Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Encounter in the Veldt - A TMWWBK engagement

Monday night saw the Shed packed to the rafters with gamers, zulu's and redcoats. Following the success of our first Anglo Zulu wargame using Black Powder it was our chance to try out the The Men Who Would Be Kings ruleset.

This post is quite long - and contains the best part of 40 photos. Right at the end is a critique of the ruleset.

With six players (including myself) I decided to throw a fairly large extravaganza using most of the troops I had available. Tonight would determine if I need any more big units for this period.

The unit cards prepared earlier (listed in the post before this one) would be used by all the players.

The forces were quite straightforward and as you see the Zulus are about 50% stronger than the British Force. This will be a good test to see if the points system listed in the book work.

The British were divided into three brigades 

The Infantry (Redcoats) with Gatling Gun support
The Boers with Rocket Support
The Cavalry with two horse gun artillery support

The Zulus would have three impis (left, right and head of the buffalo) each Zulu Impi has two units of Zulu Skirmishers

The Zulu units are based in 12's and should be 16 strong. So rather than reduce the size of each force the Zulus all have a small dice which will denote the first four casualties taken.

Each brigade has a commander who can influence a unit within 6"

The battlefield is deliberately open and rather than have forces move onto the table I elected to start with the forces deployed. This should speed things up (he says !)

The winner will be the first player to eliminate 50% of the opposing units - for the British this means 9 units, for the Zulus a massive 16

We were somewhat surprised that no rules for rockets were given in the book so we developed our own. Rockets have a max range of 36” and a minimum range of 9”. Each rocket troop has six die for firing needing sixes to hit. Any six that hits is a casualty and automatically disorders.

So onto the battle...

The Left Horn of the Buffalo advance onto the field of battle...the invading British can be seen in the distance

The Head of the Buffalo advances

The Soldiers of the Queen, their Native Allies and local Boers move forward

As the hordes of the right wing advance..

The Battle is set...many brave men will die this day

The Left Zulu Wing pushes forward confronted by the auxilliary horse

The centre asdvances - no coordination from the Zulus - the centre will reach the enemy long before the horns

A boer scouting party sees the rightwing appear from the scrub and gives fire

The British rightwing is bolstered by artillery

The Zulus continue to advance en mass

First contact on the left wing -Zulus pour forward onto the hapless Natal Mounted Police

The centre of the Zulu lines charges forward - the Lancers now have a target

The Zulus in the centre soon become targets for the British line who begin to ply their trade with accuracy and devastation

Elsewhere Zulus on their rightwing begin to come under fire from the local homesteaders

Advancing under fire the Zulus get within charge range of the Boers - the defenders pin many units but there are just too many of them

As the British find both wings under attack the centre charges

The Boers continue top pour steady fire into the massed Zulu ranks

The Zulu left wing pushes forward - Sikhali Horse valiantly try to hold back the tide

The Lancers are unleashed in the centre, wiping out one warband and pushing through to attack the rear of the centre  

The Lancer unit is quickly swamped and aside from one lucky trooper the unit is wiped out

Zulu skirmish units begin to open fire on the British centre

Faced with hordes of Zulus crashing down on them the six companies of redcoats attempt to build a defensive line

The Zulus begin to push forward on the Boers

They get ready to charge...

Skirmishes, charges and volley fire across the field....

The Zulus crash through the Boer lines - the farmers stand no chance 

The defensive line is almost complete

The centre of the Zulu line begins to set up another charge

Pushing forward on the left flank the Zulus quickly overrun the horse battery and the fleeing Sikhali horse

They begin to mass for an attack on the british line..

A furious firefight erupts across the last stand of the redcoats

The first red jacketed company falls to the weight of was all over for the British

A second victory for the Zulus - they did have 50% more points and probably needed it. Had the forces of been matched they would not have won.

Casualties amongst the Zulus were extremely high but in the end it was their numbers that counted

So how did the rules play…..

First up it is probably worth mentioning that with five players I decided to break each force into a series of commands (two on the British and three for the Zulus) – each player had an activation card which were revealed as the turn progressed. This inevitably had some influence on the proceedings and it may well of been possible for one unit to activate twice before the other opponent took their turn.

Example Turn 1 – Player Order 1, 2, 3, 4 ,5 in turn 2 the order was 3, 5, 4, 2, 1 – this illustrates that player one would have had his turn then waited for every player to have had two turns before his second activation.

The idea of these ‘random’ turn orders was drawn from the ruleset for multiplayers.

Personally I am not sure that this works for this period and had we adopted a simple IGOUGO Approach the game might hasve been very different.

Let me explain further. TMWWBK is a very basic ruleset – a unit can only do one thing in a turn (unless it is skirmishing) and does not react to the enemy moves unlike other rulesets for this period.

For example cavalry are unable to evade charges and regular line infantry get no fire on incoming charging troops. If we take the turn order as described above and assume player 1 controls the British Line and player 5 is a zulu impi,  the number five player might have traversed the ground before the British line has even fired. There is no provision in the ruleset for even holding your action to be used as a reaction.

Furthermore there appears to be no penalty for choosing certain actions - whether you order to fire, move or move at the double they all require the same score on the dice. Inevitably all the players moved their troops at the double when they needed the movement as this order also gives you an attack option.

A number of the cavalry units in our game were given skirmish capabilities as their free action (Sikhali and frontier light horse) – this felt appropriate for the troops in question.

They had the speed and the limited firing capability but on at least two occasions these horse were unable to retreat from the massed ranks of Zulus. Indeed failed orders meant they could not even move. One suggestion might be to give ALL units the free action of retreat away from the nearest enemy. This would allow cavalry in part to escape hordes of unrushing  tribals.

I need to go back to lion rampant to see how evades are treated in that rule set because this is a crucial element of the game.

Something else was discussed but did not actually occur was the issue of counter charges – like evades there are no counter charge rules.

I mentioned above that there is no provision for closing fire (unless of course I have missed this) – again this appears to be a big omission. Regular infantry (indeed all firearm troops) should be able to deliver closing fire before a charge ploughs in. Perhaps this is best served with a leadership check and /or maybe only half the units fire.

This leads neatly onto the impact of shooting/hits in melee. At present when a unit suffers casualties they must take a pinning test. This is completed by rolling 2d6 and from this total subtracting the number of casualities. The result is then compared against the units leadership value.

For example a Zulu unit suffers 3 casualties from incoming fire. The unit rolls 2d6 and scores an 8 – subtracts 3 (for the casualties) leaving a score of five. Because this score is lower than his leadership value (7+) the unit is pinned and forfeits any actions until rallied. In principle this works well. Let us assume the same unit suffered 9 casualties from the same fire and rolled the same dice – the result is the same despite the deadlier fire.

In the following turn the Zulu player tries to rally the unit – regardless of how many casualties suffered the rally result is driven by the number of pins. Rallying works similar to pinning except the only minus is the number of pins NOT the total casualties suffered. I think a trick was missed here in the rules. Firstly pins perhaps should be accumulated according to the % troops killed in the first round of fire – eg 1 pin for up to 1/3rd of figures in unit (remaining) and two or more pins thereafter. This would make rallying badly shot up units far harder and more likely to rout.

Our problem last night was that we had a number of units left on the table rallied but with less than 25% original strength. I appreciate the game is based on small skirmish actions and not the vast numbers we had in play.

Melee is handled in much the same way as shooting for casualties (but using the units melee fighting skill) with only the loser taking potential pins.  In one melee we had 12 regular line confronting a zulu unit. Both sides suffered over 50% casualties and neither side ending up pinned.

However the big missing point in the rule set is attacks to the flank or rear. In evitable when you have formed troops, cavalry charges etc. We introduced a simple houserule by saying that only half the units could fight if attacked from these quarters.

In summary the following will be adopted by the shed with immediate effect:

·         All units can perform the retreat order (full move back) away from nearest enemy
·         Cavalry units may countercharge (leadership roll required)
·         Attacks to flank and rear face give defender only half number of dice in attack

The following need further discussion

·         Cavalry being allowed to evade infantry
·         Closing fire on charges (one option could be to allow closing fire at close range but unit then loses half its melee dice)
·         Pinning and Rallying – needs to be reviewed based on number of casualties suffered

If the above sounds like a poor review of the system I apologise to the author. This is not the case. We had a great game, it flowed quickly, delivered a result that most players felt was in-keeping with the period and was perhaps most importantly incredibly easy to pick up for those unfamiliar with the other games in the stable.

There are issues that need to be resolved not least of which is the ability for a unit to react to events and the impact of these events. We will almost certainly revisit this period using these rules with our own tailored version. Afterall Mr Dan Mersey has created a great canvas on which we can paint…

Whats up next – well given the table is set up and the forces can be rearranged we are going to fight the same battle using Black Powder. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.


  1. We found similar issues. Additionally if the Britsh are not given a reason to move they form a square and the fire power is devastating. As long as a unit is pinned you can shoot through it as well so Human shields were not terribly effective on Open terrain.

    But on the positive the rules do work and do flow and to my mind at least are better than "Black Powder". You m well come away with a different feeling.

    So I shall wait for the Blackpowder aar.

    A good read and well thought through critique.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Clint...

      We completely forgot the shooting through pinned units

      The Blackpowder game is scheduled for next Monday after that I'll a comparison

      I am working on my own rules - called Assegai and of course I could use the Sword and the Flame as well

  2. Nice AAR. We had some of the same concerns.
    We've used Black Powder for the Zulu War and while the game was entertaining, it felt nothing like a Zulu War battle.
    The 'Victorian Steel' rules are the best we've found for massed battles.
    Paul Ward's 'Horns of the Bull' are also quite fun but we found the cards domintaed play a bit too much.

  3. A lovely spectacle - it captured the feel of Zulu hordes descending!

  4. Great looking game Eric......a "proper" wargame 😀

  5. If they would not have won with matched forces then the game is wrong

  6. I was hoping to do an Old West Apache wars game. Now I am not to sure after reading a few reports. It seems you need an awful lot of figures for a so called skirmish game. Apache war bands were actually quite small. Geronimo's had thirty eight warriors and held out against five thousand US troops for months.

  7. You don't need many figures, and you can play with half-sized units as described in the rules (6 figures for regulars, or 8 for tribal units instead of 12 and 16).

    1. But then as I understand it units are destroyed rather than pinned?

  8. Looked really good and frightening for those poor soldiers of the Queen.

  9. You can accumulate pins on a unit and each pin accumulated reduces the dice roll by one, thereby making rallying harder. Of course, in a 'target-rich environment' like your table, that's harder to do! Only tribal infantry can convert a double pace move into an attack, if memory serves - not all unit types.
    I think the issue over matched forces was probably because the game was being played 4 times larger than intended AND your scenario was also very 'pitched battle', rather than having objectives aside from killing stuff (that's not a criticism, by the way...) With our NW Frontier and Sudan show games, we used 50pt forces but worked really hard to give players objectives that didn't just involve killing stuff (important though that is!)
    Your game looks AWESOME!! Good to know you still had fun despite your issues with some mechanisms. Looking forward to seeing more!

  10. Great looking game and an excellent report, which I must read in more detail. Just a couple of immediate observations;

    In addition to the Free Moves, we've experimented with giving modifiers to the Leadership roll depending on the order being given, based on the preferred action of the troop types. For example, +1 when Unmarried warriors are testing to Attack or Move towards the enemy, or -1 for Irregular Horse not inclined to get stuck in.

    Like you, we also tweaked the available Free Moves to better represent historical tactics: removing Stand To as an option for some Tribal Infantry can lead to all sorts of impetuous advances. We also replaced Attack with Skirmish for the NMP, NNH etc.

    There ARE penalties for Tribal Infantry choosing 'At The Double' instead of 'Move' orders: the latter is a Free Action but the unit must test for the former and do not move at all if they fail - so the player must choose between a steady advance or a potentially faster but less reliable one, until the final charge into contact.

    Reading the rules for 'Choosing a Target' , I'm not sure that a Pinned unit cannot shield another unit coming up behind it: the pinned unit may be ignored as a potential target (bullet 3) but that does not mean they do not block LOS (bullet 7), although I'd accept a unit that had Gone to Ground does not block it.

    There are rules for Rockets, and limbered artillery, in the play test drafts of the rules: the former can only fire at Long Range and, instead of causing casualties, force the target unit to take one pinned test for each crew figure firing - these worked well in our games.

    As Andy says, the rules work really well in scenario-driven games with anything up to 36-40 points per side, and an appropriately sized table. We've played the 'Seek & Destroy' scenario 3 times with 36 points per side (28mm figures, 8'x4' table). In the first, a mixed Force of Irregular Horse with a single field gun struggled to achieve its objective because there was no room to manoeuvre, second time around, the same force did much better, largely because we re-interpreted the victory conditions. In the final game, an infantry force did much better with sustained volley fire producing a hard-fought victory.

    It's a rule system that's well worth persisting with: it's got me painting German Marines and Schutztruppen, Zanzibari slavers, Pathans and Highlanders for the NWF, and allowed me to dig a load of toys out of the box. I'm very tempted to put together a field force for the Boxer Rebellion: every unit of the International force can be a different nationality and be no more than 50-60 figures.

    On TSATF: cannot criticise a rule set that did so much to popularise colonial gaming but I think you'll find it a product of its time: very clunky, not much period feel and the interminable matched dice rolls for melee will drive you mad - but that's only my opinion!

  11. Correction: just spotted (p.25) that a Pinned unit does NOT block LOS, we've missed that so far, probably because it wasn't in the play test draft version and we're still unlearning those bits that have changed. I suspect that this will remain 'unlearned' though it would make life easier for the British.

  12. Very good report I have the same problems with the rules. When a unit is pined we played with the idea of not rallying but you could op to move this turn and rally in the next turn. It seemed to work but I hate to add too many new rules.