Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Ja, it's gut to be der König

John Palmquist ran his long anticipated playtest of Dan Mersey's The Men Who Would Be Kings on Saturday. I played a modified version of these rules when Kevin Smyth ran his America Rampant variant game at one of our local game events.

John is putting together a game for our Enfilade! convention in May. This was this first chance he's had to actually play the rules. Ralph Holloway and I got to the Panzer Depot in Kirkland just after John Kennedy opened at 11:00 a.m. John P. got there much later.  The game didn't start until 2:30 p.m. by which time Wes Rogers had wandered in and joined the game just as we were setting up.

The scenario was a force of German colonial troops rescuing Mighty Joe the prize gorilla from a casbah in some unnamed East African country. No explanation was given for how Mighty Joe wound up in the casbah. No one asked. We weren't sure we wanted to know. In the upcoming convention game, the German force will be rescuing kidnapped missionary children, but those minis are still ohne Farbe.

Mighty Joe and his captors in the casbah

Wes and I were the Germans; Ralph and John P. were the natives. John K. kibitzed.

I had a unit of German marines (Seebattaillon) and a unit of sailors. Both were highly rated regular units. Wes had one unit of regulars and a unit of askaris, who were rated irregulars, but with good stats.

The native forces were all irregulars (no tribal units) with modern rifles, except for a unit of Ruga-Ruga, who had obsolete rifles—but top-notch leadership.

Troublesome Zanzibaris

There were four German units against five native. The natives were both outclassed (regular v. irregular) and only slightly superior in number, so the Germans had a big advantage.

At start, there was one native unit of Zanzibaris in the casbah with Mighty Joe. All other native units came on board if they rolled any doubles for activation. The Germans started on board: Wes was near the casbah and I was farther down the board edge.

Deployment—Alles in Ordnung ist!

My plan was to sweep around engaging the native units coming on board while Wes attacked the casbah and rescued Mighty Joe.

The native units all entered soon after the start of the game. One unit dashed towards the casbah to retrieve Mighty Joe in order to take him off the board. Wes was engaged with shooting at the Zanzibaris in the casbah.

Wes rocking the casbah

I was carrying out my sweep, but wound up splitting my force with the sailors going in through a small cluster of buildings (calling it a town would dignify it too much) and the Seebataillon going off to the left and trading shots with a native unit coming on board. These were Custer's tactics at The Little Bighorn, so I had military precedent to go on.

Splitting my force against superior numbers—very Custer-like

The sailors got to the edge of the building cluster just as the native unit was dashing in to take Mighty Joe away from the casbah. I wanted to get some shots off and possibly pin them, but I came under fire from some Zanzibaris on my left flank and started taking losses.

Gallant stand of the Deutsche Mariner

The effect reminded me of Kipling's words about the "Kurrum Valley scamp," who

...being blessed with perfect sight,
Picks off our messmates left and right.

The Zanzibaris had the range and the sailors were in a bad spot. I never suffered a lot of losses with any single shot, but I was eventually down to almost half strength. Also, I kept failing my pinning tests. I managed to rally every attempt, but then got shot and pinned again. That meant that they were pretty ineffectual as the natives were attempting to whisk away Mighty Joe from the casbah.

Mighty Joe whisked away

The Seebataillon was slowly shooting to pieces a native unit on the far left, which meant that I was basically out of the action where it mattered.


With the native unit reduced to 3 figures and utterly pinned, I decided it was time to marsch vorwärts! to glory—or more particularly, to go teach the Zanzibaris a hard lesson about pinning down my sailors.

Hup! Hup! Hup!

John managed to get the natives into the casbah and then out again with Mighty Joe in tow. Wes managed to get a couple shots at the group (risking hits on Mighty Joe, but killing the unit's leader), which pinned them in place so he could charge in and take the monkey.

Zanzibaris pinned and at bay

There was a lively skirmish as Wes won the combat and freed Mighty Joe only to have to defend him against an attempted counterattack from the Zanzibaris pouring out from the casbah.

Mighty Joe is rescued!

By this time, the Seebattaillon was shooting chunks out of the Zanzibaris who'd been shooting chunks out of my sailors. This gave the sailors a respite, which enabled them to rally and then start shooting—at close range—at the native units swirling around Mighty Joe, which now included the Ruga-Ruga, whose shorter range (obsolete rifles) put them at a big disadvantage against the sailors and their Mausers.

Wes defeated the counterattack and was able to get clear control of Mighty Joe. The natives swirling around trying to take Joe back disappeared in a few fusillades from the regulars.

My final act was to charge the Seebataillon into the thick of the Zanzibaris, who by now were badly pinned and much diminished. It was short work. Deutschland über Alles and all that.


Joe was safe and the natives got a lesson in messing with Kaiser Bill's boys. Back to base for sausages and beer!


I liked how TMWWBK plays. The rules are straightforward and the game flows easily. I'd read the rules only once when I first bought them (ever so long ago), but they were easy to pick up again.

The rules are definitely Merseyoid in flavor, though a bit different than the Lion Rampant style of game. Shooting is one D6 per figure and a target at short range in the open suffers one figure lost for each hit, which is typically 5+ on a D6 or 4+ for sharpshooters. Bad shots are 6s. It can mean a lot of losses suddenly. When my long-suffering sailors got a shot at short range against the Ruga-Ruga in the fracas surrounding Mighty Joe, they decimated them, even though they shot with just seven figures.

Because shooting can be so deadly, the game relies a lot more on cover. Shooting at long range reduces the effect to 1 figure lost per two hits. Soft or hard cover further increases the number of hits needed to remove a figure. Crossing the deadly ground is a lot deadlier in TMWWBK.

Regulars, which are basically European units, have advantages over irregulars in leadership and discipline. They can also form close order, which gives them an advantage defending against an attack and also enables them to volley fire.

I've heard from other players that European regulars vs. other European regulars is a very deadly game. A few European regulars vs. hordes of native/tribal units seems to be more the type of scenario the rules were designed to represent. I think this scenario is a good balance, but maybe there needs to be a greater disparity between the number of European and native units.

I think the Germans might have been too well-rated in the game. The rules stipulate that no unit can be modified higher than 9 points. The Seebataillon was regular + elite + sharpshooters + fierce, which would make them 10 points. Of course in a scenario game, you can do anything and it didn't bother me too much to command Teutonische Übermenschen. In the convention game, I expect, too, that there will be many more natives coming on to harsh the Germans' high.

I have, as I mention frequently, altogether too many irons in the fire. That won't stop me from being tempted to paint units for this period. I've never painted colonials before. There's just nothing jumping out at me in terms of minis for this period except maybe the lovely Indian Mutiny figures produced by Iron Duke Miniatures. These figures really are a treat, so we'll have to see where the passion goes. I'm not sure if I can lure anyone else into the Indian Mutiny and I'm not inclined to undertake another project where I'm painting multiple forces for both sides suitable for hosting convention games (like I'm doing now with the Irish Project).

On other fronts

Speaking of the Irish Project, I just today got another package from Timeline/Hoka Hey! in the UK. After painting all the Irish I had, I figured I needed more. What arrived today will be another pike unit, two shot units, and four commanded shot units of kern with calivers—60 figures in all.

Also arrived today was part of the order I made to The War Store for Perry Miniatures AWI, to be used with the upcoming Mersey/Leck Rebels and Patriots rules. I got some Southern militia cavalry, riflemen, and part of the militia troops I ordered. The rest (more militia) is backordered from Perry in the UK and will be sent as soon as they come in to The War Store.

Kevin Smyth turned me on to the four volumes of Nothing but Blood and Slaughter, which are a really informative narration of all the actions big and small (and even the really, really small) that took place during the AWI in the Carolinas (and Georgia, too). There are a lot of OOBs in these accounts, so it will be easy to create historical scenarios. It's ironic that just a few years ago, I sold a lot of unpainted Perry AWI that I thought I'd never have a use for. Let this be a lesson to me in parting with things that I might later want to have kept.


  1. Beautiful looking game! I've had TMWWBK since it came out but still haven't managed to get it on the table.

  2. Lovely game. TWMWWBK is my rules of choice for "large" scale colonial action.

  3. Great looking game, David! Those rules are on my "to try" list, although it will be tough to get one guy in my group to give up on TSATF!

    1. The nice thing about single-basing figures is that they're versatile. No one has to rebase from TSATF to try a game of TMWWBK. They may not make a switch, but they might be persuaded to play one game. I've only played TSATF as modified for things outside Colonials (e.g., Victorian Science Fiction), but the feel of the games is similar, I think.