Clans and Factions in Test of Honour

Mon of famous feudal Japanese warlords. Image credit:

Unlike many other wargames, Test of Honour doesn’t have any defined factions “in the box” as such; the models are defined by what they are (samurai, ashigaru etc.) Also, the era in which the game is set in — the Sengoku Jidai, aka Age of Warring States — isn’t as well known in the Western World as other periods of history. Although it’s fairly easy to pit Normans vs Saxons, or the Allies vs the Axis in other games, what’s the equivalent for this game?

If you fancy the idea of samurai-era tabletop gaming but have no idea of which clan to represent, you’re not alone! Indeed, as we’ll see, you might choose to stray from history and pick a non-historical clan. Let’s take a look at some of the options.

Historical clans

The history of feudal Japan isn’t as well known in the West compared to other histories such as the World Wars or the Roman Empire, and it can be tough to decide on a samurai-era clan to represent in Test of Honour.

One way to decide would be to choose the clan with the simplest mon (clan emblem) to paint. Freehanded mon generally look more authentic than decals, and there’s a certain amount of satisfaction to be gained from painting them yourself. The more obvious choices here would be Takeda, Mori, Hojo, Ashikaga, and Amago (also known as Amako).

What if you want to introduce the game to others? Now the task is more difficult because you have to choose two clans! The Uesugi vs Takeda rivalry would be a good starting point here, although you don’t have to tread too carefully. The Sengoku period had its alliances and rivalries, but any two clans can meet in battle on the tabletop. The spirit of Test of Honour leans more towards samurai movies and you don’t have to slavishly follow real history and events.

Importantly, don’t take these recommendations as the only clans from the Warring States period that you could represent. There were many factions fighting for control of their lands, nearby lands and, indeed, the entire country.

Mon of famous feudal Japanese warlords. Image credit:
Mon of some famous feudal Japanese warlords. Image credit:

Other good sources of material are the Samurai Archives and the collection of books from Osprey Publishing.

In addition, don’t overlook videogames such as the excellent Total War: Shogun 2. You might find after playing it that you’ve become quite attached to a particular clan (and gained a strong dislike for another!), and the game provides background information for each clan that you can play.

Legend of the Five Rings

Moving away from real history, another option is to use clans from the popular Legend of the Five Rings setting, which is itself inspired by real history and Japanese legends. The clans in L5R (as it’s commonly known) all have unique and interesting stories, and would lend themselves well to Test of Honour.

Unicorn clan from Legend of the Five Rings. Image credit: AEG.
Unicorn clan from Legend of the Five Rings. Image credit: AEG.

Would you choose the Unicorn clan with their penchant for exploring, or perhaps the steadfast warriors of the Lion clan? Is the shadowy Scorpion clan more your type, or maybe the seafaring Mantis clan? There’s a lot to choose from.

Also, unlike real history where samurai armour was in large part the same colour between clans (with some notable exceptions), L5R presents the opportunity to paint armour in a variety of different colours. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from doing that with real history, either, to make your models pop on the table.

There has been talk in the community of running Test of Honour campaigns set exclusively in the L5R world, and why not? Just as long as clan Unicorn wins most of the time, that is. No bias…

Alternative clans

To finish, let’s talk about other paint scheme ideas. Although Test of Honour is set in the Sengoku Jidai, the game leans more towards samurai movies and the kind of action that Akira Kurosawa was fond of portraying. Following that line of thought, you could paint up a clan in greyscale as a tribute to the early work that included legendary films such as Seven Samurai and Yojimbo.

Then, there is Star Wars.

Figures from the Bandai Movie Realization Star Wars range. Image credit:
Figures from the Bandai Movie Realization Star Wars range. Image credit:

The swordplay and, indeed, the Jedi in Star Wars were inspired by samurai movies. Even Darth Vader’s helmet is based on the samurai kabuto (helmet). So, why not take things full circle with the black and white of the Empire, and the orange and white of the Rebel Alliance? Alternative, you could opt to represent Bob Fett’s distinctive green with a band of ronin (samurai with no masters). The Bandai Movie Realization Star Wars range, where that image is from, will provide some inspiration here.

Finally, go ahead and make up your own clan! I have plans for a paint scheme for a custom clan called Kataihebi (“katai” means solid and “hebi” means snake in Japanese), inspired by Metal Gear and this amazing artwork by Jed Henry of Ukiyo-e Heroes.

Hopefully by now you’ll have some ideas for where you want to take your Test of Honour painting. There are so many movies, books, and games that could provide inspiration. The important thing is to go with whatever excites you the most. The history of Japan is incredibly interesting, but you shouldn’t feel like you have to paint historical colours if that doesn’t get you excited to paint.

Be sure to let me know in the comments what your clan plans are. Happy painting!