The Filipinos Who Would Be Kings. Wargaming 1896-1902 Philippines War

Eduardo López

FUBAR Podcast

Eduardo López

After the previously published adaptation for the Cuba War of the excellent wargame ruleset for colonial small actions The Men Who Would Be Kings, that we titled The Cubans Who Would Be Kings, its turn to wargame the Philippine War.

The Men Who Would Be Kings

The Men Who Would Be Kings, new ruleset from Osprey Games for colonial wars, by Daniel Mersey, author of other successful rulesets such as Lion Rampant or Dragon Rampant. If you know these other titles you already know what you are going to find: an easy to understand system with an appropriate period simulation for small units actions.

It comes with a points system to balance the scenarios, with 24 points being the standard, which would be equivalent to about 50 miniatures of regular infantrymen or a hundred tribal warriors, although it can be played with different point amounts. It models troops using adaptable archetypes, correctly represents the different types of terrain and equipment, and incorporates a nice system of traits for the officers, who will not only be ‘competent’ or ‘incompetent’, but have personal skills or defects, adding that special chrome that sets the difference between colonial wargaming and other periods.

And, as an original feature, it has rules for solo play or cooperative, with all players in the same side, allowing them to manage the enemy by following a series of patterns and tables, or leaving that task in the hands of the always ruthless referee. To avoid creating confusion between the original game and 1898’s adaptation, original game concepts and terminology are shown in italics.

War in the Philippines, 1896-98

As opposed to Cuba, the struggle for the Philippine emancipation doesn’t sink its roots in previous conflicts. For centuries, the internal situation on the islands was stable, where apart from the cases of banditry (and piracy in the surrounding seas) the only remarkable fact was the war against the “Moros”, who continue fighting against the American army and against the Philippine government even longer during the 20th century.

Another remarkable difference between both Cuba and the Philippines is that in the Philippines there was an army similar to the British one in India; units with their own numbering, with Spanish specialists and officers, but mostly with native troops. The natives’ loyalty and bravery had afforded this status which only needed Spanish reinforcements when the mutiny broke out because of the desertion of a great deal of these native troops which increased the rebels’ forces.

The Philippine League, founded by José Rizal in 1892, intended that the archipelago left the colonial regime in order to fit in the Spanish institutions (with the same conditions as the metropolitan provinces). But there were lots more gathered around masonic lodges and secret societies (as it was in Asia), who chose a more radical way, as it happened with “the nation children’s venerable supreme society” (in Tagalog, Katipunan). Their most remarkable leading figure was Emilio Aguinaldo.

In 1896 the Tagalogs rose up, starting a war of guerrillas. The colonial army’s response, leaded by the general Polavieja, was very tough. José Rizal was unfairly accused of complicity with the Katipunan and executed. Such a big mistake from the authorities was the cause of the uprising and got intensified by the news of the new mutiny in Cuba, which had begun in 1895.

In 1896, some members of the Katipunan had founded the Republic of the Kakarong located in Caracóng of Sile, in the province of Bulacán, in the island of Luzón. There they built a real fortress surrounding this settlement and protected it with nearly 6,000 men. But, on January 1st, 1897, a column of 600 Spanish soldiers assaulted and occupied the fortress, and that was the end of the short-lived republic.

The guerrilla, which was disorganised, poorly armed and, to top it all, splitted up into different factions, was unable to free the archipelago. However, The Spanish didn’t manage to command either, despite Rivera’s repression and his partial victories. Facing this situation, Madrid replaced Polavieja with Fernando Primo de Rivera, a general who understood the necessity of a treatment. In return for the surrender, he promised to start a process of reforms, and that’s why, on December 23rd, 1897, Primo de Rivera and Aguinaldo signed the Pact of Biak-na-Bato. The pro-independence leaders, such as Emilio Aguinaldo, set off to the exile, after the Spanish government gave them money to ensure their survival abroad. Nevertheless, the peace was brief because of the coming on the scene of USA, but that’s another story.

The Philippine Army

Though technically this term didn’t exist till the end of this period, we’ll use this simple name to talk about any of the Filipino forces risen up against Spain.


Regular infantry

To represent the best organized units, which are usually around groups of deserters from the Spanish army, we’ll use the profile of Irregular Infantry but originally with the “poorly armed” option and a base cost of 3 points. This feature represents properly the mixture of fire arms used by the rebels during the whole period.


  • Veteran (maximum 1 unit; that would represent a unit formed mainly by ex-soldiers).
  • Unenthusiastic (maximum 2 units).
  • Fieldcrat (any unit can take this option).
  • Well Armed (maximum 1 unit. A poorly armed unit for each upgraded well armed unit has to be used).
  • Sharpshooters (maximum 1 unit, which also has to be upgraded to well armed.
Mounted troops

It’s quite difficult to own and maintain a horse and it’s not used for farming works, that’s why the rebels scarcely had horses available and there weren’t many people who had a knowledge of or rode a horse.


  • Unenthusiastic.
  • Sharpshooters.




The Filipino will only be able to count with 1 poorly drilled field gun in our Field Force if they begin after entrenchments or fortresses on the scenario. We’ll use the jamming rule (though it’s not a machine gun) to represent the shortage and the bad quality of the ammunitions.

Army Rules

Among the specific scene rules (pages 36-39), we’ll always employ the following one:

  • Limited ammunition.


Regular Infantry

We’ll use this name to group not only the line infantry, but also the naval infantry and Civil Guard. We also include the battalion of volunteer, which consisted of a great number of veterans already discharged. We’ll represent them with the profile of Regular Infantry.

The chasseur battalions and the replacement units will also be Regular Infantry, but unenthusiastic and poor shots, with four points per unit. On the one hand, the option of unenthusiastic represents not only the inexperienced units, but also those which coming from the Peninsula suffered from the tropical fevers, what reduced their effectiveness. On the other hand, the option of poor shots represents the conscripts’ training.


  • Elite (which represents veteran units); 0-2 units.


  • Sharpshooters (units equipped with Mauser)
Infantry Guerrillas

Just as in Cuba, in the Philippines there were also units of “counter-guerrilla” (such as the famous one of San Miguel). We’ll use the profile of Irregular Infantry.


  • Veteran (any number of units).
  • Fieldcrat (any unit can have this option).
  • Well Armed (maximum 2 units).
  • Sharpshooters (maximum 1unit).
  • Mounted infantry (max 1 unit, which will have to have the same or better characteristics than the best following unit of guerrilla used, whenever more than one is used).
Regular Cavalry

The units of Peninsular Spanish horsemen and the mounted Tercios of the Civil Guard begin as Unenthusiastic; 5 points.


  • Elite
  • Lancers (apparently, there wasn’t a lance in campaign, though there was a regiment of Luzón lancers, thus the regular unit will be able to be equipped with this weapon, as the players like)
Mounted Guerrillas

It’s the mounted equivalent of the infantry guerrillas. Due to their versatile and moving usage, we can represent them as Irregular Cavalry. Maximum 1 unit.


  • Veteran.
  • Well armed

The artillery arm, which formed by Peninsular Spanish units, took an excellent part, although it normally used mountain guns or light ones to ease the mobility of the infantry columns. They correspond perfectly with the description of Crewed Weapons in the rules. We represent them as Crewed Weapons, Well Drilled and Field Gun.

Army Rules

Among the theatre-specific rules (pages 36-39), we’ll always apply the following ones:

  • The climate.
  • “When prívate Widdle faces the Burpas” (these rules must only be applied to units of chasseurs or Peninsular Spanish inexperienced troops)
  • Desertion: a specific rule for the Philippines. It must be used only if both factions agree. Along the conflict, especially at the beginning, there was an important number of desertions among the Philippine troop. Thus before starting the deployment, the Spanish player will carry out a discipline test for each Regular unit (on foot or mounted, not for the artillery). Each unit which fails the test will lose 1d3 miniatures.



Among the scenarios included in the book of rules, the ones which fit in best for the combats in the Philippines are the following ones:

  • B (in this case, the attacker should be the Spanish, though the Filipino can improve the walls, etc. to get harder covers with some 2 or 3 Structure points for each 3” section).
  • C (both factions may equally be the attacker, though the image of Baler or the posts of the Civil Guards may suggest the Spanish as the defender).
  • D (for this scenario, the Filipino is the most suitable to be the defender).
  • E (the Filipino should be the defender).
  • F (both could be, though the Spanish would be the attacker more often).
  • G (the Filipino should be the attacker).