‘Tribal’ pre-gunpowder skirmish rules – Māori, Aztecs, Japanese, gladiators – oh my!

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Tribal by Australian company, Mana Press, is a set of skirmish gaming rules designed for recreating pre-gunpowder inter-tribal conflicts.

The aim of Tribal is to capture the essence of the heroic skirmish style warfare that existed in many pre-gunpowder cultures, who exalted the feats of the individual and their courage and prowess in battle.

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Central to this type of warfare (and to the Tribal wargame) is the concept of honour. Honour determines why one is fighting, how battle is conducted, what sorts of tactics (both honourable and dishonourable) are used, and who becomes the victor at the end.

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Tribal takes an innovative approach in using playing cards, rather than dice. In fact, you need neither dice nor measuring tapes for this game! Activation, movement, fighting are all driven by a couple of sets of ordinary playing cards. Other than that, you just need some tokens to represent ‘honour’, and of course some figures and scenery.

Whilst the splendid cover features a tattooed Māori warrior, these rules specifically cover other pre-gunpowder fighting than just Māori inter-tribal warfare, such as Vikings, Aztecs, Heian Japanese, and even Roman gladiators. But overall, the rules do have an emphasis on the Māori inter-tribal wars (no doubt based on the writers’ Kiwi backgrounds).

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Australian manufacturer Eureka Miniatures actually makes a set of Māori figures specifically designed to work with Tribal, as illustrated in the pics above and below, borrowed from the Eureka website.

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Or you could use Empress Miniatures figures for this game – the ones without firearms (like some of those in my picture below). Or, of course, you could use Vikings, Aztecs, Samurai, Roman Gladiators etc.

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As they stand, the Tribal rules won’t be suitable for colonial wars, as they don’t include rules for using firearms. But I think I’ve heard that Mana Press are interested in expanding their rules to include them (can anyone confirm or deny?).

From my initial read-through, Tribal seems to be a characterful yet relatively simple game. Of course, this opinion is yet to be borne out one way or the other through actually playing the rules. But at only $10 to download the PDF in two formats (one lavishly designed, the other more printer-friendly), Tribal is a good deal even if you just read the rules rather than actually play them!

POSTSCRIPT: While I was writing the above article, I forgot that I’d already written a overview of Tribal back in June 2016 (and in more detail than the posting above)!!! So if you want to know more about Tribal, have a look at my old article too!

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Pt2: Crown forces of the New Zealand Wars (1840s)

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Here are the forces available to me for a British/colonial army for the New Zealand Wars of the 1840s, using The Men Who Would Be Kings wargames skirmish rules to fight my Māori war-party.

Rather than the blue jumpers worn by British regulars in the 1860s regulars, in the earlier 1840s conflicts they wore red shell jackets.

Some of these figures also feature in my 1860s force, for example the sailors, militia and rocket tube, as they can adequately cover both time periods.

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I’ve also been able to add one more militia unit, dressed in a rag-tag collection of civilian clothes and part uniforms. This could perhaps represent a hastily-recruited militia or Civic Guard unit.

That’s it for my figures and terrain, and a tabletop to play on. Now I just have to purchase lots of 6-sided dice, and then it’s game on!

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Crown forces of the New Zealand Wars (1860s)

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Here are the British and colonial forces to face my daring Māori in games of The Men Who Would Be Kings. They’re dressed in the distinctive blue uniforms worn by the British in New Zealand during the 1860s. Click on the pics for a closer view.

The combined units in these photos total more than the 24 points that the rules recommend for a field force, so I would select from these units for each game.

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Included are three units of British regular infantry, one of colonial militia, and one of Royal Navy sailors. There is also a unit of cavalry or mounted infantry, an artillery piece, and a rocket tube.

They’re a mixture of 28mm Empress Miniatures and Perry Miniatures.

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Māori war-party for ‘The Men Who Would Be Kings’

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I’m starting to play round with my existing Māori figures to see if I have enough for a 24-point taua (war-party) for use with The Men Who Would Be Kings colonial wargaming rules.

I have 48 warriors/chiefs, plus a 3-man carronade, all made by Empress Miniatures. Hopefully I’ve got enough figures for a full 24-point Māori force.

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The warriors are mainly armed with muskets, but 13 have (tupara) shotguns, and 10 are armed only with clubs or axes. I may mix up the weapons in the units, as I don’t think units would’ve all had the same weapons.

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The carronade will only be of limited use, mainly to defend a pā.

I’m not sure yet what I’ll be classing each unit as under the TMWWBK rules, although ‘Irregular Infantry’ 12-man units (at 4 points a unit) rather than ‘Tribal Infantry’ 16-man units (at 3 points a unit) seems the way to go. I’m still pondering how many optional points up or down I should adjust them to best replicate the Māori fighting style.

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At last – a wargames table of my own!

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Ever since I started in this hobby, I’ve been hindered by having to rely on moving my troops to someone else’s place if I wanted to play a game.

But today I came up with an idea, after I realised I hadn’t used the desk in my small study for a desktop computer ever since we got a laptop. So I pushed our filing cabinet into the leg space, and pulled the whole desk out from the wall by about a metre.

This allowed me to lay a 4′ x 4′ table on top. Small – but it should enable skirmish games. It even gives me some hidden storage space in the gap behind the pulled-out desk.

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And I’m going to figure out a way that a 6′ x 4′ could be laid on top temporarily for slightly larger games – perhaps with some sort of trestle legs to support the 2′ overhang.

Now I can host (skirmish) games at my place, or even play solo games over several days without having to pack up. Why I never though of doing this before, I don’t know!

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‘The Men Who Would Be Kings’ colonial rules

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I bought this set of colonial wargaming rules today from my mate Scott Bowman’s excellent Hobby Corner in his pharmacy at Paraparaumu Beach, New Zealand (probably the only pharmacy in the world that sells wargaming supplies for stress relief!).

My first reaction to the rules? Wow – I think this just might be the set of rules I have always been looking for!!! OK, this still has to be proven or disproved by an actual play-test. But from my first read-through, the design philosophy matches what I’ve always liked:

  • simple rules (which is my most important criteria)
  • elegant mechanisms that are intuitive rather than gamey
  • neither too few nor too many troops on the table
  • scenario-driven
  • a level of unpredictability
  • Hollywood rather than strictly historical
  • a sense of fun
  • an attractively illustrated and motivating book.

Plus I would have to say these are the most readable set of rules I have ever read. It has nice touches of period-appropriate humour dotted throughout – not too much, just enough to make it an entertaining read rather than a dry set of rules.

There’s a particularly clever device for solo-gaming, called ‘Playing Against Mr Babbage’. Apparently your regular gaming opponent, Mr Babbage, hasn’t been able to make it to the game tonight, but he has sent you a set of instructions to follow. It sounds sort of like playing against the AI in a computer game. Ingenious!

As for this set of rules’ appropriateness for my particular colonial gaming preference, the New Zealand Wars? Well, although Maori are mentioned a couple of times, and there is a lavish full-page picture of the NZ Wars, there aren’t any lists provided for this period. However, it should be dead easy to concoct some, so I think there is indeed real potential that these rules will suit well. Let’s wait and see till after I’ve had a chance to play a game or two.

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Home improvements to 4Ground’s Japanese shogunate houses

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A couple of novels I’ve been reading over the Christmas break have inspired me to do some home improvements to my 4Ground shogunate houses. You can see the result in the above photo, as some 28mm Perry Miniatures samurai warriors battle it out in the garden (click on the photo for a closer view).

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The novels responsible for this burst of enthusaism are David Kirk’s pair of bold and vivid historical epics of feudal Japan, based on the real-life exploits of the legendary samurai Musashi Miyamoto.

In Child of Vengeance, Miyamoto is a high-born but lonely teenager living in his ancestral village. He takes the samurai’s path awash with blood, bravery, and vengeance, culminating in the epochal battle of Sekigahara.

Sword of Honour depicts the feud between Miyamoto and the esteemed Yoshioka Sword School in Japan’s former capital of Kyoto.

Now, I can’t say how accurate or not these novels are, as I am not too knowledgeable about samurai. However, what I can say is that they definitely provide the feel of the place and period. The characters aren’t just western heroes transposed to an oriental setting, but instead act and talk as thought they really are Japanese – helped no doubt by the fact that the author himself lives in Japan.

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After reading the novels, I decided to pull out my existing samurai scenery. I’ve got several 4Ground buildings, which I’ve been very pleased with (see my 2014 review of these kits). But seeing them out of storage for the first time in a while, I’ve realised that the teddy-bear fur thatched roofs look like … er … teddy-bear fur. You can see this in the above picture that I took a few years ago (with a couple of Kingsford miniature figures in the foreground).

I recall in shows where I’ve used these buildings that several little children seemed to take inordinate interest in the roofs of my houses, more than anything else on the table. Now that I think about it, I even heard one of them whispering to her parents that it looked like my roofs were made out of a teddy – can’t fool kids!

So, some home improvements were in order.

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This morning I took a big brush and sloshed a watery burnt umber artists’ acrylic paint all over the thatch. Once this was completely dry, I dry-brushed the roof with a range of ochres, yellows and even white. The results now look a lot more realistic (and certainly a lot less teddy-like!).

Whilst I was at it, I thought the original wooden verandah roofs and ridge decorations were a bit too stark. So they all received a watered-down burnt umber wash as well.

Hopefully the occupants of my little houses are happy with the renovations. Sayonara!

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