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!

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