Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Zulus on the Ramparts!

At the beginning of the year I was travelling to Detroit every week for work.  To entertain myself in the evening, I wanted some small (and thereby, portable) board games to bring with me.  Through some internet research, I discovered the game Israeli Independence, which was a quick-playing solitaire game where you played the nacent Israeli armed forces in 1948 defending your country against attacks from multiple directions.  That game used a newly developed game system called "States of Siege."  While I didn't find the game itself to be that much fun, I did like the system, which involves drawing cards or counters to determine which of your enemies (from none of them to all of them) advance on your position that turn, as well as how far they advance.  Since I liked the mechanic, I went looking for other games that use it.

I ended up getting two more games from designer Joseph Miranda that use this same system.  The first of them, Zulus on the Ramparts, I will be discussing today.  The game covers the battle of Rorke's Drift, a rather famous battle in British imperial history where a small group of British soldiers fought off thousands of Zulu tribesmen.  The game puts you in the role of the British commander, while the game system has four different groups of Zulu warriors advancing on your fortification.  Each round you pull a counter out of a cup, and it tells you which group of Zulus to advance, as well as how far to advance them.  If a group of Zulus ever reaches your inner fortification zone, you lose the game as the defenses are over-run.  To stop this, you get to take actions during your turn.  Actions generally involve the play of cards from your hand: volley cards let you roll a certain number of dice to try to kill or drive away Zulus before they reach you; character cards let you bring specific named characters into the battle, all of which have special abilities; you can build an inner fortification line (such that the Zulus have to move deeper into your fortification to defeat you); you can distribute ammunition (necessary after any large volley); form a reserve platoon (required to play certain volley cards); etc.  This is one of those games where you usually want to perform multiple actions per turn, but the game limits you to one (some characters have special abilities to allow additional plays, though always at a cost), so you have to decide which of the many things you want to do is most important.  All the while, the Zulus continue their implacable advance.

The game is, as all good solitiare games should be, hard to win.  I have about a dozen plays of this game to my credit, and I have won maybe 4 times.  There is luck involved in how fast the Zulus actually advance, and from which direction they advance, so sometimes I get jumped by a fast-moving group before I really have a chance to get my defenses set.  Sometimes, I just roll really poorly on the dice for my volley fires, and the Zulus just over-run me without even taking any hits.  Occasionally, though, you can get really lucky attack rolls and actually kill off a bunch of Zulu attackers.  One game I even killed all of the attacking units, and won the game outright, instead of barely holding on for the relief column to arrive (which involves running the deck of play cards down to the bottom).

I consider this to be a very good game.  It takes roughly 30 to 45 minutes to play once you have set it up, and it stays tense throughout, with that constant sense that disaster could befall you at any moment, but you just might pull yourself out of the fire in time.  If you have an interest in the battle, or in solitaire board games, this is worth checking out.

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