Saturday, 27 August 2016

Some thoughts on gaming the Anglo Zulu War.

I probably should have done some reading on the Zulu Wars before I started buying up Thousands of Zulu's. In my defence I'd have to say that Zulu is such a good Film and story in itself and inspiration enough to get into this period. I read a book on Shaka Zulu a few years before Warlord brought their range out which was my original inspiration.

I am still reading personal accounts written about the Vietnam War as I am still very interested in this conflict but. I have found some time though to read a few Ospreys and this very interesting article taken from a book which I should look at buying.

The War readiness and Military effectiveness of the Zulu Forces

This has some decent photos but must confess that I've only skipped through the text.

Zulu conquered the march of the red soldiers 1828-1884

The problem that I can see me having that is this only going to be a conflict that can be played a couple of times? Would anyone in the know be willing to take the Zulu forces? I have a few friends interested in painting up some British forces but do not have the same interest in buying up loads of Zulus. (no offence meant to anyone reading this) The reality though is that heaps of Zulus are needed to make this happen and only relatively few British, if you look at the numbers involved in the conflict. Or perhaps this is the perfect Solo gaming conflict with the Zulus acting to a set plan?

The accounts I have read all agree that the only chance that the Zulus have of winning is if the British make major mistakes in either their deployments, or supply of ammunition. Both of which led to the disaster at Isandlwana. The Zulus are restricted to using the same tactics of the Beasts Horn formation and do not know how to use the firearms properly that are at their disposal. The unmarried Regiments are largely unbloodied in battle while the Married Regiments have been inactive for 20 years and mostly aged between 41 and 47 years old. The 24th on the other hand are veteran fighters.

The Black Powder scenario of Rorke's Drift is almost impossible for the Zulus to win, as it should be. The Zulus are shaken before they get into hand to hand and the British have the advantage of a longer reach due to having bayonets. I've not read gaming accounts of Isandlwana but would imagine that you would have the same issues. It would be even worse if the British were to form squares and have no rules for ammunition supplies.

Perhaps I am overthinking the gaming issues and should look at ways of writing scenarios that reflect the limitations of this conflict? Perhaps make the British roll for how much ammunition is at hand each round of firing and not allow them to form squares!

The immediate problem at hand is that I have come to the last of the ready assembled Zulus that I stuck together while sitting on my partners couch, and will have to find time to make up another two unmarried Regiments and two Unmarried skirmisher units. I am currently basing the last regiment and will do some command stands next. I feel that this is still not enough to play a game with yet as I have seven Zulu Regiments and one of NNC (which I feel should be split into two small units). I have some Napoleonic British Marines I could use as stand ins to playtest some ideas that I have for using Sharp Practice. The other thing I should mention is that the more I look at references the more confused I get about what Unmarried Regiments the Warlord headdresses are meant to be. Perhaps the idea would be to just use the plain heads and not try and make the warriors in their parade dress?

Anyway these are just my thoughts and not meant to put anyone off painting this conflict. Just be prepared for a long ongoing commitment to painting (unless your Eric the Shed of course and can turn out a Regiment before breakfast).


  1. I have been working on my stuff for two years now - admittedly when I crack into a regiment of Zulu it usually takes me four or five days to get it ready for action. I have ten regiments painted and want another five. I have enough to field a pretty good British force but want more so I can have some variety - more colonial units, riflemen and naval contingent for example. Then I suppose it is huts, cattle and terrain. I cannot keep using my standard green cloth forever.

    1. I've not looked at terrain yet but did think of making cork buildings following Matakashi's dimensions. I need a better drop cloth as well to match my bases. I am trying to get to about twelve regiments before deciding the final number.

  2. The problem with the Zulu War is that it can be a bit 'samey' , I've been using The Sword And The Flame rules for it and N.W. Frontier for years now, gives a good game but in a different 'toy soldier' way - not to historical more 'cinematic' , Tony

    1. The samey bit is what is worrying me but I am sure that there are other scenarios I could come up with.

  3. Wargaming is trying to get your own prejudices about a period on the table. (;-)). An important aspect of a Zulu Impi is, IMNSHO, speed. The British, on the other hand, are very slow because of the transport - an ox can do eight hours walking, and then needs eight hours grazing and after that another eight hours of digesting. I suggest The Washing of the Spears by Donald Morris as an interesting (and essential) read.
    Anyway, for my Zulus I will move them at cavalry speed (Chaka RAN for at least 24 hours to be at his father's funeral, and this was not exceptional for a Zulu warrior). You can also use "markers" or something like that on the table: the impi at Isandlwhana was only spotted when the British stumbled on them. BTW, are all your regiments the same strenghts ? IIRC UmCijo had 2.000 man !

    1. Some of my reading suggests that the Zulus move very fast but are still able to take advantage of cover. I will have to think about making them harder to hit. All my regiments are the same size at the moment as I will probably just worry about the difference between Married and Unmarried rather than their sizes.

  4. Thanks for the plug sir...

    Can I suggest a further book to read - Zulu Rising by Ian Knight -

    I have decided to hold fire on building any more Zulus but am now putting together the Brits and Allies.

    Thinking of designing a ruleset that allows the players to run the Brits and the Zulus go in auto mode. More on this in the blog later.

    Keep up the good work

    Eric the Shed