Well, my first New Zealand Wars game with the Sharp Practice / Terrible Sharp Sword rules has been and gone. ‘Notorius’ Greg and I played it as a demo game at the Kapiti Wargames Club’s games day last Sunday.
The scenario we played was based on the real-life Battle of Boulcott’s Farm, which took place in 1846 just over the hill from where we were playing.
Boulcott’s Farm was the most advanced British post in the Hutt Valley, some 20 km from Wellington. The barn at the centre of the farm’s defences was surrounded by a loopholed stockade. The post was defended by 50 men of the 58th Regiment under the command of Lieutenant Page. The attack at dawn on 16 May 1846 by about 200 Ngāti Hāua-te-rangi, led by Te Mamaku, left several soldiers dead and demoralised the settler community.
The game layout included the farmhouse (a Perry Miniatures model) and the tents of the outlying picket (Renadra models), all situated in a clearing bounded by bush on three sides, and the Hutt River on the remaining boundary. The figures were my 28mm Empress Miniatures figures.
As with all the pictures in this article, click on them to make them bigger. The picture above particularly benefits from being blown up.
As in the real battle, our game started with the Māori raid on a picket based in tents a short distance from the farm. Also similar to what really happened, in our game a bugle was sounded to alert the rest of the British garrison. But our bugle call wasn’t accompanied by the sound of chopping off limbs that happened in 1846, as described here by historian James Cowan:
A volley was delivered from fifty Māori guns. The Māoris fired low, to rake the floor of the tents. A second volley; another from a different flank; then on came the enemy with the tomahawk. Not a soldier of the picket escaped. Those who were not killed by the volley fell to the short-handled patiti. In and about the picket tent four soldiers lay dead. One of these was William Allen, whose name will be remembered so long as the story of Boulcott’s Farm is told. Allen was a tall, young soldier; he was bugler to his company. When the sentry’s shot was heard he leaped up, seized his bugle, and, running outside the tent, he put the bugle to his lips to blow the alarm. In the act of sounding the call he was attacked by a Māori, who tomahawked him in the right shoulder, nearly severing his arm, and felled him to the ground. Struggling to rise, the brave lad seized the bugle with his left hand and again attempted to warn his comrades, but a second blow with the tomahawk, this time in the head, killed him. The bugler’s call was not needed, however, for the whole camp had been awakened by the sentry’s shot and the answering volleys.
Whether this story is strictly accurate or not is now disputed by historians – but it has certainly become part of New Zealand folklore.
Here the Maori warriors begin their attack on the farmhouse itself. I didn’t have any loopholed stockade walls, but as these were an important feature of the real battle, we made these rather light looking fences have a much stronger cover capability than they appeared. Not that that really helped my British garrison in the end!
My opponent’s Māori warriors at this point departed from real-life, and actually gained access to the stockaded farm building. After tomahawking one of my officers and causing huge amounts of shock on my remaining garrison, it was curtains for my British. And the Hutt Militia, who I had waiting on a side table as reinforcements, never threw a high enough dice to make it onto the battle in an attempt to save the day.
My young daughter and her friend were present for most of the day. I’m not too sure what they thought of being cooped up in a hall full of males playing with toy soldiers, but in this photo they seem to be enjoying themselves – though maybe that is more a result of the Chubba-Chubs I bought them!
Overall, I wasn’t too excited about the results of my photography this time round. However, a colleague of mine was there with some heavy-duty looking camera equipment, so I’m hoping some better pics will follow in due course. He even took a time-lapse video of the whole game – it’ll be interesting to see how this comes out.
And the Sharp Practice / Terrible Sharp Sword rules? Well, reflecting back on the game afterwards, we realised we made a number of mistakes with the rules. But it was our first go, after all.
The Sharp Practice / Terrible Sharp Sword rules are really aimed at the Napoleonic period and the American Civil War respectively, so we had to do a bit of adapting. In discussion with Bruce Cairns, an expert on the New Zealand Wars who turned up to have a look at our game, our Māori fire-power was perhaps a little too devastating in the attack. This was because we were playing them as skirmishers, similar to how ‘Injuns’ are treated in Sharp Practice. We’ll tone this down next time round.
There were a few other issues we had, but nothing too major. So all in all these rules look good, with some fine-tuning for this period.
The Games Day itself was a terrific success. Many thanks to the Kapiti Wargames Club crew who invited us and proved such wonderful hosts. There were also some other terrific games to look at, including this particularly spectacular WW2 game by my mate Scott.