Saturday, September 27, 2008

They've got to get through....

DG was on a flying visit this weekend so we grabbed another opportunity for a game while he was down - corr, two games in a month... (the downside of course is that he won't be down this way again until November so a gaming drought is upon us!)

There's been plenty of words spread about how good the latest issue of "Battlegames" is, I wholeheartedly agree with them as it may even be the best issue yet, but I was particularly taken with the programmed Sudan scenario "The Wells of Tarka" (NB. the Teaser is also on the radar!). Either way, not having had the opportunity to march to the sound of the Dervish drums in a while I set the table up to have a go at rescuing the sick & wounded ourselves..

For this game I was umpire (to manage the Dervish), DG played the Anglo-Egyptians.

Not wanting to duplicate to much of the article here (so go and buy the magazine, it's a small price to pay for an excellent set of articles - you need to visit the web site anyway, so as to download the free Zulu wars article, so why not buy it at the same time?!), in summary, a small detachment of British regulars have been ordered to retrace the steps of the main column in order to escort the columns stragglers back to the main body..
These unfortunates (the sick, wounded, baggage) are camped at an oasis, protected by a zariba - see picture above.

As the column approaches the oasis they hear small arms fire - not much, but an indication that the zariba is under attack....

Orders of Battle:
o three units of infantry (ie. company each)
o one unit of cavalry


o four units of infantry (sword and spear armed)
o one unit of riflemen
o two units of mounted troops on horse/camels (one unit armed with rifles)

The British objective is to reach the zariba in a fixed number of turns; I placed the zariba in one corner of my 6' x 4' table the Anglo-Egyptian forces in the game enter from the corner diagonally opposite.

The number of moves needs to be based on the move distance of the Anglo-Egyptian infantry - the article recommends that the number of moves equals the number of turns it takes the infantry to get to the zariba - I used "infantry in line" movement rate for my scenario, which we worked out as being 15 moves (at 4" per move)

The table therefore looked as follows:
Victory Conditions
To count as a success, the British need to have:

1. at least 25% of their initial forces, or
2. one unit with at least 75% of its original strength

..within one move's distance of the zariba by the end of the game.


3. There should be no Dervish warriors between the British and the barricade, and
4. The British must have more SP’s within rifle range of the barricade than the Dervishes do.

A tough nut to crack!

Game Mechanics
We used my rules for the game as they also contain programmed responses for the Dervish - if you don't have these then the article in Battlegames has a set, but mine are based on the original Peter Gilder Sudan Rules (see my Sudan War blog for more detail on this) and have a wider range of outcomes so I decided to use mine. You don't need the reaction tables if one of you wants to actually play the Dervish, but the intent with my rules is that once they're bedded in, DG & I will both play against an "automated" Dervish...

I used the rules direct from the article to cover Dervish appearance, and also the "recycling" rules... the former (and may be the latter) will almost certainly make their way into my rules - simple and elegant (there's another reason to get the magazine!) on to the game.....

The Narrative (!):

"Major Herbert Featherstonehaugh of the North Middlesex Regiment was hot....... damned hot.... the sun blazed down from a sky so clear that it appeared almost white and bounced back in waves of heat from the sand, so intense was this heat it was like standing in front of an open boiler on one of those new fangled paddle steam ships.

Grunting irritably as yet another fly tried to work it's way down between his neck and collar, he flicked it away and adjusted his smoked goggles more comfortably before turning to watch the progress of the column he had the honour to (temporarily, alas) command..."

DG (as Featherstonehaugh) had opted to advance in column of march so as to make as much progress as possible, it wasn't long however before standards of Dervish started to appear..

Appearance of the Dervish (and position) was decided by dice and it wasn't long before the first engagement was triggered as a result of a standard of Dervish sword and spear men jumping out from a hidden ravine just as the last company of North Middlesex had passed.

Stopping to about face (quarter move), move into line (successful dice throw required against training, and then half move), DG prepared to engage with small arms fire and bayonet.

Two successful volleys (DG opted to rapid fire which uses up more ammunition, but allows you to fire twice in the same turn) resulted in significant casualties, and a subsequent reaction test resulted in the Dervish fleeing the battlefield. I then tested to see whether the unit was available to be re-used elsewhere on the battlefield but threw a 1 which meant they were permanently removed from play... first blood to the Anglo-Egyptians...
"Featherstonehaugh pulled the silk handkerchief that his beloved wife Daphne had given him before he boarded the troop ship for Alexandria all those months ago, and wiped his face which was dripping with sweat... that had been a close one, the damned heathen had come from no-where! Touching his riding crop to the brim of his helmet to acknowledge the salute from the captain commanding the company, he offered his congratulations, and asked him to ensure the company made best speed to catch up with the rest of the column while maintaining a careful watch for any further attacks..."

DG was using his cavalry to scout ahead of the column which allowed him to continue in column of march with his infantry - time was pressing! As it happened, he was slowed to line speed anyway as a result of the need to keep pace with the pack camel carrying the replacement ammunition, but that's by the by... :o)

It wasn't too long before the cavalry also faced a number of Dervish standards - in the picture next they face a charge from a unit of sword and spear men, the camel unit are rifle armed but blocked from the British by the rough ground which has obscured their line of sight - in the background the other unit of riflemen who up until now have been engaged in taking pot shots at the zariba have also thrown on the reaction test as a result of the first Anglo-Egyptian unit coming within rifle range...
The cavalry summarily dispatched the sword and spear men who routed off through the village before finally getting a successful reaction test to bring them back. In the next picture you can see them just about to charge..
The next turn however, the Dervish camelry finally got their act together, and charge home on the horse - the "attack" on the reaction table also triggered the other Dervish units in the area to also start charging, and in my rules the only way to stop the charge is to kill the unit!

The Dervish camelry threw high, the cavalry threw low, and after their initial success were routed, and last seen heading back to the main column...

"Featherstonehaugh lifted himself on his stirrups, and pulling his horses reins so as to steady himself pulled his binoculars from his saddlebag... there was no way that cavalry was going to stop, and with them gone he'd lost his remote eyes and ears... damn them, he'd had a feeling they weren't up to much when they'd first joined the column, but Dickie Arbitter at HQ had told him they'd be alright. Sitting back into the saddle he shouted out orders to the company commanders to deploy their forces into line and fix bayonets. Hot as it was the morning was going to get hotter yet...."

Things were not going well for the British at this stage - the two leading company's one of the North Middlesex, and the Egyptians, had been dealing death left, right and center but only at the cost of rapid fire which was eating up their ammunition. The Egyptians were almost completely out.

Bringing up the ammunition camel DG ordered the company's into line, and then passed on his chance to fire so as to re supply .. in front of them, the Dervish standards were now well within rifle range and all reaction test outcomes were still being followed to charge.

"Only pausing to bark orders at the last company to move up fast, Featherstonehaugh kicked his horse hard to catch up with the front most companies. He was pleased to see that one Egyptian contingent at least today was not letting him down today. The Egyptian infantry was firing fast and well at the oncoming Dervish infantry but the fire was not having the effect he would have wished.. 'should have re-armed earlier' he muttered, while knowing in his heart of hearts it had not been possible. Looking to his right, he drew breath sharply, what were the North Middlesex doing? He spurred towards them whilst knowing already that it was too late....."

The North Middlesex had become disorganised while changing formation to line, and as a result although able to fire were not firing as effectively as they could. Despite sending one unit off in rout, and severely damaging another the Dervish contacted the Anglo-Egyptian Line.
The Egyptian infantry were contacted by a unit of sword & spear men, the disorganised North Essex managed to halt the camelry to their front, but were contacted by the Jihadiya riflemen to their flank.

An unlucky dice throw resulted in the Egyptian unit breaking in rout. The North Middlesex fought off the flank attack, but in the subsequent reaction test the Dervish threw an "attack" roll (even though they were throwing on a "lost melee" test!) which resulted in them, and the camelry re-charging, and contacting the British. It was all too much, and they broke as well.

The remaining British company had deployed into line and attacked the Dervish that had routed the Egyptians but with a similar lack of success! They broke as well, and at this point DG forfeited the game...
"Featherstonehaugh shook his head in shame, how could it have all gone so wrong, so quickly? Kicking his horse into movement he followed the fleeing infantry, already looking for the company commanders he shouted out orders as best he could to get them to start rallying the troops. He'd seen it before though and he doubted there was any chance that he was going to get them stopped and re-organised soon. Behind him he heard the Dervish ululating in triumph.. 'those poor devils in the zariba are done for, now!' Slowing the horse slightly he looked behind him at what was supposed to be the scene of his triumph - the battle field was there's... this time".

Post Match Analysis:
o There's little room for "hanging around" in this scenario - if the infantry are engaged by the Dervish they need to finish it quick, in order to meet their objective!

o DG and I discussed the game afterwards and found little wrong with the rules, a few amendments are required, but nothing significant - both of us agreed we liked the ammunition rules very much (can't take the praise for this as I lifted them wholesale from "Pony Wars"!

o We also discussed what had gone wrong as the result had not been what I was expecting, and we both came to the conclusion that the problem was primarily one of terrain - all things being equal, in my rules a unit of Anglo-Egyptian infantry should get in four volleys at a unit of Dervish infantry before it charges home (two lots of rapid fire). The problem in this game was that the terrain was so closed in that the Dervish were able to get a jump on them.. now my understanding of the Sudan is that although there were battles where scrub, and poor terrain had an effect, most rifle battles were fought over open ground to 200 or 300 yards... so I may need to leave a few of the hills in the box next time! It's worth pointing out that DG was also pretty unlucky with the dice - both on morale checks, and (more disatrously), on melee's.

o Being the Sudan the refreshments this evening was a particularly fine bottle of "Old Speckled Hen", not quite an IPA but defintely along the same lines. Nibbles, of course, were Bombay mix! :o)

o I intend having another go at this solo, so stay tuned....!


  1. Nice report. Not my period but good to see some nice figures.


  2. Great report, shame about the result, but the close terrain made it very difficult.


  3. Steve,

    I liked the report . . . and the infantry look great in column. Are these based the same way as your WSS troops?

    -- Jeff

  4. Thanks for the comments guys... Jeff, yes, Imperials are on 30mm square bases - these are 15's as well so it works as well as it does for the WSS stuff...