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The Pure Land: Japan, 1465-1477

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GMT Games
GMT Games


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The flowery capital which we thought would last forever to our surprise is to become a lair of wolves and foxes. Lamenting the plight of the many fallen acolytes, Ii-o Hikorokusaemon-No-Jou read a passage:

Now the city that you knew

Has become an empty moor,

From which the evening skylark rises

While your tears fall.

- Ōnin Ki (The Chronicle of Ōnin)

The Pure Land: Ōnin War in Muromachi Japan, 1465-1477 is Volume XIV of the COIN Series originally designed by Volko Ruhnke. It depicts a devastating civil war in 15th century Japan that reduced Kyoto to a smoldering ruin and precipitated the century-long warring states period—the Sengoku Jidai. Against the backdrop of this civil war between coalitions led by the Hosokawa and Yamana clan, the game also features peasant revolts led by the Jizamurai and religious unrest involving the Ikkō-ikki, the militant wing of the emerging Jōdo Shinshū (or True Pure Land) Buddhist sect.

Highlights:

  • An innovative clan loyalty system that creates a dynamic political geography. The Hosokawa and Yamana factions form alliances with other clans, which can then be disrupted by political intercessions, peasant revolts, and assassinations.
  • A tight peasant-based economy that forces all factions to compete over limited resources. Peasants generate resources for the Jizamurai, which are then taxed, tithed, or confiscated away by the other factions.
  • A new approach to religious insurgency and peasant revolts using the COIN system. The Ikkō-ikki faction slowly spread their religious beliefs and are hard to eliminate, while both the Ikkō-ikki and the Jizamurai can trigger peasant revolts to further their own goals.
  • Two competing ‘government’ factions that must nonetheless cooperate to ensure the survival of the Ashikaga Shogunate. Support for the Ashikaga dynasty is a shared goal for both the Yamana and the Hosokawa, but only one faction can control the Shogunate and claim victory!

Faction descriptions:

  • The Hosokawa Clan represent the political establishment and must encourage support for the Ashikaga Shogunate while also maintaining the loyalty of the other major clans.
  • The Yamana Clan also want to encourage support for the Ashikaga Shogunate but at the same time must gain control of enough population to establish themselves as the dominant military power.
  • The Jizamurai, minor nobles and merchants, can encourage peasant revolts to build regional autonomy, while also trading to increase their own independent wealth.
  • The Ikkō-ikki can preach to reduce support for the shogunate and to spread their religious beliefs, while also radicalising the population to eventually overthrow the established order.

There are four scenarios available to play in The Pure Land:

1. The main scenario, The Ōnin-Bunmei War, is five campaigns long and covers the full course of the war, from the outbreak of violence in Kyoto in 1467 to the exhausted Hosokawa-Yamana stalemate a decade later in 1477.

2. Foxes and Wolves is a shorter, three campaign scenario covering only the first six years of the war, until the deaths of Yamana Sōzen and Hosokawa Katsumoto in 1473.

3. An Empty Moor covers the final four years of the war in two campaigns, from 1473 to 1477, with an alternative setup depicting the historical situation in 1473.

4. Finally, The Flowery Capital is an extended six campaign scenario beginning at the birth of Ashikaga Yoshihisa in 1465, with the country still at peace, the Jodo Shinshu Hongan-ji temple still standing in Kyoto, and the urbanisation in Settsu province yet to begin.

The game takes approximately one hour per campaign to play, so the scenarios range from a single evening to a full day experience. For beginner players the Foxes and Wolves scenario is recommended, as it covers the full narrative arc of the game in a manageable amount of time.

Historical background:

By the middle of the 15th century, the shoguns of the Ashikaga dynasty, ruling on behalf of a series of puppet emperors, had themselves become all but puppets. Real power lay with the kanrei, or shogun’s deputy, a position held on a rotating basis by the heads of the noble Hatakeyama, Shiba, and Hosokawa clans. In 1450 the Hatakeyama clan fell into a succession dispute between Hatakeyama Masanaga and his nephew Yoshinari, and around the same time the Shiba clan also began to suffer from internal strife and unruly vassals, leaving the Hosokawa clan as the preeminent political power in the capital Kyoto. Their only serious rivals were the Yamana clan, upstarts who had gained favor with the Ashikaga Shogunate after suppressing the rebellious Akamatsu clan in 1441. In order to maintain peace, the aging daimyo of the Yamana clan, Sōzen, married his daughter to the daimyo of the Hosokawa clan, Katsumoto. This gesture of goodwill would soon prove insufficient.

The 8th Ashikaga shogun, Yoshimasa, was a contemplative man now known best for his patronage of the arts and his contributions to traditional Higashiyama culture. In 1464 he was considering retiring to a monastery, but, having no male heir, he decided to appoint his brother Yoshimi as his successor. Unfortunately, a year later his wife Hino Tomiko gave birth to a son, Yoshihisa, casting the succession into doubt. Yoshimasa assured Yoshimi that he was still the official heir, and Hosokawa Katsumoto endorsed this decision. However, Yamana Sōzen, perhaps seeing an opportunity to seize power or perhaps swayed by the words of Hino Tomiko, decided to endorse Yoshihisa as heir instead. The battle lines were drawn, and both daimyos set about building political alliances and gathering the forces of their supporters to Kyoto. The struggle for the shogunate was about to begin.

Meanwhile in temple halls and distant provinces, trouble of another kind was brewing. Minor lords known as Jizamurai could see that the shogunate and the established order that it represented was weak and began pushing for increased regional autonomy and tax relief. Their power lay not in military strength but rather in economic leverage and their closeness to the peasant classes, who would frequently revolt in support of these regional causes. Some of the descendants of these minor lords, such as the Mori and the Chōsokabe, would later become major players during the Sengoku Jidai (or Warring States) era in the 16th century.

A more radical threat came from the Ikkō-ikki, or ‘Single-Minded League’, the militant wing of the emerging Jōdo Shinshū (or ‘True Pure Land’) sect. The Jōdo Shinshū subscribed to an extreme form of Pure Land Buddhism, according to which humanity is fundamentally corrupt and so salvation can come only through the direct intervention of Amida Buddha, rather than through prayer, meditation, or other acts of faith. This was understood by the Ikkō-ikki as granting them license to break established laws and traditions, which they believed did not have any spiritual significance. These teachings were suppressed as heretical by the more traditional Buddhist establishment, and the Ikkō-ikki encouraged revolts among peasants and nobles alike in order to defend their communities. Over the next century the Ikkō-ikki grew into a formidable political and military force, eventually governing several autonomous provinces until they were finally defeated by Oda Nobunaga in 1586.

The Ōnin War marked the beginning of a chaotic and bloody period in Japan’s history, testing the feudal loyalties and personal faith of all involved. Above all else, it was a struggle for power—between the Hosokawa and Yamana, between the Jizamurai and the established noble families, and between the Ikkō-ikki and the very institution of the Shogunate.

In the past there have been rebellions and disasters, but in this first year of Ōnin the laws of gods and kings have been broken and all the sects are perishing.

Components

  • A 3" box
  • A 22" x 34" mounted game board
  • A deck of event cards
  • Card-based Solitaire system components
  • 186 wooden forces pieces
  • 10 white and 4 purple pawns
  • 1 marker sheet
  • 2 sequence of play aids
  • 4 faction player-aid foldouts
  • 4 faction introduction/clan guide sheets
  • One non-player aid foldout and one non-player aid sheet
  • One six-sided die
  • A background playbook
  • A rulebook

Players: 1-4 (full solitaire system)

Timescale: Approximately two months per turn and two years per campaign

Game Designer: Joe Dewhurst
Game Developers: Fred Serval and Stephen Rangazas
Series Designer: Volko Ruhnke
Series Developer: Jason Carr

Publisher GMT Games

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