Sunday, 29 July 2012

Zulu War Skirmish

It being a quiet time of year, Kelvin and I put a day aside to play some Zulu War. We used a variant of Warhammer Historical's Legends of the Old West, incorporating some of the mass combat rules from its Alamo/Mexican War supplement. Having played quite a bit of Lord of the Rings in the last year or so, which makes use of the same mechanics, it was relatively easy for us to get going, as we were both quite familiar with the system.

I have expanded both sides since our last game, with the British getting some more Natal Native Contingent and some regular horse, and the Zulus getting some more warriors (including some of the Wargames Factory warriors I bought ages ago at To The Redoubt in Eastbourne) plus some more Foundry musketeers. The stage was set.

The scenario was another of the free scenarios downloadable for The Sword & The Flame on Boardgamesgeek. In this case, the British column has been sent to secure an abandoned farm as a first aid post. The Zulu brief was simply to inflict enough casualties on them to force them to break, while still avoiding more than 50% losses themselves. The Zulu impi was organised into two wings this time, each with its own break point, under the overall command of the Zulu prince Indekazi,

The Zulus were allowed to set up hidden on the table. Kelvin could organised his units and wings as he wished, with each unit having a minimum of 10 warriors and maximum of 30. Muskets could be mixed in with warrior units if desired. He was also given as many dummy markers as real units to distribute on the table. As per the rules in LotOW's Blood on the Plains supplement, British units could spot markers within 12" at a 50% chance of success. Opening fire or moving into the open in LOS of British units would reveal a marker's identity. Markers, dummy or not, could also move 3" per turn if concealed.

The British column moved onto the table, with the regular infantry platoons leading, and cavalry screening off to the right. Boer volunteers covered the left. Captain Goodheart, the OC, stayed close to the head of the column. It was far too quiet.

No sign of the Zulus so far - the British player consults his notes.

The first marker to the left turned out to be a dummy. The column proceeded into the centre of the battlefield with no response from the Zulus. It was starting to look positive for Goodheart and his men. Then some Zulu muskets, under the command of Prince Indekazi himself, sprang up in the wheat field to our front. The British infantry moved quickly into line to respond with the full force of their rifle volleys, but Zulu musket balls dropped a couple of privates. The Boers and cavalry moved to secure the flanks.

Zulus under Indekazi pop up in the field ahead of the British column

With my rifle fire now whittling down the Zulus - who were making full use of their cover in the field - my cavalry tried to spot movement in the undergrowth on the right. They couldn't see anything, but I hoped that if there were more warriors there, the presence of the horsemen would discourage them. Goodheart sent the NNC contingent on the double towards the seemingly empty farm.

The British firing line gets to work.

Indekazi was winged by a British bullet - sitting up on a horse made him a tempting target - and decided to leave the last of his muskets to their duty - they were losing the exchange of shooting, with only a couple left standing. One more crashing British volley, and that was it for them.

The NNC moving across to the British right as another volley goes into the field.

However, now Zulus appeared on both flanks, including the elite White Shields under the induna Amagonogo. They poured out of the undergrowth on the British right, ambushing the cavalry, who got off a single volley from their carbines before they were attacked. I made the tactical mistake of keeping them too close to the hidden Zulus as they tried to recon the bushes. A Zulu initiative win allowed them two charge moves and they were into the cavalry, driving them backwards. The horse tried a counter-attack, but it failed to make much impact, and having lost their momentum, the horsemen started to get carved up in short order.

This is where it all started to go wrong. The Boers, despite being better shots than the British, failed to down enough Zulus on the left, and were forced to retire while the firing line shifted to meet the onslaught. Kelvin had caught the column between the hammer and the anvil of his two wings. Fighting back to back, the British platoons made a desperate stand of it, but started losing men quickly once the Zulus closed to melee.

Captain Goodheart rallied his men through morale check after morale check, but both British officers were burning through their points of Might (used to adjust critical die rolls). Goodheart finally made a dash for the farm, to support the NNC, which I realised would need a British officer leading them if they ran into trouble. Lietutenant Trembley was left to command the melee with the Zulus.

However, Goodheart was pursued into the cornfield and dragged from his horse and speared to death.

With one British platoon wiped out, over half the Boers dead, Trembley looked to be about to meet his maker. However, one platoon peeled away, as its sergeant sought to get clear of the Zulus and reform his men. As one Zulu iviyo turned to meet this threat, it created a gap for Trembley, and he broke clear, along with the remains of second platoon.

A Boer's eye view of serious trouble. White Shields on right.

By this time the NNC had discovered the farm was occupied, and were in an exchange of fire with the Zulu musketmen defending it, reluctant as they were to force an assault. Eventually, realising that I needed to take the farm, and hoping to be able to hold it until the Zulus broke, I attacked it with the NNC. It soon looked as if the brave natives might in fact manage this, particularly as Trembley arrived to support them with his high Pluck score.

Lt Trembley of the 80th killed two White Shields with his sabre.

A British platoon was on its way too, but at this point the British passed their break point, and the sight of another big Zulu posse breaking cover was too much for them. They fled, leaving their sergeant on his own. He spotted Prince Indekazi commanding the defence of the farm, and leaped over a wall to try to kill the induna. His attack failed, however, and pursuing Zulu warriors clubbed him to death with knobkerries.

Trembley rallies the NNC for one last assault.

Kelvin's right wing now passed its own break point, and a large Zulu unit decamped. This was little help to me, as the only British platoon - or what was left of it - on the field, also chose the better part of valour, leaving the White Shields to pursue to surviving Boers and a lone British sergeant.

Fugitives making a fighting retreat pursued by White Shields.

All that was left was the bitter fight for the farm, but with the Zulu witch doctor now present to help rally the troops, it was only a matter of time before the gallant Trembley fell (in a struggle with Indekazi himself) and the rest of the NNC routed.

The attack on the farm finally peters out, and with it game over.

A great game. It took seven hours to play out what would have probably been a 30-40 minute encounter in real life. The rules system can still just about manage a game of this size, but really only just. Any bigger, and my Zulu War games will need another rules system. I thought the British firing was not as damaging as it could be, but Kelvin had chosen to create bigger Zulu units that could take losses without needing a morale check, so credit to his canniness as a tabletop general is deserved. I really enjoyed the hidden deployment and movement mechanic, which I largely designed myself, with some rules for spotting from Blood on the Plains, but it worked very well and is almost a sub game unto itself. The game itself ended a draw, as I failed to complete my mission, and Kelvin lost too many Zulus in the end. But full credit to Kelvin for enduring another epic contest!

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