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.
On the (British) right the terrain was open. I planned to rest the right flank of my regulars on the small wood, and place a few Natal Native foot in the wood itself to cover their flank. Beyond this point were a couple of troops of volunteers covering about a third of the table and facing at least a regiment and a half of Zulus. I hoped that some judicious skirmishing would see most of these Zulus chase my handful of cavalry off the board. In the centre I had my British and advanced them towards the table centre, throwing another couple of troops of volunteers forward to make sure that Kevin’s Zulus had no thought of holding back in this sector. Having written the rules, I knew I could win here by wearing out his army morale in a series of fruitless charges. On the (British) left I placed the remaining half-battalion of Natal natives. Their weak fire, coupled with the heavier terrain on this flank, should hopefully be enough to delay the strong force Kevin had deployed here until the battle should have ended elsewhere.
Zulus move a handy 2dAv+1 inches per turn, and the mounted men move up to 6d6 inches, so the game was not long in getting under way. One mechanism I have is that if the mounted men roll more than a certain number of 6s on the movement dice then they take casualties (men falling out of formation or off their horses). This reflects the heavy casualties taken by mounted men in some actions where they had to flee from Zulus and led me to a heart-in-the-mouth moment when one unit of volunteers rolled 6, 6 and 5 on three dice on the first turn of the game and nearly crippled their own effectiveness before getting close to the enemy. The mounted volunteers started to exchange fire with the Zulus. On the (British) right this had exactly the desired effect as three large units of Zulus promptly charged a handful of mounted men. In the centre our fire was more effective than we planned, and a unit of Zulus was pinned. Fortunately for the British, Kevin’s plan was to attack in this sector anyway so the rest of the line rolled forward. The mounted men made rapid retrograde movements.
By now my centre of British regulars were pretty much in the position I wanted in a single line across my centre. On the British left the refused flank of Natal Natives were also in position, but the position I had identified for the left-flank Natives was rather further forward in the small central wood, and they had not yet quite made it when the Zulus started to arrive.
The British line opened up at about 400 yards range. The factors are such that it is impossible for the British to do permanent casualties at this range, but they can inflict morale tests with modifiers of -2 or -3 quite easily, so each Zulu unit in the fire zone has abound a 20-25% chance of routing. There is a small risk that other units from the same regiment will rout in sympathy but Zulus rally easily: the main impact is that the line is broken up and each rout moves the Zulus one point down their morale track towards army defeat. Most of the units which are under fire but not routed will be pinned. A few exceptionally brave (or perhaps unlucky) units will get close enough to come under short-range British fire where (if the British have held their nerve) they will start to suffer heavy casualties but in exchange can hope to inflict pins on the British which will significantly weaken the fire they are putting out. This is how the central firefight went, with the repeated Zulu attacks breaking up about 4-500 yards from the firing line. In the central wood a Zulu unit got close enough to bring the Natal Natives guarding this flank under fire and, with a lucky roll, routed them. However they could not advance further under the withering fire of the British infantry, and the natives rallied once they were out of the wood. On the far British right the handful of volunteer cavalry were indeed chased off their own table edge by hordes of Zulus in fairly short order. Kevin was able to halt about half of his units before they chased off the table edge themselves, but then could not get the right result on the order change table to make them attack the handful of Natal natives left covering this flank. With Lord Chelmsford in person bolstering their morale, the Natives held off the Zulus in a stationary and not-very-effective firefight.
With many of his units pinned, Kevin began to take risks. In particular he voluntarily accepted disaster checks to unpin some of his units whilst under fire (this represents heroic leadership by regimental officers). In theory, Zulus and British regulars have a good chance of passing these. In practice, of course, he failed several (routing the relevant units) and where he did succeed, I promptly pinned the units again in the next fire phase. All of this accelerated his slide down the army morale track and the Zulus started to take further negative modifiers for being shaken: in many cases they were now taking morale checks at -4 even when under fire at 800 yards. A final turn of devastating fire broke two entire regiments, and the game was definitely over.
I was pleased with the outcome of this game. Since Kevin had neither played the rules nor even read them before, he naturally did not choose tactics to maximise his chance of success. He needed to minimise the number of units he exposed to my fire (preferably by advancing in thin successive waves) and did not do so. Nonetheless there were distinctly ticklish moments for me when two companies of the Natal natives routed (and might well have taken the rest of their regiment with them) and again when the Zulu left chased off my volunteers and was only a single successful order-change roll away from sweeping over my right flank. I deployed the Brits in a single continuous firing line in the centre and found that the whole lot were then pinned by a single lucky Zulu shot, which left me needing to roll anything but a double-one in the next rally phase to save the game (I managed a three – just enough with the officer present). I should have put the British into skirmish line, which would have been a more historical tactic, lowered my risks from unlucky morale dice, and have left me some companies of proper troops spare to watch the flanks rather than relying on the Natal natives to do real fighting which they were neither equipped nor trained to do. Thus both players would have done better to use more accurately historical tactics.
I am pleased with the unit interactions, shooting and movement rules. I do now need to write and test some rules for artillery and machine guns, but I’m pretty confident that these will work out OK. More seriously the command and control ‘rules’ are still a bit of a handwave at this point, and it is here that I think I have most work to do to make this a playable set. Andrew has agreed to play a game when we get back after the Bank Holiday, so I will probably break out the Gatlings for him

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