Sunday, September 30, 2012

Zulus and the ACW

The Zulus over run a field gun in the center. The situation is critical.
Its not easy to see but the nearly dry river bed is 2 hexon tiles deep.
Ron's Ral Partha Colonial figures and Hexon terrain

The Zulus and the ACW  aren't often linked but last Thursday I played my 3rd Colonial game using Battlecry. It still amazes me that the rules worked and that the game was so much fun. Upon reflection, I think the ease of translation is in part due to the level of abstraction in the game and the way in concentrates on basics not chrome. So, yes the Martini-Henry was a more efficient weapon than an Enfield or Springfield muzzle loading rifled musket but the tactics of an army of horse, foot and guns armed with one or the other weapon would differ in detail rather than principle. As for the poor Zulu's whose limited firepower is being ignored by us, their tactics are determined by their numbers and vulnerability. It requires no special game rules to make it best for them to mass behind cover, try to draw out the enemy by probing and feint attacks and then over whelm any weak spots.  

Despite local successes that almost overwhelmed the British, no target farms were over run before heavy casualties broke the Zulu morale. 

One of the interesting Tweaks required to deal with the large number of Zulus was how to determine  victory conditions given that the Zulus start with twice as many units. In this scenario the book called for 12  units against 9 which became 24 vs 9 (gulp). The British break point was set at the loss of 5 units with each of the farms being worth 1 unit if captured, the Zulu loss was set at double this since they had double the units. On his blog DC has questioned the use of a fixed break point.  My own view is that since the game is so abstract and we have no idea what a "hit" represents and since the combat results are so random that the amount of firepower that an army can withstand can not be reliably predicted, then the break point is not actually fixed. An additional test or moving target could be seen as a form of double jeopardy where one mechanism  counters the result of another. But that is just one gamer's opinion.

One last byproduct of the game. I have been considering whether to continue to use 3 stand ACW units or 4 stand ones. After my last post, I found myself contemplating how many figures (480 infantry alone) I will have to paint to bring my armies up to 32 regiments aside even with 3 stand units and how long this is likely to take (5+ years at the rate I have been adding ACW) You would think that this would encourage me to avoid the 4 stand option but in fact it has made a mid-point of 16 x 4 stand regiments a side an attractive option. Once I realized that this would make the armies Battlecry compatible, that cinched the matter. After regrouping where it looked right, 4 of my  Reb units will need a stand added and one of these is now done. Work on flags is in progress. That'll bring me back to 10 so 6 new units are needed to get to the goal for next year.

The question of flags raises another interesting topic. If I were recreating a particular battle, I would want the right units with the right number of men in each dressed in the right uniforms and carrying the right flags but I am doing a generic wargame army.  My current interest is in the early campaigns in the west but my instinct is to use the well known Battleflag, often wrongly called the Stars & Bars. In the west however, this was not widely carried until late in the war. Instead each of the various "armies" which came and went seemed to have its own special flags.

So, do I do generic units with bare flag poles and  give them a different flag and name for each game as some historical gamers suggest or do I pick an identity  for each unit but equip them as pleases me so that the battlefield will present the picture in my head? Well, for me, I may want to recreate various battles or parts of battles but mostly this is just  game  and I am willing to use the wrong units in a refight. Now that the organization question is settled, I can get serious about giving names to the units and commanders and I just may use flags as  a way to help tell my brigades apart.


  1. Rather than bare flag poles you could just do lots of different standard bearers for the same unit. I have a generic Askari unit that I just put a different officer and standard bearer with to make them German, Italian or Spanish as the need arises.

    Best wishes, Brian

    1. Thanks Brian, one up on swapping flags but I was trying to say that, for completely irrational reasons, I like to fix the identity of a unit even if I subsequently mis-use it.

  2. Great fun all round - nice one!

  3. Hi Ross,

    I must admit to having second thoughts about the concept of the 6 flag victory condition - simply because destroyed units are not merely just casualties but also represent wounded, deserters, stragglers and prisoners. Visually it looks like they have been immolated but in actuality they are out of the fight by reason of being no longer combat effective or some such. I guess my mistake was equating game casualties with actual casualties i.e. losing one figure from 4 representing 25% casualties rather than as the overall loss of effectiveness - in game terms the unit is no longer usable so the loss of figures is really just a recording mechanism.

    Frank Chadwick has a good rule for this in Command Decision - basically a destroyed unit was able to get back 50% of its strength overnight meaning that unit x, 'destroyed' on day 1 would reappear on day 2 in a much weakened state.

    All the best,


    1. DC, I think the games are even more abstract than it first appears but that seems to be source of strength. When I first encountered Memoir 44 one of my reactions was along the lines of "what do you mean these guys aren't firing at the guys who are attacking them? Of course they would fire!" But now I assume that that sort of stuff is going on and look upon the orders and combat rolls as a way of measuring over all success which is really about your battleplan and whether or not you manage to impose it on the enemy. So this unit doesn't get to roll dice but is probably shooting and inflicted dead and wounded while another unit rolled dice and got no hits which probably means they killed and wounded some enemy without degrading their combat ability, cohesion or morale while over here a unit wipes out an enemy unit, perhaps because it broke and ran.

  4. I am encouraged (but not at all surprised) by how well BC works for Zulus! How do you rate the Zulu units? (Forgive me if I've missed this in a previous post.)

    1. You are forgiven even if I did which I might or might not have. We rate them as 4 dice adjacent only but we put 2 units down for each Imperial unit. Initially we allowed the Zulus to move 2 and not battle or move 1 and battle but this has now been extended to the British. We have though allowed them to ignore terrain movement penalties. There was some talk of allowing them 1 die of fire since they did use fire arms but for now we have decided to ignore that since it will help make the Zulu games different from Afgan and Soudan games.

      In the last game Ron introduced further benefits whereby the Zulus can advance if they advance adjacent to an enemy and destroy it or push it back while British units can ignore 1 flag if they choose.

      The big issue is that the Zulus have trouble moving all of their units in the course of a game since they have twice as many but the same number of cards. Two options are currently under discussion, 1 is to modify the Leadership card to allow a unit to move all contiguous units the other is to just double the number of units they can move on scout, probe cards etc. The 3rd option which I think has been dismissed was to allow them two cards.