Thursday, 10 August 2017

A Wargamer's Guide to the Anglo-Zulu War by Daniel Mersey: A brief review



Dan Mersey is well known as the writer of the successful Lion Rampant, The Pikeman's Lament and The Men who Would be Kings rules, among others.  He has also produced a series of wargames guides, such as this one, published this week, on the Anglo-Zulu War.  Now, I am notoriously useless at looking at wargames rules and working out how they might play, however, as this is not a set of rules but a guide I can offer a few thoughts.

The book has seven chapters which I will consider in turn.

1 The Anglo-Zulu War

The first nine pages are a very brief summary of the war mentioning the overall staraegy and covering each major engagement in a few sentences.  Mersey has an engaging, light style as a writer and as a general introduction to the war, for those unfamiliar with it, this can't be beaten.

2 Armies, Organisation and Equipment

This chapter starts with 15 pages on the Zulu army, its organisation, weapons, equipment and tactics.  There are two tables: the first lists the Zulu regiments available in 1879 with their age ranges and numbers (if known) and the second gives a very general guide to shield colours (although the author recommends the much more thorough Michael Farnsworth guides which you can find here and here.  There are 11 pages on the British army and five pages on allies and colonial forces,  These are subdivided in the same way as the Zulu section but, again, the information is very sketchy although, as elsewhere, Mersey recommends further sources.

3 The Key Battles

This 15 page chapter covers Nyezane, Isandlwana, Rorke's Drift, Hlobane and Khambula.  It dpes not cover Intombe and, more surprisingly, Ulundi. Each battle gets a couple of pages of historical description followed by a page or so on wargaming the battle which offers up battle specific suggested rules or suggestions on particular parts of the battle to focus on. For Hlobane, for example it is suggested focussing solely on the fight for the plateau and the British getting extra victory points for collecting cattle.

4 Wargaming the Campaign

This presents some campaign specific ideas and things to consider.  It is not a guide to fighting the war as a campaign over a series of games, it should be noted.  Aspects covered here include balancing shooting and movement ranges, army ratios. terrain and concealment, hidden units and ambushes. ammunition supply, marksmanship, fortifications and laagers and recycling Zulus.  Personally, I hate recycling!  It brings back memories of a game I had at Guildford Wargmes Club where these cursed recycled figures just kept coming.  Sorry, but if you haven't painted them you can't use them!  Mersey does suggest some modifyers to prevent limitless, automatic recycling, however.

5 Choosing your rules

Here we get a one page overview of d13 different sets of rules from Jack Scruby's 1974 African Colonial Wargames Rules to the latest incarnation of Death in the Dark Continent (he mentions the 2017 reprint).  It covers general period rules such as Black Powder, colonial sets like The Sword and the Flame, as well as campaign  specific rules like Dave Bickley's The Washing of the Spears,  Being generally too stupid to understand wargames rules and preferring ones with pretty pictures there were quite a few sets here I hadn't heard of.  Oddly, he doesn't mention his own The Men Who Would be Kings Rules and we had an excellent big battle game using these.

6 Choosing your models

This offers a brief paragraph on miniature ranges offered by manufactures in 30mm, 28mm, 20mm, 15mm, 10mm and 6mm sizes.  Just looking at the 28mm figures, with which I am more familiar, it is less satsfactory than some of the other sections.  It is not surprising that the very new Perry figures aren't mentioned but it seems odd to leave out Black Tree's large range (despite the British infantry's weird lemon squeezer helmets) and also not point out that Foundry has two very different sized figure ranges: the original (but small) Perry brothers sculpted ones and the later (now sold as Casting Room Miniatures) ones which offer some particularly nice (and big compared with the weedy Empress ones) Zulus, based on Mark Copplestone's Darkest Africa tribesmen.

7 Scenarios

This offers some half a dozen scenarios giving an outline of each scenario, a suggested description of forces involved, how to set up the table, rules considerations and victory conditions for each. The scenarios are: Protect the convoy, Ambush on the outcrop. Death to the Prince!, Strike at dawn, Beware the horns and  'Form square!'  Each scenario is covered in about two and half pages.

Finally there is a two page appendix of further reading (dominated by Ian Knight, of course).

Overall this is a very good introduction for those who haven't considered Zulu wargaming (or, perhaps, even colonial wargaming before).  For those coming to it from watching Zulu there are plenty of references to, and quotes from, that film in the text.  However, in trying to cover all aspects; history, battles. forces, appearance, painting, figures and rules it results in each section being rather thin.  For me the interesting chapters were the Key battles, Wargaming the Campaign and the Scenarios Chapters.  For the rest I have already made my decisions or figures and rules and have read many books on the campaign generally.  That said, even just skimming through it, for the purposes of this review, has got me thinking about getting on with those remaining 24 Zulu figures I need for my The Men Who Would be Kings force and trying some of the scenarios.




There are eight pages of colour photographs of wargames units (all in the centre of the book) provided by a number of different sources and of varying quality as regards painting and scenery.  Personally, they are too small to have any impact as eye candy and too many are of close ups of units so that no idea of the sweep of a Zulu Wars battle is captured.  I would have rather seen some maps (of which there are none whatsoever in the book) for the battles or even the scenarios.

Still, I don't regret buying it and the fact it is not rule specific (like the Black Powder guide) is a bonus.  Probably not for experienced Zulu Wars gamers but ideal for beginners and useful even for dabblers like me.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Rorke's Drift at the Shed



 Rorke's Drift.  It's quiet.  Too quiet


After the epic recreation of Isandlwana at the Shed on Sunday morning, the table was re-dressed for the battle of Rorke's Drift for the afternoon.  The sides were reversed so that I found myself commanding part of the British force in defence of Rorke's Drift.   This re-eneactment, of course, had more resonance for me than Isandlwana as this was  ZULU!


As in the original battle Zulu snipers sat on the hill at top right and were generally annoying


Eric had acquired the Warlord Rorke's Drift set and had built a raised hill for it to sit on, as it did in real life.  It was the source of much annoyance to me, last year, that my best friend, Bill, was on business in South Africa and he got to visit Rorke's Drift, without really appreciating it!  Even more annoying was that until last summer I owned the complete Warlord Zulu set with Rorke's Drift and all the scenery and figures but sold it because I thought I would never get around to painting all those Zulus! Oh well.  I would never have managed to put any scenery together, let alone paint all the figures and teddy bear fur scares me to death in laser cut kits.  I like my thatched roofs to be made from resin not have to do complicated stuff with PVA glue!.


The defenders were organised into 12 units of four


I won't go into the detail of the game as Eric has covered it, thoroughly, here.  Apart from playing the scenario itself I was interested in how a game with a small number of defenders against an overwhelming number of attackers would play out, principally because of my interest in gaming the Alamo.




What I found was that, in a very different type of game from Isandlawana in the morning, Black Powder worked very well indeed.  The way Eric arranged it with attacks coming in waves and the opportunity for formalised lulls in fighting allowing the defenders to regroup and redeploy would work very well for the Alamo.


The first Zulu assault descends the hill


Another thing these two games caused me to think about is my approach to wargames unit size.  Given that the inspirations for all my battles tend to be historical actions (I don't paint figures with the intention of fighting fictional encounters (until my ACW project). I do get fixated upon comparative unit size.  However rules like The Sword and the Flame TMWWBK and Black Powder (and there is some wriggle room for different sized units in broad categories in the latter) tend to work on standard sized units.  Twelve figures, twenty figures etc.  So, for example, when painting my own Zulu forces I look at the comparative sizes of the historical regiments.


The first Zulu attack comes down from the hill


I suspect the reason I do this goes all the way back to my days of playing Terence Wise's Introduction to Battle Games rules when number of figures per unit had a big effect on their hitting power.  A regiment of 600 should have more hitting power than a regiment of 300.  They shouldn't both be represented by 24 man units.  They key, of course, is to have the 600 man regiment represented by two units and if you have a 450 man historical unit decide which way you go.  Black Powder does allow for this, to a certain extent.


The assault splits to attack two points of the perimeter


This sort of thing is important as I am such a slow painter.  The difference for me in painting a 12 versus a 20 man unit is huge as regards time. But in non figure removal rules the number in the unit has no bearing on their fighting ability.  You could play a game (well, I couldn't) with each unit represented by five figures.


A second wave attack causes the British to bolster the defences


However, this brings me on to the main thing I don't like about Black Powder; the use of counters on the table.  Given I am more interested in the look of the game, rather than the gaming itself, I hate to see model battlefields covered in clutter.  I think the solution to this has to be casualty markers of some kind.  For Zulus, for example, painted shields would work perfectly.  Eric uses red, black and white. what I would call Ludo counters.  Although I can see that painting casualty markers for 52 units of Zulus might be a trial!


Having built a mealie bag redoubt and despite both buildings being fired the British see off the Zulus...but what will happen next?


The game itself was more dynamic and finely balanced than Isandlwana, although we only got to play about half of the planned game.  Fortunately, Eric recorded where we had got to, with the idea that we can finish it another day, which would be excellent.




So thanks to Eric for organising this.  Not only was it an excellent game but it has given me food for thought for some of my other projects.




Eric played excepts from the Zulu film soundtrack during our refights, which added to the atmosphere considerably.  While writing this post I played John Barry's score, which I have in two versions: Barry's original soundtrack recording and the re-recording by the City of Prague Philharmonic conducted by Nic Raine, who was Barry's orchestrator in latter years.  This has some additional cues not in the soundtrack original so I have combined them in my iTunes playlist.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Isandlwana at the Shed


My 72 Zulus ready to go


I was very excited to hear about Eric the Shed's intention to organise two Zulu Wars games on the anniversary of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift; both of which took place on 22nd January 1879.   I did volunteer to paint some Zulus to add to the forty I had already done in the past but, as ever, time was against me.  Nevertheless, I did paint 32 extra figures this month, meaning I could field six units of 12.  I admit that the recent 32 were not painted as well as the original 40 but given Eric had already painted over 600 Zulu figures it didn't really matter as they would be lost in the number.  I had to really concentrate to finish the last 12 figures and weapons and all 32 shields on Saturday.  In fact while painting them I listened to Rachmaninov's four piano concertos, three symphonies, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Isle of the Dead, Vocalise and the Symphonic Dances.  I also had 12 movement trays to make so didn't finish until about 11.30 pm, at which point I was shattered.  


My 72 Zulus on the far right


Eric didn't really need my paltry offering but he kindly let my units take part in the Isandlwana game, where I commanded the right horn with my figures on the very far right.  The Shed itself would have been too cold for the game given the sub-zero temperature.  Also, Eric had set up a wider board than the Shed would have allowed.  He didn't have enough of his usual scenic boards but the cloths over objects gave a good rolling look to the hills and was nicely Old School as well.




Here we have the British camp, with the donga at top right holding Durnford's horse.  You can also see some of the companies of the 24th Foot spread out in front of the camp with the rocket battery in the centre.  Before the game started the three Zulu players had decided to feint to the left and attack in strength on the right with the centre following up.




Here are the Zulus massed at the beginning of the game with the British in extended line far out in front of the camp. My command at the left.




Sensibly, the British retreated in the face of the Zulu attack but with their backs to the mountain and the camp they had, of course, nowhere to go.  In the background Durnford led his cavalry from the safety of the donga to attack Alastair's Zulus, to their surprise!




Here you can see the British Companies facing the Zulu hoard.  I don't like putting multiple figures on one base but Eric's Sabot bases are an excellent way to more large numbers of individually based figures around.  I always use square bases for figures in larger armies and round bases for skirmish games but I made some movement trays for groups of six for my square-based Zulus.




The British conducted a disciplined fighting retreat and started to score hits on the Zulus.  We were lucky that the artillery wasn't that effective although the rocket troops scored some early hits.




My horn of the buffalo starts to close in on the British while the chest (top centre), commanded by James, advances in an invincible looking block.




Unusually, rolling consecutive low command dice ensured my painted figures were the first to engage the 24th Foot on the right flank.




The Zulus pour forward.  We lost only four warbands out of 58 on the table, although a number had taken quite hard knocks from Martini-Henry fire.  Luckily I overwhelmed the artillery battery before it could do much damage.




The beginning of the end for the gallant British.  At the end only the British colour party survived, in true Victorian tale of heroism style.  Every Colonial wargamer wants to play Isandlwana but it is very difficult, unless you are a painting machine like Eric the Shed, to field enough Zulus.  With his and my figures (I provided about 10% of the Zulus force) we had around 700 28mm Zulus and about a quarter of that number on the British side.  




This is what 52 12 man units of Zulus looks like. Of course, the battle doesn't make a very balanced game and it played out almost exactly like its historical counterpart, which says something about the rules.  Eric tweaked a few things, reducing movement distances and shooting ranges.  Personally, for me, it meant I could field my Zulus in a huge game which I now never need to play again, so don't now feel i need to paint hundreds more Zulus.  I will confine myself to small skirmishes, using The Men Who Would Be Kings rules. One game that springs to mind for me to do is a scenario that came to mind from a novel I read (I can't remember whether it is John Wilcox's Horns of the Buffalo or Saul David's Zulu Hart) about an attack on a Zulu village by British and Natal Native Contingent troops.  Given the Old Bat gave me a Zulu beehive hut for my birthday I might try to find the relevant novel.  I have some Warlord NNC figures which I started to paint, somewhere.




Thanks to Eric the Shed for a splendid game (and bacon rolls and pizza).  His account is here and Alastair's is here.  The anniversary of the beginning of the Zulu War in 1879 falls on my birthday so I have always been interested in it and to play such a splendid game on the anniversary of the two best known battles in it was quite special.

Next I will look at the Rorke's Drift Game we played in the afternoon.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Zulu Wars at the Shed with The Men who Would be Kings




It's been over two years since I posted on this blog but thanks to Eric the Shed I got to play a Zulu Wars wargame this week using the new The Men who Would be Kings rules by Dan Mersey.  I have played his Lion Rampant rules several times and enjoyed them because they are simple for someone who struggles with complex rules, like me.




I suspect that he probably didn't really contemplate them for a game of some 600 figures but with five players it worked very well.  I took the right hand horn of the Zulus.  I had nine units of Zulu warriors and two units of rifle armed skimishers. Facing me were a force of Boers and natal Native infantry.




Helpfully. Eric had produced cards giving the different types of units statistics and special rules. This made things a lot easier as I don't have the rules yet.  More importantly I remembered my glasses, as my eyesight is getting worse.




Now as regular readers know, I don't play enough games to ever learn any rules and I can't visualise how they work by reading them either.  I spend  a lot of time reading papers for work and after a week reading dozens of reports and papers on the Portuguese roads programme my brain would have had little room for absorbing anything else anyway.  Thinking like a Zulu, I just charged at the Boers. knowing that I have never met a nice one, anyway (apart from that woman, Elize, I met in Gaborone).




Even though I had a lot of Zulus, the rifle fire of the Boers was very effective.  Basically, if you take even one casualty you are pinned and need to be reactivated the next move which means that you can't move the following move.  The officer can reactivate a pinned unit for free (this might have been a house rule on the night) so the trick was to use your units behind to leapfrog forward (units can pass through friendly units.  The dice on the units above simply indicate that there should be another 4 figures on each unit and they would count up until they had gone and then you would remove actual figures.




Eric the Shed has posted an excellent account of the game and his thoughts on the rules here, so my own vague thoughts are not needed.  I really enjoyed the rules and thought they gave quite a good colonial game.  We didn't have time to finish but the British regular infantry had formed up and were ready to receive the charge of the massing Zulus.  Whether we would have got through the rifle and artillery fire is a moot point but I think the Zulus had destroyed more units than the British at the end of play.




There were a few negative comments from more experienced gamers about certain individual actions that weren't dealt with (shooting at charging figures on the way in, cavalry counter charges, morale etc) or were different from Lion Rampant.  My view on this, simplistically, is that it is best not to break down the individual elements of the game but see how it plays overall.  Does it give a good, balanced final result, not do individual aspects make sense in isolation?  No doubt the author has learned from Lion Rampant.  The individual (and frustrating) turn by turn necessity to activate units has gone, for example.   I suspect if you start to fiddle with it and add too many house rules it may destroy the way the different elements of the rules combine to give a balanced result. But then, I'm not very clever.




I don't own the rules but based on this I will certainly  buy them and, perhaps, will try them out solo using some of my Sudan troops.  It will also be interesting to see how they work against less 'tribal' opponents, such as Pathans. I would also like to see how big the contemplated forces are in the rules, to see if they work for skirmish gaming as well as big battles.  Great fun!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

50th Anniversary of the premier of Zulu




Even if I haven't painted anything Zulu Wars for a while I can't let the 50th Anniversary of the release of Zulu (1964) pass me by.  This was, by a considerable margin, my father's favourite film and is probably one of my top three too. 




There is a 12 page feature on the making of the film in the current issue of Cinema Retro magazine by Sheldon Hall, author of the excellent Zulu: with some guts behind it - The Making of the Epic Movie and news that an expanded version of this book is being released later this year.








The film received its premier, on the 85th anniversary of the battle, at the Plaza cinema in Piccadilly Circus complete with the band of the Welsh Guards, soldiers in period uniform and three VC holders.




Not coincidentally, of course, today is also the anniversary of Isandlwana and the first day of Rorke's Drift.  Like many others, I will be spinning the really quite exceptional Blu-ray of the film later.   

"Front rank fire! Rear rank fire, reload!"

Friday, 6 April 2012

Some officers for the 24th Foot



I can't remember the last time I managed two posts in a week on this blog, but here are our first three officers for the 24th foot.  One is wearing the blue patrol jacket that was very popular in Zululand.  The central figure is a bugler.  What I need to do next is arrange the figures I have painted by pose to sort out some more regular looking units then I need to identify what figures I need to finish the units.  I have quite a few more figures to paint and some are even based so, provided I can find where I put them, I can start a few more.

Tonight I might also have a look at the Natal Native Contingent figures I bought the other week.  I haven't even opened the box yet.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Another (biggish) batch of 24th Foot




Well, as I struggle with my new ACW project I decided to take advantage of the good light here at present and finish another fourteen British today.  This brings my total number of British to around two dozen.  This means I probably should do another Zulu unit next.  However, I have just bought the box of the new Warlord Games Natal Native Contingent and so may have a crack at these instead.

For The Sword and the Flame you have units of 20 British but these are really just a jumble of figures at present so I need to pick the next ones out specifically so I can have tidier looking companies.  I also have a bugler and two officers under way so will try to get these done soon too.  It's very satisfying to finish what for me is a big batch!