mechanics as Rackhams defunct Confrontation game.

    Ive been waiting for a book to come out and not just PDF rules. It makes the game seem official in my eyes.

    The review could use more pictures of the beautiful models. Direct link to the website in the closing. Otherwise, masterfully done.

    Favorite Kung Fu movie ? Karate Kid count ? No. Didn’t think so. Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky….Ong Bak, The Thai Warrior….Ip Man

  • julesav

    I have starter sets and the new rules – it all looks great! I’ve yet to play a game, hoping to get a trial game in at a UK wargaming event soon.

    Favourite Kung-Fu movie is ‘big Trouble in little China’ – sorry!

    • Nothing to be sorry about, it’s a good movie.
      James Hong is one of my favorite actors of all time.
      “You were not put on this earth to ‘get it,’ Mr. Burton.”

  • Lemminkaeinen

    That was a very nice review! Bushido seems to have a simple yet quite deep gameplay which is always nice. And the dice system sounds interesting.

    As for my favourite Kung-Fu movie, I guess I’ll have to go with Kungfu Panda 2, strangely enough.

  • CrazyFish

    I have loved this game since Polar Bear did a demo for me last year, so much that I’ve become a Retainer for GCT Studios. Shameless plug: I will be doing demos all weekend at Gen Con, so if you’re going be sure to stop by! The New Dawn rules really helped tighten the game for me.

    Best Kung Fu movie: Drunken Master.

  • Veritas

    Since there are no individual model stats do they also drop the individual character backgrounds? That would be disappointing to me. I know all the stories are online, but I really like having a cohesive book with that background material included.

    Favorite Kung-Fu movie: They Call Me Bruce

  • vitzh

    Enjoyed the review. How different are the full rules from the PDF they had/have up?

    Would Big Trouble in Little China count as Kung-Fu movie?

  • Just because I want to share.

  • Carlo Chaimo

    Great review, have read battle reports on the GCT forums, but never quite understand the combat system.

    Do they still offer the profiles on the website? Just checked it out to update what I had, and coming up blank.

    Favorite Kung Fu movie? Five Deadly Venoms, lizard style.

    • If you go to the store and click on an individual model, you can see the stat card for that model there as well (except for the most-recent releases, as is their usual).

      • Carlo Chaimo

        Cool, thanks. I’ve suddenly had the idea that it might be helpful, for comparative purposes, to corral all of those stats into a spreadsheet for planning strategies and purchases.

  • Tenskwa-Tawa

    Good review, though I’d have liked to see a couple of lines describing the new factions. Even though I love the game, sadly I have no one to play it with currently, so my only reasons to buy the book would be the background and new factions.

    Oddly enough, even though I really like the whole martial arts/kung fu trappings in games and comics, I’m not really fond of kung fu movies, so I have seen only a few. Still, from those I have seen, I’m guessing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon would be my favourite.

  • Excellent review, this game has been on the radar for a while now and I would really like to try it soon. The minis are great and I love the background for the setting of the game. Thanks.

  • Gallahad

    I like drunken master too. I also really like the sound of the combat mechanic. I really like the idea of having to decide how many dice go to attack vs defense, and that being secret. Seems like it would add a nice layer to combat.

  • Gubbinz

    Thanks for the review.

    I’ve been curious as to the quality of the rulebook, especially as you can download the rules for free. Would you say this rulebook is in the same league as Infinity one? I mention Infinity, as it is a similar setup, in terms of free rules and a paid for rulebook.

    I have a Savage Wave starter all painted up, but alas, I am yet to get a game in (mostly due to being too busy).

    Onto the Kung Fu movies. Personally, I love a bad Kung Fu movie; so bad it’s good. My favourite has to be “Ninja The Protector”.

    This movie is in a whole new league of terrible. The main “ninja”, is a white dude with a badass moustache, in a camo ninja suit. There is also some debate in the movie as to whether or not ninjas are real, as one character explains that he “doesn’t believe in ninjas” (some friends of mine had shirts made that said “I believe in ninjas”). There is also a side story throughout, that has absolutely nothing to do with the story line, and appears to be a softcore porn movie. If I recall correctly, the last fight scene is a sword fight on motorbikes; I couldn’t even make all this up.

    If you like bad Kung Fu, I highly “recommend” Ninja the Protector.

    • I’ve actually seen Ninja the Protector. You’re absolutely right that it’s “so bad, it’s good.”

      As for quality of the rulebook, I’ve got a print-out of the free rules .pdf as well in page sleeves in a binder at home, yet I was still excited to get the “actual” rulebook as well. As someone mentioned above, it just feels more “permanent” and “legit” than just having free rules.

      Having also recently reviewed the Infinity rulebook, I can say that I think the Bushido one is laid out better in terms of how the rules are presented. In Infinity, I’d often go, “wait… what?” and have to read a passage a second time in order to figure out what they were trying to say (since I was not put on this earth to “Get it” even though my name isn’t Mr. Burton). Even in the army lists section, it took me a bit to figure out what stats where what (and a couple looks to figure out what a model cost in points). As mentioned above, I do wish that the Bushido book had some stats inside it (though I’ve had conversations with several others and they feel it would have made the book unnecessarily large), but other than that, I find it a very useful book in learning the rules of the game.

      • Gubbinz

        Wow, I thought I was one of the rare few to see that “gem” of a movie!

        An old housemate and I went through a phase of bad Kung Fu, and Ninja The Protector really stood out as a shining example of the genre.

        I know what you mean about the Infinity rules layout and wording. I too found them quite difficult to decipher.

        I’m glad to hear that the quality of the Bushido book is on par though. I prefer to get a rulebook if it is available, and I find it is also better for getting other people into the game, for the reasons you stated (feels legit, etc).

        I actually agree with others in regards to the stats in the book; I find them unnecessary. I like there to be some examples of stat cards and the like, but having a semi-army book in the rulebook makes it too long. I think the Malifaux books were the worst for this (pages upon pages of stat cards…).

        Again, thanks for the Bushido coverage. The release of the rulebook, coupled with the new faction announcement, has really got me interested in the game again; mission accomplished 🙂

  • kasin666

    have some of the game indiegogo campagn liked the reveiw fav movie big trouble in little china

  • James243

    Did someone win the rulebook? Was it me?! 😉 😀

    I don’t think it takes much to have a better rules layout than the infinity book. Testament to how good a game that is that its been so successful despite that. I think Bushido well and truly nails the great models advantage than infinity has. Hopefully the great rules translate to commercial success!

  • Soulfinger

    Assuming the hat is still open for throwing things into, does the rulebook feeling heavy mean 32# glossy stock, or are we talking “heavy” in the sense of how metal-heads describe 20# bond? Ki sounds great, kind of — but not really — comparable to the dice that come with Okko.

    Favorite kung fu . . . well, as much as I want to say “Crippled Masters,” I actually have to say that Stephen Chow has done a lot for the genre with “Shaolin Soccer” and “Kung Fu Hustle,” as entertaining for the aficionado as it is accessible for the significant other — but freakin’ high five all around for some of the mentions here, particularly Veritas for remembering “They Call Me Bruce.” Seen the sequel?

  • …any Bruce Lee movie.

    and for a newer movie, the Man with the Iron Fists.

    Thanks for the review!

  • I’m just getting into this game, and even though it is a few years old, it feels like a new game since it’s just coming into our area. I’m signed-up for a demo at GENCON. Thanks for the review, good overview of the game.

    Favorite Kung-Fu movie is “Sword of Doom” –


  • If we are talking modern movies I’d have to say any movie that features Tony Jaa (Ong Bak etc). I’m primarily judging by choregraphy and the actual fighting sequences. He is pretty awesome.

    The “Ip Man” movies are pretty decent as well, although not completely accurate – it’s quite interesting to watch a movie about the man that taught Bruce Lee.

    Finally – as a favorite I’d have to state “Kung Pow! Enter the Fist” from 2002. It’s got an 11% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but damn it – if you enjoyed badly dubbed Bruce Lee movies as a kid you will absolutely love this spoof movie.

    Also – I want free stuff if still applicable.

  • Leeann Winkle

    Practical suggestions , Incidentally , if your company needs to combine two images , my business encountered article here

  • Beorthulf Gudmundsoetir

    Great review, I have been looking for a skirmish game in japan. Was considering Yashima but only has a single character.
    2″ seems a the right size and not overwhelming number of minis (I have been burnt by unit spam in infinity) and the rules seem easy to pick up. Thanks for your review 😀

    • Honestly, Bushido is one of my two favorite miniatures games out there right now (the other being Guild Ball). Bushido is real skirmish in size (about 4-7 models per side, depending on what you choose to take and how big a game you want to play) and I absolutely adore the dice mechanic with your combat pools being hidden and then everyone rolls all their dice at once. It adds a lot of bluffing and tactics to the game (especially with special attacks/defenses and whatnot) that I think is lacking in a lot of other miniatures games out there.