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.