A couple of months ago I got a message from Rick-
"we've been signed up to do a game for Gauntlet" says he.
"Oh aye", Says I, "Didn't think anyone had shown an interest in doing anything this year."
We batted a few ideas back and forth for a bit-
Dragon Rampant? How about Commando?
What the hell is Commando?
Flames of War? No!
How about something with Zulus? YES!
And that's how I got roped into painting 400 Zulus in just a few short weeks. I'd already got 100 or so ready, and as you may have seen from my previous posts I've been rather enjoying games of the The Men Who Would be King recently. And I had a small amount of themed scenery. We put the idea out to see how it fared amongst the group- the group liked it and some volunteers stepped forward to play it at Gauntlet. Now the question was- how many could we paint? Rick stepped forward and insisted he would provide around 100 or so- and he'd started ordering them already.
Thus enthused, and unhindered by children, I decided we would need a total of around 600 or so, and that I would paint the rest, and build some scenery to go with it. In addition I would come up with a scenario and umpire it. Which suited me fine, because there has been one scenario that I've wanted to run since forever:
The combined Battles of Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift!
There has always been a bit of a problem with fighting these two battles on the gaming table- they are rather recognisable to anyone who has watched the films, and they can both get dull very fast if you just treat it as a "line 'em up and Charge!/Shoot 'em!" affair. I mean, surely everyone knows how the British "ought" to have deployed at Isandlewana- Form square or Laager and the thing just becomes a turkey shoot- the tactical considerations that affected decisions on the day go straight out the window!
But there's a way around that; by disguising the Scenario as something else! And so, inspired a little by events at the very end of the war I reworked the events of the 1st invasion of Zululand to take pace around the Capture of Cetsewayo, the Zulu King. and thus I came up with this Scenario:
The Battles of Qhedini and Fort Thesiger!
The Premise was simple- in the last days of the Anglo Zulu war King Cetsewayo is in hiding , his cities burn, and his armies are scattered. The British are hunting for him and pacifying any Zulu still showing some fight. As the hunters close in on their prey weary bands of zulu's gather, rallying to their king, in defiance of his order to disperse, for one final attempt to drive out the Imperial invader.
To this end I gave the two sides a variety of objectives and misinformation- The British were given only very vague information over the position and strength of the Zulus, and were told to Capture the King, burn the Village of Qhedini where he was hiding, and round up any cattle to be taken as War Reparations. The Zulus were given slightly better intelligence about the nature of the threat facing them but weren't told where the King was hiding. They were tasked with the destruction of all Imperial forces, and taking the Camp and the Fort.
The rules we used were The Men who Would Be King by Dan Mersey, one of my favourites. Some folk said a game with those rules of this size wouldn't work. They were wrong. We did modify it a little though- I Preset all the stats, and we abandoned the idea of each unit having a leader. Instead I created certain Personalities (based on real people) who could be attached to a unit. These personalties were given various abilities that could be used to bolster their unit, or other units around them. There were 9 altogether , including Cetsewayo. Some of them are a little more whimsical than historical!
King of the Zulu
When discovered Cetsewayo will join the nearest British unit. If attacked roll to see if he is killed as normal. If that unit is destroyed he will join the nearest unit. He will not fight and reduces the unit SP to 6.
Major General Stroudly-Adams
officer commanding No.3 Column
Must be attached to one Regular unit. Allows any regular unit within 12” to reroll a failed order per turn. Once per game every Regular unit within 12” may make a Free Move.
officer commanding No.5 Column
Grants +1 discipline to any Auxiliary unit within 12”
At the start of his turn he may order any or all of the Mounted units within 12" to send their horses to the rear. They immediately dismount and may not remount . He is always the last model of his unit to be removed.
Captain Dorien Fellows
Utterly Professional and Fearless, Captain Fellows may join any Regular unit . The unit may reroll any failed Pinning or Rally tests.
The eyes of the Zulu.
Is always the last of his unit to be removed . Any zulu unit within 12” may reroll failed tests to Rally.
His unit gains Range 18” and hits on 5+ when shooting, except the Prince who its on 4+
Bullets shall turn to Water
Must join any Zulu unit. Any time the unit takes casualties from Shooting roll a d6. On a 6 ignore one casualty.
Joins a zulu unit, and gives it +1 discipline. Any unit within 12' that rallies may still attempt to receive an order, though even free moves will need to be tested for. Is killed on any score of a double rather than just 12.
Wielder of the Black Knobkerrie.
Said to be as old as the world, made from the hardest of wood the wielder of the Black Knobkerrie is unstoppable in melee. Tishayo may join any Zulu unit and gives the unit +1 to hit in melee.
Also we used casualty dials rather than removing casualties because the thought of trying to reunite hundreds of zulus with their correct units after the game didn't exactly fill me with pleasure!
The British would start on the table- No. 3 Column, consisting of 6 companies of Regulars, a gatling gun, and a 7pdr, and a unit of NNC. would be in and around the camp. No. 5 column, consisting of 3 units of Cavalry and 4 of Native infantry , and rocket battery, would be marching from the River to the camp . A single rifle company guarded the Fort, and another was in reserve. The zulus all started off table apart from two units of local scouts, with about 16 units in each of the chest, and the two horns. The British would therefore have the table to themselves for three turns before the first of the Zulus arrived, giving them chance to round up cattle, reach the village and capture the king before burning it. That was the idea at least. The Zulus would arrive in 6 waves at three separate points over 9 turns, in part to keep the British guessing, but partly to give them chance to thin the horde a a little before the next wave arrived.
But before we could play the game I had to actually build it!
The British only lacked for their Auxiliaries as I had a large number of Redcoats. I added two extra units of cavalry- the Frontier Light Horse converted from ACW cavalry, and the Empress Native Horse. Dismounted versions were provided for both. I painted up an additional 3 units of NNC for the British as well.
Total number of figures painted for this project was about 480 in three months
I also needed Terrain! Hills were made using the "Expanding foam in a can " method, and a few items were bought like wagons, piles of mealie bags and other supplies, ammunition boxes etc, and a rather nice resin pontoon bridge. A small fort was built with foam board sheet to represent Fort Thesiger, standing in for Rorkes Drift!
|Dongas! Its not Zululand without dried up river beds.|
Just bits of hardboardfrom the back of an old
wardrobe covered in pebbles and gravel!
|And Bushes! Actually just clumps of wirewool,|
heavily spray painted, and then flocked!
And then we were ready for battle! Michael took command of No.5 Column, Phil, who we met on the day and didn't have a game , took command of No.3 Column. Geoff, Rick, Chris and the Two Bens took joint command of the Zulus! After I'd laid out the terrain, lamenting that I didn't appear to have made enough large hills, and explained the scenario to both teams, helped them identify their commands, and then explained the scenario again to Rick who hadn't been paying attention the first time all that was left was to actually play! I wont bore you too much with a blow by blow and it would be impossible anyway, but here are some pictures.
|An overview of the battlefield from the Zulu end.|
The village of Qhedini on the left
is where Cetsewayo awaits his fate.
|The British camp and wagon park as the British regulars move out.|
No.5 column just appearing over the nek.
|View from the Natal side of the river. All quiet here|
with No.5 column in the distance.
|View from behind the Zulu Chest. The left horn can|
be seen just arriving. The Regulars actually moved out to
meet the left horn, whilst the irregulars of No.5 column
moved onto the British left to oppose the Chest.
|The British struggling to maintain a firing line along the dongas. They |
held back the left horn and part of the chest here for a long while.
|Major Benford leads the Natal Natives against the Zulu chest ,|
supported by a Gatling gun!
|View from behind the left horn, stalled at the dongas.|
|Fort Thesigers lookouts spot something in the distance!|
|The British Right gives ground|
|And so does the British left!|
|The Irregular Horse and the Natal Volunteers, having spent a|
pleasant few hours collecting stray
cattle are surprised by the arrival of the Right Horn!
|The British are forced back against the hill, where they try to form|
Square. The right horn can just be seen coming over the nek into the
rear of the camp.
|The British form an oblong, but there are too many targets!|
|The last men standing! The final pocket of|
resistance in camp as the Zulus close in!
It was interesting to see where the game diverged from the actual events at Isandlwana. Here it was the regulars of no.3 column rather than the Natives and Cavalry of no.5 column that went out to hold the left horn back, taking up a strong position amongst the Dongas and pinning it down for a long time. Obviously in real life this move was undertaken by Durnford to find the zulus, whereas here it was done to Find and Capture Cetsewayo! And as it was done by the infantry getting there and back took a lot longer! In any case this move somewhat over extended the British firing line, and meant the NNC were still having to hold large areas without support. When they fell it allowed the Zulus to get at the British from all sides. Of course this is pretty much how resistance actually collapsed at Isandlwana, though there it was the British right that was enveloped, and here it was the left.
By the time the right Horn arrived in camp there wasn't a lot left to do except mop up! It should be remembered though that casualties in the Left horn and Chest were massive! They started with a total of around 32 units- they probably had half that by the end! The Right horn was largely untouched, chasing fugitives on the Trail back to the river, though there attempt to invade Natal was blunted.
The Zulu army did look very imposing though; when the chest and left horn showed up in strength a ripple of despair went through the British ranks, which was exactly as intended! The British put up a very determined fight, and were always looking for a way to turn the odds, making every shot count, and trying to position themselves to be able to fight their way clear. Unfortunately the British couldn't afford to make any mistakes in the face of such an overwhelming enemy, and to my mind they made a rather clear one right at the start, by putting their three units of cavalry right at the back. With their speed they should have been in front , ready to ride through camp, on down to Qhedini, find the King, burn the village and be back in camp before the Zulu's have had breakfast! They would then have been free to escort the king back to Natal or Dismount (I gave them special rules to allow them to send their horses to the rear for this game) and join the firing line, which could have been calmly getting into a good strong position around the camp. Instead Michael had them rounding up cattle, a job better left to the NNC! Michael, was perhaps a little unclear as to the actual strengths and abilities of the Cavalry , apparently preferring the NNC in the firing line. The commander of no.5 column had a variety of abilities that he could impart on his troops, but it did rely on them being close by, and they ended up spread out all over the place. That perhaps is my fault for not being clearer.
I would change a couple of minor details regarding allocation of victory points etc if I was to run this again, but my only real amendment would be to have a few more British reserves available to throw the Zulus a bit of a late game Curve ball- after all, what might have happened if Chelmsfords forces had put in an appearance?
Well that about wraps it up for Gauntlet 17. I really enjoyed the game , I hope the players did too, and don't much mind me making them dance like puppets for my amusement !
Thanks for reading!