Review: Zulus on the Ramparts! The battle of Rourke’s Drift.

Zulus on the Ramparts! review

1879 saw the start of the Anglo-Zulu war in South Africa. The Battle of Rourke’s Drift is by far the most famous battle of the war. This battle saw approx 140 defenders of Rourke’s Drift fight through the night against an army of +- 4000. It’s one of the greatest “stands” in military history.

Zulus on the Ramparts! is a member of the States of Siege series of games from Victory Point Games. It’s a series of wargames which focus around defending a central location from almost overwhelming attack. This game recreates the battle with you controlling the besieged British forces against a mighty Zulu army.

For the TL;DR version click here.

Opening the box

Specs on the box:

  • 1 Player
  • Ages 13+
  • 25 minutes
Zulus on the Ramparts! review
It’s a lot of stuff in a rather small box. There’s no insert but it does not need one.

The box does not contain a lot. First we have 50 Action cards and 82 laser cut chits/counters. These are very thick, some of them are standees which require a small amount of assembly. Being laser cut there’s some soot on the counters, for this there’s a handy paper wipe to clean the pieces.

There’s also 4 D6, a rule book and 2 game boards. One is a rather flimsy cardboard map that’s folded and the other is much thicker and mounted. It comes in 4 parts that fit together like a puzzle.

It seems a bit meager but here’s the thing Victory Point Games are all about producing great games at a good price point. You can buy this game in it’s boxed version as I have or you can buy it in a bag. Yes a bag. That will cut the cost of the game while cutting some unnecessary components.

Zulus on the Ramparts! review
By gamers, for gamers.

Sleeves

I’ve sleeved all of my cards in these:

mdg-penny-card-sleeves_grande

Theme

As you’ve gathered, this game is centered around a famous military event in South African history. Shortly after the Zulu iMpi (army) crushed the main British forces at the Battle of Isandlwana some of the wounded British forces retreated to a field hospital at Rourke’s Drift.

A few of the Zulu amaButho (regiments) who had not participated in the battle went against their Chief’s orders and tried to score an easy victory against the relatively undefended hospital.

Zulus on the Ramparts! review
All of the cards have flavor text on them providing a lot of historic information. These are 2 of the Heroes that you can play.

That’s the gist of what happened. There’s was a 1964 movie made of the battle called Zulu starring Michael Cain. The game is based on the movie. That being said there is quite a lot of historic fact laced through the game.

Being South African and born and raised in KwaZulu-Natal I cannot help but hear this every time I play Zulus on the Ramparts!

Also, I often find myself wishing I could play with the Zulus 🙂

Gameplay

Setup

Setup is fairly easy, for the standard game you only use 31 of the 50 action cards. Select your board and gather the 4 iBhuto standees. Randomly place the iButho at the 4 different starting locations and then place their matching shield counters (hit counters) under them to form a stack.

These starting locations each have a track to follow to the center of the board. They also represent the Zulu strategy of encircling their enemies. Just like the horns of the bull will go around it’s target so that the main body can hit it with full force. (Well, that’s what I remember from primary school history)

The “Zulu Victory” marker goes in the center of the board between the spaces marked 0. The “low ammo” and “barricade” counters are also placed on the board. All of the round iMpi chits/counters are placed into an opaque container, like a cup.

Zulus on the Ramparts! review
The board all setup. If any of the 4 amaButho reach the marker in the fort it’s game over.

Next the Action deck needs to be built. Remove the 5 starting cards they are numbered 1-5 and have blue icons around the numbers. Card #1 is the relief column which goes into the bottom 4 cards of the deck. Card number 2 is half way in the deck, it represents the transition from day into night and then remaining cards are your starting hand.

It sounds like a lot but it takes less than 5 minutes.

How to Play

At the start of each turn you will draw a random iMpi chit from the cup. This chit acts as the games A.I. It will usually result in 1 or more amaButho advancing to the center of the board. Some of them are special events which can either give you some breathing space or just totally ruin your day.

Zulus on the Ramparts! review
The iMpi chit drawn will tell you which track must advance and how many spaces. In this case the iButho on the Chest track will advance 1 space closer to victory.

If any of the iBotho are standing on the same space as the “Zulu Victory” counter at the end of a turn then the Zulus win.

Next you will get to take an action:

Put forth a Hero or Group

This means playing a Hero or Group card from your hand onto the table. You will build up a tableau of Heroes and units (groups) which will give you various benefits during the game. Most of them can be discarded (think heroic last action) to fire on the advancing iButho as a free action. Some of them will also grant you passive bonuses while others will grant you special actions if you return them to your hand or discard them during different phases of the  turn.

Zulus on the Ramparts! review
All of the characters were actual participants from the battle. Some of them will take up their, historic, heroic defence of particular parts of the camp and can prevent an iButho from advancing.
Form the Reserve Platoon

The reserve platoon is a powerful unit that can fire a potentially devastating volley of lead at the enemy but there are certain requirements that need to be met first. The main requirement is that you need to have 2 officers from your tableau committed to forming the regiment i.e they cannot be used for anything else. It will cost you your single action to send just 1 of your already played officers to help form the regiment.

Construct 1/3 of a Barricade

This action requires you to send 1 of your officers to build defences. It will take a total of 3 actions to build 1 Barricade. This has the effect of moving the “Zulus Win” counter 1 space backwards. So it will give you more time to save the day.

Fight a Fire

As the iButho advance they can set fire to various parts of your camp. While this can be beneficial (providing light during the night) it also blocks your vision. You cannot see through the fire so you cannot shoot through it. You can send one of your officers to put out a fire.

Distribute Ammo/Water

Supplies are needed all around the wall. You start the game with all the ammo in the stock piles so you will have a -1 on your die rolls when shooting. As an action you can send an officer to distribute ammo and water around the fort.

Fire a Volley

Some of the cards that you will draw are volley cards. This represents your men giving orders to fire on the enemy. These cards will have the range at which they fire and the amount of dice that you roll to determine the results of the shooting.

Zulus on the Ramparts! review
At range 1 this card allows for 3 attack dice. This result is 1 miss, 1 hit (remove a counter from the iButho) and 1 retreat pushing them back a space.

After you are done with your action(s) for the turn you will draw a card and then you will get to Put forth a Hero for free. This helps to setup your actions or defences for the next turn.

Then you move on to house keeping. You check if the Zulus win or if you have defeated all of them, in which case you win. Lastly if you have more than 5 cards in your hand you will discard down to 5.

The game will continue until there’s an iButho on the “Zulu Victory” counter, all of the Zulus are defeated or you draw the “Lord Chelmsford’s Relief Column” event. Historically the defenders fought through the night until the relief column arrived and the Zulus retreated.

Conclusion

The rules read like a text book. It’s got sections, sub sections examples etc. For some it’ll be a hard read the first time through but once you’ve played a game it’s dead easy to get the hang of it. Mastering the game is another story.

Zulus on the Ramparts! is a game of hand and tableau management. You need to carefully decide which cards to play, what actions to commit your played heroes to and when you return cards to your hand. All the while you need to try to dig through the deck of action cards as fast as you can in order to get to that Relief column.

While you’re busy planning all of that the iMpi is advancing. Sometimes slow and steady and other times in reckless leaps and bounds. So your carefully played Heroes and Groups might need to be sacrificed on the ramparts just to keep the Zulu warriors at bay.

Zulus on the Ramparts! review
This is very bad, All iButho advance 2 spaces. They are only 5 spaces away to start with!

It does not feel like a great military battle, it feels more of a tooth and nail fight for survival. Zulus on the Ramparts! is a tense, tight game that fits into a very short time (I’ve finished games in under 25 minutes) and it can leave you feeling like you’ve played something far above it’s weight category.

If you like tactical games and wargames/crisis management then I think you will love this.

Can I play this at a braai?

Most braais are social affairs so I’d be hesitant to recommend a solo game for a braai. However if you’ve had those braais where the in-laws are over and you’re essentially on your own doing the cooking, well this game will keep you good company.

Zulus on the Ramparts! review
After the game is over you can calculate your victory points and see how well you won, or how soundly you were defeated.
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