Game Ideas: Imperial Japanese Doctrinal Abilities

Here are a selection of specialized skills or “doctrinal abilities” for use in games with a focus on ground troops. Real-Time-Strategy video games like Company of Heroes, miniatures wargaming, and even boardgames could make use of these special player-selected / activated skills. This site claims no rights to these ideas — use them freely!

SNLF Amphibious Doctrine (Vehicles, Offensive):


Imperial Japan’s Special Naval Landing Forces have a long tradition of amphibious landings and experience as elite troops dating back decades prior to the War in the Pacific, and new machines developed during WW2 were designed to assist them in their landings.

Effect (Activated): Commander can call on off-screen amphibious SNLF troops in boats, landing vehicles, and amphibious tanks to assault any point connected to the sea on the map. SNLF troops land in a combination of Daihatsu-class landing craft, a machine-gun equipped Type 4 Ka-Tsu transport with supplies, and two or three Type 2 Ka-Mi Amtanks.

Special: Remove Pontoons – The Ka-Mi amtanks pause to allow crew to remove their pontoons after landing. This makes them more agile and mobile over rough terrain, but at the cost of a small amount of protection. Once pontoons are removed, a Ka-Mi cannot return to deep water.  Note: Type 4  Ka-Tsu transports do not have removable pontoons.

Special: Type 3 Ka-Chi (Upgrade) – A single Type 3 Ka-Chi joins the landing group (additionally, or at the cost of 2x Ka-Mi depending on game rules). “Remove Pontoons” also applies to the Ka-Chi.

Note: The specific vehicles available to be called in by this ability could be determined by resources available to the player and the year in the war if historic rules are applicable. See “Deciphering Type Numbers” for help. If the year is very early, then only Daihatsu landing craft and perhaps a single periodic bonus “SR Ro-Go” amphibious tank (very rare, built from 1934) could be used. If the year is very late, then the Type5 To-Ku could be used, especially in games that allow more prototypes to be used.

Masters of Camouflage (Vehicles, Defensive):

Japanese tanks and other vehicles such as trucks become invisible to opponents while immobile for a set duration in jungle settings. This effect fades once they have moved or fired on enemy units and they cannot become “invisible” again until the enemy troops have lost visual contact. The vehicles must be within proximity or inside heavily wooded or jungle terrain for this ability to remain in effect.

Vehicle Effect (Activated):  Cautious Japanese tank crews have mastered the art of blending in with their environment. Requires nearby vegetation which the crew can collect and apply upon activation of this ability to the vehicle. Crew Movement from one place to another will interrupt the effect, causing the vehicle to become visible. The more the vehicle or infantry moves, the more camouflage material from the last effect will be lost, requiring re-application.


Static Emplacement (Vehicles, Defensive): 

On islands attacked by Allied forces, the Japanese often placed tanks in fortified positions, dug in with little more than their turrets exposed. This could have been useful for a tank that had engine or other mobility issues due to age or lack of effective maintenance in a remote location, but a still-functional main gun or machine guns. These positions were made from a combination of natural formations, logs, and dirt or sand, and generally made it impossible to move the tanks. Even the amphibious Ka-Mi amtanks were placed (some would say “wasted”) in such static positions.

Effect (Activated): Tanks become much more difficult to hit and damage since their armor is usually thick at the turret and the target will be smaller, but they are also immobilized. Tanks with machine guns in their hulls lose the use of those guns unless directly below and adjacent to the turret. Unlike fortifications built of sandbags stacked around a tank, it takes significant time to remove the tank from these emplacements made of natural materials, or to place them in these fortified positions in the first place.

Special: Half-Static Emplacement – This sub-ability completely protects the vehicle’s left, right, and rear flanks with dirt berms and logs, and makes the top invisible as well with vegetation camouflage. The front, however is completely open (though it may also be camouflaged). This allows the tank to fire all forward guns but remain otherwise concealed. It may rush out of the emplacement, but only in a forward direction until it has cleared the defensive position.

Note: This ability is enhanced by Masters of Camouflage.


Ridge Tactics (Vehicles, Offensive / Defensive):

Through experience and caution born of disastrous encounters with Allied tanks, Japanese tank commanders have become adept at “hull down” tactics, using natural rock formations, superior Japanese tank gun depression, and other cover to make up for weaknesses in armor thickness.

Effect (Passive): When behind hard cover (not vegetation), the cover bonus is increased by one factor. Additionally, changes in elevation and hilly terrain on the map provide a light cover bonus not normally available to units without this ability.

Effect (Activated): Vehicles are either locked and prevented from breaking cover until ability is deactivated, or flash red as a warning when out of cover and not protected by this passive ability.

Note: Weapons in some Japanese vehicles may not qualify fully for this ability, such as a Type90 Sumida Armored Car, or Command Tank (Shi-Ki) version of the Type97 Chi-Ha due to relatively poor gun depression and a tall vehicle profile, or a main gun located in the hull of the vehicle and not the turret. The game might still allow a single machine gun in a turret or pintle-mounted machine gun peeking over the ridge to fire instead.

Diagram showing 1940s models of Japanese Medium Tanks with up to 10 or 15 degrees of gun depression:


Vehicle Bomb (Vehicle, Offensive):

Japanese forces were documented (see Zaloga’s Japanese Tanks 1939-45) as using damaged or obsolete tanks in suicidal attacks by strapping explosives to them for ramming attacks.

Effect (Activated): A tank is prepared Once “launched” into action, it rushes forward in a straight line at full throttle that cannot be easily controlled / altered as a minimal crew drives it toward an enemy tank or emplacement. Will not work directly against infantry and requires a hard target for detonation.

Note: This ability has a chance of failing / and the explosives not detonating properly on impact since the bombs were jury-rigged in the field. In the case of failure the damage factor will be much reduced, though ramming in itself will still result in some damage (determined by the armor, size of the target, and the angle of impact). This was certainly not accepted by the Army as a legitimate war tactic and would have been considered wasteful since the tank was still capable of moving.

Note: This ability can be combined with Static Emplacement‘s sub-ability Half-Static Emplacement.

Create Decoy Vehicle (Vehicle, Defensive):

“Our boys shot at that position at least a dozen times over,” – U.S. Solder at Okinawa referring to a decoy tank.

Effect (Activated): Troops create a decoy tank out of stones and sand, or a decoy airplane (shaped like an A6M “Zero”, for example) out of bamboo. On reconnaissance flights and from a distance, this vehicle will appear as a real but stationary unit. Attacking the vehicle with rifle or machine gun fire will not discourage the illusion, though the decoy will of course not move or respond in any way. Once a decoy is “discovered” to be a fake by moving within half of the unit’s visual range, the effect is removed and it is seen by all opposing troops for what it really is. This ability is useful for diversionary tactics or to make a vulnerable base appear heavily defended. The build time is significant and the illusion is ineffective until the decoys are complete, so building these within enemy territory is risky and will likely result as a waste of time and resources.

Note: For game balance purposes, the decoys should fall apart easily and should not become impassable obstacles for infantry or vehicles.

Note for minatures wargames: A real tank counter could be placed where a “dummy” tank is built until enemies are close enough to spot the fake.


Artillery Spotting Vehicle (Vehicle, Offensive):

The Type100 (0) Observation Vehicle “Te-Re”“was based on the smallish Type 98 So-Da armored troop carrier that was itself based on the Type97 Te-Ke tankette. In the Te-Re the rear compartment that was usually used for storing cargo or troops in the So-Da was instead fitted with a large radio and observation equipment. Games where artillery observers play a large part may use this mechanized spotter unit.

Effect (Activated): A Type0 Observation Vehicle “Te-Re” is deployed onto the battlefield. The Te-Re has a broader 360-degree field of vision than other mechanized units and is capable of radioing and calling in artillery strikes against the enemy without flares to give away the location of the strike. Accumulated experience raises the accuracy and speed of these strikes. The Te-Re carries no weaponry (though the crew will at least carry sidearms such as Nambu pistols for defense, and its crew is dangerously exposed. Its strength lies in its communications ability and use of binoculars and other scopes by the crew. If the Te-Re allows enemy infantry or vehicles to get within normal spotting range it will be detected. Enemy vehicles that take the time to use their “commander view” from their turret with binoculars will have a similar view range and may spot the Te-Re.

Note: The thinly-armored Te-Re can greatly benefit greatly from Ridge Tactics and Masters of Camouflage. Crew (not including the driver) can also be equipped with better weapons such as anti-tank weapons and can use them from the Te-Re if the game allows for crew to swap out scavenged weapons or upgrade at the base.



Bayonet Masters (Infantry, Offensive):

Dating back to the Russo-Japanese war, Russian troops praised the deadly skill of Japanese infantry with bayonets (Warriors Of The Rising Sun: A History Of The Japanese Military). This was warranted as the Japanese practiced extensively with bayonets. Though use of the bayonet as a secondary weapon was limited in Europe during WW2, the Japanese army had an enduring preference for bayonets that carried into the War in the Pacific, perhaps linked to the image of samurai warriors and blades and a desire to fight on even after ammunition had all been expended.

Effect (Activated): Selecting this ability equips all Japanese infantry that carry rifles and even light machine guns with bayonets, which they use with additional skill in close quarters.

Effect (Passive): When in hand-to-hand combat range, Japanese infantry strike more accurately with lethal bayonets. Officers will strike similarly with a bonus, but with their swords.


Banzai Charge (Infantry, Offensive):

A Japanese warrior must never surrender! As a last-ditch offensive (or an over-confident charge, depending on the opposition), dutiful troops throw all caution aside and rush toward the enemy without cover, raising the cry “Tennou Heika Banzai!!”  (May the Emperor reign for 10,000 years!!)

Effect (Activated): A morale boost gives the troops a temporary bonus in speed, and a bonus to hand-to-hand combat / bayonet strikes…if they can reach their targets in time.


  • This ability stacks / works well with with Bayonet Masters.
  • This ability should be unlocked later in a game to discourage abuse (using the ability as a “move” to rush to an undefended enemy’s headquarters) – possibly only triggered if victory points reach a determined low point for the player.
  •  Soldiers cannot activate “retreat” while Banzai Charge is active.

A British soldier recounted the following from fighting in Burma:

“Ken Cooper, a lieutenant in the Border Regiment, saw “seishin” (strength of will) in action. He heard terrifying screams of ‘Banzai! Banzai!’ as a tall Japanese officer and 20 or 30 of his men ran straight at them, ‘apparently oblivious of the furious blizzard of steel which was screaming about them, unconcerned, uncaring, as though each man were an inviolate demi-god, confident of passing unscathed.

‘And because the sight held so much uncanny terror, for a moment I experienced the shock of total panic. I almost believed these figures were more than human, and that they would advance unhurt.”

(Source: The Daily

Spider Hole (Infantry, Defensive):

Effect (Activated): An infantry group may deploy (lose) a  member by digging and creating a “spider hole”, a small pit covered with vegetation or wood and rock in which a single soldier hides and waits for an armored vehicle (or any vehicle) to pass by. Once the armor is in range, the soldier emerges from the pit and quickly places a magnetic Type 99 “Turtle Mine” on the side of the tank. The soldier may be killed or wounded in the ensuing blast unless the vehicle passes by quickly enough. The soldier will have up to 3 magnetic mines, a sidearm (Nambu pistol), and may leave the spider hole to return to his unit once he has run out of ammunition (if he can survive that long).

Note: The Type 99 Turtle Mine may be replaced by a bamboo pole-mounted shaped charge “suicide mine”, which provides more accuracy at the cost of almost surely ensuring the death of the soldier bearing it. This is a last-ditch weapon and should not be used in early war scenarios or early in a battle.


Jungle Tactics (Infantry, Offensive)

The British felt in the onset of WW2 that Japanese soldiers were superhuman and could not be stopped. The Japanese did not use roads and confused Western forces as they rapidly conquered territory in Southeast Asia in part through effective and unexpected use of jungle terrain instead of roads – along with the ability to pass unnoticed.

Effect (Passive): When moving through thick jungle vegetation or woods Japanese Infantry become invisible and/or difficult to spot, and nearly silent. This effect fades if the troops engage in combat.

Effect (Activated): Enabling “Jungle Tactics” will turn a player’s aggressive AI in a video game to “defensive fire only.” Units will avoid AI pathing on open terrain and roads and will “take the long way” through whatever heavy vegetation is available to maintain their concealed status.

Note: Japanese sniper units can benefit greatly from Jungle Tactics when moving between locations.



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