Colonial Era Gaming with Two Hour Games

With all of the faults of Colonial Expansion and Imperialism, the period is full of wonderful tales, both true and fictional. Whether you want to game the exploits of Tarzan, search for King Solomon’s mines, or stand with Chard and Bromhead at Rorke’s Drift, there’s a set of rules for you from Two Hour Games (a.k.a. Two Hour Wargames).

There have been several titles published and authored by Two Hour Games over the years, they can now be purchased from Rebel Minis at their web site or on DriveThruRPG. What I’m going to try to do here is review each rule set and describe the type of game that can be played with each set. I hope these mini-reviews will help gamers find the set to best fit the games they want to play. (Or, you could be like the Floozy and collect all of them.)

Fair warning here, I’m a big fan of Two Hour Games and have even written for them. It started years ago when I was looking for a set of Science Fiction rules to play games set in the post-apocalyptic worlds of Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell. There was a hoopla and wringing of fists over the cover of a set of rules called “Guns and Girls”. While the silly outcry was over the cover, everyone agreed the rules were revolutionary. By the time I tracked down a copy, the cover and name had been changed to “Chain Reaction”. The rules were so different from anything I had played at the time, I had a hard time getting my head around them. Luckily, Ed Teixeira, the author, was at a local game convention, so I went and my mind was blown, even though a corrupt Captain of a tramp steamer left my character stranded on a danger filled island in the end.

Sources for VSF gaming

A couple of short years later, I was invited by local gamers to join a group playing Colonial Era games and the rule set they were using was Colonial Adventures. It wasn’t an unanimous decision, there were some in the group that wanted to play The Sword and the Flame. With all of the popularity of The Sword and the Flame, there are areas where Colonial Adventures is a better game in my opinion. So let’s start our reviews with Colonial Adventures.

Colonial Adventures

This is the set to use for massed battles such as Isandlwana, Rorke’s Drift, Omdurman, San Juan Hill, or the Little Big Horn. Specifically, the rules cover the period of 1870 to 1914 – with very little or no changes, you can also use these rules to cover the 1916 Pershing Expedition into Mexico or as early as the 1857 Indian Mutiny.

The King’s Askari & British Naval Brigade

This is a game of armies – units of infantry, cavalry, artillery, machine guns. It can be played where a unit is composed of ten figures or twenty figures. The thing to remember is that if your opponent is an army of unindustrialized natives, they will have three units to every one of the European/American trained units. The natives may be armed with spear, bow, musket and the rare rifle, but they will make use of the terrain and their weight of numbers to carry the day.

There were a few things which really separated Colonial Adventures from other mass battle games published at the time. Some of them have been adopted by newer rule sets – others not so much. Movement – the units have better movement rates than other games. A lot of mass battle games are spent dancing the units slowly across the table at the same rate as paint dries. Colonial Adventures immediately builds tension, it doesn’t take long to realize your opponent is coming for you. Weapon Ranges – (yes Warhammer 40K, I’m looking at you) a lot of the same games that have low movement rates also have miniscule weapon ranges, Colonial Adventures have longer ranges in keeping with size of the figures. Reactions – in place of the Igo-Ugo systems of other games, units in Colonial Adventures can react to things happening to them without having to wait an entire turn.

One last look at the Maxim gun from Hinterland Miniatures

Fortunes Won and Lost

Fortunes Won and Lost is a smaller scale game, whereas in Colonial Adventures the player commands a large force of units, Fortunes Won and Lost focuses more on the platoon or squad level size of force. There is no artillery in this game, however, European style forces do have access to the machine gun as a support weapon. This game was initially a game to introduce a player to Colonial Era gaming, however, with the constraints on most people’s time for gaming, Fortunes Won and Lost fills a niche providing interesting games with its Quick and Easy Campaign system.

Ahosi female warrior takes on a Niambo champion

In Colonial Adventures, native units outnumber European trained units three to one. In Fortunes Won and Lost, the number of units is tied to a side’s major morale which can never be higher than five. The size of an opposing unit resolved from a PEF will never be more than three figures larger than your group and can be up to three figures smaller than your unit. A non-PEF generated group can never be larger than six figures (of course you can always tweak the rules to handle larger sized groups, for example if you are playing U.S. Cavalry versus American Indians, you may want your largest group size to be eight since U.S. Cavalry operated in sets of four).

The Niambo now attack the East side of the village

Colonial Lemuria

Colonial Lemuria is different from the other rule sets in that it is a source book or campaign setting. Lemuria is an island continent in the Indian Ocean – east of Africa and south of India. It is a place of a lot of colonial “what ifs” – the continent is shared by Berbers, Arabs, Hindu, Zulu, Chinese, and Maori to name a few. A continent where the major powers are competing to establish a foothold either through outright colonization or through trade legations.

On this continent, you can also find races and creatures that time forgot – dinosaurs and giant apes for example. You can go on safari for the Lemurian Lion – the saber-toothed cat. You can find the elusive Yeti or encounter creatures from a distant star. There are fantastic machines ahead of their time, steam elephants, wheeled dragons and zepplins.

dino 1
Never a dull moment for Oog’s family.

Rule-wise, there are army lists and scenarios for each of major races and tribes found on Lemuria. There’s a bestiary with stats for exotic animals. The book is packed with game hooks, settings, creatures and NPCs ready to use in your colonial games.

Mission St. Mary

With Colonial Adventures at the massed forces end of the spectrum, Mission St. Mary is at the RPG end of the spectrum. There is a wide array of professions and classes to choose from for your character. You could be an adventurer, a soldier, an Askari, a native, a jungle lord or lady, a cultist, a scientist, a steam punk, a cave man or even an animal. The game is set in and about St. Mary, a treaty port in Nobelongga.

Our girl genius

In most Two Hour Games, the size of your character’s group is limited to the Rep of your character, but not in Mission St. Mary. Be aware, however, a large group can slow game play as you have to track the stats and attributes of each group member.

This game is only limited by your imagination. The first time I ran this game at Texicon, it won the 2014 Best in Miniatures trophy.

Montana Jane’s party is attacked by Lemurian Lions

Other Games

The games I’ve looked at in this post were games written to cover the period of 1870 to 1910. But there are two other games I would like to touch on, one has an overlap of this period and the other is a subset of the period.

If you want a cinematic feel to your games, you can’t go wrong with Larger Than Life. Larger Than Life is a “pulp fiction” game that starts in the mid-1880s and covers up to 1940. In the novels, Tarzan dealt with colonial French and Belgians, but on the silver screen, Tarzan foiled Nazi ambitions for central Africa. The same is true for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson who solved Victorian mysteries in stories, while on the big screen Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce (Holmes and Watson) broke up a Nazi spy ring in New York!

The other rule set that can be used for Colonial Gaming is Six Gun Sound. Why Six Gun Sound? Well, folk on the frontier kept up with the fashions and technology available to the rest of the world during the period covered by Six Gun Sound – 1876 to 1890.

In Conclusion

I know I haven’t gone into great depths on the rule mechanics or detailed differences between the games. My main purpose was to showcase the games available for Colonial gaming – which ones handled mass combat with several units and which ones were better suited for skirmishing or role playing. They are all good enjoyable games. So put on your sun helmet or bush hat and let’s go exploring!

Recently painted warriors using Masai motiffs for the shields

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