Challenges of Wargaming the New Zealand Wars

The New Zealand Wars pose a severe challenge for the wargamer. The challenge derives from a combination of the following three factors:

  • The Maori often faced and defeated vastly superior numbers of attacking Europeans
  • The Europeans often frontally assaulted entrenched Maori despite the likely losses
  • Wargamers are playing a game, and want to play to win, and have fun while doing it.

Here are my thoughts on the challenges and possible ways to over come them.

Problem 1: Europeans outnumber Maori

I’ve come up with some scenarios for my DBA Variant for the New Zealand Wars. Kororareka is the only workable scenario at the moment because the forces of both sides are fairly balanced; but that makes the battle atypical. More typical is the Battle for Puketutu Pa where the victorious Maori were vastly outnumbered by the British. This is a problem for two reasons:

  • The imbalance of forces is a problem for a figure collector as scaling up the number of figures to field a reasonable number of Maori would lead to a vast number of Brits. And fielding only one element of Maori against 12 Euopeans would look and play silly.
  • Wargaming rules generally favour numbers, and in particular would allow the attacking European player to bring to bear his entire force on a Pa’s defender, whereas typically only a proportion where engaged at any one time.

Problem 2: Europeans frontally assaulted Pa

You’d think that no sane person (wargamer or general) would do it. But frontal assaults of pa were a common feature of battle throughout the New Zealand Wars. So the games should encourage front assaults despite the losses entailed.

PProblem 3: Losing a game quickly isn’t fun

Ultimately this is about playing a game. A game that to some degree simulates history. Having one element of Maori facing 12 European elements isn’t going to be much fun, partly it looks silly and partly because the Maori will quickly be swarmed. Similarly being forced into a suicidal charge isn’t going to be much fun either.

Possible Solutions

I have some ideas to solve this problem but haven’t pursued them. Here are some of them:

  • Make it a mini-campaign rather than just a rgame of an assault. That is why I wrote up the objectives of the participants in the Northern War. The various leaders took sensible actions based on their objectives. For example it was sensible for the British Generals to frontally assault entrenched Maori; political/time pressure meant they could do nothing else.
  • Don’t wargame the assaults on Pa at all – focus on the bush warfare, or Maori attacks on European settlements.
  • Don’t depict the entire Brit force at a Pa, only those engaged at any particular time. For example, the British assault forces were only a small proportion of their entire army, thus making it a more even match, hence I could use 12 elements per side each time.

I think something useful will come out of these ideas.

Some thoughts from Darren McGregor

Often the Maori built there Pas in dense bush so it was very difficult for the attackers to
get at the sides of the pa that were not breached. I seem to recall that Maori kept forces
outside the pa for the express purpose of ambushing attackers moving through bush to assault the
Pa. I imagine that imposed some circumspection on the attackers! Maori often I think had escape
tunnels dug from the pa which could be used for sallies even if they didn’t start with men
posted outside.

I think that perhaps some of the pas were also placed so some of their sides were physically
inaccessible eg I remember reading about one pa where after it was stormed the fleeing Maori had
to jump down a steep slope. Certainly the big pre-European pa near Waitara (sorry can’t remember
name) which I have visited is located with its back on a bluff with a fall of a hundred feet
plus to a river. The friend of a friend who showed me the pa, one of the tribe members, said the
pa was starved out during the musket wars and the survivors jumped down the bluff. His great
great grandmother (don’t quote me on any of this) was one of the lucky ones whose fall was
cushioned by those who jumped first!

I think that the attackers did sometimes send parties to demonstrate against the sides and rear
of some pas, mostly to try and stop the occupants doing a runner I think.

Given the sophisticated nature of the post-musket Maori Pa there would not have been much profit
in attacking sides that weren’t breached. If the Maori kept their nerve they could probably
ignore attacks away from a breach and jus post token forces to keep an eye on such

Then even if the sides and rear of the Pa were in theory accessible there is the issue of what
ground was accessible to the artillery which was the only weapon able to make a breach.

As a general point away from the NZ Wars attackers did often make general assaults along all of
a castle walls eg English assault on Stirling castle in early years of Elizabeth I. The English
were repulsed at the breach, but the French garrison didn’t have enough troops to guard the
whole length of the walls so the English were poised to capture the walls using ladders. Except
they cut the ladders too short and the garrison’s wives and prostitutes beat them off! But in
general if the defenders had enough troops to man their defences properly attacking unbreached
walls would be suicide. That is why so many castles were starved out or taken by treachery.

I have rabbitted on a bit here so I will finish with my recommendation for gaming the NZ Wars. I
would use individually based figures ala Warhammer, perhaps even a variant of Warhammer rules.
Play skirmish games with relatively few figures. Individually based figures allow for the looser
formations of this period and heroic one on one match-ups. I would personally play the pa
assaults as well. There is a set of Warhammer 5th Ed Siege rules (published 1998) which has an
excellent set of simple rules for a siege mini-campaign which could easily be adapted for NZ
wars. There are also 3rd Ed Siege rules if you want more detailed rules and some older rule sets
like the Renaissance Tercio set have sections on sieges (do you fancy Renaissance
flamethrowers?). All of these old sets could easily be picked up cheap at club/convention bring
and buys or off Ebay. My biggest issue with the NZ Wars was always what figures to use. Do you
have any suggestions?

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