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.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Apologies - AAR postponed

Due to a combination of pressing family matters, technical problems with Blogger, and the lateness of the hour, I'll post the battle report here tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Attack on Yabhouti

The Sharp Practice game Attack on Yabhouti finally took place yesterday. As British TV soccer pundits are fond of saying, "it was a game of two halves." All the groups had misfortunes, some worse than others. I'll post a report of the action with photos on Thursday. Watch this space...  


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