Saturday, 7 February 2015

Sudan Death

The sand of the desert is sodden red,—
Red with the wreck of a square that broke;—
The Gatling's jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

Greetings weary interwebber! Welcome to my blog thingy. First post, eh? Let me see, what shall I ramble about today? Well, last night I arranged and took part in a exciting game of Black Powder set somewhere in Africa, so lets start with that shall we?

Over the last few years Ive amassed a few figures for one of my favourite periods- the Anglo-Zulu War, but not had the opportunity to get them on the tabletop. I was remarking on this to Dave, a fellow member of our local club, the Deeside Defenders, and he remarked that he too had a collection of colonial figures that had never seen a battle. We decided to rectify this, and after recruiting Chris to help push figures around and shout "Charge!" a lot, a date was set and I got working on a scenario. 
Due to the limitations of our respective collections the battle would be set somewhere in Africa in the last quarter of the 19th Century, where a Pan-African Regional Partnership (or PARP) has been arranged to fight the British Empire! Not wanting to play a static game where everyone charges towards the Redcoats and gets shot I decided to play a "Relief March" scenario, based loosely on the countless similar expeditions the British army embarked on over this period.

Somewhere in Africa the town of Kamarobi, a trading outpost of the British Empire, is under Siege, surrounded by hordes of extremely miffed folk from all over Africa intent on kicking the Brits out, they are hoping the siege will draw a British force into the open where it can be destroyed. The garrison is holding out but running short on supplies. A British Army Relief Force (aka BARF) under General Fred Thesiger would attempt to break through the encircling hordes to deliver vital supplies, or even try and lift the siege entirely.

The scene was set using the clubs modular desert terrain to give a table 8ft by 4ft. The town (or rather, a representative portion of it, would be in one corner with a small garrison force. In the opposite corner would be the edge of a British camp with basic fortifications around it. The Relief force would start from here. The African alliance, a dangerous cocktail of Zulus, Fuzzy Wuzzies and Zanzibar Pirates amongst others, would contain more "z"'s than Ive ever written in one sentence and would ambush from the long table edges. To facilitate this Dave and Chris arranged their brigades and assigned each a playing card. Also for each brigade a Decoy card was issued. They then placed these along the table edges as they desired, so that I would see an array of cards but with no idea which ones represented troops, or which were red herrings. Each turn they would reveal a card apiece, and replace it with troops if appropriate. If they felt the British weren't yet fully in their trap they could simply reveal a Decoy card to delay their arrival. Of course I as the British commander can only wonder where the attack will come from.
The only other rule of note that I introduced was the Limited Supplies for the garrison force: This was represented by a deck of 53 cards- one of which, hidden in the deck, was a joker. Each time one of the garrisons units fired I would draw a card. If I drew the Joker the garrison was out of ammunition! 

Victory conditions. I perhaps didn't clearly define these as much as I aught, though it wasn't for lack of trying- I just couldn't come up with anything workable. Suffice to say that this is a trap and the aim for the Africans is to wipe out the British relief force, with the town as the secondary objective. The British aim is to get their wagons into town (at which point the supply problems cease!), or failing that to try and drive off the enemy force.

The Forces engaged.
General Thesigers Relief Force would consist of 6 companies of Riflemen drawn from the 13th, 60th and 91st foot, a 7pdr gun, a company of the NNC, and a mixed squadron of Volunteer Horse (formed from the Newcastle mounted rifles, and Natal Carabineers) . Two wagons completed the convoy.
The Garrison consisted of two companies of the 80th Foot, 1 of the NNC and a RN Gatling gun.
The African force consisted of 10 companies of Zulus in two brigades, and around 12 company sized units of Mahdists/Zanzibarians in 3 brigades, two of which also contained captured Egyptian artillery pieces.

The Game:
The Volunteers lead the Column out of camp

Colonel Caine and his troops defending this corner of the town

The Column moves out smartly, the auxiliaries
 covering potential points of ambush!  
The Volunteers keep a sharp eye open on the flank

It all seems to be going well...

And then the Zulus sweep down from the heights!
The first wave of Zulus drive the Native Skirmishers back behind the towns
 meagre defences, and the 80th returns fire!

A series of blundered orders see the Column get stung out as the Regulars fail to
 keep up with the wagons, and plod along in the columns, leaving the NNC
 and Volunteer Horse to try and cover the whole column! 
To make things worse, half of General Thesiger's rifle companies haven't even left camp yet!

The Zulus mass for the next rush... the Mahdists arrive on the other flank.
Zulus to the left of 'em, Mahdists to the right; The lead elements of the column
are caught strung out and defenceless! The lead wagon is overrun,
and a company of the 91st highlanders doesn't last much longer.
As the Brigade commander desperately tries to restore
order more Fuzzy Wuzzies arrive!
Things look desperate as the enemy closes in overwhelming numbers...

...and on all sides as the beleaguered 60th Foot fight for their lives!
British fortunes begin to change at last as
General Thesiger brings up the rearguard .

Meanwhile, on the edge of town the British have driven off countless
assaults-a whole Mahdist brigade lies shattered by the volley fire of the stalwart Redcoats.
 But the Gatling has jammed and the Colonels dead and the Zulus have gained a foot hold in the streets!

The steady volleys of the regulars finally thin the mass of enemies a little;
General Thesigers troops are halfway to their objective but time, alas, has run out!
And with that the battle ended, slightly too soon to give us a decisive result unfortunately. Various factors slowed us down; we hadn't played the Blackpowder rules for a while, and the mass of figures and lack of movement trays was an issue! Also we attracted a lot of attention from the rest of the club, as it was a genre of game not often seen there, and of course you can't help but stop and point out interesting bits and exchange anecdotes about the game and tidbits of the history of the British in Africa...Its all part of the fun, but does leave you wandering how it might have ended if played out fully. The situation at the end was this- The British column was largely intact, though a little battered. It had managed to survive due to desperate bayonet work against the Mahdists (who had proven to be bullet proof!) , the timely arrival of the rearguard and the reluctance of the Zulus to get stuck in! A whole zulu brigade had stood inactive during the most critical turns when they should have been the hammer to the Mahdists anvil and crushing the isolated 60th Rifles and NNC, but their reluctance to move allowed the British to recover. As it was they would have had to have faced the full fighting strength of the Column alone, as they were the only troops still active between them and the town! The bulk of the Mahdists had been worn out by successive assaults on the Garrison and the Column with only a handful of units were still in the fight. I would have happily declared a British victory in that light, except for the events in town- a Brigade of Zulus had overrun a company of the 80th foot, and the jammed Gatling! The NNC and the other redcoats still grimly held their ground, but it didn't look good. So we agreed on a draw pending completion!

Overall it looked good, attracted a lot of attention and was great fun. The scenario worked more or less though I felt Dave and Chris sprang their ambush to early and spent to much effort attacking the towns defences-  they sent 5 units of Zulus and 4 of Mahdists and a gun to attack 3 of my units and a gatling which jammed on its second shot! In the process they lost all the Mahdists and 2 units of Zulus, troops which would have been better fighting in the open against my strung out and over extended Column. I had pointed out the value of the town as bait before the game, explaining that you don't bait a hook to catch a fish and then eat the worm yourself, but Chris was having none of it!
Id have also waited till the British had marched up the field a bit before bringing on a brigade behind them and thus attacking from all sides at once, buts that's only personal preference. In any case this is a game I definitely want to do again soon!


  1. Good mix of troops there. I would like to see more such games.

  2. That was a spectacular game, great to see in the flesh so to speak. A very nice period feel was achieved.

    Cheers, Andy