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I stare at the wide map laid out in front of me. My two provinces of Hojo territory along the coast seem pitifully small compared to the yards and yards of yellowed parchment stretching far to the north. But there is no time to dream of the conquests to come, not with the treacherous Imagawa clan right on my borders to the west. Before I can even contemplate moving north and taking on the more powerful warlords, I have to eliminate my more immediate threats.

I have an army ready to march, but despite the loyalty of my Takeda allies to the north, I can’t risk losing my men or their capable general in a pitched battle against the invading Imagawa army. The army is led by a mighty general whose skill will surely put me at a disadvantage on the field of battle. Knowing that if I cut off the head, the snake will die, I call on my Geisha. Though she is known for her skill as an entertainer, in reality, she is a highly trained assassin. I send her to meet the invading army’s general on the march and “entertain” him.

I watch as she enters the enemy camp in the middle of the night, creeping silently through ranks on her way to the general’s quarters. She passes by, unseen by sentries, and approaches the large tent. Stepping inside, she finds the general lying on his bunk with his back to her. She slowly crosses the room as we see that, though his body is still, the general’s eyes are wide and alert. The scene transitions outside the tent and we hear a sickening sound as our Geisha’s efforts are thwarted. Back on the campaign map, she mutters a brief apology and dies before my eyes. I will have to build more gambling halls before I can find more of her kind.

Scanning the map before me, a shuriken symbol above a friendly town reminds me that I have other agents I can use. A nearby Ninja in my employ is waiting there for me to send him to spy on or sabotage the enemy. Unlike the Geisha, the Ninja can move invisibly across the map, just so long as he avoids enemy Matsuka, the secret police who are valued not only for their ability to spot Ninja, but also for their role in bribing enemy armies.

My Ninja is more skilled, or at least luckier, than my Geisha. After approaching the enemy army undetected, he picks his way through the camp, nearly tripping over a sleeping guard, which under any other circumstances would raise the alarm and bring a quick and unsuccessful end not only to the Ninja’s mission but also to his life. He is lucky this night as he steals his way to the general’s tent, and luckier still that the general is finally asleep. Dropping down from above, the Ninja makes quick and messy work of the general before fleeing the camp.

Back on the map, the Ninja drops a smoke bomb and emerges from the cloud in a grander outfit that reveals the new abilities he has gained through experience. In time, I can train this Ninja to become an expert escape artist, or a clever saboteur, or an inconspicuous spy. But that can wait. The Imagawa clan now knows that its general has been murdered and, fearing the inevitable arrival of Matsuka, our Ninja retreats north to hide in friendly Takeda territory.

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With the enemy general dead, I’m free to lead my own forces against the invading enemy army. Without the benefit of a leader, trained in the various arts of attack and defense, the enemy army falls before our spears and arrows. Our own general, fresh from the victory, can be promoted and learn new skills, such as siege craft or improved command of our peasant levies. Should we have more use of provincial governors, our general might instead be endowed with certain civic advantages.

Since we mean to press on and destroy the Imagawa, our general dispenses with the peaceful promotions of government and instead learns the ways of siege attacks. As he pushes into Imagawa lands, he burns the enemy’s farms and rice plantations. Food is more valuable than gold to a nation. We’ll see how well Imagawa’s armies fight on an empty stomach. Still, we don’t want to destroy too much. When we take over these regions, we’ll use the farms and plantations to support massive fortifications to fend off any attacks on our own territory.

It sounds like we’ll need them. There are rumors that the nearby Chosokabe clan has built a big enough harbor to attract a strange people known as the “Dutch.” These Dutch offered to share the secret of gunpowder with Chosokabe, and the lure of the strange new technology forced the clan to give in to Dutch demands to convert to Christianity. Now their Monks are wandering the land, converting people from Buddhism and generating much unhappiness. Still, the Christian monks are no different from the Buddhists in their disloyal attempts to have my Matsuka renounce their duty to the clan and stop seeking out Ninjas.

Worst of all, this new Dutch weapon has armed peasants with guns that can kill our Samurai. This goes against the code of Bushido. Chosokabe dishonors himself by this choice, and though he gains a powerful weapon on the battlefield, it will be harder to maintain the loyalty of his officers. We will watch and wait as his most insightful advisors, his ablest generals, and his most trusted governors abandon him. He might reclaim some honor if he orders his generals to commit seppuku, but if he orders and they refuse, he will find them turning into Ronin and stealing part of his army.

Given time, we might discover the secrets of gunpowder weapons on our own. But the more effort we put into uncovering the secrets of Bushido, the less we can put into the path of Chi, which helps us to increase happiness, honor and holiness among our people. Shall we trust in our military might to win the day? Or can we rely on the health and happiness of our people to turn back military attacks?

We will watch and wait. Next year, the battle will begin.

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