The Men Who Would Be Kings (TMWWBK) by Daniel Mersey (Osprey Publishing #16, 2016). These rules were published prior to the release of Pikeman’s Lament, and I bought them at the time of publication but did not have a chance to read or play the rules until now. In my recent review of Pikeman’s Lament (see earlier blogpost, Feb 2017), I was majorly disappointed in the originality and the lack of “Oh, that’s different” moments within Pikeman's Lament. I therefore approached TMWWBK with a degree of trepidation. I am glad to say I was pleasantly surprised at the number of interesting changes made from the core Lion Rampant mechanisms.
The first change was the use of randomised Leadership values for each unit, which are diced against to determine activation. Now different units of the same type can differ in their characteristics. I really like this because it adds ‘colour’ to units within an otherwise homogenous tribal horde or regular force etc. Units stand out and you play to the strengths or weaknesses as appropriate. In my second game, we did simplify the system by not adding ‘traits’ to all units, because the speed of play meant that we often forgot who had what trait, or we neglected to remember to apply the trait. We did lose some of the flavour of the rules but play was smoother.
With regard to orders, the Close Order/Volley Fire for Europeans was routinely used; sacrificing some speed for the greatly improved fire effect was an obvious advantage. The new ‘Go-to-Ground’ order for Tribal troops took more getting used to; sure it protected your troops at long range but they were not doing anything. By my second game I had started to appreciate their use, particularly against ‘isolated’ Colonials. Rather than just attack frontally, you Go-to-Ground and concentrate on flanking moves by other units, then if the targeted unit turns to face this new threat, you rise up and continue your attack. This tactic forced the Colonial forces to adopt a mutually supporting formation, such as a square.
The most significant change in the rules was the use of default orders for each unit type (Fire for Regulars, Move for Tribal Infantry etc.). These orders do not require dicing for activation, the unit automatically passes. Previously in Lion Rampant etc. a player would attempt to activate his first unit to undertake an ‘obvious’ action and fail, shifting the initiative back to his opponent. Clearly this would be disastrous in a colonial setting as your steady square faced an on rush of tribal hordes, and then failed to fire upon them! Now your plucky Brit’s will fire, and your noble Natives will move. Of course, if you want units to do other things you risk losing the initiative by having to roll for activation. I think this single change to the order system greatly improves the whole game, brilliant!
Another significant change lies in the combat system where you now roll dice equal to the strength/number of figures in the unit, rather than either 12 dice or 6 dice depending on whether the unit is above/below half strength. Now, whittling units down does have an incremental effect (a cause of concern for the colonial player especially). Tribal units also start with a higher strength (e.g. 16 compared to the regular 12), so it is important to weaken them before they contact you otherwise you will suffer in Hand-to-Hand. Hitting the advancing horde hard and pinning them down is vital for survival.
The final ‘novel’ component of TMWWBK is the addition of a solo gameplay system; ‘Mr Babbage’. I have used this twice now and enjoyed the results in both games. It allows a randomised placement of Native units in different sectors/ranges in relation to moving colonial forces, plus there is a re-cycling of the Native units into the game. The non-player units move and act in a semi-random way determined by dice and a set of ‘Standing Orders’. I think this simple system worked really well and I would recommend players to try it out. Apparently you can play a ‘reverse’ game where you control the Natives rather than the Colonials, but I have yet to try this.
Finally, I would like to mention that, so far, I have only played TMWWBK using 28mm Sudan armies on a 6’x4’ table using 24 points per side. It would be interesting to see how these rules scale up to larger armies, maybe using a smaller figure scale, on this table size. I do have more 28mm Sudan figures available but I suspect the table would become a bit cramped. Alternatively, I do have a pair of 10mm Zulu War armies which I might try out.