Tuesday, 14 May 2013

A third Ironwood battle

Kevin kindly agreed to play a game with my Ironbow-derived Zulus game, Ironwood, giving him the distinction of being only the third person ever to play this game. As in the previous two games, there was only the most cursory nod towards a ‘scenario’, and two boxes full of Zulus (5 regiments in all) took on a battalion each of British regulars and Natal Native contingent, with 4 troops of colonial horse for variety. There was some rough ground, woods and a stream on the Zulu right, and a small wood in the (Zulu) left-centre of the board. Kevin took the Zulus and deployed a line of smallish columns along his base edge planning to advance them, at different speeds so as to form two waves by the time they reached me. His force was evenly distributed across his whole front, but he saw this very much as a sacrificial covering force in the centre (where he expected to meet the regulars) and two strong flanking forces.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Zulu pre-dawn

Chris and I played my new Ironbow-inspired Zulus game on Monday night. This was the first time the rules had ever been tested. Two full regiments of young warriors (the umCijo and the uVe) took on a battalion of British infantry and a battalion of Natal Native Contingent in a simple river-crossing scenario that turned out into pretty much a straight-up fight.

The command rules were not extensively tested as they are (ahem) not fully formed yet. The Zulu commander on the left flank did lose his courage at one point and went off Assault orders, meaning that his units could no longer charge. As they were frontally assaulting a British line, none of them were willing to charge anyway so this turned out not to be a big issue for the Zulus. The other regiment succeeded in changing orders to attack the British after they (eventually) broke the Natal Natives, and very nearly got in before the Zulu army morale went. The British never changed a single order during the game.

My reasons for wanting to replace Soldiers of the Queen, which I have used for many years, are (a) because Soldiers can be a bit fiddly with percentage calculations, figure removal and many different dice and (b) because I have never seen a Zulu attack pulled off as I think it ought to be done with successive waves of troops skirmishing forward in open order, being halted by the British fire, returning their own rather feeble fire and getting in with the Assegai only if very well-led and very lucky, or after other forces have gotten round the flank.

As Zulu commander, I therefore wished to conduct a frontal attack on the British, mostly to see how it went. Chris encouraged this by boldly advancing his Natal Natives way ahead of the regulars (who were in Napoleonic close order, and therefore moving rather slowly), tempting me to go straight forward and try to over-run these not-very-enthusiastic troops in a single rush. This plan failed comprehensively. The Natal Native fire (coupled with some poor morale dice by me) broke successive waves of Zulus, and whilst the Zulus rallied and came back to the fight, this section of the action had a distressingly Keystone-cops feel, with my warriors rushing madly to and fro. We finally managed to get a company of Zulus into contact with the end of the Natal line, win the resulting combat and break the whole regiment, but by this time the British regulars had deployed on each flank, and they were able to wheel inward and pour fire into my onrushing Zulus, which soon put an end to any thoughts I had of mounting a breakthrough. To add insult to injury, the Natal Natives promptly rallied.

On the other flank I began to develop a good frontal attack on the British, but again just too late as the British had managed to reach their planned positions and were able to put out fully-effective fire from their stationary line. Casualties began to mount and my men went to ground, mostly beyond the range of their own rather decrepit muskets. This was the command that went off 'Assault' orders, but I was content that on this flank I would never be able to do more than absorb the attention of most of the British, it was my other regiment, ranged against the Natal natives with limited regular support, that had a chance to win the battle. However time was to run out.

The army morale track in Ironbow means that every time a unit routs the army becomes a little less entusiastic, and subsequent rallies do not make anyone happier. The rout of the Natal Natives briefly gave the Zulus hope, but the repeated breaking of their units against the mass of Breitish fire was gradually wearing their morale down. One last, valiant, charge came up an inch short of contact with the flank of a British company when the zulus dropped off the bottom of the morale track and their army broke. But to be truthful even if they had made that extra inch their advantage in the melee would have been slim-to-none: it was a faint hope for victory.

The unit cards need more work to ensure that the Zulus halt a little more and rout a little less. I then need to clarify some procedures around unpinning units that are pinned by fire and I can go on to write some rules for cavalry and artillery. But I think this experiment has potential.

Friday, 2 November 2012


A barrage, even if it is not one's first, is a difficult thing to write about. It cannot be taken apart and described in detail, ands in the mass it is so overwhelming that no broad picture of it can possibly be convincing. The noise is unbelievable. Of one shell be fired from one twenty-five-pounder gun at night, the infantryman first sees a flash far behind him and a few seconds later hears the sound of the gun. Again there is a slight pause; and far overhead a shrill sound, somewhere between a whistle and a sigh and a small wind blowing across the strings of a harp, grows in volume and deepens in tone until the shell roars into the ground ahead of him. There is a red flash, and an explosion which has a distinct metallic clang in it. If the shell falls at some distance, the clang has an almost bell-like quality. Most of the fragments travel forward, and raise long scuffs of dust which are distinct from the dust of the explosion itself. The noise of the explosion is very great.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The night before Alamein

Obviously, the initial attack would have to take place at night: we should be slaughtered to no purpose of we tried to advance in daylight. Equally obviously, many thousands of men trying to form up without landmarks and in darkness on our start line (which was a thousand yards out in No Man's Land) would become hopelessly lost before the battle began unless steps were taken to prevent it. Our battalion's first task was to lay white tape along the whole of the Highland Division start-line, a distance of two thousand five hundred yards, and from there tape back nine separate routes by which the other battalions could advance on to the line. After that their fate would be in their own hands, but at least they would start in order.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Somewhere in France

Mike and I played a Franco-Prussian war game using Neil Thomas's 19th Century rules. For full retro effect, the rules were in a hardback book, and the figures were 25mm. I had never played these before and I don’t think Mike had either, but he had prepared a cheatsheet so we got by reasonably well.
The scenario was what Neil calls a ‘pitched battle’, which was actually a meeting engagement with both sides advancing from their base edges onto the battlefield, the objectives being in no-man’s land at deployment. As the defender, a random dice roll resulted in three of my units being delayed in reaching the battlefield, whilst another random dice roll resulted in two of Mike’s going missing completely. As a result, he had a slight numbers advantage in the first 6 bounds, and I would have a larger advantage after that if I hadn’t lost too many units first. We each had a single cavalry unit, half a dozen infantry units and one or two guns and skirmishers. I did not have a good sense of the scale of the game, but if infantry units represented battalions, cavalry units would be regiments and skirmishers companies.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

A Zulu Battle

On 21st January 1879, colonial horse and Natal Native infantry of No. 3 Column conducted a reconaissance of the Mangeni Gorge. In the late afternoon, a strong force of Zulus was discovered in the broken ground at the head of the gorge, near the Mdutshana hill. Major Dartnell,. commanding the volunteers, decided to remain close to the enemy overnight, calling on Lord Chelmsford's main force for help.

When the news reached him shortly after midnight, Lord Chelmsford ordered out the second battalion, 24th Regiment, 4 guns and the imperial mounted infantry (men recruited from the regular infantry regiments in Natal) to reinforce Dartnell and attack the Zulus. On the 22nd, Chelmsford thus found half his No. 3 Column, with himself at the head, skirmishing against a handful of scattered Zulu irregulars whilst the main Impi attacked at Isandlwana. The 'strong' force at the Mangeni thus turned out to be nothing of the kind, but Dave and I 'refought' the battle that Chelmsford expected to fight on the 22nd against a body of several thousand Zulus. I knew the rules better so gave him the choice of sides and, after consulting the dice, he opted to be Zulu.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

La Forbie Refought

The Guildford Wargamers played Ironbow again on Monday night. In a scenario ‘inspired’ by the battle of La Forbie in 1244, an Ayyubid Egyptian army led by Baibars (Andrew D), consisting mostly of Kwarismian mercenaries, took on an alliance between the Ayyubids of Syria (Dave) and the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Daniel). I (Andrew F) umpired and generally criticised. Although the Christians provided the majority of the troops on the allied side, it was Dave, as al-Mansur of Homs, who was C-in-C.

The allies deployed with the village of La Forbie and some scattered olive groves on their right. Into these constricted areas they packed all their Frankish foot – 8 elements each of sergeants and crossbows. Two commands of knights, one secular one Order, (with a few Turcopoles) filled the centre, then a command of less-than-useful Syrian foot, al-Mansur with a single unit of 4 Ghulams under his own command. On the far right wing a command of irregular Turcomen was under an Nasir Dawud of Kerak.