Well we ran our first game of Black Powder (BP) last Thursday. Black Powder is a generic set of rules to cover the period of 1700-1900 (even the English Civil War with some modifications). Now I have chosen the Zulu War as it is a contest between radically different armies, hordes of spear armed Zulus against a small professional army of British with effective rifles, artillery and cavalry. It should have been a walk-over for the British but every now and then the Zulus emerged triumphant.
To make the game fit better onto a 6x4 table, the size of the units has been halved and also distances. British infantry units were 12 figures strong and 6 for the cavalry. The British gun was an empty base - I have lost the gun models for the time being. Zulu main units were 20 figures.
So Mark and I divided up my small Zulu War forces as follows.
2 brigades of 2 units of Zulus
1 brigade of 1 unit of Zulus and 2 units of Zulu skirmishers
As the game was later to prove 2 units in a brigade is suicidal - more on that later.
1 brigade of 2 units of infantry with 1 gun
1 brigade of 2 units of cavalry
We played to a scenario devised by John Holroyd (who also did the map). A disabled gun with the infantry is crossing the board and the cavalry are off doing something else, when they hear the sound of gunfire and return to aid the column. The gun needs a 5,6 to be brought into action and likewise the cavalry (although they can only start rolling on the second turn).
The British rolled first turn and deployed from column of march into firing line, ready for the Zulus. Now in BP, you roll for each brigade (or unit in a brigade) to be able to move, if you roll really well, then you can make up to 3 moves and the Zulus rolled well. At the end of the first turn, the Zulus were in range to charge the British in the next turn, with more forces swinging round the flanks. British rifle fire was largely ineffective.
The Zulus charge and the battle hots up (we used Gale Force 9 blue wound markers to record the damage on units). 3 wounds means that a unit is shaken, fights at reduced effectiveness and cannot be given any orders, it is really useless until rallied. The British rolled well, getting the (imaginary) gun into action and the cavalry arrived on table, moving the 3 move maximum allowed. The Border horse had a special rule allowing them to operate well away from their brigade commander. So a unit of cavalry was sent against each flanking force of Zulus.
The British infantry fought hand-to-hand vs the Zulus and although hard hit managed to win one of the combats and drive the Zulus off (and destroy them).
With incredible dice rolls the British cavalry suffered no damage from the Zulu skirmishers but neither could they pass a roll to charge (our fault not the rules, the rules actually allow an Initiative move if the enemy is close enough).
Freed of their enemy to the front, a unit of British infantry, wheels round to add their firepower to the Border Horse. The Zulus are held (shaken) but not broken.
On the other flank, with an insanely good dice roll, one of the Zulu units hits a unit of British infantry who were rallying after their last combat. Hit in the flank is bad news and the British have no chance to fire as the Zulus sweep in.
On the right flank, the Zulus also charge, into the Border horse and against the British infantry. The infantry are too far away and the Zulus fail to charge in. Although the Zulus contact the Border horse, they are shaken by the shooting as they go in and their fighting ability is greatly reduced.
Short range fire from the British infantry.
The lancers finally charge into the flank of the Zulus. This is lethal but helped by the British infantry (needing 5 or more to get hits) rolling 6 out of 6 hits. Nothing the Zulus can do will match that and the last Zulu impi on the left is destroyed.
The Zulu skirmishers take on the 'easy meat' of the artillery crew, get a few hits with close range fire but the artillery roll well and no serious harm is done.
And on the right an advance by the Border horse and a unit of British infantry finished off the Zulus.
Certainly it was a fun game. It was also very fast once we had learnt the basics of the game. Finding the rule you wanted was not easy. I had forgotten my copy of the rules, so I have not yet marked it as I am wont to do with a set of rules.
It is a game of luck, no doubt about it. Loads of dice and if you roll well you are going to do well - so not a game for someone who wants to plan the game ahead.
The Zulus might have won in the centre if the attack line had been supported (with more units behind), so a lesson for the next game?
Also brigades of 2 units are crazy. Lose one of the two units and the other will withdraw. So bigger tougher brigades are needed.
Now the big problem seems to be with the stats of the British infantry - don't get me wrong they are as hard as nails - but in this game, their shooting merely tickled the Zulus and they out-fought the Zulus in combat. So for the next game we plan to reverse the stats for the British infantry, they will get 6 attacks for shooting and 3 for combat. Lets see how that works.
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