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.

Two New Zealand Wars armies for ‘Sharp Practice’

Yes, I’ve been a bit lax on posting updates to the blog lately, but that is because I have been beavering away on my New Zealand Wars project. And at last I can show the results – two fairly well complete armies ready for playing ‘Sharp Practice’ in the fern and bush of 1840s New Zealand.

All the figures in both my New Zealand Wars armies are the wonderful 28mm creations of Empress Miniatures. My photos don’t do justice to these figures – they truly are exquisite, and I highly recommend them. I love the posing, anatomy and the way they capture the feel of the period. Not only that, they are a joy to paint – beautifully cast with practically no flash, and with excellent detail that your brush just itches to bring out.

Anyway, on with the show. Let’s take a look at my British and colonial army first:

Here’s my entire British and colonial army ready to do battle. As you can see, the figures are all individually based, which will give me maximum flexibility in organising my armies.  By the way, you might want to click on this photo (as well as others in this posting) to get the full size effect.

In the photo above you can see the British regulars arranged in two companies, along with a company of militia and some civilians, a naval rocket battery, a pair of marksmen and a squad of militia sappers. Each of the bigger groups has a ‘big man’ to command it under the ‘Sharp Practice’ rules, but more about them later.

Here’s a closer look at some of the British regulars. I’ve painted all my figures in the distinctive black cuffs and facings of the 58th (Rutlandshire) Regiment of Foot. The 58th had been despatched to New South Wales by detachments between 1843-5 as guards on convict ships. They provided the first reinforcements sent to New Zealand when trouble with the Māori seemed imminent. The Regiment eventually formed part of the permanent garrison of the colony, remaining there until 1858, when it returned home.

In front of the company stand two officers and a bugler. Maybe the natty officer checking his pocket watch is Major Cyprian Bridge, who later became known as a chronicaller and artist of the Northern War in New Zealand.

By the way, I’ve sourced the above information from To Face the Daring Maoris by Michael Barthorp, an evocative history of the 58th Regiment in New Zealand, which is not only a detailed resource, but also a thrilling read at the same time.

Militia units also fought in the New Zealand Wars. The Auckland Volunteers are seen here wearing their pork-pie hats, blue blouses or grey shirts, and trousers from British regimental stores.

Empress Miniatures don’t yet make a command group for their range of militia, so I’ll assign them a regular redcoat officer, which seems to be accurate enough from my readings.

Amongst Empress Miniatures’ latest release were this lovely group of militia sappers. I wasn’t entirely sure how I would incorporate them into my games, but they are such lovely figures that I couldn’t resist them. I’m sure I’ll be able to find a role for some sappers in my ‘Sharp Practice’ scenarios.

I’ve tried to paint these guys with the dusty, dirty look of men working in the midday sun.

Rockets were used spectacularly, albeit not particularly effectively, during the Northern Wars. They were hauled up-country from the ships by their naval crews, then loosed against the pa fortifications.

As Barthorp writes:

“Great interest centred on the the rockets, for the Maoris appeared to believe they were a form of guided missile, which could pursue an enemy until it killed him. [Navy Lieutenant] Egerton’s first discharge thus came as something of an anti-climax, since the rocket sailed wildly and ineffectively over the pa, much to the sardonic amusement of Heke, who stood watching the proceedings from the main gate. With the third shot, Egerton struck the pallisade, causing a great deal of noise and excitement within, but otherwise little damage.”

One of my sailors sports a light blue neck cloth. I got the idea from fellow New Zealand Wars enthusiast, Michael Awdry (whose amazingly painted New Zealand Wars figures have to be seen to be believed).  I’m not sure if in the 1840s these blue neck flaps had yet been incorporated into sailors’ dress. But it looks the part, and so I’m happy!

Here are another couple of figures from Empress Miniatures’ latest release that I’m not yet sure how I’ll fit into my gaming. They’re marksmen, one firing, the other loading while lying on his back.

I’ve given them small scenic bases, including logs on which to rest their muskets. You can also see the variety of ground material I’ve used for my bases: mixtures of sand and crushed shells, flock, static grass, clumps of long grass and even paper ferns.

I mentioned ‘big men’ before. These are a feature of the ‘Sharp Practice’ large skirmish rules by Too Fat Lardies.

Big men don’t necessarily represent all the officers, but a selection of the characters to run the narrative of the game. They’re the ones who inspire and lead their groups. You’ll see I’ve got a number of officers (top row), NCOs (middle row), a naval petty officer and even a civilian constable (bottom row).

I’m going to make up a card for each big man. These photos will go on the cards to make it easy to identify the figures they apply to.

OK, one last look at my British and colonials before we move on to the other side. This is quite a big photo, so if you click on it to enlarge it, you can pan down the line to get a good look at the figures.

Now let’s take a look at the other side. Actually, strictly speaking that’s not true, as Māori fought on both sides during the wars. Therefore a few of these guys may end up supporting the British side in some games.

Anyway, here’s my Māori army. Again, the organisation can be changed as I will. Here you see them arranged into a number of small taua (war parties), each led by a big man (or a big woman in one case!). The toa (warriors) are armed with a selection of weapons.

At the front of the army stands Hone Heke Pokai, with a conch blower beside him. He is portrayed here wearing a cloak and a ship captain’s peaked cap. Although he had signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, the troubles in the North came about when Heke, disillusioned with the British administration,  cut down the flag pole at Kororareka not once, but several times.

This taua, led by a portly chief, is armed mainly with traditional weapons and axes, though a few sport muskets as well.

I had a lot of fun painting the designs on some of the kilts.  I’ve used my imagination for these, but have tried to keep them along the lines of  Māori design elements I see around me here in New Zealand every day.

Another taua, this one all armed with muskets.  The majority of toa in the Northern Wars were equipped with firearms.  Their pa (fortifications) were specially designed to allow them to shoot from beneath the walls (not from on top as in many other civilisations).

OK, so you’ve now noticed the one thing I haven’t yet done for this project – building a miniature  pa!  But that is indeed on the drawing board.  I am still mulling over ideas on how to design it.

One of the most popular types of firearms amongst Māori was the shotgun.  They called it the tupara, basically a form of the English ‘two-barrel’.

The big man leading this taua is the doughty old rangatira (chief) of the Ngāpuhi, Te Ruki Kawiti.  While Hone Heke tends to get all the limelight, Kawiti was the real warrior brains behind the campaign.    He had spent his life “in slaughter and plunder against rival tribes, and now felt tempted, perhaps encouraged by Heke’s defiance, to test his strength against the white tribe.”

In Empress Miniatures’ second release there was a pack of Māori  women, though their big man .. er, woman …  came in the original release.

This raises a bit of a conundrum, as in general Māori women did not fight in taua, though they might defend their pa when their menfolk were away.  However, there were exceptions.  And this is just a game, after all.  So who is going to say I can’t use my female taua?!

In the above picture you can also see on one of the male warriors in the foreground my attempt at a facial tattoo (or moko).  This doesn’t convey too well in a blown-up photo of this size.  But on the miniatures themselves, especially when viewed on the table, I think I’ve captured the impression of a moko OK.

So here are my Māori big men.  Obviously Hone Heke and Kawiti are there, but also a number of others who can lead and inspire their taua.  They also will eventually get named cards.

So there you have it.  I’m really pleased with the progress I’ve made.  My painting usually tends to go in fits and starts, but this project includes such a range of diverse figures, and in relatively small numbers, that it has been a breeze to do.  And the fact that it depicts history on my own doorstep makes it that much more appealing.

So now it is on with building a pa, making the cards, and designing a scenario for my first game, which I hope will take place in mid July at the Kapiti Wargames Club’s games day here in Paraparaumu, New Zealand.

Oh, and Empress Miniatures, if you read this posting, any chance of a third release?!?!

First look – Empress’s second release of NZ Wars

They’re heeeere!  Empress Miniatures’ forthcoming second New Zealand Wars release!

Above:  Regular skirmishers.  These unusual poses will be an interesting challenge to include in a gaming unit, as they won’t fit on most people’s regular bases.  But I’m sure that I’ll find a purpose for them, nevertheless!

Above: Regular officer and sergeant.  The first release also had regular officers and an NCO, so this pair will give your units a bit more variety.  I especially like the pose of the officer looking at his watch.

Above: Militia sappers. Again, the two on the left I’m not sure how you would use in a game.  But the two on the right would be good to lead a storming party on a pa.  And I do like the guy wiping his brow, just as a great model.

Above: Māori with shotguns.  Shotguns, called tupara (literally ‘two barrels’) were popular weapons amongst Māori warriors.

Above: Armed Māori women.  A taua (war party) was typically composed of males, although there were occasions when women fought as well.  And it was traditional for women to defend the pa when the men were away at war.

More info on the Empress Miniatures website.

Photos of finished colonial New Zealand Wars figures and terrain

I’m really, really pleased with how these photos came out of my finished 28mm colonial New Zealand Wars figures and Kiwi terrain. Having harped on for ages about them (27 previous posts to be exact!), finally all my Empress Miniatures figures are painted and based, and the typical New Zealand bush terrain completed. So here for your delectation are some scenes from Old New Zealand.

As per normal, there are some lovely big photos hidden behind a simple click on each picture. So if you want to see anything in more detail, click away!

The scene above shows Māori chief Hone Heke (right) and a portly comrade in the bush. The greenery includes paper model railway bushes and trees by Right Track, some vaguely New Zealandish trees by GW Warhammer trees, and a few sprigs of plastic Christmas bracken bought from a ‘pop-up’ department store shop in earthquake-struck Christchurch.

Here’s a closer view, where you can clearly see the paper ferns and the GW Warhammer trees. The latter wouldn’t pass a botanist’s inspection as being true native New Zealand plants, but I still think they give the right sort of look overall.

The only Right Track tree that I found a little unconvincing is the palm on the far right, for which I think the foliage is a bit sparse and flat.  But otherwise this range is a wonderful product!

A fearsome party of Māori warriors performs the ‘haka’, or war dance. The figures have the bulging eyes (‘pukana’) and stuck-out tongues (‘whetero’) that are traditional parts of the haka.

A Māori marksman lies in wait behind a rock. I used the plastic bracken here, which looks a lot better in real-life than in this blown-up photo. While bracken isn’t a New Zealand native, it looks enough like various other types of leafy Kiwi plants.

A party of British from the 58th Rutlandshire (the ‘Black Cuffs’) on patrol alongside a patch of feathery toi-toi plants. The sergeant (third from left) calls out to the point man, whilst the last man hurries to catch up. These Empress British have such wonderful characterful faces that are a joy to paint.

A British officer surveys the enemy from a rocky outcrop. The paper cabbage trees are very effective, apart from the ring of the join above the dead leaves. While this ring is not seen when looking at the trees from tabletop height, in hindsight I wish I had covered it up, which wouldn’t have been hard to do during assembly.

Reveille in the camp site. Or perhaps it is Bugler Allen raising the alarm at the Battle of Boulcott Farm on 16 May 1846, before receiving the hatchet blow from one of Te Karamu’s ambushing warriors, which severed his arm and stopped his playing. The plastic tents are by Renadra, as are the camp-beds and the fire.

“Oi, wait up, mate!” Shirt-sleeved militia, in their jaunty pork-pie hats, patrol through a patch of bush.

Some more militia take pot-shots at the enemy from behind a Perry Miniatures rail fence, with the ubiquitous toi-toi plant to their left.

I couldn’t decide between this and the previous photo of the militiamen behind the fence.  So you’ve got both!

In the past I used to paint anything wooden brown, but some time ago I realised that a weather-beaten grey (like this fence) looks much better.

A bespectacled civilian and a white-coated policeman from the Magistracy Police guard a Perry Miniatures cottage from attack.

The picket fence is also by the Perrys, and really looks the part for a colonial scene like this.

Many of my plants are mounted on single washers, so I can dot them round gardens as I’ve done here.

Finally, here is a sampling of my range of my figures and flora set out at random on my work desk. You can see how I’ve arranged the plants on washers and larger discs. Note also the single figure basing I’ve used for the miniatures, which I’ll probably use with the Too Fat Lardies’ Sharp Practice rules.

Now, I’ve got to admit that I lied at the top of this posting, when I said I had totally finished. I’ve just realised I have forgotten to assemble and paint the Empress Miniatures rocket-tube for my naval rocket battery.

And there is also one vital piece of scenery for the New Zealand Wars period that is missing from my collection – the Māori ‘pa’, or fortification. So that’s a project still to come …

Plus there is the very exciting (though totally unconfirmed as yet) rumour of more releases for this range to come soon from Empress!

Anyone got any spare Warhammer trees?

I’m trying to recreate a Kiwi bush effect for my 28mm Empress Miniatures New Zealand Wars figures.  I found some old Warhammer trees recently, and wondered if they could possibly stand in as New Zealand tree-ferns (or maybe more like cabbage trees, with those branching trunks). 

Today I tried painting them up, and placed them amongst my Maori figures.  Much to my surpise, I found they actually do the job very well!   Not that a botanist would ever be fooled, mind you, but enough to give the general impression of New Zealand bush.  What do you think?

Anyway, I’m now on the quest to see if anyone has spares of these old Warhammer trees lying around that they don’t want?  Just contact me on if you have any, and we can talk turkey.   I’m going to need a lot of them, as you can see from this real New Zealand bush scene!

More painted Māori, colonials and British by Empress

Here are a few more shots of my on-going New Zealand Wars project, photographed with my new little camera.  The figures are all 28mm Empress Miniatures.

British 58th regiment of Foot (The Black Cuffs) – two privates, a bugler and a sergeant.  And, yes, that’s our real horse you can just see in the background!

Colonial militia.  I like the way Empress have given them each different personalities – the grizzled veteran on the left, and the kneeling young recruit.  You can’t see it in the pic, but the firing figure (whom I’ve painted two of) has a dapper Napoleon III beard.

 Māori toa (warriors), some in flax skirts, other in linen kilts, armed with tomahawks, wooden clubs and muskets.

More toa with a mixture of dress and different weapons, including two with bone patu (clubs).  Some of my figures are adorned with intricate tatoos particularly visible on the thigh of the figure on the left.  By the way, the camera angle has made the upper bodies and limbs of the figures in this pic look bigger than they actually are.

A fearsome Māori haka from the colonial New Zealand Wars

Keeping up with the colonial New Zealand Wars theme of my recent postings, here’s a terrific version of the Māori haka taken from the 1980s movie Utu.

The scene shows a unit of kaupapa (government-side) Māori in the Armed Constabulary.  This unit is a bit later than my own New Zealand Wars armies, being from the 1860s/70s, rather than the 1840s.  But it is still great to get a feel of the haka as it would’ve been seen in the period, rather than on a modern rugby field!

The clip also gives good inspiration for the rugged campaign look to the uniforms (or part-uniforms, really).  See what I mean in these screenshots:

And here’s the original poster for the movie Utu:

Māori and Prussians and police haka, oh my!

My wife is wonderful!  She came home from a day-trip to Rarotonga today (she’s a flight attendant on Air New Zealand) and presented me with a new duty-free camera.  Nothing too flash – just a little pocket point-and-shoot Panasonic Lumix – but very welcome.    

Recently the two existing cameras in our house have both broken (both coincidently with the dreaded false “battery empty” error).  So I haven’t been able to photograph the latest bits of painting I’ve been doing.

But with a new camera in my hand, tonight I couldn’t resist taking the first couple of test shots.  And, I must say, the results aren’t too bad, considering I just pointed and shot, making no camera adjustments whatsoever.

The first picture is of my partly based (I still have to do the static grass) 28mm Prussian musketeers by Minden Miniatures.  These will finish off the big 60-plus figure battalion I’ve been painting for what seems like (and probably actually is!) about a year now.  Purists will notice they are not totally correct colours for Prussians, but that is because they are based on the movie Barry Lyndon, not on real life.

I’m pleased with the crisp detail and the vibrant colours of this photo.  As normal on this blog, please click on the picture to see a bigger version.

By the way, the figures hidden behind the Prussians are my Foundry pirates and Empress Miniatures British and colonials for the New Zealand Wars. 

The next shot is also New Zealand Wars –  my 28mm Māori toa (warriors) by Empress Miniatures.  Again, pleasing how the camera has picked up the detail.  And I feel the close-up hasn’t exposed my rather impressionistic painting style quite as much as my old camera used to.

By the way, the above group is slightly more meaningful to me today, as this afternoon I joined the Royal New Zealand Police College’s kapa haka group, which is practising to perform traditional and modern Māori music and actions in a inter-government department ‘competition’ in a couple of weeks (well, it’s not actually supposed to be a competitive show, but you know how these things go!).  As I don’t sing or do actions well, I’m just there to boost numbers in the back of the group! 

I must say the official Police haka sounds and looks terrific – almost as good as the All Blacks’ one in the Rugby World Cup!  Here’s a YouTube video of the Police haka being performed on another occasion (not by me!):

Finally, a slightly more distant shot that includes the two above groups of figures, plus whatever else happened to be sitting on top of my workdesk tonight:  more undercoated Empress figures of British and colonials to face my Māori toa, the Foundry pirates, and the painted Empress Brits and militia.  Also a neat (and appropriate) card my lovely daughter bought for me on her recent school-trip to France.

I’ll take some more detailed shots of these latest projects over the next week or so, as I explore more of what this little camera can do.

Empress 1840s New Zealand Wars Māori and colonial figures

My 28mm Māori warriors brandish their weapons in the face of their British and colonial opponents during the Northern Wars in New Zealand during the 1840s.   I’ve now finished basing the first eight Empress Miniatures figures I painted, and have also added a further eight figures to the complement (click on the pictures below to see them more clearly):

Māori chiefs and warriors, including a female warrior (far left), Chief Kawiti (third from left) and a wonderful portly warrior (far right).  Note the ferns and tussock – typical Kiwi plants.

Māori warriors, including the famous chief Hone Heke (second from left) and a conch blower (third from left).

Soldiers and officers of the 58th Regiment of Foot (the Black Cuffs).  

Civilians and uniformed militia.  The gentlemen on the right is painted in the uniform of the Magistracy Police in Kororareka during the early 1840s – it was pure chance that this figure matched the uniform (which consisted of a top hat and a white coat with black armbands carrying small brass badges). The Magistracy Police were not normally armed with anything more than a truncheon, but I’m sure in a Māori raid they would’ve grabbed something a little more effective.

I used heavy galvanised steel washers for the bases.  These seem to have taken my automotive black sanding primer paint well, and give real heft to the figures.   I can’t recall if galvanised steel is magnetic or not – if it is, then I have the bonus of being able to attach these figures to magnetic sheets to transport them.  

Basing is my usual combination of PVA glue and a mixture of various types and colours of beach sand.  On top of this I have glued patches of flock and static grass.  I gave them a New Zealand feel by adding clumps of nylon tussock grass and some ferns.  The latter are laser-cut paper railway scenery products from Noch.  The Noch ferns, although only HO/OO scale, are actually much too big to decorate individual figure bases, so I have snipped off the ends and used only those.  I also repainted the ferns, as I found the paper colour too vivid.

Painted my first Empress ‘New Zealand Wars’ figures

Hot off the painting desk, here are my first eight 1840s New Zealand Wars figures from Empress Miniatures.

The first four figures depict some of the Māori characters in Empress’s range. They include one of the basic warriors, another rather portly Māori warrior, the elderly chieftain Kawiti, and (of course) Hone Heke, wearing his oft-portrayed merchantship captain’s hat.

It is hard to detect in this photo, but I have indicated the tattoos on the faces with pencil. This has come out very subtle indeed – possibly even too subtle, some might say. But I am concerned that anything darker will look wrong, as it would be too hard to do justice to the full facial tatoos of those times.

The second four figures I’ve painted are two privates and two officers of the 58th ‘Black Cuffs’ Regiment. I love the characterful faces (not too successfully reproduced in these photos). The uniforms are quite simple, but did still take me a while to paint, as it took some work to get the straps looking right. This is because Empress (like Perry) sculpt straps of realistic thickness, unlike those of other ranges such as Front Rank, where the straps are more exaggerated in depth, but are therefore more simple to paint cleanly.

I am particularly pleased how dry-brushing a light touch of mud colour to the bottom of the trousers and shoes has given the figures a nice campaign look.

The last photo includes the plastic bell-tent that Empress threw in to our order – a nice touch.  You can also see some of my other Empress figures waiting on the sidelines for their turn to face my paintbrush.