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... 


Bluebear Jeff said...

Thanks for your notes on the the rules and how they impacted the battle.

So did you like the way they worked (you didn't say)?

-- Jeff

A J said...

Yes, I liked the way the rules work. The fog of war is all pervading, and nothing is certain. Had the cards been drawn in a different order, things would've gone very badly for the British force.

As it is, Britain now controls Yabhouti. How she'll get on with extending that control to the surrounding territory is now the scope of future games. =)


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