Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Zulu Wars - Black Powder versus TMWWBK

I was tempted to cancel Monday night's game given the news of my Fathers passing over the weekend but actually I decided to press ahead. Its what he would have wanted me to do and I needed something to take my mind off the events.

As reported last week we played The Men Who Would Be Kings and this week we would fight the same engagement (a straightforward pitch battle) using Black Powder rules.

Interestingly the two players commanding the British had not been present in the previous game (which the Zulus won convincingly) so had no idea of how things were going to pan out.

We agreed at the start that the first army to lose half its units (off table or shaken at the end of the turn) would be the loser. Both British commanders were aware of the Zulus victory in the previous week and felt once again the Assegai armed horde would triumph.

I am not going to write up a battle report of this game but rather focus on the comparison of the rules, however suffice to say the British troops managed to get their lines of defence into order quite quickly and the decimating fire from rifle platoons, gatling gun and artillery severely dented any hopes of a Zulu victory.Indeed the British won convincingly losing only a couple of Boer units, the Sikhali horse, a gun battery and a rocket troop. The Zulus on the other hand were slaughtered. By the time the game closed (all played in a leisurely two hours) the Zulus had seen the best part of 10 impis routed from the table and a further 8 shaken. They had 28 units on the table compared to the 18 on the Allied side. Only one of the British Infantry units (out of six) came close to being destroyed.

As a game Black Powder is very simple but does deliver big games in a reasonable amount of time, this in part down to the fact that individual figures are not removed but rather the whole unit goes from full strength to shaken once it comes under fire/ engages in melee. Shaken units effectively become useless unless rallied. With so many Zulu units suffering murderous fire their command just couldn't rally and press home other attacks in the same turn. More commanders on the Zulu side might have aided them in this game.

As a quick point both rulesets (after I modified the BP set) had comparable movement rates and shooting ranges

So here are my comparative thoughts...

Question: Do the games capture the period

In both games the sight of hundreds of Zulus charging a thin red line was all we needed to capture that Zulu Dawn feeling (aided by the music and gunfights from the films played over the speakers in the shed ) - Both rulesets clearly demonstrated the devastating firepower of 19th century firearms against tribal infantry. I certainly felt that both games delivered. The British won the second game because they managed to form their defensive lines much quicker than in the first. Equally in both games the Zulus targeted the weaker wings of the British army (The redcoats were in the centre) but in the second game the Zulus did not have the opportunity to take out the forward elements of the British forces.

Question: Were the troops types able to do what we thought they could do?

In my original post I lamented the lost opportunity of the TMWWBK ruleset for not delivering effective skirmish and evade rules. Black powder does and in many occasions last night Auxiliary horse were able to evade the charging tribals. Close order infantry was devastating in both games 0- enough said and the artillery in the Black Powder game was far more effective at close range and yet less so at long than the TMWWBK set.

In summary I felt the Black Powder ruleset worked better on this point.

Question: Unit activation - which works best?

We used the optional rules for the AZW period in Black powder in as much as all Zulu Units can move at least once (similar to the free move in TMWWBK) and unlike TMWWBK all units could fire. This clearly aided the British auxiliary forces, we found that the Boers to continue to fire every turn. They did not in the previous game where they died to a man.

However Black Powder, with only a limited number of leaders does mean a failed order stops the progress dead. Zulu units could move but could not charge unless in initiative range. Whereas TMWWBK rules allowed every unit to perform its own action.

In summary I felt TMWWBK worked better but this could have been easily changed with more Zulu sub commanders

Question: Were combat resolutions fair?

These rules are very different. Black Powder focuses on the units rather than the figures with for example a British Regular unit firing with 4 dice against a target with circa 3 hit points. It is conceivable that if all hits are made and saves failed the unit could disappear. TMWWBK calls for all figures shooting/fighting to roll dice and then saves to be made. Units tend to last longer in TMWWBK but clearly their strength diminishes the more casualties taken.

Dices scores required tend to be very similar.

Black Powder has one big thing going for it in mass battles - with no casualties removed the playing area is much tidier and it takes less time.

In summary: Both combat systems deliver a fair result (assuming you allow flank / rear attacks in TMWWBK)

Question: Did Game Mechanics hold up play?

In both cases the games played fast and furious - they are both very easy to pick up and deliver a solid gaming experience

In summary: Neither posed many challenges

In Conclusion:

First up Black Powder is designed for mass battles whereas TMWWBK is aimed at a much smaller engagement  - grand skirmish I think is the term. My comparison is based on as big battle and in this case the TMWWBK held up really well but there are some amendments I would impose (see previous post).

Both games delivered an exciting battle although the BP version delivered a much clearer result earlier on using exactly the same number of units each side. This may in pat be down to the balance on the table or the tactical geniuses throwing their dice - I don't think we will know.

I for one will continue to use both sets of rules as I see fitting the engagements we play.

Next Up: We are going to park the Zulu Wars for a bit now (whilst I finish off the iconic Rorkes Drift) but will return to this period before the year is up.

Thanks for reading and following

Eric the Shed


  1. Thank you for the comparative review. I am sorry that the game was at a difficult time for you. I have found this and the tmwwbk post very interesting. Having played both (but not extensively) I am currently in favour of TMWWBK not because I like the rules overly but perhaps because BP covers too large a period. Additionally and this is probably more to the truth some of my club members do not like BP at all.

    But overall I have enjoyed your thoughts greatly.

  2. I only play BP and love the game! Never played TMWWBK but only because my group likes the way BP plays so why change?

  3. Not tried Black Powder yet for the Zulu War, so enjoyed your comparative account. Hope you are bearing up in difficult circumstances.

  4. Thanks for the comparison!

    More soberly, my sympathies on your loss.

  5. Thanks for highlighting the differences between the two rules sets. I'm thinking of collecting Indian Mutiny next year, but have yet to decide on the level of game - main battle or large skirmish. The right rules will make all the difference.

  6. Interesting read.
    My condolences on your loss.

  7. Very interesting comparison. I had my very first game of TMwwbK last week and posted some thoughts here:


  8. Played our first game of TMWWBK, we were not taken with it for the zulus wars. Worked fine for sudan.

    We are looking to run a BP game in a few weeks but as much as I like the mechanics of BP some parts of it I very much dislike. I have written a lot of house rules but am keen to hear from any one elses house rules for zulu