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The Refights
Wargaming the South African War

I always had an interest in the Boer War because my grandfather on my mother's side came to SA with the Highlander Brigade (Campbell), where he engaged the Boers at, amongst others, Magersfontein, where the Jacobsdal Kommando was also present. Now on my father's side, his father/grandfather would have been part of this kommando as our ancestral farm, Schoemansrust, have always been in the Paardeberg/Jacobsdal district, so there always was the possibility that my two ancestors fought each other (I could not confirm this as yet, though).

Having grown up as a 'Boerseun' in Kimberley and having spent five years in the SADF in the early and mid eighties (seeing action in Angola during the war), I thought I had enough experience in the Boer as well as the military (which stems from the British) ways to attempt to write a rule set to refight some of the earlier battles of the Boer War on the tabletop. At first I looked at some other rule sets but did not think that any of them represented the real fighting capabilities of the Boer 'soldier' adequately. I have done a lot of research and came up with a ruleset called 'Gone To Earth', which is rather comprehesive, although still incomplete, which I published in the interim here on my Boer War website. While it still needs a lot of revision to make it more playable and easier to understand. we have used it in a number of refights and found it quite realistic. There is always a trade-off between realism, accuracy, historical facts and playability and wargamers tend to lean towards the playability more often than not.

I have spent considerable effort and money on the ability to recreate and build realistic looking terrain, that, while still reasonably accurately representing the battlefield, allows players to place and position their forces without the figures falling over and/or spoiling the effect. For this reason I chose 6mm figures, and a ground scale of 1 inch (25mm) equalling 100 yards. This allows me to represent an area of some 6.5 by 4.5 miles on a 9ft by 6 ft table, which adequately covers most of the battlefields. This still meant that a 6mm figure representing 20 men towered some 72 scale feet (6mm x 4 yards/mm x 3 feet/yard) over the surrounding terrain. To get a better effect I had to increase the vertical scale of the terrain by representing each 100ft of altitude with 12mm thick foam arranged in layers and cut to the shape of the 100ft contours. Buildings and trees are made to match the figure scale in height but smaller in area in order to achieve a realistic looking effect. I made the foam contours reusable by cutting the contours from 2ftx2ft squares so that it results in two complimantary pieces that fit together to make a square but of which one is used for the actual countour layer. This allows the complementary piece to be used as another piece of contour elsewhere (often in another game). It also allows stacking of the squares so that it can easily be stored or transported to the wargames location for quick, easy assembly of the terrain.

I cover the foam contours with a big sand-coloured piece of sweatsuit-cloth upon which I then place the other features like carboard buildings, trees made from the foam that flower arrangers use to stick the flowers in and toothpicks fixed on coins with 'Prestik', roads made from the same cloth as it allows the road to curve without folding, and scatter a lot of scatter material (that green stuff model railroaders use to cover the grassy areas of their dioramas) all over the terrain to give it that real 'veld' look.

Why 6mm figures and not the more customary 15 or 20/25mm figures, you may ask? I use them because they are more representative of the number of troops and suits the terrain better. (not to mention, painting a lot quicker!). this means a battalion of 800+ men are represented by 8 strips of 6 figures each, each strip representing a company. In 15mm this would only require 8 figures to represent that same battalion! In a typical early battle where only 1-2 brigades were engaged, the British would have between 32 and 64 figures on the (9x6ft) table! Representing the Boers in this scale would be unthinkable! Also just imagine what it does to your ground scale when your figure now towers 180ft above the terrain! A typical 200ft hill would look like a mountain against the ground scale. You must also remember that in other wars, tens of thousands (even hundreds of thousands) of men were pushed into a similar area, and the wargamer could much easier represent this mass of men using bigger scales (typically each 15mm figure representing 120 men), but in the Boer War, a maximum of 20-30 thousand men were spread over the terrain. A reduced figure scale allows for much improved maneouvering and it becomes a bigger challenge to the true tactician.

You may view the refights at http://www.veridical.co.za/boerwar and you will see the effect the 6mm figures and the terrain have on improving the realism of the game. When players comment on my poorly painted figures, I only reply: 'This is a wargame, not a painting competition!'

Should you have any enquiries, please do not hesitate to contact me at johan@veridical.co.za.


Johan Schoeman


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