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The Battle of Roark's Drift» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A Child of the 70's to be sure rss

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Kurt Weihs
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My son asked a question the other day about the transition from the American Civil War to the First World War. I went looking through my collection to see what I could show him and found this old gem along with Soldiers of the Queen: Battles at Isandhlwana and Omdurman. We played through the first assault while talking about the battle of Isandahlwana and Rorke's. I looked up the game on here and realized it hadn't been reviewed yet.

Components: This game is the poster child of mid to late 70's small press wargames. The cover is an attractive black and white line drawing appropriate to the battle with the title in large letters mispelling the name of the battle (Rorke's Drift not Roark's). Inside the box are over 100 1/2" Zulu counters (Black with white print) and just under 100 1/2" British counters (red with white print). There is a pamphlet style rulebook, a combat results chart, and two addendum pages. The map is printed on a lightweight cardstock.

Compared to today's standards this game's components are very poor. Counter icons are hand drawn, the rulebook is type-written (as opposed to block printed), the combat results table looks like it was either xeroxed or mimeographed onto a light weight paper that most of us would use today for rough draft quality printing. The addendum ARE mimeographed and not well either. One is obviously a later addenda sheet than the other because it has a lot of the same information on it that the first one does. Unfortunately, it's really tough to read the faded mimeo ink on the later one. The map looks like it was hand drawn by someone with a set of magic markers and then poorly folded in such a way that left the map permanently warped. It's on a very light card stock the makes me reluctant to put it out on the table where it could be easily damaged.

components - 2/10 based on today's standards, maybe a 4/10 for the standards of the time.

Scale - British: 1 counter = 1 man, Zulu: 1 counter = 5 men.

Gameplay - Like most games produced in the 70's combat is resolved using an odds table based on combat ratio. Defense numbers are modified by terrain. There are three kinds of combat.

Aimed Fire - Aimed fire is a standard ranged attacked conducted by rifle armed troops (all British troops and a few Zulu troops are rifle armed). A unit can conduct aimed fire every other turn.

Volley Fire - Of the roughly 100 British troops there are two lieutenants who can direct volley fire. 5-25 troops line up in a 5 hex long formation with a Lt conducting the drill (not participating in the fire). When units volley fire they fire every round. There is another way the Zulu's can conduct fire as sort of an "off-board artillery" type attack. Off the board and to the north of Rorke's Drift was a plateau called the Oskarburg. The Zulu's were able to post snipers up here and fire down into the compound. The British can suppress this fire but it takes a large number of troops to do so.

Melee - The Zulu's excel at melee and can melee every round. If the Zulu make it to melee range it's time to start writing letters home for the Brits.

The game is played in four distinct phases consisting of any number of turns. Each phase consists of three separate Zulu regiments of 40, 60, and 80 warrior counters attacking from one of the four cardinal directions. When a Zulu regiment is reduced to 1/3rd of its starting number it must withdraw. When all three regiments have withdrawn you begin another phase. At the end of the fourth phase you tally the losses and declare a winner based on how many British survived.

Roark's Drift [sic] is one of those skirmish/siege actions that is more notable for what happened in the battle than what was achieved strategically by the victory (right up there with Little Big Horn, The Alamo, and Khe' Sanh). For folks of my generation the battle was imortalized by the movie Zulu!. This game is probably more an accurate representation of what happened in the movie than in the actual battle. There are rules for burning the hospital roof, personnel attack values are higher based on achievements of the characters in the movie, and such.

Gameplay: 6/10

Overall - I really like this game despite the dated design and the less than optimal components. There is a palpable thrill as the Zulu's are running for the mealy bag fortifications wondering if the British will be able to pull off another narrow victory. The added touch of the doctor furiously working away in the hospital trying to heal troops enough to get them back into action is also great fun. After awhile it's pretty easy to look beyond the ghetto map and visualize what is happening. If you play this I recommend using a sheet of plexiglass to keep the warping from bouncing counters around. I would love to see this game re-done with nicer counters, nice map and bigger hexes (5/8" counters instead of 1/2"). Perhaps a slight spiffing up of the rules, but as they are they really aren't that bad. If you see this one somewhere I'd recommend picking it up.

Overall: 7/10 (heavy reviewer tilt)

edited to add a few more details
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Steve Herron
United States
Johnson City
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Never play block wargames with a dentist, they have those little mirrors to peek behind the block.
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Thanks for your review I forgot I had this one at one time. I don't remember what happened to it except it may have been sold at a garage sale when I had some games stored at my late in-laws home. I agree it would be nice to see it redone by GMT or MMP. L2 Design Group has one in the works. Excellent choice for a title it looked very much like the third world printed games that were around at the time.
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Richard Berg
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> "I agree it would be nice to see it redone by GMT or MMP. L2 Design Group has one in the works."

L2 DID have one in the works - my ZULU game, but that has gone into the tank. GMT has shown some interest in picking up thar design - which is an expanded version of the engagement i did for BSO (with every Brit solider having his own counter) - but nothing immediately. Worthington has an interesting game on Rorke's . . .

RHB
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Kurt Weihs
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Have you seen this particular design Richard? What did you think of it if you did? I really enjoyed Soldiers of the Queen, by the way. After playing Roark's Drift we also played SoQ (the Isandahlwana scenario). Thanks for the great game design! We also tried a few turns of Kyber Rifles, but it wasn't nearly as good as the two South African games. Hopefully, your Rorke's Drift game will see the light of day.
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Richard Berg
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"Have you seen this particular design Richard?"

Yes . . . was somewhat put off by the comical misspelling of the battle's name in the title. Don't remember actually playing it . . . but that was, what, 30 years ago?

If you want to look at my original/BSO version of the engagement, check out:


http://web.mac.com/bergbrog/Site/Prvw%3A_ZULU.html

RHB
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Kurt Weihs
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That does look interesting. Would love to give it a play sometime when it makes it to print. Is there any chance I can get on a mailing list somewhere? There is a surprising dearth of Colonial British wargames out there :-(
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Robert Lesco
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Speaking of Isandahlwana, how many remember a fast and fun game on the topic (by Phoenix Enterprises) called Zulu Attack? I had a lot of enjoyment with that one in the day.
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craig berardino
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bloomfield
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I fondly remember this game. After reading the review in the complete book of wargames in, oh 1980 or so, I was intrigued by the description of the battle and the game. I had never heard of the Zulu war and could not envision the Zulu attack on the hospital. So, as a naive teen, I wrote a letter to the company asking for a price catalog so I could order it. To my great surprise, the company mailed me a free copy. I was in heaven!
I mounted the map on an old family board game and played this one many times solo, Often, i would revise the crt table to give the British a better chance, I even remember the review stating "the rulebook has more loopholes than an insurance policy." The game was still a lot of fun and has brought back great memories. I only regret not keeping all my games after several moves. But, i still remember i could never finish this monster tactical game. i gave up after the british retreated to the mealie box redoubt. But i kept coming back to it again and again.
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Chris Hansen
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I too have fond memories of this game. Back in the days of yore, i.e. the late 70's, I attended my first wargaming convention. On the 2nd day, several of the gamers wanted to take a break because they wanted to watch the movie Zulu!. I wasn't too interested at first, being fully immersed in a WW2 gaming phase at the time, but I decided to check it out when one of the fellows mentioned that it was the first movie role for Michael Caine, one of my favorite actors. Boy was I glad I did! It was a gripping movie to me at the time, full of action and the sense of impending doom as I felt certain that small group of red-clad British soldiers would in the end be wiped out. 4,000 Zulus vs. 100 British as the box of the game states...I mean, these guys were toast! Indeed, the end battle at the redoubt was quite dramatic.

I thought at first that it was just a Hollywood-style story, but I was soon set straight by being informed that the battle did indeed take place, and the movies result was in fact correct. I later found out as well after doing my own research on the battle that they did, of course, play a bit fast and free with some of the details most especially in both the casting and the role of Acting Assistant Commissary James Dalton VC, but even to this day I still love that movie.

Why the long talk on the movie? Mainly because the movie is what inspired this game, which as it happens, also inspired me to buy it at that same convention. It was indeed one of those small company games that were quite prolific in those days, and it was a first publishing effort as well which shows in things like the mentioned quality of the charts, and the map that's actually too big for the box it came in. Still, at the time, with the movie still fresh in mind, me and a couple of gaming friends had some good fun with the game. I remember that the game was long; really long, especially considering the simplicity of the rules. I think only once did we actually complete a full game, but it was certainly a very tense situation for the British player throughout.

Anyway, thumbs for a good review, as well as thanks for that little trip down memory lane.
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Bob S.
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As others have mentioned, I too have fond memories of this game. I encountered it at a Winter War game convention in Champaign-Urbana, IL in 1978. At that time, the con was held in the Foreign Language building on the U. of Illinois campus. The designer, Herb Barents, was there to promote the game by running a tournament of it. I recall him saying the game I and my opponent played was the closest for representing the battle, but someone else won the tournament since they had a larger margin of victory. Still, I bought the game from him and enjoyed playing it many times. I think I eventually traded it away for lead miniatures in the late 19980s...
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