Tuesday 21 February 2023

Zulus! - Nyezane

Our Bruce at OWS is a multi-talented chap: a fine painter, diligent researcher, judicious game designer. He brought all these skills together to entertain us with a scenario for one of the less well known (to me, at least, though I realise it is familiar to others) actions of the Zulu War: Nyezane.

The game used Bruce's beautiful 28mm figures with the "Bloody Big Battles!" rules. Each figure was one base in BBB terms. The unusual combo of 28mm and BBB worked perfectly well both gamewise and visually. I was on the British side and our thin red line looked suitably thin!

I took 13 photos which I've annotated below. If you want to skip the photos there are some reflections at the foot of the post as usual. First, here's a synopsis of the game.

This was a rare BBB game in that it used hidden movement for the Zulus. Speaking for the British, this definitely helped create an atmosphere and caused us some nerves. To win, we couldn't just sit back and blast away - we had to advance and capture a kraal and/or the Wombane hilltop. The trouble with advancing was that, while our small units' firepower was potent enough to have a reasonable chance of repelling a frontal assault, there was a high chance of a failed movement roll causing some dislocation of our formation and presenting an exposed flank to the hidden Zulu 'horns' we knew would be probing around each side.

I did try to push up on the right towards Wombane, while Crispin commanded our left protecting our wagons. However, by the time I got close to the peak, the Zulu right was closing on our wagon guard, our artillery in the centre was looking vulnerable, and I was worried that advancing any further would just see me swarmed and massacred.

I therefore fell back towards the left to close up our line. Zulus did duly swarm towards us on all fronts. Our firepower took its traditional toll on their ranks, but they overran our gun troop in the centre and our colonial volunteer unit on the left. It was touch and go for a while. Amazingly, it was the raw and fragile Natal Native Contingent, holding out heroically in the bush on our left, whose stand held up a lot of Mark's Zulus for a long time and probably saved the wagons. On our right, John had the consolation of overrunning my Naval Brigade, but too late to matter. Meanwhile, we had caused such carnage to the Zulu army that we had earned the casualty victory point we needed to turn defeat into a draw.

 The tiny 2-figure British units of Colonel Pearson's column queue up along the trail. The wagons are static and the porters are just for decoration.

The valiant Natal Native Contingent who belied their poor write-up in the history books and their "Passive, Raw, Fragile" rating to perform gallantly.

 Another shot of Pearson's column gives a better view of the guns, the rocket troop, and the Gatling bringing up the rear.

What lies ahead of Pearson's column: the trail leads up over a knoll (white objective marker) and onto the higher ground beyond, passing between the kraal and the green peak of Wombane at top of pic. Green scatter marks two bush-filled ravines that could conceal a Zulu ambush. A large patch of light bush is on the British left.

 Captain Hart's little scouting party discovers the Zulu ambush. This brief and bloody encounter will be Hart's first and last contribution to the action.

The British advance takes shape. The Zulu ambush party has retreated behind Wombane. No others have been spotted yet. NNC and Colonial Volunteers cover our left, artillery takes position in the centre, while our most potent infantry push up on the right with the idea of taking Wombane.

Masses of Zulus lurk off-table. In the foreground here are the two 3-base "Sharpshooter" units. Their fire managed the sum total of one Disruption result all game (though one of these units did participate in taking the British guns).

 Five of the 10 Zulu 7-base impis. As John said, "Zulus, sir - sevens of 'em!"

View of the British advance from the Zulu side of the table before the Zulu onrush begins.

Now nine of the 10 Zulu impis are revealed. Left of pic, one clashes with the NNC. Another has overrun the Colonial Volunteers. The British artillery pins down the Zulu centre ...

... while the Zulu left charges, only to be repelled by intense British rifle fire.

Action followed thick and fast so there were a few turns with no photos. This shows the situation almost at the end of the game. On the left, the British line has creaked but managed to keep the Zulus at bay and saved the wagons. The Gatling has been removed as it jammed permanently after its first (very effective) shot. The guns in the centre were overrun and the knoll lost. Bottom right, the Naval Brigade had moved to fire at the knoll, trusting that the spent Zulu impi to their right would not be able to rally and charge their flank - but it did.

Zulu view of the last turn, showing how the massed impis have straggled and been broken up by difficult terrain and British fire.


28mm figures! Not a scale I touch much, and not a scale that gets used much for BBB. But it worked seamlessly with the rules, even with round bases. Furthermore, it was a visual treat. Perhaps for more conventional battles it would look a little odd to have units of 28s wandering around almost at bayonet point and would not give the massed battle effect you really want for ACW, FPW etc. But for this Zulu War game it looked just fine.

Hidden movement and fog of war. There are pros and cons to hidden movement. The map movement does entail a certain amount of faff. We Brit players had to wander off around the hall or talk amongst ourselves while secret movement was being plotted and resolved. But on the plus side, (a) it is obviously more realistic and (b) it did add to the feel of the game to wonder where the masses of Zulus could be hiding and when we might be pounced on from any direction. Though since Bruce has gone to the trouble of painting up all these beautiful figures, it would have been nice to see more of them on the table.

Victory conditions: Bruce said he'd played it solo and managed a British win, but he didn't have to contend with hidden movement. For us Brit players it felt as though you would have to take a big gamble and get pretty lucky to take the necessary objectives and fend off the Zulu hordes without being flanked and swarmed. But it's tricky to write victory conditions that will encourage both sides to attack (as they did). We've offered Bruce some suggestions.

Generals are useful and the Zulus didn't have any. As Mark remarked, this made it difficult for them to coordinate attacks and take advantage of their numbers. One Zulu impi marched into a bush-filled ravine and never made it out the other side before the game ended. But that's OK. As Bruce said, the Zulu command structure wasn't on top form in this action.

Bags of flavour. The asymmetry of forces made for a good game, as it always does. It was fun to have such colourful units on the table: Gatlings, rockets, Naval Brigade, Colonial Volunteers ... and the Zulus weren't just a homogeneous mob either, as they had their Sharpshooters and units of different quality.

Corners of history. Nyezane isn't particularly obscure but it was obscure enough for me. And Bruce is talking about following it up with another Zulu game, but this time set in the Second Zulu Civil War in 1856 - the battle of Ndondakusuka. I wasn't aware they'd had one civil war, never mind two!


  1. Another way to handle hidden movement is the use of card markers. Some represent actual troops, some just tiny scouting parties or rumors. It isn't quite as realistic as totally hidden movement, but then one side doesn't have to go away from the table.

  2. Indeed, Vincent, I did actually use dummy markers for the ambush positions, but somehow did not think of this obviously better solution for the hidden movement. Doh!
    As Chris points out, 28mm is spectacular visually, but doesn't work for everything. Artillery bases are much larger, for example, so some fudging needs to be done, and fortifications & towns might be a problem, as well as 3" SM firepower ranges. In most later colonial warfare though, you can usually get away with it. 2 figure units do tend to emphasise the smallness of the formations they portray, and the eye quickly adjusts (remember that 2 28mm figs are much more imposing than the 12-16 very small 6mm figs.) which would represent the same formation.)


Comments welcome!