Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Like Lions They Fought review

Like Lions They Fought
a review

Some wargames cover situations where one side’s chances of winning militarily were small to nonexistent. The usual design approach is to set up the victory conditions so that each player must strive to better the historical result.

Like Lions They Fought, the issue game in Command Magazine No. 28 in 1994, takes that approach to game the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 in an entertaining way while bowing to the historical reality that the Zulus, a locally powerful tribe of herder-warriors, had no chance of prevailing over the military might of the British Empire. But if the Zulu player can keep his king, Cetshwayo, out of British hands longer than the historical result, he wins.

The game scale is 5 miles per hex, one month per turn. Zulu units are regiments of varying strength, with each combat factor representing about 500 warriors. Combat factors range from 1-5. British units represent companies and battalions of regular and colonial troops, with each combat factor representing between 80 and 120 men. The counters are the user-friendly 5/8-inch pictographic style favored by Command Magazine during this era. Zulus are white background, British are light red and some neutral Zulus are gray. The map is another functional and attractive Mark Simonitch production.

The game sequence is a little unusual, in that the Zulus move, the British move and then there is a mutual combat phase where the Zulus are always the attacker, no matter who initiated the combat. The designer notes explain that the spear-armed Zulus had no choice but to attack the rifle-armed British to avoid getting shot up at long range.

The overall strategic situation has the British invading Zululand with multiple independent columns converging on the Zulu Capital of Ulundi. The Zulus have an opportunity to recreate the battle of Isandlwana and decimate one column, but for religious reasons the victorious Zulus are removed from the map for two turns while the warriors go home to their “kraals” to purify. Each Zulu regiment is associated with a kraal and if it’s home kraal is burned, the unit cannot return to play.

Naturally, therefore, a major British objective is to burn kraals, causing an inexorable decline in the number of Zulus. Meanwhile the British get stronger.

The middle period of the game sees the British, after having torched many kraals, closing in on Ulundi. The Zulu king flees and the British spend the rest of the game chasing him around the map. If they catch him, it’s game over, British victory. Historically the British captured the king in the eighth month. If he’s still on the lam at the end of that month, the Zulu player wins.

Combat is reminiscent of XTR’s pre-gunpowder games, where both sides line up their units off board and match unit for unit. The British shoot. Zulus die. More Zulus step into the gap, there is a melee. Both sides have a chance to retreat. If neither does, the battle goes on for another round. Essentially, the Zulus must ensure they have numerical superiority to have any chance of winning a battle.

The game takes about ten minutes to set up and can easily be played in one sitting.


(Yes) For Wargamers: A unique topic covered in a playable way.

(No) For Collectors: No remarkable collectibility.

(No) For Euro gamers: A hex-and-counter wargame where the theme is a little more unpleasant than usual, as the British player has to go around burning homes in order to win.

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