Monday, 30 January 2017

Rorke's Drift at the Shed

 Rorke's Drift.  It's quiet.  Too quiet

After the epic recreation of Isandlwana at the Shed on Sunday morning, the table was re-dressed for the battle of Rorke's Drift for the afternoon.  The sides were reversed so that I found myself commanding part of the British force in defence of Rorke's Drift.   This re-eneactment, of course, had more resonance for me than Isandlwana as this was  ZULU!

As in the original battle Zulu snipers sat on the hill at top right and were generally annoying

Eric had acquired the Warlord Rorke's Drift set and had built a raised hill for it to sit on, as it did in real life.  It was the source of much annoyance to me, last year, that my best friend, Bill, was on business in South Africa and he got to visit Rorke's Drift, without really appreciating it!  Even more annoying was that until last summer I owned the complete Warlord Zulu set with Rorke's Drift and all the scenery and figures but sold it because I thought I would never get around to painting all those Zulus! Oh well.  I would never have managed to put any scenery together, let alone paint all the figures and teddy bear fur scares me to death in laser cut kits.  I like my thatched roofs to be made from resin not have to do complicated stuff with PVA glue!.

The defenders were organised into 12 units of four

I won't go into the detail of the game as Eric has covered it, thoroughly, here.  Apart from playing the scenario itself I was interested in how a game with a small number of defenders against an overwhelming number of attackers would play out, principally because of my interest in gaming the Alamo.

What I found was that, in a very different type of game from Isandlawana in the morning, Black Powder worked very well indeed.  The way Eric arranged it with attacks coming in waves and the opportunity for formalised lulls in fighting allowing the defenders to regroup and redeploy would work very well for the Alamo.

The first Zulu assault descends the hill

Another thing these two games caused me to think about is my approach to wargames unit size.  Given that the inspirations for all my battles tend to be historical actions (I don't paint figures with the intention of fighting fictional encounters (until my ACW project). I do get fixated upon comparative unit size.  However rules like The Sword and the Flame TMWWBK and Black Powder (and there is some wriggle room for different sized units in broad categories in the latter) tend to work on standard sized units.  Twelve figures, twenty figures etc.  So, for example, when painting my own Zulu forces I look at the comparative sizes of the historical regiments.

The first Zulu attack comes down from the hill

I suspect the reason I do this goes all the way back to my days of playing Terence Wise's Introduction to Battle Games rules when number of figures per unit had a big effect on their hitting power.  A regiment of 600 should have more hitting power than a regiment of 300.  They shouldn't both be represented by 24 man units.  They key, of course, is to have the 600 man regiment represented by two units and if you have a 450 man historical unit decide which way you go.  Black Powder does allow for this, to a certain extent.

The assault splits to attack two points of the perimeter

This sort of thing is important as I am such a slow painter.  The difference for me in painting a 12 versus a 20 man unit is huge as regards time. But in non figure removal rules the number in the unit has no bearing on their fighting ability.  You could play a game (well, I couldn't) with each unit represented by five figures.

A second wave attack causes the British to bolster the defences

However, this brings me on to the main thing I don't like about Black Powder; the use of counters on the table.  Given I am more interested in the look of the game, rather than the gaming itself, I hate to see model battlefields covered in clutter.  I think the solution to this has to be casualty markers of some kind.  For Zulus, for example, painted shields would work perfectly.  Eric uses red, black and white. what I would call Ludo counters.  Although I can see that painting casualty markers for 52 units of Zulus might be a trial!

Having built a mealie bag redoubt and despite both buildings being fired the British see off the Zulus...but what will happen next?

The game itself was more dynamic and finely balanced than Isandlwana, although we only got to play about half of the planned game.  Fortunately, Eric recorded where we had got to, with the idea that we can finish it another day, which would be excellent.

So thanks to Eric for organising this.  Not only was it an excellent game but it has given me food for thought for some of my other projects.

Eric played excepts from the Zulu film soundtrack during our refights, which added to the atmosphere considerably.  While writing this post I played John Barry's score, which I have in two versions: Barry's original soundtrack recording and the re-recording by the City of Prague Philharmonic conducted by Nic Raine, who was Barry's orchestrator in latter years.  This has some additional cues not in the soundtrack original so I have combined them in my iTunes playlist.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Isandlwana at the Shed

My 72 Zulus ready to go

I was very excited to hear about Eric the Shed's intention to organise two Zulu Wars games on the anniversary of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift; both of which took place on 22nd January 1879.   I did volunteer to paint some Zulus to add to the forty I had already done in the past but, as ever, time was against me.  Nevertheless, I did paint 32 extra figures this month, meaning I could field six units of 12.  I admit that the recent 32 were not painted as well as the original 40 but given Eric had already painted over 600 Zulu figures it didn't really matter as they would be lost in the number.  I had to really concentrate to finish the last 12 figures and weapons and all 32 shields on Saturday.  In fact while painting them I listened to Rachmaninov's four piano concertos, three symphonies, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Isle of the Dead, Vocalise and the Symphonic Dances.  I also had 12 movement trays to make so didn't finish until about 11.30 pm, at which point I was shattered.  

My 72 Zulus on the far right

Eric didn't really need my paltry offering but he kindly let my units take part in the Isandlwana game, where I commanded the right horn with my figures on the very far right.  The Shed itself would have been too cold for the game given the sub-zero temperature.  Also, Eric had set up a wider board than the Shed would have allowed.  He didn't have enough of his usual scenic boards but the cloths over objects gave a good rolling look to the hills and was nicely Old School as well.

Here we have the British camp, with the donga at top right holding Durnford's horse.  You can also see some of the companies of the 24th Foot spread out in front of the camp with the rocket battery in the centre.  Before the game started the three Zulu players had decided to feint to the left and attack in strength on the right with the centre following up.

Here are the Zulus massed at the beginning of the game with the British in extended line far out in front of the camp. My command at the left.

Sensibly, the British retreated in the face of the Zulu attack but with their backs to the mountain and the camp they had, of course, nowhere to go.  In the background Durnford led his cavalry from the safety of the donga to attack Alastair's Zulus, to their surprise!

Here you can see the British Companies facing the Zulu hoard.  I don't like putting multiple figures on one base but Eric's Sabot bases are an excellent way to more large numbers of individually based figures around.  I always use square bases for figures in larger armies and round bases for skirmish games but I made some movement trays for groups of six for my square-based Zulus.

The British conducted a disciplined fighting retreat and started to score hits on the Zulus.  We were lucky that the artillery wasn't that effective although the rocket troops scored some early hits.

My horn of the buffalo starts to close in on the British while the chest (top centre), commanded by James, advances in an invincible looking block.

Unusually, rolling consecutive low command dice ensured my painted figures were the first to engage the 24th Foot on the right flank.

The Zulus pour forward.  We lost only four warbands out of 58 on the table, although a number had taken quite hard knocks from Martini-Henry fire.  Luckily I overwhelmed the artillery battery before it could do much damage.

The beginning of the end for the gallant British.  At the end only the British colour party survived, in true Victorian tale of heroism style.  Every Colonial wargamer wants to play Isandlwana but it is very difficult, unless you are a painting machine like Eric the Shed, to field enough Zulus.  With his and my figures (I provided about 10% of the Zulus force) we had around 700 28mm Zulus and about a quarter of that number on the British side.  

This is what 52 12 man units of Zulus looks like. Of course, the battle doesn't make a very balanced game and it played out almost exactly like its historical counterpart, which says something about the rules.  Eric tweaked a few things, reducing movement distances and shooting ranges.  Personally, for me, it meant I could field my Zulus in a huge game which I now never need to play again, so don't now feel i need to paint hundreds more Zulus.  I will confine myself to small skirmishes, using The Men Who Would Be Kings rules. One game that springs to mind for me to do is a scenario that came to mind from a novel I read (I can't remember whether it is John Wilcox's Horns of the Buffalo or Saul David's Zulu Hart) about an attack on a Zulu village by British and Natal Native Contingent troops.  Given the Old Bat gave me a Zulu beehive hut for my birthday I might try to find the relevant novel.  I have some Warlord NNC figures which I started to paint, somewhere.

Thanks to Eric the Shed for a splendid game (and bacon rolls and pizza).  His account is here and Alastair's is here.  The anniversary of the beginning of the Zulu War in 1879 falls on my birthday so I have always been interested in it and to play such a splendid game on the anniversary of the two best known battles in it was quite special.

Next I will look at the Rorke's Drift Game we played in the afternoon.