Colonial Chaos!

For no good reason I can think of I haven’t had a wargame since September, which is pretty poor going! I’ve generally been finding it harder to concentrate on painting minis and setting up a game seemed to be one of those things that was never getting done! So I thought it was about time I got me skates on and got moving!

I played my last Boxer Rebellion wargame back in January 2020 (aaaargh!) and you can read about that here. I played that game after creating unit cards to allow me to use Neil Thomas’s 19th Century European wargames rules for my later colonial forces (I use those rules for Franco-Prussian War and Mexican Adventure games). The rules worked well enough but I was never quite happy with their transition to the end of the 19th Century.

Then I saw GURU PIG’s post on Osprey’s “The Men Who Would Be Kings” (subsequently shortened here to TMWWBK) colonial rules and thought I’d buy a copy and see what they were like. I’ve had a couple of Osprey rulebooks before and wasn’t overly fussed on them, mainly because they seemed too busy and didn’t have easy access rules summaries in them. So I was pleased to see that TMWWBK was simple, well laid out and had a summary in the back, so I thought I’d give ’em a go! The rules have some suggestions for force lists in them but these didn’t cover the Boxer Rebellion, so I made up my own using some of my books as references. Typical forces are worth 24 points so I got as close as this as I could with the troops I’ve got (26 points for British Empire and 25 points for Chinese). I’ve also scaled down all of the recommended unit sizes to fit in with unit sizes I already use so that I don’t need extra figures, but that was relatively easy.

British Empire forces are shown above – a unit of Bengal Lancers, a screw gun unit (a screw gun is a mountain gun with the barrel in two parts that screw together – this allowed the weight of all of the gun components to be reduced so that they could be carried by mules), a British infantry unit and a Royal Navy landing party. The rules allow for figures to be based individually or in groups, but I opted to start the units on movement trays to make them easier to manoeuvre.

For easy reference during the game I drew up some unit cards with all of their stats and these are shown above for the British Empire units. I’ve read that the only British infantry battalion to take part in the operations in China in 1900 was not highly thought of by some other officers, so I reduced its discipline level to “Unenthusiastic”.

Chinese forces took a bit more work to draw up the unit stats, mainly due to the training and composition of some of the units more recently raised in the years before 1900. I allocated two regular infantry units, an artillery unit and two units of irregular Boxers. Stats for these units are shown below.

The Boxers are considered Tribal Infantry in the rules, since they prefer to close for hand-to-hand combat. Given the references to Boxer attacks being pressed home under fire I opted to rate the Boxers as “Veteran” and “Fierce”. I’m not going to go into the details here, but all of the units for both sides were then given individual leadership values and traits that make them a bit more individual in combat. Recommended force size is 24 points and for that you can have between three and around eight units depending on their type and capability.

I invited my mate John along for the game and since this was just a test of the rules we just simply set the two sides opposite each other and waited to see what would happen. I didn’t get too many pictures taken of the game unfortunately, but I’ve included some below.

The picture above shows the general layout, with a few buildings and trees on my favourite game mat! The Chinese are on the right and British on the left. At this point in the game the two Boxer mobs (bottom centre) had made the most of their speed and advanced almost to the small stream, with the regular infantry on the other flank lagging a bit. In the centre of the Chinese line the artillery had started firing on the Bengal Lancers who had dismounted and taken up firing positions in the villa (top left). The centre of the British line was held by the infantry while the screw gun unit covered the right flank opposite the Boxers. We kept the unit cards close to the units themselves for easy reference, since the leadership values and traits assigned to the units make each one unique.

The picture above shows the two Boxer mobs approaching the stream – it counted as an obstacle, meaning units stopped once they contacted it but they could cross it as part of a following move.

The picture above shows the Kansu Braves moving past the pagoda, with the other infantry unit covering their flank (and dawdling a bit).

The picture above shows the British units, screw gun at the bottom and naval brigade in the centre.

Although the Boxers took casualties from the screw gun and sailors, one of the mobs got across the stream and too close to the screw gun for comfort (definitely a brown trouser moment for the gun crew)!

The picture above shows pressure on the other British flank mounting, as the Chinese regular infantry closed on the stream. Not visible is the Chinese artillery keeping up a constant bombardment of the Bengal Lancers in the villa.

I then missed a few pics and only took the one above the next day after the game had finished (hence the change in light levels)! The Boxers who had been threatening the screw gun were forced back across the stream under fire from the gun and the nearby sailors. The other Boxers, however got across the stream and were stopped just short of the wood by a vicious volley from the naval brigade. On the other flank the remaining Bengal Lancers had re-mounted, charged out of the villa and badly cut up the Chinese regular infantry, before Chinese artillery fire finally wiped out this crack Indian unit! The British infantry had moved to their left flank to secure it and the Kansu Braves moved up to occupy the building next to the bridge. At this point we had to call it a day and judged that it would probably have been a hard fought victory for the British!

The picture above shows just how close the Boxers got before being stopped! It was a good game with plenty of action!

So, how do I rate the rules?

I’d say very good and just what I wanted! They give the right feel to colonial warfare but with more of a slant to Hollywood versions of it (which was intended in the rules). On the minus side I think regular cavalry such as the Bengal Lancers might be too powerful, since they are no harder to kill than infantry and that lets them get in a charge at infantry without suffering from any defending rifle fire (in my other 19th Century rules they’d have been shot to bits, which is why John made the sensible decision and dismounted them in hard cover so that they could use their carbines). Having said that, the rules do suggest you don’t have more than one regular cavalry unit in a 24 point force, so that probably makes sense. One other minus was that no units broke and routed, but this could just be good dice throwing coupled with the Boxers good morale.

On the plus side I have a whole new respect for Tribal units, their speed and numbers compensating for their lack of long range weaponry. The two Boxer units (admittedly with improved morale) continued to recover and advance after taking heavy casualties and would have proved deadly if they’d got into hand-to-hand combat!

Artillery can be vulnerable if enemies get close but very effective if it gets into the right position. The Chinese artillery (shown in the pic above) was by far the best performing unit in the game and this reflects eye witness accounts of Chinese artillery units in action in this conflict.

The rules are easy to pick up and remember and we only had to use the quick play sheet to check up on Pinning and Rallying of units. Writing out the unit cards helped and the leadership values and traits were written on a post-it note on the back of the cards. I need to work out some extra rules to cover Chinese jingal and rocket units but those are about the only things I need to do, short of gradually working through all my units and writing cards up for them.

I had thought that such small forces might not give much of a game, but that was definitely not the case! With the rules listing typical forces over a range of colonial conflicts, I could be sorely tempted to try out some new conflicts that only require small armies to be raised. As it is I have more than enough Boxer Rebellion troops for both sides of the conflict to give plenty of variation in the forces I could use and I’ve started planning on tidying up my armies and adding some extra Chinese regular troops. The rules also include force lists for the Second Afghan War, which is useful for me because that is another long-delayed project that I came back to last year and plan on working on!

And I’m pretty sure these rules will work for a Martian invasion of Earth in the late 19th Century as well!


  1. Great looking armies John especially all set out on the battlefield. Sounds like the rules worked well for you and only require some minor tweaking to make them right for you, hopefully it will get you motivated on the stalled project, while not adding too much on the existing armies ! LOL

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Dave! πŸ™‚ I’m not going to tweak much to be honest and it’s only to make use of specific Chinese units that I already have. I was already under way with upgrading my Chinese forces so it’s boosted my enthusiasm to gradually do that along with other projects. If I decrease the unit sizes in the rules by 3/4 my existing units fit well and nothing needs tweaking. So far the only increase I’ve needed to make is to add two irregular Chinese cavalrymen and they’re nearly finished. As far as my planned 1880 Afghan Army’s concerned, I don’t need to paint as many figures as I’d planned on doing!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Interesting post John, always helpful to see a set of rules explored. Do the rules have a β€œdo not use before this date” on them 🀭 that sounds like a food label! I guess something about technology would be the trigger?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Lorenzo! πŸ™‚ The recommended forces listed in the rules cover from the Anglo-Sikh Wars (so let’s say 1840) through to the Boer Wars (so 1900). Troop types are regular, irregular and tribal (both infantry and cavalry) plus crewed weapons (mountain guns and machine guns). Regular infantry are European-trained and can fight in close order, fire in volleys or operate as skirmishers. Infantry weapons are rated as “modern rifles”, “obsolete rifles” or antiquated firearms and that makes it very flexible across the time period (the only difference is in the ranges, not the effects – in 1890 a Lee-Metford would be a modern rifle but in 1850 a Minie rifle would be for example).

      I’ve also got the “Rebels and Patriots” rules, which are similar mechanisms but with some subtle differences, and they cover “American” conflicts from around 1820 to 1865. I don’t like them as much as TMWWBK since they assign experience points to your overall commander rather than the individual unit traits that TMWWBK uses. R&P also uses unit capabilities based on full or half strength units whereas TMWWBK allocates combat dice to the figures remaining in a unit (i.e. one infantryman gets one dice). I reckon either of these rulesets would suit your interests (and I’d think that TMWWBK would be good for skirmish games involving Garibaldi’s Redshirts)!

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  3. Looks like a fun game. Native forces need to use terrain to really get up close and personal or have enough ranged weapons to stay in cover. Either way blunts the modern firepower coming at them. If they can do that then they really spoil the colonials day. I suspect if you had a lot more terrain on the table the result may have gone the boxers way. Also I suspect cavalry is not quite a vulnerable as they should be for that Hollywood feel – they are the heroes of the show after all most of the time. You can alway tweak that if you think it’s too much.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Mark! πŸ™‚ You’re absolutely right with all of the above! The rules do mention that you should think carefully about cover, as it will favour Tribal units. The latter also have the useful ability “Go To Ground” which means they can only be fired at at short range or attacked in melee. I didn’t get to use that ability and the Boxers still got dangerously close to the British (one of the units lost its leader and that hardly seemed to deter it due to my good dice throws). As far as the cavalry go they can probably get away with a first charge and follow up quite successfully, but if that leaves them exposed to hostile fire then they’ll be lucky not to get wiped out!

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  4. I’m really glad to hear you got a game in and it was the John Invitational, no less πŸ™‚ I assume that sporting term isn’t limited to American sports though I could be wrong.

    More importantly, it sounds like the rules worked out well and being able to take some of different settings you’ve collected for and use this one ruleset is even better! I had heard of this ruleset before but didn’t know much about it. I will keep it in mind as it seems like it opens up all kinds of cool historical settings!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Jeff! πŸ™‚ You’re wasting your time with sporting terms with me mind you, but I knew what you meant! πŸ™‚ I’ve actually gone into planning overdrive with these rules, since I reckon I can use them for colonial conflicts in Afghanistan, China and Vietnam, the Balkan Wars and early WW1, all of which I (mostly) have the troops for! I think they’d work reasonably well in conflicts where the bulk of the troops are rifle-armed with only a few supporting heavy weapons or artillery.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Haha, well I won’t give you a red card for not being into sports πŸ˜‰ There’s no shame in that! That makes sense on where these rules would work best. WWI is a tough setting for example so any rules that would work well there would be appealing to me.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Great looking game and good you found a set of rules that work for you. I have a few of the osprey books myself but haven’t played any games with them just yet so can’t comment on quality, but they fill a couple of nice niches for me so I’m keen to try them out at some stage. I like the unit stats on the cards, I’ll be stealing that idea!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Nic! πŸ™‚ I must admit, this set of rules is just what I wanted! I use the unit cards for all of my 19th Century troops since they summarise data in one place and mean you don’t have to flick between different pages in the rules to work out movement, firing etc. you just need to look at the unit card! The OCD part of me would like them all nicely printed out in card sleeves, but it doesn’t really take much to write them out on record index cards.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Glad to hear you found some new rules that work well for you! Playing games is what usually motivates me the most to get minis painted, so hopefully it helps you too! I was curious about the cavalry sporting lances in the days of firearms. But then you mentioned they dismounted to use their carbines. Still, I wonder when they would ever use those lances?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Faust! πŸ™‚ Having the game has certainly prompted me to try and sort out my Chinese units and I’m enjoying researching them! Lances were still widely carried by cavalry at the start of WW1 although I’m not sure how widely used they might have been. One of the best known use of lances was by the British 21st Lancers against the Mahdist army in 1898 at Omdurman. In wargames rules lances tend to confer an advantage when first attacking but after that they can become an encumbrance.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Well John, congrats on finding β€œThe Men Who Would Be Kings” rules set. I am thinking that now we should see even more John goodness here as you paint away like a madman. SO cool and happy for ya.

    BTW the BATREP and the figures look amazing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Haha, thanks Mark! πŸ™‚ In theory I shouldn’t need to paint up much extra stuff! In practice I’m planning on sorting out my Chinese forces at least, which will require some extras, but it’s a process I’d already started! Probably need more flags!

      I’m looking forward to reading how your latest convention games went – hope you enjoyed them! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great looking game – and grats John and also John on getting a game in – I know how hard that can be a lot of the time. I haven’t played a wargame in what feels like forever now. I like the use of cheat sheets/cards to keep track of the units’ abilities and stats, and the table, minis and game itself all look really fantastic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Azazel! πŸ™‚ I have been in a gaming slump so it was definitely good to have a game and try the new rules out. The cards help keep track of the units abilities, since units that appear identical can have different leadership values and traits (they don’t have to, but it adds to the game). It’s made me think about making my units slightly different so that it’s easier to tell them apart in a game (I write a note on the back of the card that makes this easier to remember) – much easier with Chinese units, since I can give them all a different flag (so more flags on the way)! It turns out that during the Boxer Rebellion most of the Allied nations troops carried flags of some sort (most no longer carried their colours into action) to prevent friendly fire incidents!


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