Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Published Portable Wargame Pt 3a: Zulu!

I enjoyed the first Zulu play test but I also spent some time last night and this morning thinking about the game and about different game options and the old question "More units or bigger ones?". The upshot is that I reset the table this morning and played it again using different options.
Zulu: The Rerun. 
A. The Scenario. The Scenario I used as a test game was Scenario 13:Escape from Thomas' One Hour Wargames. The scenario has two equal forces each of 6 units, one side trying to break past a blocking force to escape from the table before doom arrives, presumably due to an overwhelming enemy force approaching or perhaps the need to catch the last ferry. In any event the escaping force has 15 turns to get at least 1/2 their units off the table by road.

The blocking force has 1 unit deployed on table and 3 groups of reinforcements that come on at predefined turns in predefined locations. I decided to play with a British force trying to return to the main column before it gets cut off and overwhelmed by pursuing Zulus. I also decided to count all units as equal for scenario balance purposes. I introduced one house rule that Zulus with firearms only hit on a modified score of 6. This was to reflect their lack of quality firearms and ammunition and their lack of training.

B. The First Game: Sudden Death or Small Units/Big Board.  I wanted to try the Sudden Death option but wasn't sure that 6 units aside would be enough as a few bad rolls could be decisive early on. I decided to double the number of units. Since I had only based up a dozen stands of Zulus, I decided to use each stand as a unit and a 12x12 grid of 3" squares.

Game One Turn Three. The British were still marching on when the first Zulu flanking force arrived. Each stand is a unit and the big 6" squares have been divided into four 3" quadrants by a small dot or cross.
The game started well as the British pushed ahead as rapidly as possible against minimal opposition. That soon changed as Zulu reinforcements appeared first on one side then the other. (The Horns!)  Soon the British found themselves with no room to retreat if hit. Under the Sudden Death option it only takes 1 hit to destroy a unit so if there is no room to fall back, any hit is lethal. The Zulus on the other hand, had plenty of room to fall back but since stationary British are more deadly shooting than they are in melee that didn't help as much as it might have.

By turn 7 out of 15 both sides were reaching their exhaustion point and the British hadn't even crossed the center line. It was close but the dice determined that the British would falter first. They had one hope left, there were few Zulus between them and escape, most were behind. If they could shoot one more Zulu unit then they had time to use their artillery to clear the way and then escape up the empty road. The last Zulu reinforcement had just arrived behind the centre (the Loins!) and there was no real choice but to roll a double move, charge into contact with the gun and eliminate it. So they did! Now the Zulus could fall back out of range and wait.  It was game over.

Midgame c Turn 5. The British are about to start feeling the pinch as units are forced to retreat and start colliding.

The game had moved as quickly as expected, taking just under an hour to play. There was a little added tension as each die roll meant the potential elimination of an enemy but also resilience because of the numbers of units. The scenario set up with enemy appearing on three sides made it hard for the British to keep a space available for retreating from combat and the hope of a quick kill led to firing at the halt too often when there was room to manoeuvre. With hindsight it seemed to me that the British General  needed to have been more aggressive at pushing ahead and out, despite the loss of the stationary shooting bonus .

Given the quick pace and short time it seemed like a suitable game for introducing someone to the rules but the more I thought about it the more the low margin of error worried me. The look also wasn't quite right., a little too crowded. I finally decided to try it with 6 units each of 2 stands on a bigger grid but using the standard system with multiple strength points. The table should have been a 9x9 grid of 6" squares to meet the minimum requirement and allow the map to be reproduced properly but my table is only 4 feet across so I went for an area of 4ft x 4ft giving a minimum sized grid of 8x8 6" squares and fudged the map.  Why didn't I go for 8x9 allowing the width at least to fit the map? It didn't occur to me till right now!

However it is late and there is a blizzard blowing in so that is it for tonight. Part 2 will cover the slightly longer and enjoyable "big but portable" wargame version of the same scenario as seen in the top picture and the pros and cons of each approach.

1 comment:

  1. Ross Mac,

    It sounds as you had an interesting battle on your hands. The 'Sudden Death' option was designed to both speed up the game if players did not have a lot of time on their hands and to make them think about how they used their troops. Sacrificing units for no reason gets punished very quickly. You are enough of an old hand to avoid that pitfall, but newer or novice players might not and will have to be on a rather steep learning curve if they are going to avoid defeating themselves.

    All the best,