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Subject: "Usuthu! Usuthu!" - Zulu war cry. A Victoria Cross II review. rss

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Anthony
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Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead: Damn the levies man... Cowardly blacks!

Lieutenant Josef Adendorff: What the hell do you mean "cowardly blacks?" They died on your side, didn't they? And who the hell do you think is coming to wipe out your little command? The Grenadier Guards? - 1964 film “Zulu”

I have a confession to make, not only am I a huge sucker for games with theme, conflict & narrative but add any historical African elements and well, I’m in like…Oluwatoyin. There are very few games in the hobby that allow players to take on prominent roles of Africa, Her diverse Nations, or Her diasporic people in the Americas and the Caribbean (by means of slavery). I’m sorry, but neither Risk nor Puerto Rico count.

Being a part of that diaspora myself, there are few historical battles or conflicts that I can point out and proudly proclaim an ancestor’s participation. Heck, short of DNA analysis I couldn’t tell you from what part of Africa my lineage heralds. As that is the case I made the decision a number of years ago to embrace all of Africa’s history and as a gamer to find any games that connects me back to Her.

I initially became aware of the Anglo-Zulu conflict when I read session reports about Victory Point Games’ “Zulu on the Ramparts”, which dealt with the famous battle at Roarke’s Drift in South Africa in the 19th Century. I was very keen to buy it, as a) it covered my criteria noted above and b) it’s a solo game, which I tend to do a lot with my wargames. I was ready to find a copy of it until I realized that I couldn’t play as the Zulu warriors.

After some digging around I found out about Victory Cross (1st Edition) but at the time it was out of print. It goes without saying that I was thrilled when I found out about the impending release of the second edition.

Victoria Cross II (designed by Grant and Mike Wylie) is a two-player wargame and unlike its predecessor, recreates not one but two bloody clashes of January 22, 1879 between Zulu warriors and the British Army. Rorke’s Drift remains from the first edition but the Battle of Isandwandla was added in this current edition.

Each player has a different set of criteria in order to win. For the British players, it is to survive a certain number of rounds without losing X amount of units and scoring more Victory Points (VPs) than his opponent. For the Zulu player the criteria is to reach X VPs, eliminate X number of British units or have the most VPs at game end.

The wooden blocks from the first edition have been replaced with thick, beautifully illustrated 1” pressboard chits.

Board Game: Victoria Cross II
photo by charlescab

From gallery of drmabuse00
photo by drmabuse00

In this edition only the Zulu player’s forces are hidden. The British player will see the Zulu stack of chits but he won't know the Strength Points there within. Everything from the card stock map to the player aids are gorgeous and well designed. Kudos go to Sean Cooke for creating the perfect balance of aesthetics and functionality. This is especially evident as the game progresses; when more stacks of chits are added to the board and the playing area, everything still looks amazingly clean. Not an easy thing to accomplish.

The rulebook is laid out fairly well with plenty of illustrations and examples. Two colours are used to highlight special scenario rules; added to this those same colours are used to identify the chits for either scenario. Awesome. It makes set-up and take down a whole lot easier.

The game play itself is very straightforward and each turn consists of 8-12 steps depending on the scenario. The bulk of each turn will be during the British and Zulu movement step respectively. The rest of the steps will be various forms of combat resolutions, victory condition check and finally clean up.

Combat is again simple to resolve and the designers simplify any Line of Sight (LOS) issues by listing accessible zones on the board. A player will choose a zone that contains their units, checks the LOS zone listing (applicable to the British alone as Zulus can only attack adjacent zones) and then roll dice equal to the units Strength Points (or SPs) present. Hits are scored depending on where opposing units are located and what form of attack is being utilized. The British can hit on three to six under the right circumstances; whereas the Zulu units will only hit on sixes.

This presents the game with an asymmetrical balance as the British have far less units but superior firepower and the Zulus have an unlimited number of units to attack with but substantially less firepower.

Going back to combat resolution for a moment the game does comes with an optional fire/melee chart. It works by replacing an X number of dice rolled with one die. For example 30 Zulus will roll 30 dice when attacking, but using the chart it’s only one die. This speeds the game up considerably but I did notice that using the chart as written can cause unrealistic results. For instance according to the chart below it is possible for one unit at full strength (2SPs) to eliminate 5 units.

From gallery of drmabuse00


This would be an impossible result had that same unit rolled two dice using the regular combat rules. I house-ruled that if the die resulted in casualties is higher than the SPs, attacking it would only score hits equal to its maximum SPs.

The gameplay is rife with of stomach tightening tactical and strategic decisions. It’s also very brutal in terms of casualties especially as the Zulu player. Even though he can field a maximum 90 SPs at any one time, this can be quickly reduced by the British devastating firepower. As the British you have the challenge of trying to make the most of your well-armed but dwindling forces.

If I have one concern about the game it would be about its replayability. For instance, in the Isandlwana scenario there are zones with fixed VPs, I think with enough plays this could lead to the same strategies being employed each game. I say this, being fully aware of my own bias towards Card Driven Games which offer game to game variability through card events and actions, which I enjoy immensely.

I really dig VCII a lot. The production quality is outstanding. The game’s system has a low level of complexity, fairly short running time of about an hour to an hour and a half but has just enough strategy to belie its simplicity. This is an excellent game for new or casual wargamers and although I worry about it’s replayability I think the game is an amazingly tense but enjoyable experience.


Disclaimer: The reviewer received a complimentary copy of this game

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Jim F
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I had the original version of this and I thought the blocks didn't really work, while the map didn't feel right. This has renewed my interest, thank you.
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Bradley Fletcher
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If you haven't read Mike Snook's books on the two battles you are missing something--they are terrific, perhaps the definitive accounts, and at last the RD book is out in paperback. Great to read them while playing the game.
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Marco Arnaudo
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I had resisted the temptation of getting this game until now... but now, your review is forcing me to give this game a try!
Thank you for the writeup!
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Anthony
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bfletcher wrote:
If you haven't read Mike Snook's books on the two battles you are missing something--they are terrific, perhaps the definitive accounts, and at last the RD book is out in paperback. Great to read them while playing the game.
Will do, thanks for the suggestion.
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Humberto Gonzalo Rodríguez
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What about solo playability? Is it possible to adapt to play as solitaire?
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Anthony
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There are solo rules included but only if you're playing the British side.
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Tom Krynicki
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Look what you've went and done!! Now I have to add this to my wishlist.

Great game review and a fascinating subject!!
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