So in an effort to learn more about gaming the Zulu War, I picked up a copy of Victoria Cross II by Worthington Games. It recreates the battles of Isandlwna and Rorke's Drift. The playing pieces are colorful and sturdy. The rules are clearly written and well-presented. At four pages, there is not much to them, and one can begin playing shortly after opening the box. I do have a slight issue with the two-sided maps. They are printed on heavy cardstock which I could get to lay down only after setting a sheet of glass on top of them (see image below). They lack the bright colors of the counters, instead offering a faded appearance with script-like notations, giving the feel of a period map. Very cool. Movement is by irregularly blocked zones, rather than hexes. Being born and raised on hexes, I was dubious at first, but the zone-based movement works surprisingly well. best of all, line of sight is actually marked on the maps, so if you are in zone "J", you know exactly what other zones you can target. Brilliant idea that greatly speed up game play.
The mechanics are fairly simple and abstract, designed to keep the play moving. Zulu casualties re-enter the board on the following turn, so the British must choose between reinforcing the current main thrust and keeping a reserve for the next wave. Meanwhile, the only British hope of reinforcement comes from the Surgeon, who can restore wounded units, but getting these units to the hospital and patching them up can take several turns. This, preserving manpower for when it is needed is a key goal of the British side. I like games that give both sides meaningful decisions, and the differing reinforcement tools do just that.
Below is a photo taken after the first turn of the Rorke's Drift scenario. The Zulus chose to swarm around the kraal at the western edge of the map and work their way up the compound. Not a bad strategy, as they limit their exposure to British firepower that way. However, if they break through the first line, they still have a long way to go before they reach the hospital, the source of most of the victory points the Zulus can earn. In this game, the British rifles were not as accurate as they might have been, allowing the first wave to reach the walls. The Zulu assault was repulsed, but not before the British took their first casualty. Zulu sniper fire was as ineffective as it was historically.
Overall, a fun, fast game with simple but elegant mechanics that do a good job of capturing a period feel.