Saturday, 6 May 2017

Sihayo's Kraal, 1879 (The Men Who Would Be Kings)

So last night we had a go at The Men Who Would Be Kings (TMWWBK), a new set of colonial miniatures rules from the pen of Dan Mersey, who also authored Lion Rampant and Dragon Rampant, to name two other games using the same system. As a scenario, we used the historical engagement of the British attack on Sihayo's kraal, really the opening engagement of the Anglo Zulu War in 1879. Full details of this scenario can be found in the scenario book published by Skirmish Campaigns.

Sihayo's Kraal is very much a skirmish battle: it was a small engagement, ordered by Lord Chelmsford, commander of the British centre column entering Zululand in January 1879. The kraal sat on Chelmsford's lines of communications with Natal, hence needed to be dealt with if still occupied by Zulus. It was sitting on top of a hard to approach plateau, and while most of Sihayo's warriors had already been dispatched to the main Zulu muster at Ulundi, a significant number of warriors remained at the kraal.

The British objective, assisted by the Natal Mounted Police (NMP) and Natal Native Contingent (NNC) is to storm up the side of the plateau, making best use of trails to navigate the slopes. The scenario is deliberately set up so that they must achieve certain objectives by certain turns. I should point out that it was originally written for The Sword and The Flame, and to convert it I increased the turn number an objective should be reached by one, aware as I was that the movement distances might be less for these rules.

TMWWBK is a relatively simple rules system, and I really wanted to use this exercise to get a feel for it. In particular, each unit has an activation score that must be rolled over on 2d6. In our game, this varied from 4+ to 7+. Activation score is based on leadership - should a unit lose its leader, it defaults to 8+. The NNC was particularly badly led and seemingly unmotivated from the beginning, making it very hard for the British players to move them off their start line. This meant that they had to rely on the NMP and the British regular soldiers of the 24th foot to do the lion's share of the fighting.

Natal Mounted Police heading up to the kraal.
 The NMP were well-suited to the task, in that they could charge straight up the side of the hill with a good chance of achieving their objectives. However, they were only one cavalry unit, and were soon taking fire from musket-armed Zulus, while the British foot sloggers struggled to keep up.

Suffice to say, the British players missed their first two objectives, but seemed close to achieving some of their next ones. However, at that stage it was getting late and becoming increasingly obvious that the distances were too great for the British side to get where they needed to go in time, and win the game.

Was the game the fault of the scenario or the fault of the rules? Personally, I blame the scenario more than the rules. It is difficult, however, to say whether it would play better using different rules. TMWWBK is a decent enough rules system for small unit colonials - there is sufficient crunch in there to inject some of the colonial flavour into the battle. However, I'm slightly disappointed that it was not able to manage Sihayo's Kraal, which ultimately is based on a real-life situation. It is an interesting battle, in that the British are being forced to assault a Zulu stronghold on top of a hill, and a substantial part of the British force is composed of native volunteers who are less than enthusiastic. This certainly did come through in our battle. However, the fact that poor rolling meant that the NNC held back early in the game really made life harder for the British regulars.

The question remains as to whether I'll attempt a walkthrough of the scenario using some other rules. I'm leaning towards Death in a Dark Continent as I write this post, and may well give that a try to see how it fares. DiaDC is specifically intended for African colonial battles of the smaller kind, which fits the bill very well indeed. More on this as I progress with my reading.

NMP coming under fire from Zulu muskets on the ridge line.

The other issue this throws up is the question of the projected fantasy battle, Green Dragon Bridge, and whether we bother using Dragon Rampant for can be frustrating for players to see units failing to respond due to poor activation rolls, even though this probably reflects real life combat situations more accurately. In Dragon Rampant, I think this is even more punitive. I will likely mull this one over and see where it takes me.

I also failed to print out cheat sheets for players in time - while players did have their briefings and unit stats, they weren't given the rules digest for the game, which might have helped to move things along a little faster. I will need to pay more attention to this next time.


  1. I think it was the scenario. There were two major problems. One was the time-sensitive objectives and the fact that the British didn't have the speed to get to them. The other, larger, issue was that the Zulu side had a passive victory condition; they won if the British didn't and the British couldn't, so the Zulus could literally do nothing and still win.

    Without familiarity with the ruleset -- and the historic event! -- I can't say how the scenario could be made to work, but I'm sure it's possible.

  2. I'm going to focus on Battlesystem for the time being for fantasy battles - it may be old school, but it may fit the bill of what we're after. More on Battlesystem when we have the chance to play it.

  3. i find that the men who woul dbe kings is essentally a modern remake of the sword in the flame.. smaller units, similar activation, but with more(and rather pointless) focus on leaders with the stupid ability charts(most of which do not in any way help the game) I see you have played both rules.. what do you think?

    1. I think the melee rules are a bit better than TSATF - I find hand to hand in TSATF can be quite frustrating and drawn out, plus smaller units become quite brittle. We're going to give TMWWBK another go, maybe with a more basic scenario, and see how we get on.