New Zealand Wars battle report using ‘Sharp Practice’

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!

In this last photo, it appears my victorious opponent, ‘Notorius’ Greg, is taking his generalship of the Māori forces to heart by doing a haka!

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.

16 thoughts on “New Zealand Wars battle report using ‘Sharp Practice’

  1. Lovely looking game Roly, You really nailed the look of it I think with the correct vegetation (cabbage trees and ferms etc), and the farm setting and camp. The figures look great in the setting too.

    I never knew Notorious Greg was a dancer! Wait till I see him next 😉

    Interesting to see how the figures are deployed – I had assumed the game was a ‘skirmish game’ and yet despite the single based figures, it looks like you have them moving on ‘movement trays’?

    Nice background info too.

    Never mind, the Maori may have won the battle, but the POMs perhaps ‘won the war’, we’re still here after all ! 😉

  2. I’d be really interested in seeing more New Zealand War battles fought and your thoughts on how the ‘Sharp Practice’ rules work.

    1. Well, I certainly hope to do another battle or two some time, Roger. But I must admit I don’t actually find time to play wargames that often, though …

  3. Hi, really enjoyed this post. I also took time to look at the ones showing your painted figures, very nice job! The period has always interested me and I have now found some inspiration again. I am tempted to make use of Muskets and Tomahawks for my games, tweeked to suit obviously. I will be posting on my own blog about the subject and will link back to yours so people can see how it should be done! Not too sure about Sharp Practice yet but I will keep reading you posts and see what happens. Many thanks Roly ( apart from I now want to go spend cash I haven’t got and paint stuff despite a major jam on my painting table! 😉 )

    1. Hi Tom, sounds very interesting. Can you say a bit more about them? I have been using Donnybrook but plan to try The Men Who Would be Kings too. Never quite got around to trying Muskets and Tomahawks with them yet. But if you have a specific set I would be very interested in learning more about them.

  4. Hi Roly, I’ve long admired your Land Wars miniatures and gaming strategies for recreating them! I am in fact looking for an experienced gamemaster to facilitate role-plays/wargames of the New Zealand Land Wars as part of an art project associated with our long research and filmmaking work – see: We will be applying to Creative Communities for funding so this would be a modestly paid gig for anyone interested in contributing to the new day of Land Wars commemoration happening next year and be part of a documentary film! Message me if you’re at all interested please or just to have a conversation about how to approach this. I’d love to create a bicultural rulebook etc.

I hope I've given you something to think about - please do leave a comment with your thoughts or reactions.

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