Zulus on the Ramparts (Victory Point Games) is their third outing into the world of conversion of their low-cost boardgames into portable gaming apps, the first one being the somewhat lackluster dungeon crawl Loot n’ Scoot and the second being last year’s much better Levee En Masse. This game is a conversion of one of Victory Point’s biggest sellers, a game about the landmark assault on Roarke’s Drift during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. If you don’t know much about the war, I suggest reading The Washing of the Spears, by Donald Morris. If you don’t have that much time and dedication, just rent ZULU on Netflix. Perhaps that is the better idea, because let’s just say the programmers are (ahem) paying homage rather liberally to the 1964 film in places.
Like many Victory Point Games, this is one of their solitary States of Siege games, which, like Levee En Masse, consist of the player taking a central position, and playing cards (or other randomizers) that cause an opponent of some kind to attack the central position from four different directions. As the artificial opponent often can advance from two directions at once or march forward multiple spaces, tension is created because the central position player usually only has one action to play in response. If the game app was as simple as what I just described, I probably wouldn’t purchase ZULUS ON THE RAMPARTS at all. After all, I already have Levee’ on Mass, and that would be the same game, wouldn’t it? Not this time. The programmers of this app took great pains to hide the similarity of this game to other State of Siege games– it looks more like a video game and less like a board game. As the implacable foe approaching on four tracks are Zulu impis this time out, the programmers expanded the decision space a little bit by forestalling the card draw look and feel from Levee en Masse and implementing a “chit pull” randomizer that not only moves Zulu impis forward on four tracks, it also adds in all kinds of random events that effect game outcomes, such as snipers in the hills, retreats, regrouping, starting fires in the hospital, etc. I know Levee en Masse had random event card draws too, but this just looks different. Like pulling chits out of a cup.
Much like in the other games, how the player responds to the impending doom attack depends greatly on card management. A ZULU ON THE RAMPARTS player has two resources to use to fend off attacks: hero cards and volley cards.
HERO CARDS represent the historical individuals that were present at the battle. Initially, the player has two at his disposal, LT John Chard and LT Gonville Bromhead. Each hero has a unique special capability that influences outcomes at various parts of the game.
As stated, every turn, you will pull a Zulu chit that moves the Zulu unit forward 1-3 spaces or do other nasty things like fire the hospital. The player, playing the role of the British, needs to fend the Zulus off or drive them away. When they get within 1,2,or 3 spaces away, the Zulus are then within volley range at Short, Medium and Long range, respectively.
VOLLEY CARDS: The other type of card in the game is the volley card. A volley card represents the infantry of the Drift firing in volley order against a Zulu impi at ranges 1,2, and 3.
So, we’re firing volleys, how do they get resolved? Through the spinner. For each dice rolled at a certain range, a column in the spinner is rolled. This is just a fancy way of rolling dice. You are trying to avoid “MISS” results.
And that’s about it! You fend off the zulus for as long as you can, but gradually you can get overwhelmed if you can’t fight off all attacking columns and keep them at least two areas away from the central area of the Drift. Once an Impi gets inside of that area, the Zulu player wins. Like all States of Siege games, this is what leads to the tension and fun of the design. You only have one fighting action (and a reroll if you have a private card activated). This design (which I have not played in paper format) is very reminiscent of other games in the series that I have played, such as SOVIEET DAWN and LEVEE ON MASSE. And yet, designer Joseph Miranda has included many elements to increase the variable element of ZULUS, particularly in the activation chits of the Zulus and the special ability of the Heroes, making a turn far more interesting to me.
SUMMARY: I’d have to say this is the best game that Victory Point has brought to IoS yet, because of the level of variety and unusual extra abilities of the central location being attacked. This makes ZULUS very different from LEVEE, for instance. I find the Easy level can go pretty slow and is probably only good for learning the mechanics. Play at Medium level up. I do think the game is a bit pricey for what you are getting here, but I think that of most State of Siege game apps– they are fun for a while but I get more long term enjoyment from other (often cheaper) games. 8 dollars is pretty steep for a game with this much repetition, even one with this much variability compared to previous entries in the series. 4.99 would have been fair, but I kind of resented burning 7.99 on this one. For that reason, I’ll give it a 3 out of 5 for being overpriced, but otherwise a great adaption of a fun series of games.