Monday, 6 January 2014

The Sword & The Flame - Fight At De Klerk's Farm

For WinterCon this year we played The Sword and the Flame and Pathfinder. I took the opportunity to set up a multi-player game of TSATF, with three players on each side, while Ben presented a 5th level Pathfinder adventure later in the day. I adapted Larry Brom's original scenario, 'The Laager' (from the scenario portfolio published in 2000), as I've not built my Boer wagons yet, and swapped the wagon laager of the title for an abandoned Boer farmstead. To all other intents and purposes the scenario was the same, with the forces slightly scaled down.

Most of my units are between 10 and 12 figures, although the Natal Native Contingent has close to 20 figures at the moment. I used some new skirmish bases from Warbases for the Zulus, which helped to speed up movement somewhat. I thought they worked rather well, and will aim to get them properly flocked in the near future. IMHO, even in a multi-player game, players should not have to command more than, say, 60 figures maximum. This works out as a Zulu ibutho in the original rules (i.e. three iviyo).

De Klerk's farm with defenders  in place.
In this scenario, survivors of an ambushed column have sought refuge in a farm with the battalion pay wagon. We had a section of Boers and a section of British regulars hiding out there, while a colonel and a relief column sought to get to the farm, rescue the soldiers and their money, and escape with less than 50% casualties. About half the Zulu total force started the game coming onto the table, while, due to lack of figures, the rest acted as a reserve, appearing on the table as a haphazard second wave as figures became available.

Note: I used a ratio of 3:1 in favour of the Zulus in terms of determining total force numbers, which seems to work well for colonial games where the imperial troops have at least 50% of their force composed of professional regulars. If the entire Zulu force of, hypothetically, 180 figures, had entered the table in the first turn, I wonder whether the British would have been easily overwhelmed? The staggered entry process seems to give the British more of a chance of survival.

The British had problems from the off-set, with three Zulu iviyo springing an ambush on the relief column in the first turn. Luckily, none of them had muskets, and their assault was repulsed, with only three wounded on the British side. The relief column pressed on, and reached the entrance to the farm, where more Zulus pounced on them. The colonel, commanding, decided to lead the troop of light dragoons in a charge against the Zulus, which, while successful in dispersing them, led to the colonel himself being wounded.

We were playing the wounded rules for the British in this game, and the sergeants on the spot acted with alacrity, harnessing the pay wagon to a couple of ammo mules, and bundling their wounded, including their CO, into it. Meanwhile, the commander of the farm's defenders had to take a work call, and while he was away, the Zulus succeeded in driving the Boers off the ramparts. The Afrikaaners fell back on the wagon, leaving four or five wounded near the wall and in grave danger of being on the wrong end of an assegai.
Zulu ambush from the high grass!

Another Zulu attack on the gate was driven off, but two or three dragoons were slain in the fight. By this stage, however, the treasure wagon was on the move again, with the NNC and another British section moving up to provide cover.

At this stage it was getting dark, and I felt we needed time for our guests to enjoy some Pathfinder as well, so decided to call the game.

It was hard even from the umpire's perspective to see who would win. There were still no Zulus in the compound, which still had a full strength British detachment defending the west wall. The Zulu mission was to burn the farm, and with the defenders beginning to abandon it, the prospect of being able to set alight some of the buildings looked good. However, the Zulus could only burn one building per turn under the scenario rules, which might well have given the British time to get their treasure wagon off the table, as it was now travelling down a road at 4D6 inches per turn. Much would have hinged on the speed at which the British garrison was also able to high tail it.

I was a bit irritated at how long the game took, as I feel a game of this size should be completed inside four hours. IMHO anything longer than that is too long at the moment. With each player commanding, let's say, between 30 and 50 figures, it should still be possible to complete a scenario within this temporal parameter.

The dragoons get surrounded at the farm entrance.

Two areas I believe require further attention. I've been onto the forums on The Miniatures Page and have concluded that the game requires two mods:

1. Turning over of activation cards could be quicker. One suggestion is that the umpire turns over all cards until the colour is different - i.e. if there are three black cards in a row, turn them all over and give the natives three activations at once. In a multi-player environment, this would allow players to carry out moves simultaneously, and speed up play enormously.

2. Close combat, while entertaining, can also be considerably abbreviated, and I'm looking at possible alternatives, which I will play-test.

Another possibility is to allow players to choose whether they want a unit to move, shoot or melee rather than restrict them to a particular phase. This would allow a unit being charged to drop back, for example. Each unit still only gets one move action and one shoot action per turn, however.

It was only my third game of TSATF and it strikes me as one of those systems which needs tweaking before one can reach a point that both the umpire and players are completely happy with. Still, the scenario was entertaining and seemed to rattle along. I'm going to set up a new game and play with some of the above mods to see if it feels any different. I may even see if I can get players to play remotely - e.g. sending in orders by email. Thanks are due to everyone who came along to play, including four players who have not played TSATF before.

Zulu iviyo racing towards the farm.

1 comment:

  1. It was interesting and fun, despite my reservations about colonial warfare and its political connotations....

    Would like to give a miniatures mini campaign a bash sometime - a fantasy one- in which let's say you gave us an environment. Gave us resources to spend in a limited time (ditches, training soldiers) all of which led to the environment changing/ troops gaining certain skills..... before the big bad arrives...

    it would be less static.... and would reward/ punish good/ bad planning

    later there could be a scouting party's encounter with the enemy... and later taking the fight to the enemy... and again decisions about method of assault....

    any good?