Having finished my twelve men of the 66th Regiment of Foot I was eagerly waiting to give them their first appearance on the battlefield. Finally last Friday their time came when my wargaming fellow Michael and me gathered for a test match of 'The Men who would be Kings' the new colonial ruleset by Daniel Mersey who is well known for his '[...] Rampant' series. To get into the rules we decided to play a simple scenario with two of the recommended field forces from the appendix of the rulebook. Thus we fieled the following 24 pts.:
|The battlefield showing Michael's wonderful terrain pieces.|
British attackers (yours truly):
3x 12 Men regular infantry @ 6 pts. each
8 Men refular cavalry @ 6pts.
Afghan defenders (Michael):
2x 16 Men tribal infantry @ 3 pts. each
1x 12 Men irregular infantry @ 4 pts. each
1x 12 Men irregular infantry upgraded as sharpshooters @ 6 pts.
1x 10 Men irregular cavalry @ 3 pts.
1x Poorly trained gun @ 4 pts.
To keep things simple for our first game we decided not to roll for the units' leadership values as suggested in the rulebook. Instead we assigned to all regular and tribal units a leadership of 6 and to all irregular units a leadership of 7.
As scenario we chose a simple attack mission. The British were ordered to drive some rebellious Afghans out of there village. The chapas however seemed prepared and entrenched themselves in a cottages and in the hills to lie in wait for the British.
So the Brits advanced through the valley of death. Firtly I tried to bring the Bengal lancers along the left flank but discovered very soon that there wasn't enough room between the rocks and the table edge to avoid close range fire. So they turned and made there way in the very centre of the valley. Meanwhile the 66th started laid first fire on the rocks at the right flank and killed two Afghans. Unfortunately the unit didn't become pinned. The other infantry units were slightly slower. The Scots trying to storm the rocks on the left and side and the Indian infantry marching on in the centre.
|First exchange of fire.|
The Afghans on the other hand rushed forward to the rocks (difficult terrain providing soft cover) and tried to secure the centre from the compound and the rocky gun position. For the moment Michael held his mounted unit in reserve nearby. After taking the first casualties the Afghans took revenge upon the 66th. With a crushing fusillade. Seven brave Redcoats fell and the unit became pinned.
|One of Michael's Pathans aiming at my 66th.|
Luckily they were rallied in the next turn and the British were close enough to return fire from all barrels. First the Indian took aim and pinned the Afghans who reaped such bloody harvest among there English brothers in arms. Then the Scots fired from the foot into the rocks on the left flank and pinned the Afghan unit there as well. The cavalry took their chance to advance at the double and reached a promising position for the next turn.
|Brave Scotsmen taking aim as well.|
The Afghans had an unlucky turn then. Although Michael rallied the one of the units on the hills the other routed abandoning the right flank. Afterwards he tried unsuccessfully to lay fire upon my other units. Most were out of range of the old fashioned rifles and the cannon refused to fire.
|The Pathans employed an old-fashioned gun.|
Now the British increased pressure. The Scots laid fire on the Afghans in the hills again and caused enough havok to pin them again. Now I thought it should be the moment of the Bengal lancers. With pennands flying they charged into Michael's tribal infantry and... killed a few if them after a slightly substandard roll. Anyway it was at least good enough to pin and to repress them. Of course my noble horsemen followed up and... received a bloody nose in the second round of melee. Having lost two men they didn't have more the six attacks while the equalled that having 12 men left but only fighting with half of them because of their pinned status. The combat was a draw but having lost another two soldiers the Bengal lancers became uncomfortably weak. More precisely weak enough to get shattered by the next fusillade.
From now on the game was bottoming out. The Afghans lost their second irregular unit (those in the hills) and the battered tribal units due to failed rallying but tried to bring the cavalry reserve forth. The Brits on the other hand utilized the long range of their modern rifles and laid fire on the Afghans from outsite their range. The only weapon able to return fire was the - now firing - gun.
|More or less the final position although some more Pathan cavalrymen fell later.|
After a couple of turns the Afghan cavalry was nearly erased and the Brits started to turn their attention to the entrenched tribals. But against those fire was nearly useless needing three hits to score a single casualty (usually 1 hit + 1 for long range + 1 for cover though). On the other hand the Afghan gun continued firing but didn't score too many casualties as well. Finally we decided to call the game a draw since we were pretty sure that neither side would seek initiative again. In reality the Brits would have called for artillery support to get the Afghans out of the compound or to take the gun out. No need for them to advance over open terrain. The Afghans on the other hand would stay in cover until they're wiped out or until the British would turn and leave.
|The remainders of my 66th and Michael's Indians in the background.|
However after all we had a really pleasant game and some great time at the gaming table. Concerning 'The Men who would be Kings' I have to admit that it's a really nice ruleset by tradition of the '[...] Rampant' rules. Unfortunately this time the rulebook itself seems a bit in confusion. While the 'Lion Rampant' followed a clear guiding thread 'The Men who would be Kings' seems to mix things up a bit. Additionally some of the important data are located at different parts of the book and we didn't find a place where they appeared all together. Not a big deal since you get into the rules rather quickly but a bit cumbersome for the new player. The rule mechanics work pretty well as known from 'Lion Rampant'. A couple of things changed - e.g. you don't end the turn when failing an activation - but the parallels are quite obvious. From my very personal point of view it's a pity that the author sticks at the D6. It doesn't offer too much variability and thus the characteristics of most units are pretty close to each other. To be honest I would have prefered to find a more detailed D10 system here.
Concerning the feel of the age I'm not sure whether 'The Men who would be Kings' really provides it. E.g. far balancing reasons 'Close Order' and 'Volley Fire' have only very limited effect. After my first game I have to admit that it seems only useful in very special situations and I don't think that I'd risk to spend an action to close the ranks to maybe release a volley in a subsequent turn. I'd rather continue to fire uncontrolled and get as much lead towards my foes as possible. Furthermore cavarly seems to have rather limited effect. In case that we didn't miss an exception in the rules they fight with one D6 per model as usual. Given that cavalry units are rather small they have a significant disadvantage against larger infantry units. Although it need two hits to kill a cavalry model each casualty takes a precious attack die. A 16 men tribal unit on the other hand doesn't care about two dice more or less.
Anyway after all 'The Men who would be Kings' appears to be a good ruleset for casual beer-and-pretzel-games. It's easy to learn, not too difficult to handle and even new players should become used to it quickly. Thus it's almost perfect for occasional gamers or for presentation games at shows. On the other hand I'd have prefered to have a somehow deeper system transporting more of the colonial feel. The narrow possibilities of the D6 based system and the - actually good - idea to keep things simple restrict the diversity of the different troop and unit types too much in my humble opinion.
But nevertheless we had a lot of fun with our first game of TMwwbK and we'll definitely get another couple of games to explore the rule mechanics we left out during our first test.