Wargame Wednesday: Wargaming 19th Century Africa

Wednesday , 24, October 2018 5 Comments

Battle of Adwa. With St. George on the Ethiopian side the Italians didn’t have a chance.

While reading about the armies Wars of Imperial Conquest in Africa 1830-1914 by Bruce Vandervort I had a thought that a feature of miniature war gaming is the diversity of readily available figures.  A case can be made that the economics behind computer game development drive game topics to well known/popular historical periods (along with a “Euro-game” tendency) while the miniature market can support small production runs covering historical periods only supported by a niche market.

I will explore the available games and miniatures available for some of African armies covered in Wars of Imperial Conquest and attempt to find game coverage of the lesser known campaigns.  This means the Zulus are out and, for example, concentrate on the Sokto Caliphate. Before I begin I’d wager that miniatures are available of their fight against the British Expeditionary Force in 1873-1873 but bonus points to any manufacturer or game designer that covers the birth of the caliphate when the Fulani tribe rebelled against the Hausa state of Gobrir. If that game or miniatures exist, I’ll buy them in time to review in this post.

My primary method of research will be via the DuckDuckGo search engine and the quest is to find the extent war gaming for 19th Century Africa, not to prove the superiority of miniature gaming over board or computer games. Next page, we’ll find out what is available and there is a short review of Vandervort’s book.

Wars of Imperial Conquest in Africa 1830-1914

Map from Wars of Imperial Conquest in Africa 1830-1914. Lots of untapped war game potential here.

In the preface Vandervort states that his goal is the examination of the origins and conduct of late 19th Century colonial warfare, “as far as possible from the perspectives of the European invaders and the African resistors”. He goes on to explain that his approach has been inspired by the “New Military History” which is a focus on the impact of war upon a society and culture as opposed to the “older histoire bataille” which concentrates on the strategies of the combatants, their tactics, and a chronicle of the campaigns.  I’m skeptical of anything from modern Western Academia but, so far, it seems Vandervort has been successful in compiling “…a full and reasonably accurate account….from both sides of the battle line”.

Chapter 1 covers Africa on the eve of conquest and it from this chapter I’ll concentrate my search for figures and games.  There is an high level survey of the various types of armies (armies with cavalry could only be found in North Africa and the savannah due to trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness spread by the tsetse fly) the social composition of the armies (“in West Africa particularly, military campaigns were often family affairs) and armaments, logistics, strategies and tactics (“On the South African veldt, it was possible to conduct the kind of manoeuvre warfare practiced on the plains of the Central Sudan. But here the instrument of manoeuvre warfare was infantry, not cavalry, albeit one of the most mobile infantries in the history of warfare: the Zulu impi”).





The last part of Chapter 1 highlights four African armies and I’ll concentrate on three of them in my search:

  • Ashanti Army – infantry army and only African army with its own corps of medical orderlies.  Had military police armed with swords and whips stationed behind the lines for encouragement.
  • Sokoto Caliphate – genesis was a tribal revolt / jihad against animist tribes by an army mostly composed of light infantry in a sea of cavalry armies, developed the square formation with archers to win.
  • Zulu Army – no intro needed and miniature figures available in abundance. I’ve played some board games, especially on Isandlwana and even an early computer game on that battle.
  • Ethiopia – well known for their defeat of an Italian army at Adwa, they fought a British expeditionary force in 1867, then the Egyptians using Gatling guns and rocket tubes.

Chapter 2 discusses the various European armies and the remaining three chapters divide African history in the 19th and early 20th Centuries:  1830-1880 (mostly Algeria, then colonial wars in West Africa); 1880 – 1898 (the European “Scramble” to divide Africa) and 1898 – 1914 (a somewhat narrowing of the technological gap but mostly a change of strategy by Africans away from set piece battles to guerrilla warfare).

I’ve learned some interesting facts from this book:


  • The British Army was most successful in avoiding ill effects of the African climate by only assigning fighting duties to their troops and employing natives to carry out the labor required on campaign.  Often the laborers would outnumber the soldiers.
  • Most European armies depended on African colonial troops.  An example can be provided by…
  • Captain Jean-Baptiste Marchand trekking across Gabon to fight Kitchener accompanied by seven Frenchmen and 150 Tirailleurs Senegalais.
  • Prior to reforms enacted by General Bugeaud the French Algerian Army’s hospitals were so bad that it was not uncommon for ill or wounded soldiers to commit suicide rather than undergo treatment.
  • The Ethiopian Army employed artillery and could field “large numbers of reasonably well equipped” troops to include many with modern repeating rifles. The main weakness was in logistics and the army lived off the land.  At Adowa the Eithiopians were close to running out of food but the Italians attacked a couple of days before the food ran out.
  • The military systems that made the Sokoto and Zulu so formidable also hindered their ability to adapt modern weaponry as these systems were deeply embedded in the social and political structures of these societies.


As I write this I’ve only read the intro and the first two chapters but if you are interested in the military history of this place and time this book serves as a good introduction to the subject and contains an excellent bibliography for further research.

25/10/18 Update:  if interested in the games read the comments as a few board games, fantasy world map and a couple of computer games were added.


The Sword and the Flame rule set has been used for the Ashanti Wars.

Seems to be some figures available here but no images posted.

The Sun Never Sets board game has a supplemental rule set for the Ashanti Wars.

Some homemade DBA army lists for Africa to include the Ashanti.

Castaway Arts seems to have the only dedicated line of Ashanti figures.  Not many, but more than the others!  The site even has a painting guide which includes the Ashanti Wars. They also have Italian Colonial, North Africa French & Arabs, Sudan, the Indian Colonial Army and Colonial Egyptians.


Sokoto Caliphate

Wargames Foundry: Armies of the 19th Century : Africa The African Knights. Not a rule book but seems to be the equivalent of an Osprey book. So far, I’m not getting any results for the Sokoto but, at a minimum, this book would allow a gamer to easily modify other ranges of figures to represent the Sokoto, at least after they evolved from their initial light infantry beginnings.

Irregular Miniatures saves the day! I write this after an extensive search that mostly came up with Sudan, Zulu and Boer Wars.  I cannot link direct but from their barely adequate splash page, scroll to the purple bar on the bottom, click on the small 15mm link, then find the small Colonial Wars link on the left side.  Scroll to the bottom and there is a section in which various African armies are listed along with the catalog numbers of the figures that can be used to fill the ranks.

Right at the top there are notes for the “SOKOTO SULTANATE under the Fulani, c1809-1900, consisted of 16 Hausa City States” and their main rival the Bornu Sultanate.  There are also notes for the Bagirmi Sultanate.  Many figures are interchangeable between the armies.  I promised I would buy figures if I could find the period when the Fulani rebelled against the Hausa state of Gobrir.  Haven’t found it yet, but Irregular Miniatures has come close.

A wargamer’s blog post here.  Link to the small 2 figure range of Sokoto figures has expired.



Found ItalWars. Unfortunately, no longer in business but they had a range of Italian colonial figures.  Brief search on Ebay only came up with military memorabilia, Italian colonial stamps or British themed colonial miniatures.

Tin Solider with a range of 15mm Italian Colonial.

In the miniature list below many of the links have references to Abyssinia and Italian colonial troops are not that hard to find.  I don’t have time for a dedicated search in Italian and that is where one may find more gaming opportunities.


Board Games

Not this post’s time period but added as it is in the spirit of this post: Timbuktu: Empire in the West African Sudan 1050-1550.

Africa 1880: diplomacy more than combat.  Probably limited insight into African armies and kingdoms.

Scramble for Africa: another Diplomacy type game.

La Guerra de Africa 1859 – 60: Three battles from the Spanish – Moroccan War.

African Kingdoms: categorized as an abstract strategy war game so probably low for historical accuracy and before its time (i.e. Euro type games).


Miniature List

Many of the links below were found via this TMP Miniatures Library.

Essex Miniatures 15mm Colonial figures (Sudan, Zulu and Boer Wars).

Spencer Smith Miniatures, extensive colonial range, mostly Zulu/Boer and Sudan.

The British Empire Company 6mm range has most of the British colonial wars covered and do feature some Ashanti infantry.

Wargames Foundry has a Darkest Africa line and Congo rule set but think it veers towards action and adventure over historical reenactment.

Principles of War: 19th Century has army lists to include Africa

In the Heart of Africa (19th Century) contains army lists of East and Central African tribes and kingdoms fighting off invaders of all types (Colonial European powers, Turkish slavers, Arabs and Swahilis, etc.).


Computer Simulation List

Let me know if you can find any. Good luck.

Beyond Age of Empires and Civilization: Colonization type simulations and mods I’m not sure there is much out there.



If you want to command an African army from this time period then miniature war gaming is your best bet.  There are many opportunities to war game the Zulu Wars, Sudan, the Boer Wars, French North African and Italian Abyssinian campaigns.  Pre-Colonial African kingdoms are harder to find but as the Sokoto Caliphate section above shows, it is not impossible with some dedicated research and willingness to draft and mod figures from other armies.

The La Guerra de Africa board game is a clue that many European nations with a colonial past may have their own lines of miniatures and board games unknown to the English speaking market.

Finally, a search for famous battles and campaigns instead of an army may reveal more games.






  • Bagger Vance says:

    fwiw I recently came across the fictionalized for wargaming version, “Mafrica”. I like the idea of not being tied down to historical recreation


  • Tlotsi says:


    The Sun Never Sets (Zulu War & Sudan War) https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/728/sun-never-sets

    The Sun Never Sets 2 (Abyssinian Expedition & Ashanti War) https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/107012/sun-never-sets-volume-ii

    French Foreign Legion (Dahomey War)

  • Blume says:

    Victoria and Victoria II by Paradox Interactive conver this time period for video games but the combat is more like Risk. The The Sokoto Caliphate and Ethiopia are both playable but not Ashanti.

  • Blume says:

    Also if you just want the tribes and not the time period. Europa Universalis 4 has a huge number of playable African tribes and nations now.

  • Skyler_the_Weird says:

    Though not exclusively Africa, the old boardgame Grand Imperialism had European armies fighting the natives and each orher

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