Zouaves at the battle of the Alma: a Crimean Scenario for The Men Who Would Be Kings

01 July 2022
Those who will still be on their feet

Words and pictures by Conrad Kinch in Miniature Wargames

The colonel, by way of occupying their attention, had coffee again prepared, and served out to them. Prince Napoleon, entering freely into conversation with them, endeavored also to soothe their impatience by his kindly words. Finally, Marshal de St. Arnaud came to see them, and on his inviting them to take coffee again, “Our colonel has, already, made us do so” they growled in reply. “Well, then,” said the Marshal, “since your colonel has treated you a second time to coffee, I take upon myself to furnish your pousse café; but it must be above there, mind you, in the enemy’s camp,” pointing, as he said so, up to the heights of the Alma. “Hurrah for the Marshal!” thereupon shouted the Zouaves.

“Hurrah for those, who will be on their feet to night,” rejoined the Marshal.

Reminiscences of an Officer of Zouaves, Jean Joseph Gustave Cler.


Charlemange, King of the Franks and Emperor of the Romans, is reputed to have said that to possess another language is to possess another soul. I am rather keen for the five year old Kinchlet twins to have another language so they have been getting the dubious benefits of my school boy French. Mrs Kinch (the brains of the operation, if you were in any doubt) has fluent German and Italian and conversational French and puts it down to getting the language bug early.

This has led to some interesting developments as the children are aware that there are other countries, so also are firmly of the opinion that some countries are more foreign than others. The British (shared language, family ties, home of the Wombles, etc) are not really foreign. The Americans (talk funny, but speak English) and Australians (who have weird animals, but also speak English) likewise. France, however, is a country that Daddy is quite keen on, but that is definitely foreign so far as they are concerned. They have a few words and phrases in French, but they deploy them with relish. We learned this when my son started yelling “Bonjour! Je suis Arthur!” at a (eventually very understanding) Romanian lady in a shop. It seems that in his head he had decided that the French are foreign and therefore, all foreigners speak French.

I think I may leave this one for Mrs Kinch to sort out.

So as you can see, France has been on my mind. I came across a book last week called Reminiscences of an Officer of Zouaves by a chap named General Jean Joseph Gustave Cler, who soldiered for France all over North Africa and Europe. Zouaves were elite light infantry regiments in the French army formed after the conquest of Algeria from the local tribesmen. They were known for their baggy red trousers, ferocity in battle and gymnastic ability. Leonaur, who have done so much to preserve and popularise 19th century memoirs, do a rather fine reprint at a very competitive price, though you can find it online for free if you’re content with a PDF. It’s a good book, full of Brigadier Gerard like flourishes, but I found the section on the battle of the Alma particularly interesting. I’ve wargamed the Crimea a fair bit, playing both Balaklava, the Alma and Little Inkerman. While I’ve included French troops, I’ve never really played a game where they were the focus. While I was pondering this, a pal suggested we give The Men who would be Kings (TMWWBK) another outing and the idea of Crimean skirmish game was born.

Content continues after advertisements


A quick look at Wikipedia will give you the basics of the battle of the Alma, if you fancy a single volume Orlando Figes’s Crimea is worth a look, though I prefer Julian Spilsbury’s The Thin Red Line myself. In brief, the Alma was a contested river crossing. The Russians had taken position on heights overlooking the Alma river and the Allies wanted to force the position to get at Sebastapol. The plan had been that both the French and the British would attack at the same time and hopefully turn the Russian flank on the inland (i.e. British) side.

Lord Raglan on his own initiative decided to hold the British advance until such time as the French had broken through. Sadly he did this by having his troops lie down in range of the Russian artillery, who battered his men in the meantime. The French First Division under General Bosquet arrived at the estuary of the Alma and discovered two things. Firstly they were facing steep cliffs nearly a hundred and fifty feet over the river and secondly, the Russian commander, General Menshikov, had made the not unreasonable assumption that only a mad man would attack there and had positioned some infantry, but no artillery to protect it.

When you really need a madman, an angry Frenchman in giant red trousers is the perfect choice. The 2ieme Zouaves dropped their kitbags and plunged across the river. Being hardened campaigners used to brutal combat in the wilds of Algeria, they were well able to scale the steep bank using the trees and undergrowth both as makeshift climbing aid and cover. Once they reached the top of the plateau, they engaged the defenders with rifle fire. Menshikov sent reinforcements of foot and guns as quickly as he could, but the example of the Zouaves spurred on the rest of their Division and they swarmed up the cliffs, eventually dragging twelve guns up there and totally overwhelming the defenders.

The Russians – under fire from the allied naval vessels from the seaward side and with their local commander Lt Gen V.I. Kiriakov swilling champagne from the bottle and misidentifying friendly troops as French – began to fall back.



The board should be four foot by four. The French table edge to about one foot into the board represents dead ground from the rest of board. Figures in the dead ground cannot be targeted by troops that aren’t within three inches of the area of dead ground. I only inclined the dead ground portion of the board and left the more gentle incline as flat for practical purposes, so that I could stand my trees on it. The map provided is a suggestion. I used lichen and rocks to suggest cover.

The dead ground is treated as difficult terrain. Particularly dense patches of bushes and trees likewise. Otherwise treat the bushes, trees etc as light cover.



The French player may deploy two units of Zouaves up to six inches onto the board, the rest of his force move on from the table edge. The Russian player may deploy his troops in the orange box marked on the map. On turn three, for every two unpinned Russian units on the board, the Russian player may roll d6 and add that to his reinforcements score. At the start of the following turn he may spend those points to bring on reinforcements from his own board edge thusly:


5 pts - Formed Russian Infantry Unit
(to a maximum of three)

4 pts - Russian Piquet
(to a maximum of three)


If the Russian player has five reinforcement points or more, he must spend them that turn. Any points not spent are lost.


The French player has four units of Zouaves.

The Russian player has four units of skirmishers, one unit of Picquets and a potential pool of six reinforcements.


2ieme Zouaves

(Elite Regular Infantry)

Speed 6”; Firing 5+; Fighting 5+; Discipline +2 (elite)

Modern Rifle: Short 0-12 Long 12-24


Section Une: Leadership 7+, Lucky (may reroll one set of dice per game)

Section Deux: Leadership 6+, Sharpshooters (Firing 4+)

Section Trois: Leadership 5+, Musketry enthusiast, (re-roll one miss when firing).

Section Quatre: Leadership 7+, Expert swordman, (leader rolls two dice in melee)


Russian Rifle Armed Skirmishers

(Well Armed Sharpshooters Irregular Infantry)

Speed 6”; Firing 5+; Fighting 5+;

Discipline +1

Modern Rifle: Short 0-12 Long 12-24

Leadership 6+


Russian Skirmishers

These are a special unit two strong infantry unit armed with rifles. These men move as Irregular Infantry, but are gifted marksmen (Shooting 4+) and their weapons are treated as modern rifles.


Russian Piquet

(Unenthusiastic Irregular Infantry)

Speed 6”; Firing 5+; Fighting 5+;
Discipline -

Obsolete Rifle: Short 0-9 Long 9-18

Leadership 7+


Russian Formed Infantry

Speed 4”/8” *; Firing 5+; Fighting 5+; Discipline 0 (unenthusiastic)

Obsolete Rifle: Short 0-9 Long 9-18

Leadership 7+

These must deploy and remain in close order unless reduced to six figures or less. They begin the game with Bayonets fixed. (i.e. counts as Fierce).

* Note: Russian Formed infantry unit which has not taken casualties, may make a double move (8”).


For the French player to win, at the end of turn eight he must have at least one unit in the Russian deployment zone and more unpinned units than the Russian player, otherwise the Russian player wins.



Figures were 1/72 Strelets figures for the Crimea. They do a couple of French sets and while some of the poses are a little peculiar, they are plentiful and cheap and well worth a look. Their chunky sculpting may not appeal to the classic 1/72 figure enthusiast, but I quite like them. Chaps looking something more lissom should pump for Emhar Zouaves from their Franco-Prussian war range. There are, of course, plenty of options in 28mm if that’s your scale. I’ve been watching Paul Ward’s 28mm Crimean Painting Diary (matakishi.net/crimean-war-2021.html) and his updates with the air of a Dickensian urchin with his nose pressed against the window of a sweet shop. The Russian infantry on the heights included the Moscow Regiment, who wore a distinctive short red shako. I haven’t been able to find these in 1/72, so I used my standard Russian infantry and squinted a bit. Foundry make them in 28mm if you’re so inclined.



TMWWBK is an excellent ruleset and I’ve used it for the Crimea before (see my scenario Coming on like Men covering Little Inkerman in a previous issue of this magazine). I’ve played a few more games since then and I’m pretty happy with the amendments we’ve used.


French Rifles v Russian Muskets

The French issued the Minie rifled musket fairly widely, so we rate the rifled musket as a modern rifle and the Russian M1845 Percussion musket as an Obsolete firearm. This gives roughly the right feel in terms of range. Figes describes the 2ieme as armed with Minie rifles, though so far as I can tell they were armed with the M1822-1841, a smoothbore converted with the Tige system to be a percussion rifled musket. Less effective than the Minie, but for game purposes, I treat them as the same.

Also, the Russians did have some rifles as they had just begun to re-equip. Cler describes skirmishing with rifle-armed Russian light infantry around the village of Bourliouk. Tolstoy in his “Sebastapol Diaries” also refers to rifles, but confusingly refers to them as carbines. I have chosen to allow some Russian rifle armed skirmishers.


In the words of General Suvorov, “The bullet is a fool, the bayonet is a fine chap.” This was a credo adhered to by both the Allies and the Russians in the Crimea, but particularly the Russians. A unit may fix or unfix bayonets as a free action and may do so in addition to a Fire or Move action (i.e. Rallying, Skirmishing, Doubling, etc units may not fix bayonets). Units with fixed bayonets count as Fierce (i.e. +1 fighting).


Russian Columns

The Russians tended to advance in deep column formations which simplified command and control, but were extremely vulnerable to allied rifle fire. Therefore, all Russian units start the game in close order with the appropriate benefits and penalties. However, those columns were perfectly capable of moving smartly when they needed to. Consequently, any Russian infantry unit which has not taken casualties, may make a double move (8”).


It’s not clear from his memoir exactly where Lt Col Cler was during the initial assault. But if you’re a romantic type like I am, there’s no reason he can’t be leading from the front. Randomly determine which unit is being led by Lt Col Cler and replace the current leader with him.


Lt. Col Cler

Leadership 5+, Unit may take a free action each turn and then test for a second (different) action each turn.

This will make things easier for the French player, so I would only recommend it if you are playing solo or if the Russian player is a lot more experienced.



I’ve played this scenario three times, twice solo and once opposed. The French have much better quality troops, but are operating on a tight timescale and can run into trouble if they get stuck trying to get up the incline. The Zouaves should be moving at the double to get up the cliff side as quickly as possible. The French player has a considerable range advantage over his Russian opponents, but will have to close the distance in order to achieve his objectives. This cost me in my first game, when I tried to hang back and shoot the Russians to pieces, only to be driven out of their deployment area at the point of the bayonet on the last turn.

The Russians have a different conundrum. Their troops are less capable, but can be powerful in the right circumstances. I managed to pin a unit of French zouaves with rifle fire from skirmishers only to ram home an attack by a column of formed infantry which made a complete mess of them. A canny Russian player will consider the possibilities of deploying forward, rushing the crest and trying to hold the zouves before they manage to get to the crest or holding back and waiting for reinforcements to come up. This latter strategy can be successful if the reinforcement rolls are kind and you manage to protect your force long enough to get them on the table en masse. I’m still not sure what the optimum strategy is for the Russian player. Just surviving is enough to win, but the French range advantage means that any attempt to hug the board edge and tough it out will probably end in a hail of minie balls.

As always any thoughts or reports on how you got on are welcome! 


Looking for more?

The front cover of Miniature Wargames Magazine

This scenario was one of many that appear in Miniature Wargames Magazine, our monthly publication for all kinds of wargames! You can check out our latest issue, or previous issues by clicking here

Get your magazine here

One Day, One Whole Army... 

A feature from Miniature Wargames Magazine, entitled How to Paint an Entire Army in a Single Day

If you have a stack of miniatures in need of painting, preventing you from bringing anything new to the table, check out this article, where we hear from a contributor who managed to paint an entire army in a single day!

Get your paint on!


Join us in person

The logo of Tabletop Gaming Live 2022

We can't wait for Tabletop Gaming Live 2022! An epic weekend in Manchester full of board games, card games, roleplaying games, wargames and more, with amazing exhibitors, great games, and an opportunity to game together in person.

See you there!

Treat Yourself! 

Tabletop Gaming Game Store Contains Power Rangers Heroes of the Grid

Have you visited our game store? We have everything from mystery boxes, to games and accessories – including the above Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid, with a great discount! Head over to find your new favourite game.

Visit the Game Store


Sometimes we may include links to online retailers, from which we might receive a commission if you make a purchase. Affiliate links do not influence editorial coverage and will only be used when covering relevant products


No comments