In an interview with the old Strategy & Tactics Magazine, the late Bob Coggins (co-author of Napoleon’s Battles and a personal friend of mine) noted that historical miniature wargaming was not a lazy man’s hobby. He was correct, and one big reason is that research is considered to be an integral and fun part of the experience… at least for most people.
I find it enjoyable, but also know how frustrating it can be. Although conflicts from about World War I and prior can be researched online for free now that Google has digitized the planet, there are nevertheless holes that remain. Maps in the back pockets of official histories continue to be neglected, much of the material is in other than English and a lot of the information is simply not what wargamers crave. And then there is the learning curve on how to do this. Now add in the fact that smaller conflicts, such as the Anglo-Zulu tussle of Chard and Bromhead fame is not well covered, although the subject is quite popular in the UK for obvious reasons.
Isandlwana and all That
The good news is that there are several wargamer’s guides in publication, and if Martini-Henry rifles or Assegai are your thing, Pen and Sword Military has you covered. They have just released A Wargamer’s Guide to the Anglo-Zulu War by Daniel Mersey, 113 pages of just the information and detail gamer’s need, supported by several pages of full color glossy photos of miniature armies in battle. The cost is but $ 16.95 US (and it’s on sale right now), so any way you look at it the book is an exceptional value for what it provides, complete in every way. Well, almost. Books like these are supposed to be a one-stop shopping destination, the only resource you will ever need for the subject at hand. In this regard Mersey has provided a top tier, very solid product, yet one that falters just short of the iron crown and ultimate victory. Here are my musings as to why.
At 100 yards, volley fire!
A look at the table of contents pretty much shows what this book is all about. There is an introduction followed by chapters covering the history of the war, a chapter on army organization and equipment, a chapter on the key battles of the conflict, another on creating a wargames campaign to play, one listing the various sets of commercial rules available that cover the period followed by another list on the various miniatures produced, then finally a full chapter of ready-made scenarios to play. Of the latter, while historical battles are covered, there are also several included for generic pick-up games such as an ambush in the brush or the death of the French Prince Imperial (or his Zulu counterpart). Rounding out the book is a very useful bibliography and wait for it a complete index. I swear sometimes I think publishers simply do not realize how important an index is to the reader, so I hope Mersey has a cold one on me for including one.
There are several reasons why this well written book stands out in my opinion. The first is that it covers the entire conflict and many lesser known battles, not just Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift. This means in both historical background and wargame scenario you will find entries on Nyezane (22 January 1879), Hlobane (27 March 1879) and Khambula (29 March 1879). If you’ve not heard of these engagements, well, then that is sorta the point. I did find it odd that some of the other battles of the war were not included, particularly Ulundi (4 July 1879) where the war ended in crushing Zulu defeat. The battle was also the largest in the war with some 5200 Imperial and native troops and a good 15,000 Zulus, so I know 15 mm gamers would love this. Perhaps the author figured that after the turning point of Khambula (and the British discovering the Zulus ought to be taken REAL serious) it was all downhill for the indigenous folks anyway.
The other strength of the book is the second chapter, the one covering army organization, equipment, weapons, tactics, uniforms and just a whole bunch more, even painting tips. The chapter is literally page after page of good, hard wargamer style information in text, table and chart. Here we are talking some very detailed data that I imagine would be hard to find otherwise. Thus the reader can find a complete order of battle for the British columns that invaded Zulu territory, official estimates of rifle effectiveness at various ranges, uniform data on native contingents supporting the redcoats, even a complete chart listing the shield colors and patterns for each Zulu regiment. Hell, I didn’t even know there was an official system for something like this. I also thought that including Lord Chelmsford’s November 1878 analysis of the Zulu military as the primary description of this efficient military force was an excellent way to get the point across. Wargamers have the advantage of hindsight, so seeing what the man on the ground and in charge in 1878 thought is really the way it should be.
Horns of the Impi
In most cases less than glowing comments about a product really boils down to personal preference and nothing more, so I always try to let the reader know that up front. Yet there is one issue with this otherwise exceptional work that to me seems to go a bit beyond that. Now I’m actually reviewing a pre-publication markup here, but I do have to question the quality of the book’s maps. Or at least I would if there were any. That’s right; a book full of historical battle reports and wargame scenarios has not one map. Really, not one. I think that most people are pretty visual when dealing with a subject like this, so I would be curious to hear the reasoning behind this omission.
Otherwise, I do have some personal preference recommendations that might do well for future, similar publications, and I do hope this book is not the last. First, I might include some actual color uniform plates to make sure the text descriptions are well understood. True, the color photos of the miniatures included do help, but somehow words don’t do justice to Zulu shields and native contingents were such a hodge-podge that pictures would be useful. Likewise, a good description with image of British regimental colors would be helpful given that by this time many were loaded full of scrolls listing battle and campaign participation. Finally, while the author has an absolutely exceptional list with commentary for both available rules sets and miniature lines supporting the Anglo-Zulu War, adding in Internet URLs would have been extremely beneficial. As an example why, Old Glory 15 mm figures are neither owned nor produced by Old Glory, and they have not been for years. Instead the US Firm 19th Century Miniatures out of Wisconsin keeps the line going, but if you didn’t know that . . .
OK, one more thing. I’d like to see a pronunciation guide. Take the Zulu regiment named Ndhlondhlo (has a red shield with one white spot, 43 year olds, and about 900 very well drilled, uber disciplined spear chuckers). Seriously, just looking at the word caused irreparable damage to a couple million brain cells and at my age, I need all I can get.
Men of Harlech
If you remember the movie Zulu, (ED: Greatest film ever made) you know this tune played at the end credits, and likewise we come to the end of this article. My bottom line is that this is still an excellent publication and a great value for the price. Yes, A Wargamer’s Guide to the Anglo-Zulu War does suffer from a puzzling lack of maps, but fortunately Wikipedia seems to have most of them available as free downloads. It’s not a deal breaker and neither are some of the other little nits such as the lack of URLs. Given what it does contain, particularly the huge amount of wargame friendly data in the second chapter, the book is an excellent investment and time saver to boot.
It didn’t capture the gold, but trust me, silver isn’t bad. Highly recommended.