Thursday, December 29, 2011

Xmas recruits

A modest increase in my Darkest Africa collection arrived just after Xmas via eBay.

At the top we have a row of Wargames Foundry characters. Two are in uniform of some kind with fezes, one is an excellent ship/steamboat captain posed with a revolver concealed behind his back, one is a gentleman in a broad-brimmed hat, and finally we have two doughty and well-armed ladies. I can already picture several roles for them all.

In the row below them are Eureka Miniatures slave figures, four men and one woman. These will certainly play a part in the campaign to stamp out the iniquitous crime of slavery.

All have been deflashed, washed and rinsed, ready to be glued to the painting rods. The Eureka figures came without "slotta" bases, but since I don't like the things anyway, I'll make my own.

Next up is a progress shot of the Wargames Factory hard plastic Zulu figures. These stalwart chaps were also an eBay purchase (for $9.99 - bargain!) and have been a work in progress since before the holidays. At last they're all assembled and awaiting the next stage.

They come as a pack of thirty torsos, and a heap of extra limbs, heads and weaponry to achieve a goodly number of poses. They're relatively easy to assemble, and have great customizing potential. Several separate Martini-Henry rifles will definitely find use for British casualty figures. Their hard plastic will make it easy to glue to plasticard bases. At the moment I'm thinking in terms of mounting them in groups of three and four.

I did find it awkward to pose the arms holding muskets in anything like a realistic fashion. The thinking behind it is to represent warriors inexperienced in using firearms. Fair enough, but none of the left arms in the pack allow the musket to be held in a firing position without cutting and gluing. I'm also not keen on the gaps evident between neck/torso, and some of the arm/shoulder musculature. 

This batch will see some work with Milliput to make the warriors look somewhat like Hausa tribesmen. The musketmen will get semi-Westernized clothing, making them suitable for a tribal levy. 

All being well, I'll get them all painted within the next month, ready for adventure. Africa awaits...
* * *
There are only three days remaining to vote in the poll to decide the fate of Pvt. Hare, the man who ran for his life in the recent Battle of the Barracoon. Is he guilty as charged, or a victim of circumstances? Check out the poll to the left, and voice your decision!

Monday, December 26, 2011

I hope everyone had a happy and peaceful Xmas Day. We had some excellent ham for dinner, followed by a traditional Danish Christmas desert called Risalamond. Delicious, and I really didn't feel like eating until this morning.
* * *
Back to the doings in Yabhouti. The final muster is in concerning casualties.

Killed in action:
Cpl. George Gedge.
Pvt. Higgins, Daniel.
Pvt. Buckley, Edward.
Pvt. Stanton, Charles.

Wounded, invalided home:
Pvt. Burke, William. Pvt. Dyer, Arnold. Pvt. Desmond, Charles.
Wounded, returned to unit:
L. Cpl. White, George. Pvt. Hayes, Christopher. Pvt. Warren, Phillip. Pvt. Monk, Lionel.
L. Cpl. O’Reilly, Francis. Pvt. Yeats, Richard. Pvt. Alder, Frank. Pvt. King, Albert.
Pvt. Hewitt, Oliver. Pvt. Jones, Victor. Pvt. Murray, Andrew. 
* * *
In recognition of his sterling work in planning and executing the attack and occupation of Yabhouti, Frederick Wilberforce Pike has been promoted to the rank of Captain.

For conspicuous leadership and gallantry, Sergeant Albert Nugent St. Clair Harrington has been promoted to Company Sergeant Major, in line with new Army regulations concerning the granting of the Queen's Warrant to deserving NCOs.

For general good service in the field, Lance Corporal George White has been promoted another step, and can wear a second stripe. He will replace Corporal Gedge in command of the reconstituted 2 Section.

All three will continue in service with Baker Platoon. 

One question remains - What to do about Private Geoffrey Hare? The sole survivor of the devastating ambush lived up to his name and ran like a hare for the safety of the town walls, leaving wounded comrades on the field. This he did in full view of Colonel Trollope and his company commander.

I hereby put it to the vote: Should Pvt. Hare be Court-Martialed for cowardice in the face of the enemy? Enter your verdict in the poll provided.

Baker Platoon Muster.

Captain Frederick Pike.
Bugler Bates, Ronald.

1st Section:
CSM Harrington, Albert.
L. Cpl. O’Reilly, Francis.
Pvt. Rose, Henry
Pvt. Hayes, Christopher
Pvt. Lewis, Jack
Pvt. Bishop, Harold
Pvt. Lipton, Thomas
Pvt. Harrison, William
Pvt. Bell, John
Pvt. Moss, Frederick

2nd Section:
Cpl. White, George
Pvt. Hare, Geoffrey*
Pvt. Warren, Phillip.
Pvt. Monk, Lionel.
Pvt. Yeats, Richard.
Pvt. Alder, Frank.
Pvt. King, Albert.
Pvt. Chapman, Oliver.
Pvt. Jones, Victor.
Pvt. Murray, Andrew.  

3rd Section.
L. Cpl. Powell, Frank “Nosher”
Pvt. Watson, Geoff
Pvt. Brooks, Malcolm
Pvt. Hooper, Henry
Pvt. Wilkinson, Alfred
Pvt. Braithwaite, Frederick
Pvt. Baldwin, Albert
Pvt. Sullivan, Patrick
Pvt. Clark, Henry
Pvt. Hudson, Percival

* Awaiting a verdict upon his fate.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Barracoon - thoughts

Here are a few thoughts on the recent Battle of the Barracoon game. I'll include some methods used to run the scenario.
My games are fought solo. The set-up for each scenario derives from the previous one, and so on back to the original idea for a landing to capture a slaver port. The terrain suggests itself, following what I can research online for East Africa around Zanzibar, without being too specific, and allowing for what terrain items I have available or can make. I then analyze the whole idea behind the game from the point of view both sides. I aim to be as impartial - read equally bloody-minded - as possible toward both sides.
My reasoning for the Barracoon action ran that there are few secrets that an occupying power can hide from local natives. Eyes and ears are everywhere, and loyalty to the deposed Sheik Yabhouti still ran fairly high in the town. Sahid Lohar, the Sheik's representative in the area, would soon hear of the British plans to destroy the barracoon, and set out to prevent it. If he could inflict a severe defeat on the British, so much the better.
I laid out the terrain, with the features shown in the photo below. Next up, I decided how many groups of warriors would be available to Sahid Lohar, apart from his own group of Yabhouti musketmen. One roll of a d6 later and it seemed the Ukrazi were not impressed with his blandishments! The effects of British firepower had been felt most keenly in the previous action, and the local chieftain felt leery about suffering a repeat of the drubbing handed out then. He therefore provided a mere two 12-man warbands. Sahid Lohar would have to be canny in the way he deployed his forces - but that decision wasn't up to me.
Several ambush locations suggested themselves, so I assigned each a number and rolled a d6. The potential points were as shown below.

I considered it unlikely any warrior groups would be posted near to the town gate, so I assigned the two nearest ambush spots low numbers of probability. The results gave the hiding places for the three groups. Sahid Lohar set-up in location #1-2, a warrior group each in locations #3-4, and #6. Interesting results. 

Under the Sharp Practice rules, I rated Sahid Lohar as Big Man level 3. The tribal group behind the barracoon was led by a Big Man level 2, and the last group near the gates by a level 1.

The British had a level 3 Big Man in the shape of Sergeant Harrington, and a level 2 in Corporal Gedge. The former wangwana didn't have a leader per-se, being more or less herded into action by the Corporal's efforts.

I ruled the weather to be fine, with a steady sea-breeze from the South-East, courtesy of an 8-sided compass points die picked up at a wargames show some years ago. This had a bearing on the way smoke from the barracoon would drift, with its potential to conceal movement.

The burning of the barracoon is handled by the Sharp Practice rules for tasks, requiring a score of 10 on cumulative dice-rolls for fires to be set. Since the wangwana scored this on their first turn in the structure, it showed they were eager to get the job done and be out of it!

The Arabs were all musket-armed, and the tribal warriors rated as "Wallahs with big choppers" to account for their close-combat prowess. They also gained advantages for "aggressive coves" under the rules, giving them farther advantages in fisticuffs.
The British soldiers, of course, excelled in sheer firepower. The rules give a "Sharp Practice" card in the deck to any group possessing above average competence in musketry. To reflect the British use of breechloading rifles, I included two more Sharp Practice cards in the pack. This proved vital, and increased the period flavor of the game. Where the natives could come to close combat, they tended to inflict damage. Where the British could "slosh 'em with Martinis," the natives tended to suffer.

As for quality, the Yabhoutian Arabs and tribal warriors I rated as Average, the British as Good to reflect the experience gained in the previous actions. The Arabs were a step up in quality compared to their previous efforts, to reflect their status as bodyguard to Sahid Lohar. This had a major bearing on the firepower they were able to bring to bear from ambush, with serious consequences to No. 2 section. 

I nearly rated the tribal levy as Poor, since they were far from enthusiastic about helping the slavers, but in the end I thought it would weaken them too much.

Before the Barracoon game even began, I had a feeling it would prove a bloody little action for the British. The presence of a warband in ambush so close to the gates indicated action would come swiftly before Harrington's men would be entirely ready for it. One of the things I like about the Sharp Practice rules is the card-driven system, which allows for solo play. The fog of war and Richard Clarke's beloved "friction" descended on the game from the start.

Although the British won the action, they suffered four dead, with three severely wounded and subsequently invalided home. No. 2 section will have to be rebuilt. More on the aftermath and current situation vis. Yabhouti soon. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Battle at the Barracoon

Dawn breaks over east Africa, and the gates of Yabhouti swing open. 

Sergeant Albert Harrington led his men through the gates and out onto the trail leading to the barracoon. The hateful structure squatted like a toad at the far side of the cleared area, the smokestack of the pump-house supplying water to it poking up to one side. Albert had the mission clear in his mind. With Colonel Trollope himself looking on from a nearby rooftop, Harrington felt determined to perform the task of destroying the slavers' structures as briskly as possible. 

No sooner had the section set foot on the track than Harrington's keen eye spotted movement in a nearby copse. Dark figures rose up like wraiths from ground still smudged with early-morning mist, hostile intent evident in their every move.

"Action right!" Harrington snapped. "First section, line up!" The men moved from column into line alongside the track. "Make ready!" The rifles came up. "Present!" The barrels dropped level. "Fire!"   

The native party, about a dozen strong, lost five men to the volley, but they didn't waver. With an eerie war cry they surged into contact, and the fight was on.

Harrington and his men fought and swore, parrying and thrusting with bayonet and rifle butt. A native ducked under Harrington's rifle and stabbed with his spear. Harrington grunted as the sharp steel point pierced his sleeve and scoured a hot line along his left forwarm. The warrior had left himself exposed to a quick thrust with the bayonet, and fell screaming as Harrington pinned him to the dirt.

Two men of his section fell, including Lance Corporal White, but the fight grew too hot for the natives. They withdrew, at first sullenly, then with greater speed as the British soldiers chased them off with a volley.

Harrington watched them go as he favoured his wounded arm. Bloody aggressive of them to lurk in ambush here, he thought. Had there been more of them, they might've gained entry to the town

There was no further time to spend speculating; the mission had to be carried out, although Harrington resolved to keep a careful watch on the scrub surrounding the area in case other surprises lay in wait. He saw medical personnel waiting behind Corporal Gedge's section, and signalled them to come forward to tend to the two men wounded in the fighting.

"Are you all right, sarge?" Private Bell asked. 
"Yes, John," Harrington replied, fishing a kerchief from his pocket. "Tie this bloody arm up for me, and we'll get on with the job." 

With the way cleared, Corporal Gedge chivvied the former wangwana along the track toward the barracoon. The former native auxilliary troops seemed nervous. I don't blame 'em, Gedge thought, eying them with disfavor. They're no kind of soldier, and they're scared witless they might meet their former master. Still, orders were orders. He had to escort and protect them whilst they burned the barracoon, and he'd do his best to ensure it all happened according to the Lieutenant's plan.

His arm bound up, Harrington moved his section forward quickly, the sooner to occupy the area around the barracoon and sieze control of the pump house. The boiler itself looked a minor marvel of engineering, and quite out of place in such surroundings. Harrington eyed it, and signalled for Private Bishop to come over to him. "You've had some experience of these things, Bishop," he said. "What do you make of it?"

Bishop looked at the machinery and sucked his teeth. "It's German, at a guess. They like those fancy rivetted seams."

"Hmm. German, eh?" Harrington filed the information away. "Well, take a couple of bits off so it don't work, and - what the -?"

An inhuman scream rang out from the scrub some distance away. The whole section seemed to jerk in surprise, then stare as a mass of natives erupted from cover some yards away. "Don't bloody well stand gawping!" Harrington shouted. "Get fell in and give 'em toker!"

The section gathered its collective wits and stood-to. Levelling their Martini-Henrys, they laid a withering fire into the onrushing horde. Harrington watched the proceedings, ready to suppress any tendency of his men to fire wild. His intervention wasn't needed. The native attack shrivelled and died, the survivors melting away into the brush.

Corporal Gedge divided his section into two parties and lined them up almost back-to-back, the better to watch their surroundings whilst the wangwana got to work torching the barracoon. They worked with a will, and as they withdrew from the compound, smoke and flames rose into the air and drifted away on the southeast wind.

Gedge nodded, satisfied. He was about to send a message to the sergeant that the job was done when his eye was caught by movement in the scrubland to the south. Almost before he'd formed the thought of ambush! muskets cracked and the air filled with the woosh and buzz of bullets. Something slammed into Gedge's left leg and he staggered and fell, clutching the wound.

"Get fell in!" he cried, turning to shout at the party watching the north. "Line up and -" Something slammed into his back and head, and he knew no more.

Sahid Lohar nodded in satisfaction. I've caught the Red Soldiers napping! he gloated. Now to destroy them and those turncoat scum. Soon, Yabhouti shall be my Master's again!

The British soldiers returned fire as best they could, but the shock of ambush and the effectiveness of the Arab fire had shattered their morale.

The British fell back, and Lohar directed some of his men to fire on the wangwana emerging through the gate of the compound. Unable to run back due to the fires, unwilling to run forward due to the musketry, the hapless men were caught between a rock and a hard place. They fell to a man. Lohar nodded again, and redirected his men to finish off the Red Men. Soon, only one was left, and he running for his life.

Harrington heard the sounds of one-sided firing. Too much musketry, and the distinctive sound of the Martini-Henry soon died away. That sounds like trouble, and no error! he thought.

As he and his men rounded the corner of the now fiercely-burning barracoon, they saw an awful scene of slaughter. "Bloody 'ell!" someone muttered behind him.

"Quiet, back there!" Harrington snapped, taking in the situation. The Arab position in the scrub fumed with gunsmoke, but he could see a blue-clad figure gesturing to the others. An officer - or equivalent! "Right, sunshine, we'll deal with you now," he muttered. Aloud, he called "Lewis! Step to the front, lad." As Private Lewis came up, Harrington pointed at the distant figure. "Shoot that cove in the blue."

"Righty-ho, sarge," Lewis replied, phlegmatic as always. 

Licking his thumb, he wetted the backsight on his Martini-Henry, and cocked an eye at the plumes of smoke boiling off the barracoon to gauge wind direction and strength. Taking careful aim at the distant figure, he squeezed the trigger.

Blue robe stopped capering, spun, and dropped like a stone. A cheer went up from the section and Harrington allowed himself a sigh of relief. "Right, let's sort out this mess." Trotting out into the open, he held up his good arm. "Fall into line here. Load it if you haven't!"

The section hastened into position. Harrington eyed the confusion evident in the scrub. With their leader down and out, the Arabs had fallen into disarray. We'll add to their distress, I think. "Make ready!" The rifles came up. "Present!" The barrels dropped level. "Five rounds rapid, fire!"

The terrible British volley fire rang out again. The scourge of enemies for almost two centuries, it played hell with the lurking Arab warriors. Partially concealed in the scrub as they were, Harrington could still see them fall in droves.

Gunsmoke tainted the air as Harrington and his men fired steadily. Soon, the Arabs were withdrawing. "Cease volley fire," Harrington shouted, his voice sounding flat to his ears after the cacophany of firing. "Advance five paces and fire at will." 

The section complied, reoccupying the lost ground. One fired a single shot whenever a target presented itself, but the firing soon ceased altogether. Wounded Redcoats and wangwana both stirred and cried out. Others lay ominously still.

With the end of the fight, Harrington sighed. This had been a bloody one, but the job was done. Satisfied the enemy had withdrawn and no further threat offered, he walked out onto the track where he could be seen from the town, and signalled. Soon, medical help emerged from the town gate, and Harrington and his men set to work tending to the wounded. 

Colonel Trollope and Lieutenant Pike watched the fighting from their vantage point on the roof of a merchant's townhouse. As the firing died away, Trollope sighed and lit a cigar. He shook the match to extinguish it, then gestured to the scene of conflict, the smoke from his cigar rising to match that of the burning barracoon.

"A bloody business, Pike," Trollope said. "Still, the job's done. That wretched barracoon is no more, and, as a bonus, we appear to have destroyed the last viable force the Sheik has in this area. It's given the natives something to think about, too."

"Yes, sir," Pike replied, looking out at the scene. "With your permission, sir, I'll go see to my men."

"Quite right, my boy, by all means." As Pike saluted and turned to go, Trollope added "Make sure those poor native fellows get treatment, too. They came on like brave 'uns today."

"Yes, sir." Pike saluted again and clattered down the steps to the street. Trollope stood, watching the scene and drawing deep on his cigar. One piece of business taken care of, he thought, before turning his mind to future projects.
* * *
So there we have it. The Battle of the Barracoon was the bloodiest of the three actions fought so far, with British casualties numbering four dead and three men no longer fit for service. Second section will need to be reconstituted before the Barsetshires can take to the field again. At least Colonel Trollope has the comfort in knowing the town and area around it is now secure. 

So far, the Sharp Practice rules are working out well, along with some home-grown tweaks to aid solo and campaign play. I'll write up some thoughts on aspects of the game in the near future.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Coming soon...

Coming soon -
An account of the singularly sanguinary skirmish fought recently
Near the town
Yabhouti - 
The Battle of the Barracoon!

God Save the Queen!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thoughts on gaming in Darkest Africa

I've been reading Lieut-General Sir William Heneker's fascinating work, Bush Warfare when I can find time. Heneker wrote it as a means of passing on the experience he earned in various campaigns in West Africa during the 1890's-early 1900's. It served as the British Army's standard treatise on bush warfare up to 1938, and is full of useful ideas for gamers.

One tactic Heneker mentions being employed previous to his time in the West African theater was that of clearing or covering volleys. The British column commanders were loathe to send troops into the bush to cover the flanks and to scout ahead, for fear they would be cut to pieces by local warriors with superior bush skills.

Essentially, when on a mission, native troops in British service kept to jungle trails, stopping at intervals to line up and fire a full volley into the vegetation ahead in the hope of wrecking any potential native ambush. Often, the native warriors cannily kept well to the sides of the advancing column, from where they were able to fire into the flanks. This ambush tactic was especially effective against the bearers, the logistical tail of the column, who might equal or even exceed the numbers of riflemen.

Incidentaly the natives weapons were referred to as Dane guns, so called for firearms acquired from Danish traders, although other sources sold weapons too.   

Needless to say, covering volleys wasted a lot of ammunition. Heneker records several instances where a force had to turn back before completing a mission due to lack of ammunition, to the extent some soldiers had only a handful of rounds left when they reached base. 

Now, I've come across some rule sets that expressly forbid speculative fire of this nature. It seems to me that any rules set covering West Africa in particular during the 1860's-80's would have to make it compulsory.

Another phenomena of the area lies in the experience gained in the almost interminable bush warfare in West Africa. Native troops were often drawn from the very area the uprisings occurred. When they mustered-out of service, the men went back to their villages. Heneker states that there didn't seem much dissemination of the veterans' military knowledge through their community, which was probably a good thing from the British point of view!

Even so, native tactics changed by Heneker's time. Instead of melting away from in front of an advancing column to ambush it from the flanks, the natives built stockades across the line of march. These palisades were augmented by well-constructed trenches out to the flanks, and a covered line of retreat in case events should turn bad. The stockades had firing loops cut into the timbers, some loops being carved from wood to make a kind of tube. Natural features such as swampy ground were used to add to the defenses. 

Such a barrier, manned by warriors armed with (relatively) modern firearms, made a formidable obstacle. Heneker states the weak explosive shells of the 7-pounder and 75mm guns of the British force proved of only limited use in tackling them, although they served to keep the native force's attention whilst an outflanking party turned the defensive line. Incidentally, does anyone know what type of weapon the 75mm referred to was? Was it a British design, or one obtained from elsewhere?  

British tactics evolved too. The practice of covering volleys fell out of use by the 1890's. Commanders now sent a section out ahead and to either flank of the line of march, the section dividing into parties of two men each, with up to two pairs to either side and the section commander in the center. From this position he was able to give orders through voice alone, the sound carrying to his men but no further, thus avoiding giving warning to the enemy. Maxim guns had come into use, and proved very effective in suppressing fire against palisades.

There's a lot more for me to read from Heneker's work. Even the themes I've managed to cover so far have given me food for thought. Such a heavy use of ammo in a column's advance could lead to it finding itself short of ammunition at a crucial moment. Thankfully, The Too Fat Lardies included the potential shortage of ammo in their Sharp Practice rules. 

With luck and a following wind I'll be able to play out my planned scenario involving the Yabhouti garrison sometime this week. Watch this space...         

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Week

Another busy week, but I have got the Wargames Factory hard plastic Zulu warriors washed and ready to assemble. I'll have a go at these this next day or so, and takes some pictures of the work in progress.

I'm hoping to get another Sharp Practise game in next week, before my studio/game room reverts to the entirely mundane role of guest bedroom for the Xmas holidays (mutter, mumble...)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

New recruits for the Ukrazi Tribe marching in

Real life has gotten in the way of the fun stuff as usual, but at least I found my latest batch of African native warriors had arrived when I came home. These are the multi-part hard plastic Zulus from Wargames Factory, and they look rather good at first sight. They do come on a goodly number of sprues, and there appears to be an astonishing number of arms bearing Martini-Henry rifles. I've had to buy a new camera, the old one having died after a mere four years' use, and I'll take some shots of the progress made assembling and painting them when I can.

In the meantime, I'm going to be busy with a commission to make a new Amy Pond "Sunflowers" diorama. It should look like the photo below once I've finished.

The miniature is "Emily Lake" from Heresy Miniatures in the UK. They're a friendly bunch, and have a very quick turnaround time, the figures reaching me here the US in less than a week. 

The Sharp Practise game will be played out when I can find time, hopefully before the end of the month when I finish the commission. It'll give me a chance to try out the spiffy new camera too.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Burn the Barracoon! - Premise

The next scenario for my Darkest Africa campaign is taking shape. I have a few days' worth of work and family matters to take care of before I can play it out, but that allows me time to plan things. The basic premise is as follows:-

Now the town of Yabhouti has been secured, the British force turns to the next item on the agenda – the destruction of the area's slave trade infrastructure. Nothing else will convey the message to the locals so clearly that the good old days are over.

The first target of this policy will be the demolition of the town's barracoon, the pen used to hold slaves ready for transportation to market. Located a few hundred yards from the town, the barracoon consists of an open-sided roofed structure fenced in by a log palisade, an adobe house used by the overseers, and a steam pump. This latter was the most effective means of drawing enough water for the numerous inmates held here at the height of the slave-raiding season. It's not known by what means the Sheik acquired this high-tech equipment, or from whom.      

Since the Sheik still has a number of loyalists in the area, it's felt advisable for a working party to be sent out under armed guard to effect the destruction of the barracoon. At the moment the projected force for the mission is scheduled to be two sections of infantry, with a contingent of local wangwana brought into British service. These latter will perform the work, serving the dual functions of keeping them out of mischief, and reinforcing the message that slavery is finished here.   

For the British to win, the wooden structures must be pulled down and/or burned, and the steam pump disabled by the removal of key components. The pump might be restored and put to use by the British at some later date.

The Sheik's loyalists must prevent this, scoring a notable victory if they also inflict significant casualties on the still meager British forces present in Yabhouti. 

A breakdown of forces involved and a map will follow soon. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New recruits for the Ukrazi Tribe

Not entirely to my surprise, I'm unable to fit in the planned skirmish game this coming week, so Baker Platoon can rest easy a little longer. However, I did discover an eBay seller with boxes of Wargames Factory plastic Zulu figures for sale, at the bargain rate of only $9.99. I promptly ordered them, and they're on the way. 

This range has had mixed reviews. Some like the Zulu figures when used en-masse (as I plan to so use them). Almost everybody seems to detest the British infantry from the same set, but since I have no desire to buy any, it's academic to me. It'll be my first experience with the (relatively) new phenomena of hard plastic figures, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they're like. Hopefully, I'll find time to assemble and paint them these next few weeks. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Miscelaneous mix

A few readers of this blog might know I'm a fan of the Hirst Arts silicon mold system. I recently bought the Small Pipe mold #321, which yields 3/8th inch pipes cast from hard plaster. A few of these are shown below.   

From Hirst Arts site - "Used to make 3/8" diameter pipes with 1/2" diameter flanges. Includes several pipe lengths, tank tops, ells, spacer blocks, a tee, valve assembly and 2 adapters to fit the larger pipe mold #320."
They look the business, and there are enough small bits and bobs to be very useful in constructing VSF/Steampunk vehicles. They can also serve for any sci-fi setting, from planet-side to starships.  

The tank tops referred to are useful for the tops or ends of boilers or compressors. I painted the first batch I cast copper, but they can easily be painted in any color, especially the rich glossy tones used by the Victorian engineers. The plaster takes acrylic paints very well, and a coat of Future/Klear polish gives added protection.
My wife and I like to browse charity stores, and usually find something useful. This last week I picked up five Bicycle-brand six sided dice for 53 cents, including 3c tax, and the mug for just 50 cents. The latter is a bit of an odd duck. It shows various soldiers and gear from American military history, but the descriptions give the impression of being written by someone who doesn't speak English as a first language. My wife thinks it originated in Mexico. Still, it's colorful, and I'm going to use it to store my dice collection in.

I'm planning another wargame foray into the Colonial-era soon, with a scenario based on a British attempt to secure their hold on the area around Yabhouti. With any luck, I'll play the game sometime this coming week.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Libyan Landship

These photos have appeared online in several places lately, but I thought I'd share them here. It shows what ingenuity goes into improvising for warfare, and hats off to the Libyan rebels who came up with this cracker.

It appears to be composed of an armored carapace built onto a commercial bulldozer chassis. Firing ports complete with armored shutters dot the front and sides. How effective it could be is beyond my ken, but it looks pretty fierce.

It puts me in mind of some of the improvised designs used in the Spanish Civil War - and even Corporal Jones' butcher's van/battlewagon in the classic British TV series, Dad's Army

The breadth of applications for this vehicle on a wargames table are pretty good. It could appear in a Very British Civil War campaign in the line-up for one faction or another. For myself, I can see a certain use for it in Daftest Africa. Is that a hint? Could be!   

Monday, October 17, 2011

Platoon muster

After the victory in Yabhouti, the British strengthen their hold on the town. Baker platoon suffered casualties during the fighting, but replacements have arrived to take their place in the ranks.

Killed in action – Pvt. Thomas, George.
Wounded, invalided home – Pvt. O’Neill, Tobias: Pvt. Dennison, Lionel
Wounded, return to unit - L. Cpl. White, George: Pvt. Wilkinson, Alfred
Replacements - Pvt. Brooks, Malcolm: Pvt. Bishop, Harold: Pvt. Sullivan, Patrick.

The Barsetshires didn't suffer as high a butcher's bill as Colonel Trollope feared might occur. Although the muddle on the beach threatened to turn into a bloody massacre, it proved to be more of a bloody nuisance. The Tower and town of Yabhouti were taken, and that's all that matters.

Now plans are in hand to extend Britain's reach into the environs around the town and the hinterland beyond. Reconnaissance, survey and exploration parties must be sent out. There are nests of slavers to uncover and destroy. And somewhere over the horizon, the other Great Powers watch and wait in case the British Lion slips up. Interesting times lie ahead of the Barsetshire Boys...     

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Thoughts on the game

Barsetshire soldiers vs. Sheik's warriors in the dusty streets of Yabhouti.
* * *
The dust is settling after the sharp action that won Yabhouti for the Empire. So begins the post-action thoughts. 

I like the Sharp Practice card system a great deal. There are no certainties, and the fog of war is allowed to develop fully. I did come up with a few home-brew wrinkles to help me fight the action solo, and these I give here. 
The Home Team

First off, I had to decide the force available to the Sheik and his deputy. The Yabhouti standing army suffered a serious blow in a military misadventure earlier in the year, and is woefully short on manpower. The mainstay of the force comprises the Arab warriors of Zanzibari stock. These had only a small number of men to garrison the town and environs, and naturally they were posted in the Tower, the strongest and most vital part of the defenses.

The second-string of the standing army comprises the Wangwana, the slave-soldiers drawn from subjugated local natives. They are better equipped than their tribal brethren in that they have muskets, but lack the training, morale, and more modern rifled weapons of the Sheik's men. These, too, are few in number, first through casualties and then desertion. They garrisoned the town under the direct command of an Arab officer.

Altogether, the garrison of Yabhouti numbered just twenty, evenly divided between tower and town. The tower had a four-barreled rocket launcher firing cheap knock-off versions of the Congreve standard rocket.

That left local levy numbers to determine. The local sept of the Ukrazi tribe has been exploited for centuries, first as a source of slaves, and later as a source of recruits for the wangwana. I decided that since the Sheik's grip on power in the area slipped, the sept has been growing increasingly restless. They might - or might not - provide warbands to the Sheik when called upon. I rolled a die, with each pip representing a warband. The score came up 1. The local chief had sent only one warband to fulfil his obligation to the Sheik.
The Away Team

Over to the British army, and the fast-approaching dhows bearing the might of the Barsetshire Regiment. Soldiers in charge of ships? Nelson would've laughed fit to burst, but needs must in the outposts of Empire. Each dhow carried fifteen men, with the Indian mountain gun also carried aboard Sgt. Harrington's vessel.

I ruled that a fair wind from the South-East would waft the dhows ashore, but getting their prows stuck on the right piece of sand would take a die roll. 1-3 = On target. 4 = Wrong place, dhow grounds 1d6 inches to left. 5 = Wrong place, dhow grounds 1d6 inches to right. 6 = Collision, roll for damage.

In the event, the gallant Lt. Pike succeeded in steering his dhow to the right spot, but Sgt. Harrington only averted a collision at the last moment and grounded two inches to the left - right in front of a dense patch of scrub.
All actions in Sharp Practice are driven by cards. The appearance of the Tiffin card marks the end of a period of action. Groups of around ten men can be merged to form a Formation, the number of Groups so joined depending on the initiative level of the Big Man leading that formation.

Big Men are those leaders who inspire their troops, and get them to perform actions. It's assumed that Groups without a leader will do the minimum necessary to stay in the fight, but no more. Each Big Man has a rating of 1 (the most junior and effective - typically NCOs) to 4, the most senior and effective (Officers).

The card deck contains various means to influence the action, e.g Grasp the Nettle allows a junior Big Man to act more effectively by giving him temporary extra initiative points. Other cards can deprive a Group or Formation of some power.

Typically, for the initial moves of a game, Groups and Formations are represented by Blinds, areas of doubt and uncertainty marked by oval cards a few inches across. When within spotting range of an enemy force, or if the Group/Formation represented by the Blind opens fire, the Blind is removed and the figures are placed on the table. Some Blinds are dummies, representing a few scouts, stragglers, or even nothing but tricks of the light. They serve to add more fog of war to a game. Some terrain features and buildings are Blinds in their own right, since troops could be hiding in them.

Shock Points come into play when a Group is under fire. This might not cause actual casualties, but the accumulated effect causes troops to slow down and even stop. Enough shock can cause them to retreat to healthier parts. It's the Big Man's job to overcome this shock, and make the troops do his bidding.  
This action occurred in the early hours of the day. For the purposes of the game, I ruled that dawn would come on the third turn of the Tiffin card. HMS Arthur, waiting offshore, would close with the town two Tiffin card draws after sunrise.  

From the moment their vessels' prows hit the beach, a lamentable confusion set in amongst the British, thanks to the order in which the cards appeared. I took this to mean landing on a strange shore at night had caused more muddle than anticipated.

Tiffin appeared early the first two rounds - dawn was fast approaching, and the attackers had failed to clear the beach. The Sentry card gave the dozing wangwana on duty at the town gate the chance to sense something amiss - which he did, in spite of the heavy odds against him due to it being night. He raised the alarm, just as Lt. Pike utilized a handy Grasp the Nettle card to lead his men off the beach.

Eventually order was established, although the Indian mountain gun crew took an age to disembark from the dhow and fight their way through the shore side vegetation. The local native blind activated the turn after the alarm had been raised, moving from the valley behind the tower toward the beach. Colliding with the attackers, the British reacted first, and good shooting - or sheer luck - caused enough casualties to force the natives into a hasty retreat. 

The first volley loosed from the Tower failed to inflict casualties, but the British did suffer a dangerous amount of shock points. Two successive lucky draws of a Stand Fast card allowed Lt. Pike to remove all the shock from his section, and lead them to the Tower. Here he was able to set the petard up on the iron-banded door in record time.

Under the rules, actions other than fighting have a number assigned to them, requiring one or more dice rolls to meet the (sometimes accumulated) total to determine the length of time they take to perform. In this case setting the petard needed an accumulated score of 11 to achieve. 

As for the effectiveness of the petard, a die roll of 1-3 = Success. 4 = Explodes prematurely, roll for casualties on the attackers. 5 = Explodes late. 6 = Fails to explode. The petard exploded early, but the British soldiers escaped injury. Those Yabhouti warriors on the ground floor did not, all four falling to the blast.

I followed the same rule to determine if Sgt. Harrington's men succeeded in breaking in the town gates. This they did in just two moves, needing 11. 

Thanks to the cards, the mountain gun totally failed to get into action. I had determined beforehand that the light shell it fired would have negligible effect on the solid stonework of the tower. The gun's only really use would have been against the town and the gates, but Sgt. Harrington had already dealt with these.
All in all, the attack was a success for the British. The defenders had the chance to inflict serious damage on them, but thanks to the cards, it wasn't to be. So, what follows this? I have a number of ideas based around British attempts to take control of Ukraziland and deny it to slavers (and foreign Colonial Powers) for good. I'll play these out when I can. Watch this space... 

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Attack on Yabhouti

In the hour before dawn, two dhows manned by British soldiers approach the shore near the slaver port of Yabhouti. All is quiet. No lights show in the town. Its denizens sleep peacefully, unaware of the coming might of the British Empire.

The red dhow under the direct command of Lt. Fred Pike.

Propelled by the fitful pre-dawn sea breeze, the green dhow under the command of Sgt. Albert Harrington follows in the leader's wake.

The two dhows containing the attacking force made their way to shore without incident, the red dhow grounding on the beach south of the town as planned. As the green dhow approached difficulties arose. Thanks to the inexperience of the soldiers manning her, they only avoided a collision with the lead vessel by running alongside her port side. Unfortunately, this placed them on the beach directly in front of a mass of scrub trees.  

The British stumble ashore, the landlubbers of the Barsetshire Regiment all too glad to tread dry land again. In spite of attempts by Lt. Pike and his NCOs to keep order, the confusion of landing causes noise. Over at the town gate, a sleepy wangwana sentry rouses himself and peers into the darkness toward the beach.   

As Harrington directs his men to skirt the blockage caused by the mountain gun, the sentry at the gatehouse sees starshine glinting off bayonets. Certain someone's out there by the shore who shouldn't be, he raises his musket to his shoulder and fires a warning shot into the air.   

The shot rings out loud in the African night, stilling the insects in the trees. Up in the watchtower, the Sheik's deputy, Mehmet Ali, stirs himself. Taking a party of men he heads for the battlements and peers toward the town. The sentry's shouts can be heard, and he seems to be saying something about intruders. Beneath the tower, the stealthy tread of many feet show an ally has also heard the alarm, and is moving from their camp in the valley to investigate. Mehmet Ali settles down to await reports.

Frustrated by the alarm being raised so soon, Pike grits his teeth. He can practically feel the sun getting ready to climb over the horizon behind him, and urges his men to greater speed before daylight exposes them to greater danger. Finally, they shake themselves into order and head up off the beach in rough column, aiming toward their target.

The tower looms up against the night sky -- but Pike sees movement in the darkness ahead and stops his men in their tracks. A party of natives has appeared between the attackers and their target. Seeing no other recourse, Pike gives the order for those who can to open fire, action front. Martin-Henry rifles bark -- screams and groans mark targets struck and injured.

In the town, the sentry's shot calls forth the rest of the wangwana garrison. Another askari takes post in the embrasure. With the first light of dawn exposing the crowd of red coated soldiers on the shore, the two men open fire.

The tower garrison also benefits from the growing light, and the rifle flashes of the attackers below mark their position nicely. As of one thought, they unleash a full volley. The Barsetshire soldiers curse and duck as musket balls pepper the ground around them. Full of pep the minute before, they waver under the onslaught even though no one is hit. 

Sgt. Harrington's orders are to screen the flank of the attacking party from the town, and that's just what he sets out to do. Barking orders, he leads his men in column at the jog toward the gate. A man is struck by fire from the walls and falls wounded, but the Soldiers of the Queen move forward unfazed. 

Lt. Pike sees his chance of surprise is lost, but the poor accuracy of fire from the tower gives him hope. "Steady, lads!" he shouts. "They have the rising sun in their eyes. They can't see us for toffee! And see there..." He points at their erstwhile target, a band of local natives higher up the slope. "Those fellows have had enough and are falling back. Advance when I call, and the day will be ours!"

To his right, a full volley crashes out, raising echoes from the town walls. Sgt. Harrington has dealt with the sentries at the embrasures in the most expeditious way, and they now measure their length on the parapet.

Pike's analytical mind sees a definite advantage for his men. Although the geography restricts them to column for the moment, the tower's position on the ridge allows the entire section to fire up at it. A few quick orders and the Barsetshires open fire, smothering the firing loops with accurate rifle fire.

At that moment Mehmet Ali decides the time is ripe to use his battle winner - a four barrel rocket launcher purchased through various nefarious means and loaded with Congreve-type rockets. He orders his men to fire the first shot. With a hiss and roar the missile leaves the tube - and disappears southward, causing no harm to man or beast.  

Having cleared the wangwana from the battlements, Harrington leads his men forward. The chosen landing ground is more constricted than anticipated, and he sees no advantage to remaining in the open. He orders three men to begin battering down the gate. The old wood is rotting and sun-bleached, and soon begins to give way.

In the street beyond, the wangwana leader has seen his men shot down, and knows exactly what awaits the other side of the wall. Steadying his askari, he waits in firing line for the first soldiers to come through the gate.

The rocket surprises the British troops at first, but its lack of accuracy is reassuring. Bugler Bates sounds the advance, and the soldiers of Barsetshire run up the slope to the tower's door. Another volley from the tower brings down two of their number but they carry on regardless. 

Out to sea, a large silhouette can be seen against the rising sun. HMS Arthur has closed the shore with naval punctuality, and stands by to give fire support if needed.

The Coming of Arthur.

At the tower door, days of practice pay off when the petard is emplaced and primed swiftly. The section retreats to cover behind a stack of goods in the nick of time. The device explodes, a little prematurely, shattering the door. Private Burke later commented "It was so close, I felt it scorch my bloomin' arse!"

Sgt. Harrington's section forces open the door, to be met with a crashing volley from the wangwana.  In a fierce exchange of fire, two of his men fall before the doughty wangwana are killed to a man. 

The native levy's defence proves all in vain. With Corporal Gedge's section providing covering fire, Pike and his men rush the door. The explosion killed all the defenders on the lower level, and the effects of the earlier suppressive fire can be seen from the bodies littering the floors by the firing loops. Within minutes the tower is in British hands, and the Union Flag flies above the battlements. Their primary means of defence lost, the remaining warriors of Sheik Yabhouti slip away -- to fight another day.

The town of Yabhouti in British hands.
* * *
So there we have it - a British victory. I'll post some thoughts on mechanisms and the game play soon.


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