Gun vs Spear…battlefield lab…


In the previous post I linked to an excellent article by Chris Peers describing some of his thinking and processes that went into the design of his game Death In The Dark Continent. Lots of good background and historical detail that anyone tackling this period would need to consider.

When devising the adaptation of Muskets & Tomahawks for use in Darkest Africa, and wider Colonial period, these same processes need to come into consideration. Therefore this post gives something of a breakdown to show how the gun vs spear equation is handled in Rifles & Spears


Small arms weapons in Rifles & Spears

Two new weapons are added to Rifles & Spears. They are the Breechloading Rifle and Repeating Rifle. Each of these has its own characteristics along with the trusty Musket, both smoothbore and rifled, that Muskets & Tomahawks players are familiar with.


Smoothbore and Rifled Muskets – though superseded, the propensity of trade muskets and the mass market for the sale of firearms into Africa meant the weapon of the last one-hundred years and its more recent updated rifled version was still present until the end of the century, and in large quantities. Ex British army Brown Bess types and more modern muzzle loading Springfield rifled weapons are all classed in this group.

The end user had a significant impact on the effectiveness of such weapons when loading and firing and the total lack of experience in their use essentially meant that in the hands of poorly trained men the weapons, regardless of type, made little difference to their battlefield effectiveness. The principal drawback was that the muzzle loaders were slow to reload compared to the modern breech loading and repeating weapons.

In Rifles & Spears muskets are treated equally regardless of type and essentially use the same rules from Muskets & Tomahawks. Troops able to may use them in firing line formation and derive benefits as per usual. This principally entails an increased ability to hit when firing with 6 men or more in firing line when delivering volley fire, off course, only if trained to do so. The shock and awe of the black powder weapon still has a negative morale effect if they do inflict losses, just as it is in Muskets & Tomahawks, so the musket is still a potent weapon if well handled.


Breech-loading rifle – This weapon includes such types as the Snider, Albini, Martini-Henry and Remington rifles. Their ability to use cartridge ammunition loaded directly into the breech significantly increased the fire capability of troops so equipped.

In Rifles & Spears breech loading rifles come with a number of traits that make them more effective and somewhat define this period. Most importantly they don’t require a reload action unlike the musket. This is the most decisive aspect of their use in Rifles & Spears. Troops equipped with these weapons that are trained may still form firing lines and follow all the rules that firing lines do in Muskets & Tomahawks, with the exception that now only 4 men are need to form a firing line – this is due to the much greater output of fire by even small groups of men firing on command, at least if not more than the equivalent to 6 men who are the minimum number required to form firing line with slow loading muskets. Firing Lines in Rifles & Spears includes the concept of both volley fire and ‘independent fire’ with no distinction made between the two – both deliver the requisite effect for game purposes.

Breech loading rifles, with their greater accuracy, are more likely to inflict loss when shooting which in turn means they are likely to cause their enemy to have to test their reaction, though untrained shooters will still be less effective than soldiers trained with the same weapon. The Shooting rating of a unit and its ability to form firing line largely defines the firer’s firepower potential.

Causing reaction tests is an important feature of Muskets & Tomahawks as it is in Rifles and Spears. Importantly in Africa, the usual ‘targets’ of breech loader equipped troops were generally of a variable quality so a small well equipped and trained unit can potentially keep a larger enemy host at bay by selectively shooting at targets to ‘drive them off’ with firepower alone. Off course against a more determined foe the fire would need to be accurate and ‘hot’ to deliver the required morale effect.

As touched on above, breechloading rifles also suffer less from ranged weapon fire accuracy making them more effective at a greater distance. They still suffer a -1 to hit at extreme range (24″+) but are more accurate than muskets firing at the same distance. It is worth pointing out that when playing Rifles & Spears that black powder weapons are given smoke just like their slow loading muskets but in this case it is only to show that they have fired for the purposes of spotting…often this isn’t relevant to play but the smoke still looks good! As these breech loaders were still black powder weapons, (with smokeless powder coming in toward the end of the century), having them place smoke adds to the ‘theatre’ of the game…so best we use it!

Another important design element to account for is the way the card system plays in Rifles & Spears. Because it’s possible for a run of cards to produce a situation that means an enemy could advance in the face of breech loading armed troops and move into contact without being fired at we need to account for the ability of breechloaders to deliver some sort of defensive fire against an enemy at any time. It seems unreasonable to not allow this ‘interaction’. We do this by incorporating this ‘final fire’ as part of the melee phase.

Very simply, we allow breech loading armed troops to ‘strike first’ in melee and then the enemy strikes back with the remaining troops that are in contact, if any. End of melee reaction tests are conducted as usual and the loser suffers the fate of the test.

Even though some troops having varying ‘defence’ numbers this can be taken as their willingness to close and in some way this accounts for the morale effect of the firer against the enemy they are attacking i.e. a more determined attacker (with a better defence rating so more able to save a loss – 3+) is more likely to press an assault than one less motivated (with a defence rating of 5+) for example.

We also account for the ability of breech loading armed troops to deliver a greater volume of fire from a defended obstacle such as defending a rampart or mealie bag position…surprisingly this makes quite a difference and needs some consideration. The breech loaders could deliver much higher volumes of fire when used this way and the +1drm accounts for this.

For a good look at some of these principals watch this short video describing the tactical use of the Martini-Henry breech loading rifle.



In melee, the strike first ability means that is possible for a determined enemy force to attack a breechloader equipped unit and lose all its men to ‘melee loss’ and not be able to fight back. They would then need to pass a reaction test, and if they do so, melee continues until the melee is resolved with one unit left or one recoiling/fleeing/routing….(think of the scene in Zulu when the zulus are attacking and the British ‘form two lines’ with none of them getting into contact with the firing line as it delivers disciplined fast rifle fire…that is sort of the effect we are capturing with this ‘strike first’ rule mechanic).



Note, we do not allow the ‘strike first’ option if the a unit is attacked in the rear as we assume the shock of a rear attack largely negates the firer’s ability to deliver controlled last moment effective fire.

So we can see that a unit armed with Breechloaders that has a bad run of cards still has a reasonable chance that it can hold the line with ‘fire’ during a melee and this reflects the reality of this weapon on the battlefield. That said, against a determined and dangerous enemy this mad-moment fire might not be enough…


Repeating Rifles – these weapons include bolt action weapons such as Lee-Metford and Winchester rifles. Their great advantage is that they can be reloaded as a breechloader or by magazine. This gives them quite an advantage when the enemy is closer and rapidity of fire is important. It has less effect at longer ranges where fire is more controlled and generally slower making them comparable to breechloader in many respects. In fact all the comments above for breechloaders are applicable to repeaters.

This additional volume and effectiveness of fire is accounted for in two ways in Rifles & Spears. The first is that fire at up to 12″ has an increased lethality of 2+, thus making all hits almost equal to a kill. We allow this slight improvement in killing potential over other black powder weapons (3+ to kill) to allow for a combination of the use of a greater rate of fire or targeting ability mixed in with magazine ‘rapid or independent fire’ just prior to melee, which the ‘strike first’ ability reflects. it all kind of combines to make the Repeater a bit more deadly close in. At long and extreme range the lethality drops by -1 making the weapon essentially the same as a breechloader and used the same way. This accounts for tactical practices of the time and elegantly allows for this in the game without any further rules required.

In ‘melee’ however is where magazine fire is principally accounted for by allowing all missed shots to re-roll in the same manner as the savage trait allows for ferocious enemies to strike again in combat. Savage and ferocious are suitable words to describe the sheer volume of fire that repeaters can deliver in the last closing yards an attacker must cross before he makes it into hand to hand combat, a difficult if not impossible task under such fire unless able to overwhelm the defenders.


To see these sustained rated of fire principals have a look at this short video describing tactical use of the Mk I Lee-Metford Repeating  rifle.



So the repeater is handled much as the breechloader is but we can reflect it additional benefit in the final stages of an enemy closing by making it ‘melee’ attacks quite deadly. Historically, charging into the teeth of fire form a breech loader or repeating rifle was not a common occurrence in Africa (or anywhere) so reflecting this reality is important. Off course the battle field is a dynamic place and none of this accounts for the sequencing of card play, the enemy having firearms of their own and front and flanking movements as well.


Tabletop Experiments

Ok, so lets give this a try and conduct some ‘experiments’ for ourselves!

If we equip a unit of 6 Regulars with each of the three weapons described (in our experiments) to defend against an attack by one unit of 12 Elite ‘savage’ Masai Warriors (120pts) we can get a feel for how the game system will handle the effects of guns vs spears. We shall assume that the attacking unit starts at 24″ which is the maximum recommended open field clear line of fire in Muskets & Tomahawks/Rifles & Spears. This seems fair as the enemy attacker, armed only with close combat weapons, will use every covered approach to contact his enemy to mitigate his disadvantage against ranged fire.

In our examples, if we assume the the defender is in the optimal position when being attacked from 24″ away then we have given him every advantage. We shall also use dice averages to determine our results, with the reader to ponder the effects of rolling ‘up’ or ‘down’ to highlight where some variation may occur to the outcomes derived…as dice seldom roll exactly on the odds…that is a statistical certainty and wargame maxim! We shall also look at case variations and try and form some sort of structure around the outcomes to see what is possible.

A final point is worth noting in these examples which is that the Masai potentially have 5 action cards as they are Elite and the defender in these experiments only has two 2-action cards being standard Regulars. Obviously the extra action, particularly for breechloader or repeater equipped defenders can be very effective as it gives them yet another possible chance to fire as no reload action is needed thus affording them the potential for 5 shots if the cards come out in the correct sequence – a huge amount of firepower. IN this case the extra move for the Masai Warriors gives them a chance to overcome a temporary move setback forced on them by an adverse reaction test.

As Muskets & Tomahawks players can attest to, the way the cards fall really do have an impact on how events play out which is one of the tension building aspects of the game system. Not to forget, the force command ability, be it tribal, organised or disciplined (as explained in the previous post on Rifles & Spears) which gives the better led troops quite an advantage as the flow of the cards can be controlled by the player’s ‘hand’ and therefore the optimal shooting time can be ‘chosen’…there really are many moving parts in the Rifles & Spears system to mix things up and make the game engaging and fun.

So, with the ground rules laid out let’s have a look at the first encounter.


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Reaction table.


Experiment 1 – Muskets vs Warriors

In this experiment we shall have our defending Regular unit armed with muskets (48pts) firing at our attacking Warrior unit (108pts). Both units are in the open, the defender in no fear of being attacked by any ranged fire weapons.



The initial position shows the Masai Warriors preparing to advance from left to right.

They emerge from the tall grass and come under long range musket fire with the Regulars using a 2-action card who fire and reload. This is to the warrior’s advantage to have the enemy fire at as long a distance as possible and use one of his two ‘2-action’ cards for the turn enabling them to (hopefully) close as quickly as possible, maybe even before the next Regulars card comes out..though this is unlikely.

The shooter’s fire effect is; 6 shots @4+ (firing line +1, long range -1)=4+ to hit…result = 3 hits. 3+ to kill = 2 dead. Total loss is 2 dead for the Warriors. A casualty causes a morale check. The Warriors are rated Determined and have a +1drm for being over 6 models strong and -1drm for receiving a kill from a firing line. This gives them a 4+ to pass…which we shall say they do.

So now the Regular’s firing line is reloaded and the Masai commence their advance having passed their morale check…






The Warriors advance using two 1-action tribal cards and now come within close range (12″) of the enemy line. The Regulars open fire with their next 2-action card which is played. They fire and reload, this now being their last card to play in this turn.

The shooter’s fire effect is; 6 shots @4+ [firing line +1)=3+ to hit…result = 4 hits. 3+ to kill = 2 dead. Total losses are now 4 dead for the Warriors.

Two casualties cause a morale check. The Warriors are rated Determined and have a +1drm for being over 6 models strong and -1drm for receiving a kill from a firing line. This gives them a 4+ to pass…which we shall say they do once again. The size of the unit is what is helping them here, hence warrior types tend to be large-ish to help them absorb losses in R&S. The Warriors cannot rout from any adverse morale result but they could recoil or flee resulting in a move backwards.

This would mean they would be further away from the enemy having been driven back by enemy fire and the possibility exists that they would not be able to close in the play of one turn running through the card deck. This however is where being Elite is an advantage as the Masai in effect have another move on the Forward Boys! card to allow them to have a temporary setback and still press the assault in the one turn of the cards playing though.

So now the Regular’s firing line is reloaded but no more action cards remain this turn so the Masai commence their attack in the knowledge that the cards have fallen and presented them with an opportunity to close into melee which they almost certainly will be able to do with the play of their two remaining action cards.

Note that it is possible that the Warriors could, with a good run of cards, advance on the firing line without taking a second round of fire which would give them 2 more men in their unit and no reaction test to pass…that would not be good for the defenders!






Into melee…before that however, there is one final step!  😙

Masai Warriors have the Stratagem of ‘Terror’ which causes their enemy to test their reaction at step 2 of the melee sequence ie just prior to the fight. In this case the Regulars would gain a +1drm for being 6+ models so would pass on a score of 3+. We shall afford them the same ‘benefit of the doubt’ morale pass the Masai have got thus far to even the ledger.

That done, fighting is now conducted simultaneously as the defender is equipped with muskets only. The melee result is;

  • 9 Warriors aggressiveness 3+ result = 6 hits. However re roll 3 misses for savage trait = 2 of 8 hits. 4+ for Regulars to defend = 4 kills. Total losses for the Regulars are 4 dead (out of 6 men).
  • 6 Regulars aggressiveness 4+ result = 3 hits. 3+ for Warriors to defend = 1 dead. Total losses for the Warriors is 1 dead.

Clearly this is a decisive win for the Masai. The Warriors, once engaged in melee, will make short work of the defending Regulars who can little resist the fighting prowess of savage elite Warriors using spear and shield in close combat. Even if they passed their reaction test their unit is reduced from six to two men….they’re finished.

Historical note – Interestingly the above example nicely models the regular historical instances of Masai warriors attacking musket armed Arabs and cutting them down…this example speaks nicely to the historical record.

As can be seen a few variable factors were at play here with the play of the cards and the potential for adverse morale results on the advancing Warriors. Casaulties could have been greater at close range and it is worth noting that 3 kills by a black powder weapon results in a significant (-2) morale modifier so this almost invariably stops an advancing enemy in their tracks….the vagaries of the dice rolls will determine if this comes to play. It is also worth reiterating that the points difference here was in favour of the Masai by two-to-one. A unit of 12 Regulars would put these force at a rough party in Rifles & Spears and that would have made the Masai’s advance more problematic and certainly reduced their numbers that finally made it into the assault.

We also can see that the sequencing of the cards is going to impact on the potential for the defenders to deliver one round or two rounds of fire before the attackers close. Therefore, for this example, it can be said that on balance, a single firing line of 6 riflemen in the open stand a low-ish chance against a large unit of Warriors pressing an assault and even a 12 man defending unit would possibly have suffered a similar fate…

…enter the breechloader…





Experiment 2 – Breechloading Rifles vs Warriors

In this experiment we shall have our defending Regular unit equipped with breechloading rifles firing at our attacking Warrior unit. Both units are in the open, the defender in no fear of being attacked by any ranged fire weapons.



The initial position shows the Masai Warriors preparing to advance from left to right.





They emerge from the tall grass and come under long range breechloader fire with the Regulars using a 2-action card who fire twice i.e. no reload required. Unlike musket fire that suffers a penalty at targets at long range the superior ballistics of the breechloader do not suffer this penalty within 24″. Even so, it is still to the warrior’s advantage to have the enemy fire at as long a distance as possible and use one of his two ‘2-action’ cards for the turn. With an adverse result it may even be that they might ‘back up’ into cover but that is not what they are hoping for!

The object will still be to move as quickly as possible, looking for a good run off cards to help them mitigate another Regular 2-action play which will surely deliver punishing fire i.e. four rounds of fire…though such a ‘rush’ on the enemy is unlikely.

The shooter’s fire effect is; 6 shots @4+ (firing line +1)=3+ to hit…result = 4 hits. 3+ to kill = 2 or 3 dead. This triggers a reaction check. The Warriors are rated Determined and have a +1drm for being over 6 models strong and -1drm for receiving a kill from a firing line. This gives them a 4+ to pass…which we shall say they do.

Important point – when a firer shoots in Rifles & Spears (just as M&T) each action that causes a casualty triggers a reaction test. This means that such a unit when activated with a 2-action card that is equipped with a weapon that does not need reloading may, after its first shoot action, trigger a check on the enemy unit before it takes its next action (shot). It may then choose to fire at which ever target is valid following the normal rules of designating a target, wether it be the same or a different target.

For clarity the rules is – a turn is completed when the card deck has been completed (or by a specific random event). An activation is when a card is being resolved for a specific unit, for example a unit of regulars is resolving an activation that consists of two actions. An action is a specific action a unit takes during an activation such as move, shoot or reload.

Continuing our example, the Regulars fire a second time inflicting the same (statistical) losses which once again triggers a reaction test, which we shall assume they pass (we are being generous!). The total losses now are 4 dead for the Warriors…a significant increase over musket fire and a significant morale effect from the fire they deliver…this ability to force enemy reaction tests is an important effect from their fire and one way a unit can ‘hold off’ multiple enemies with firepower.






The Warriors, now half way to the target, receive another round of fire from the enemy 2-action card. It really doesn’t matter at what stage this occurs as the Warriors, with a move of 6″, will not voluntarily move into point blank firing range (i.e. 4″ or less). The fire is calculated the same as it was before as there are no new modifiers at play…again….

The shooter’s fire effect is; 6 shots @4+ (firing line +1)=3+ to hit…result = 4 hits. 3+ to kill = 2 or 3 dead. This triggers a reaction check. Looking at the reaction table and modifiers the the chances of the Warrios not suffering a adverse result is starting to become slimmer. The first round of fire would still allow the Warriors to gain a +1drm on their die roll but the second round of fire now reduces them to 4 models. in this case the chances of a Pass or Recoil is 33%, and a Flight or Rout result is 16% each i.e. an adverse result occurs 2 out of 4 times, thus the Elite trait does allow for a re-roll if a 1 is rolled which does make them harder to Rout outright. For the purposes of the exercise, just so we can see the effect of a ‘lucky’ Warrior unit that makes it through this maelstrom of fire into melee, we shall say they pass.


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The Warriors now commence their final advance having passed their reaction test. Even though we have been generous with our morale passes here, as we touched on above, this gives Elite units a re roll ability for a failed reaction test on a score of 1 which when coupled to the extra activation on the Forward Boys! card does give them an ability to press an assault with a reasonable chance of success. Note that lesser warrior types would have much less chance to be able to overcome this firepower than the fearsome warrior class typified by Masai, Zulus, Ngoni, HeHe, Azande, and a few notable others.

African Warfare – in Rifles & Spears we account for the different styles of warfare that the African peoples fought by. This can restrict or rather restrain certain behaviours by limiting the ability of some troops to actually engage in combat. We do this as follows;

Rule –

Unless a unit is Elite, White Men, Regulars, Soldiers, Swordsmen, Spearmen, Warriors or Pygmy Spearmen a unit must take a reaction test to charge into Melee. If they score a ’Pass’ then they may charge, however failure has no other effect, nor does it prevent any other action being taken by the unit testing.

Our Masai have no need to test their reaction to close into combat as they are both Elite and Warriors!…so in they go!

Fighting is now conducted, but in this case it is not simultaneous, as the defender is equipped with breech loading weapons, enabling it to ‘strike first’, but only in the first round of melee. Note that being armed with breechloaders will mean that they gain a +1drm in their first round of combat and if they inflict any casualties on their attacker then they will have to test their reaction before they strike in melee…so they might ‘bounce’ before getting a chance to strike. The result is;

  • 6 Regulars aggressiveness 4+ (+1 for BLR 1st round) = 3+ to hit result = 3 to 4 hits. 3+ (-1drm vs BLR 1st round) for Warriors to defend = 1-2 dead. Total losses for the Warriors is 1 or possibly 2 dead…reducing them to 3 or 2 Warriors left to fight….we’ll say 3.

The Warriors need to test their morale first as they have suffered losses. Luckily for them they did not suffer 3+ model losses else they would suffer a -2drm al but guaranteeing them to recoil/flee/rout. They do however roll 1D3 as they are now reduced to 3 models or less…this means they cannot pass their reaction even with an Elite re roll. The best they can hope for is a score of ‘3’ which would cause them to Recoil….thus ending the fight with them 6″ away from the Regulars and an end of melee without the Regulars needing to test…and turn.

In this case the draw and play of the first card next turn is critical to the outcome of the contest. If the Regulars 2-action card is played first then they will surely destroy the Warriors outright with firepower alone. If the Warriors draw a card they can attempt to close into combat and fight to the death.

For the purposes of the exercise we shall look at two case variations to highlight aspects of the rules.;

Case 1 – we shall say that in the previous encounter the Masai get a reduced statistical loss leaving them with 4 men in the fight and able to fight, thus they would be able to engage in melee by moving their models into contact. This however highlights one point about how warriors and tribesmen fought in Africa.

Historical note “African Warfare” – in Rifles & Spears we account for the different styles of warfare that the African peoples fought by. They do not all just ‘die to a man’ like in the movies. More often than not most African warriors confronted one another and did not engage in close range hand to hand combat but rather engaged in long range sniping and a gesticulated ‘show of force’ in a ritualised manner only sometimes coming to blows and often not with any sustained vigour – the thrust of the encounter was not a fight to the death. This makes sense as tribes were often small and a devastating fight to the death confrontation would eventually seriously weaken both side’s population base which would be a pyrrhic victory more often than not. The more aggressive tribes that practiced a true ‘combat to the death’ style of warfare like the Masai, Ngoni, HeHe and Zulus were the ones that rose to power. This in fact is one reason for the weakening of the Masai peoples as they fought a long series of bloody civil wars ‘to the death’ that seriously undermined their populations. In Rifles & Spears we differentiate African Warfare styles as follows;

Post Combat (round one) Rule –

If figures from both sides remain, Warrior, Pygmy Spearmen, Swordsmen, White Men and Regulars along with any defending obstacles that have have ”passed” their reaction tests will move models into contact, limited to their normal move rate, and continue fighting the melee regardless of how many models remained in contact at the end of the round of melee. [this is essentially the normal rule in Muskets & Tomahawks].

Otherwise, the loser of the melee must take one full move away from enemy, ending the combat, with the victor moving up to 2” as desired. [This makes combat less deadly as multiple rounds are not fought unless by a close combat fighting warrior peoples as noted above].

So, our Masai do not fall back from the melee but rather stay in the fight..they behave much as North American Indians do in Muskets & Tomahawks as they are a Warrior caste…

So, back to the fight…

The results are now conducted simultaneously as the ‘first strike’ breechloader advantage is lost in the swirl of a close range hand to hand melee in there send and subsequent round(s).

  • 6 Regulars aggressiveness 4+ result = 2 hits. 3+ for Warriors to defend (-1drm vs BLR 1st round) = 1 dead (possibly 2). Total losses for the Warriors is 1 or 2 dead.
  • 4 Warriors aggressiveness 3+ result = 2 (possibly 3) hits. However re roll misses for savage trait i.e. 1 miss = 1 (possible) of 3 (likely) hits. 4+ for Regulars to defend = 1, maybe 2 kills. Total losses for the Regulars are 1 or 2 dead.

The outcome of the final clash is totally even in many respects – either side could win, but on balance the Warriors have had alot go their way. They have passed multiple reaction tests and had a lower than average loss rate form enemy fire to be able to achieve a ‘even fight’ right at the end…the breechloaders have indeed done their work.


Case 2 – If we say that the Warriors did in fact have to Recoil in the first round of fighting from being reduced to 3 men then in the next turn a fight would ensue if they were not otherwise destroyed by the Regulars getting the play of the 2-action card first in the following turn. Let’s cut the warriors a break (again!) and allow them to throw themselves into combat with their remaining men in one last effort…though falling back seems more sensible!

Fighting is now conducted, but in this case (once again) melee is not simultaneous, as the Regular defender is equipped with breech loading weapons, enabling it to ‘strike first’ in this new melee. The result is;

  • 4 Regulars aggressiveness 4+ (+1 for BLR 1st round) = 3+ to hit result = 2 hits. 3+ for Warriors to defend (-1drm vs BLR 1st round) = 1 dead (possibly 2). Total losses for the Warriors is 1 or 2 dead…they now are reduce to one or two men left.
  • 2 Warriors aggressiveness 3+ result = 1 (possibly 2) hits. However re roll misses for savage trait i.e. 1 miss = 1 (possible) of 2 (likely) hits. 4+ for Regulars to defend = 1kill. Total losses for the Regulars are 1 dead.

It is most likely that the Warriors have suffered the most casualties in the melee and so will have to test their reaction – not the Regulars as they won the fight, though they are badly mauled by the encounter. The Reaction test of the Warriors will now result in them definitely having to break from combat with a recoil, flight or rout result…they are now combat ineffective., though being a warrior army…they will be but one unit of a number present.

The combat now ends – observations…


You can see how powerful a line of breechloader can be. For the most part we allowed the warriors to get the benefit of the doubt in a number of their required reaction tests. That said they are particularly resilient and with their high morale and Elite ability the above sequence is not beyond them, thought the odds are against them. This is an historical outcome and as it should be. Nevertheless, in a number of run throughs of this exercise the Masai were victorious once in the above encounter by overrunning the Regulars position – so it it possible and can be ‘a close run thing’ as they say.

From a ‘points cost’ comparison perspective the Masai were a 108pt 12-man unit vs Regular 84pt 6-man Regular unit. Though less points they also had the best possible set up to optimise their firepower ability. If the Regulars lose but one of their fire actions against the Warriors in the above example then things can change quite a bit…or more typically if you roll terribly when you shoot! You need to really put some heavy blows on the Warriors to give yourself a chance in the fight should it come to hand to combat as the Warriors are far and way superior once it become mano-y-mano contest. So how best can a man with a gun keep them away…

…enter the repeating rifle…




Experiment 3 – Repeater Rifles vs Warriors

In this experiment we shall have our defending Regular unit armed with repeating rifles firing at our attacking Warrior unit. Both units are in the open, the defender in no fear of being attacked by any ranged fire weapons. However for the sake of brevity it is not necessary to cover the entire encounter again as the use of the repeating rifle really only makes a difference in the melee close combat encounter…not long range fire where its effect is essentially the same as the breechloader described above. So all comments above for the breechloader apply to the repeater as well.




Same set up to start…








Long range fire – Warriors take two casualties…




They move in closer and take further hits reducing them to 4 men. If your recall at this, at this range the lethality of the repeater is increase to a 2+ kill instead of the usual 3+ kill over 12″ as described above making this fire result more certain.





On they come and into melee where we shall pickup the action.


Ok, so now we have the situation where the Regulars are defending against the Warriors who are now reduced to 4 men as they enter melee. The combat is as follows;

Fighting is now conducted, but not simultaneously, as the defender is equipped with repeaters, enabling it to ‘strike first’, but only in the first round of melee. As noted before being armed with breechloaders will mean that they gain a +1drm in their first round of combat and if they inflict any casualties on their attacker then they will have to test their reaction before they strike in melee…so they might ‘bounce’ before getting a chance to strike. The result is;

  • 6 Regulars aggressiveness 4+ (+1 for BLR 1st round) = 3+ to hit result = 3 hits. However the repeater benefit is that they can re roll misses i.e. 3 misses = 1 (possibly) 2 of 4 (perhaps 5) hits. 3+ for Warriors to defend (-1drm vs RR 1st round) = 1 or (probably) 2 dead. Total losses for the Warriors is 1 or 2 dead…reducing them to 2-3 Warriors left to fight.

In this case the Warriors are definitely going to be reduced to a 3 man or less unit which will ensure they suffer a recoil, flight or rout result. i.e. the repeater fire has made it much more likely that this will be the outcome. Though the effect is subtle the odds lean toward this being probable because of the ability of the repeater to re roll all misses in their first strike..a substantial benefit.

This will ensure that they have a higher chance of seeing off any frontal attack by enemy troops, even those with the highest morale and in large units like the Masai warriors above. Lesser tribesmen and those less included to even enter combat will have a much tougher, if not impossible, chance to attempt the above attack…they brave beyond measure when you think on it….’splendid fellows’ indeed. The key point is that the defender with breechloaders or repeaters needs to force a reaction test on enemy that charge them and hopefully (for them) 3+ models to cause the big -2drm for suffering losses from  breechloader/repeater fire.

On the flip side of that same comment is that troops that are not endowed with the firing line ability and who are much less effective shooters, despite being better equipped, would struggle to inflict enough loss on a hard charging aggressive attack by Warriors described above. It is likely that they may be overrun, though this is not certain.

That point can’t be emphasised enough – well trained and disciplined troops with breechloaders are a difficult proposition for any troops but lesser men with those same weapons will have much less effect, though still better than being musket armed for sure. If you were to follow the same attack sequence above but instead of a steady flow of 2-action card Regulars shooting in firing line you have a line of Irregular or Provincial 1-action card askaris (5+ to hit) with breechloaders the Masai end up getting into combat with more men more often than not…and from there you can do the math as askaris are even less interested in close combat than Regulars are…they are toast! As the majority of forces in Africa are in fact musket armed with the best askaris generally only having breechloaders the fire effectiveness in the above examples means that the determined warrior with spear is very much still  a viable way of war in Darkest Africa.



Some hapless heavily armed askaris about to be overrun by Masai out of the scrub


So there you go. Three examples of the ways the defining three weapons of the era, muskets, breechloader and repeaters, work in Rifles & Spears..hopefully plenty of food for thought.

In Rifles & Spears there are so many moving parts and mixing of troop and weapon types within a vast array of armies that the battlefield becomes a very dynamic place, perhaps even more so than the North American conflict of the 18th century. The Muskets and Tomahawks system handles it all seamlessly and provides and excellent basis for gaming low-intensity warfare during the Scramble for Africa.


Thanks for sticking with me this far…



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