Downloading: Zulus On The Ramparts

Living in Brooklyn and commuting back and forth to Manhattan on the subway for work each day, I wind up with a fair amount of time on my hands. I read a lot and the New York Times crossword puzzle is a daily necessity, but sometimes I like to just unwind with a game on my iPhone. I’m not a big electronic player in general, so I was glad to happen across Zulus On The Ramparts! by Victory Point games in the iTunes Store.

Over the past six years or so, Victory Point Games has cranked out dozens of board and card games covering all kinds of scenarios, eras and genres. More recently, they’ve begun releasing a few apps, and Zulus On The Ramparts! just debuted a couple months ago. The game is based on their popular boardgame of the same name from their historical “States of Siege” solitaire games line, and it is available now for iPhone, iPad and Android devices.

As with the boardgame, the app inserts the player into the Battle of Rorke’s Drift. In the January of 1879 battle, a small group of maybe 150 British soldiers from the 24th Regiment of Foot successfully defended a small outpost against a massive army of thousands of Zulus. The battle was popularly dramatized in the 1964 movie “Zulu,” and I was first introduced to it in John Keegan’s “A History of Warfare.” My interest in the battle and the Anglo-Zulu War period has only grown over time, and I’m currently working toward getting a large 28mm scale wargame up and running.

The game progresses through a series of turn phases. First, a random action is chosen for a Zulu impi to move, attack, retreat, stand their ground or perform some other specific action. Each Zulu force appears on the field and then moves over the course of the game through a series of predefined oval spaces which progressively close in on the walls and barricades of the British hospital outpost. Some Zulu actions may cause extra moves or the entire Zulu force to move en masse. Since close range combat is key to a Zulu victory, the first portion of the game is spent quickly organizing and supplying the British before the inevitable attack.

A lot of information is crammed into the game map screen. The position of the Zulus is shown at their various ranges from the fortifications. At the top, the game phase is indicated. On the left side of the screen, various historic officers or more generic soldier characters stand at the ready to use their various bonuses in combat and other special actions. On the right side a running status of supplies such as water and ammo, along with other factors which will effect the outcome. The bottom of the screen displays a clock as the turns click by toward darkness as well as a link that takes you to the “barracks” screen.

On the barracks screen you manage your officers and troops, viewing their heroic abilities on virtual “cards.” Abilities range from calling up reserves, ordering the construction of barricades or distributing supplies to the troops. The barracks also contain combat actions allowing you to fire volleys from your Martini-Henry rifles with various effectiveness of range

Once actions are selected, combat is resolved through a nifty slot machine-like spinning wheel. Depending on range, the type of weapons being fired and any modifiers from heroic actions on activated officer and troop “cards,” combat outcomes are determined. After combat, new cards are randomly placed in your barracks and the next round begins with additional Zulu actions.

Like the historic battle at Rorke’s Drift, time is of the essence in Zulus At The Ramparts! and hours run by quickly on the game clock as the Zulus swarm in on the British and supplies run low. This is a really tough game in a small digital package with lots of variables to manage from turn to turn. Playing on the tiny iPhone screen makes things even harder, and there is probably significant playability to be gained in playing the game on an iPad or Android tablet.

With a few games (and losses) behind me, the game can seem frustrating at times. With that said, the difficulty of Zulus At The Ramparts! does a pretty decent job in simulating the bloody tough spot the British found themselves in on the plains of Africa on that famous 1879 day where retreat simply wasn’t an option.

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