Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Reflections on the recent game

Time for a spot of analysis on the recent encounter in Gwundaland. The Sharp Practice rules rate troops as Poor, Regular, Good and Elite. With the opening of the campaign in Yabhouti the Barsetshires rated as Good to begin with. The course of time and experience would have raised them to Elite, but I considered the casualties sustained in action coupled with the influx of new men to the ranks kept the Company at Good. 

Big Men are rated in four grades, with 4 being the best. Although the later grade really should only be found in elite troops, I ruled Captain Pike and CSM Harrington to have gained enough experience to raise them a level to 4 and 3 respectively. This slight increase proved vital in the recent game, as Pike and Harrington had enhanced command and control capabilities and were able to pull the fat from the fire.

For the latest game I introduced the Cardwell Reforms that swept the British Army from the 1870s onward. It meant a slight reorganization of the basic section strength from 10 men to 8. This has a telling effect on the firepower, as under the rules Good troops gain +1 to the dice for every five men firing. By reducing the section strength, the Barsetshires effectively lost two firing dice and +5 points - something that gave them pause to reflect in the recent encounter with the Gwunda tribe. Before, their volleys had a good chance of stopping a tribal charge cold. Now, it's all to play for.

Fred Pike regrets the change, but it's what he has to use and he will adapt his tactics to deal with it. He has decided on a strategic withdrawal to the river in order to see his badly wounded to safe quarters, recuperate the surviving troops, and gain reinforcements. Then he'll come on again, 'with blood in his eye,' determined as ever to do his Duty to Queen and Country. But for now, the next game will show what's happening on the other side of the hill...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Debacle in Gwundaland

A grey and cloudy dawn saw the Barsetshire company on the march toward the hill country to the north. The native drums had beat steadily all through the night. Every man in the column knew the natives watched their steady progress into the tribal lands. Occasionally warriors could be seen in the distance when the growing heat haze allowed. Every man wondered when the hammer would fall.

They soon found out.

A shallow valley dotted with scrub and stands of elephant grass opened before them. Movement in the scrub and on the distant hill suggested the Gwunda tribe was about to make its move.
On Captain Pike's orders the column began to shake out into skirmish order, with 4 section heading for a copse of trees to scout the elephant grass to the front-left. 1 and 3 sections deployed to face the scrub where something moved in the shadows. Pike himself remained in a central position with the civilians, ready to give orders via bugle call when necessary.

Trouble struck within minutes. As 4 section entered the copse, lithe figures emerged from the tall grass. "By crikey!" Private Brown cried. "They're women - and they're nekkid!"

Lance Corporal Hudson glared at the new recruit. "Mind your business lad! You're not on the fookin' parade ground now!"

Hardly had he spoken than the distant women raised bows and fired a volley of arrows. The deadly missiles hissed through the air and found their mark - two men fell pierced through the heart and Hudson grunted as an arrow buried itself in his left arm.
Over on the right the scrub seemed to burst apart as a Gwunda warband surged out of cover. 3 section under Corporal "Nosher" Powell had time for a single volley before the natives fell upon them. The air filled with screams, shouts and oaths as the men of Barsetshire fell back under the onslaught. 1 section under CSM Harrington was slow to react, but eventually positioned itself on the flank of the warband.
Harrington lead a charge into the warband's flank, inflicting several casualties and slowing its pursuit of the heavily outnumbered 3 section. Over in the copse, another man fell to the archers, who seemed to toy with the hapless men, slipping into and out of cover and firing at will. Return volleys rattled the grass but had no other effect. Some of the women laughed aloud and bent over to show their buttocks in contempt of their enemy.
Harrington ordered a swift disengagement, pulling his section back thirty paces. Here they fired a swift volley into the warband, stopping it in its tracks. A large man in a blue and white feathered headdress yelled and gesticulated for his warriors to stay their course. Even as Harrington watched, Marskman Jack Lewis' rifle barked and the chieftain spun and fell, shot through the head. His men wavered then broke, streaming back into the scrub.
Medical personnel came up from farther to the rear to tend the wounded. Harrington lined his men up to face the scrub, certain sure more trouble would come from it. A bugle call told the injured L Cpl. Hudson to stand his ground. Capt. Pike felt confident the threat from the scrub had ended and he could safely lead 2 section forward to deal with the archers. 4 section's fire had improved. The women no longer capered and scorned the Red Men. Some Martini-Henry rounds drew close enough to make them pay more respect to the modern weapon and those who bore it.
Once in position 2 section opened fire, their bullets flaying the grass and bringing down two archers. The survivors fled back into cover, but they had achieved their objective of drawing-out the White Queen's soldiers. Pike had made a potentially fatal error in leading a quarter of his force to deal with so small a threat, for over on the right another, larger warband burst forth from the scrub.
Even the redoubtable Harrington couldn't stem the tide. The roar of battle rose again as the soldiers volleyed then met the enemy hand to hand. Men fell and the sheer mass of numbers told. The Barsetshires recoiled onto the column. The bearers screamed in panic, dropped their loads and fled. DC Carstairs, Doctors Armstrong and Beckenbaur drew pistols and swords and within seconds were fighting for their lives alongside the soldiers. Azu, Carstair's newly hired askar bodyguard, grinned evilly as he fought. Curiously, although the medics and wounded from the previous engagement lay almost directly in their path, the warriors ignored them, concentrating instead on the enemy still standing.
Pike uttered a string of words that would've earned him a beating from his clergyman foster-father. Turning his men about, he called the survivors of 2 section to join him and led them all into the attack.
Perhaps the warriors were too focused on their potential victims straight ahead, for Pike's charge into their flank inflicted severe damage. Shock piled up, and without an effective leader it proved too much once more. The natives broke away and fled back to the scrub, leaving the field littered with the dead of both sides.
The exhausted men of Barsetshire stood-to for an hour under the stormy sky after the fighting had ceased, watching and waiting for the charge that might finish them. The medics tended the new wounded and dying as details brought them in from the field. At last it seemed the Gwunda tribe had decided enough was enough for the day. The valley fell silent. Capt. Pike ordered scrub to be cut and a zariba fashioned around the camp.
The Queen's colour flies defiantly above the tents as the company draws into the protection of the zariba for the night. 
As the medics do their work, DC Carstairs and Dr. Beckenbaur discuss the day's events, and ponder on what to do next.
 * * * *
Carstairs looked sadly at the blanket-covered forms of the fallen. Something of his Scottish mother's Celtic romanticism came through, for he began to recite quietly.

Oh, mother-mair, mak' up ma bed,
For ma heart is sair wi' sorrow.
Adoon the glen lie seven men dead,
In dowie dens o' yarrow...
* * * *
The end of the day sees a British tactical victory in that they hold the field, having inflicted severe casualties on the Gwunda tribe. Strategically, however, Captain Pike and his men are in a pretty predicament. Seven men lie dead, as many are seriously wounded - almost half the company are hors de combat. His conscience prickles him over the wrong deployment which contributed to the mess, but he pushes the thought aside. A more urgent matter confronts him - what to do now? Should he continue with the mission, or withdraw?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Prelude to action: Gwundaland

The platoon debarked from the steamboat Lady Cynthia without incident. The force had been joined almost at the last minute by Dr. Emil Beckenbaur from the University of Hetzenberg. A noted anthropologist and linguist, Beckenbaur had been a friend of Oliver Carstairs at Oxford and joined the expedition now at his invitation. Captain Pike made his acquaintance and concluded he'd be a useful chap to have around.

The expedition made good progress inland the first day, establishing camp not far from a series of low rolling hills. Pike left instructions for reveille to sound two hours before dawn so the platoon could make a good start before the killing heat of day came on the land. The DC and his party obviously felt themselves excluded from any idea of curfew. They sat around their camp fire so the smoke would repel the mosquitoes that plagued the area and swapped stories into the early hours.

That night CSM Harrington made the rounds, checking on the sentries and slapping intermittently at mosquitoes that dared to land on him. Out in the velvety starlit darkness the African night felt like a palpable presence. So too did the throb of drums, now faint, now close. Harrington listened to them for some time then became aware of someone walking up behind him. He turned to see Captain Pike approaching, the bowl of his pipe emitting a faint cherry-red glow. "Good evening, sir," Harrington said, saluting.

Pike returned the salute and removed the pipe from his mouth. "All well, Sarn't-Major?"

"As good as it'll ever be, sir," Harrington replied.

"Those drums have been beating for hours," Pike observed, coming to stand by him. His features glowed faintly in the starlight and Harrington thought he looked pensive.

"Yes, sir." Harrington frowned. "I don't mind them beating, sir. It's when they stop that the trouble tends to start."

"Indeed." Pike took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. ""Turn in when you're done, Sarn't-Major. We need to be rested in order to make a fair start tomorrow. I'm sure we'll be more than equal to whatever the day brings."

"Of course, sir."

Pike returned the pipe to his lips. "G'night, Sarn't-Major," he said around the stem.

"G'night, sir."

Pike headed off in the direction of his tent, leaving a trail of tobacco smoke. Harrington stared out into the night. An odd presentiment of trouble made his skin prickle and he shook off the feeling irritably. "Nothing out there three-rounds-rapid can't take care of," he scolded himself. As he completed his round he wondered why he didn't feel convinced by the notion. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Orders received

A Survey Mission

Colonel Trollope’s office, in Yabhouti.

Major Maxwell-Cooper knocked on the door and entered Colonel Trollope’s office. “Captain Pike is here, sir.” 

Without waiting to be told, Maxwell-Cooper ushered the younger man into the office. Pike stopped the regulation distance from Trollope’s desk and came to attention. “Reporting as ordered, sir,” he said, trying not to look curiously at the Colonel’s two guests sitting nearby.

“Ah, Fred,” the Colonel said with a smile. “Good man. This is Captain Frederick Pike, gentlemen,” he said, addressing his guests. “My best officer.”

The two men stood and shook hands with Pike as Colonel Trollope effected the introductions. “Our new District Commissioner, Oliver Carstairs of the Colonial Office, and Dr. Lance Armstrong of the Royal Geographic Survey.” 

“Pleased to meet you, gentlemen,” Pike said.

Carstairs, a dark haired gentleman of average height in his mid thirties nodded and looked him over with a keen gaze. “You have quite a reputation, young fellow. I read newspaper accounts of your activities here with interest.”

“Those articles are pure gammon, sir,” Pike said, feeling his face grow warm. “I have good men in my company.”

“Good men don’t do so well without a good leader,” Carstairs said affably, clapping Pike on the shoulder. “I look forward to working with you in my new bailiwick.”

“Dr. Armstrong is here to conduct a survey of the new colony, Fred,” Trollope said, indicating the surveyor, a sandy-haired gent with an open, friendly face who peered at Pike through little round spectacles. “We’re mounting an expedition up-country to begin with. Naturally DC Carstairs wishes to see the territory he’ll govern.” Trollope pointed at Pike. “Your company will provide the escort.”

“Yes, sir,” Pike replied, his mind turning immediately to the logistics involved in moving forty men across hot and potentially hostile country.

Trollope rose and pointed to the map pinned to his office wall. “You’re aware of how little we know of some parts of the Yabhouti region,” he said, tracing the rudimentary features on the map. “A proper survey is vital to Her Majesty’s interests in the area, especially with those strange Belgian coves so active north and west of here.” He tapped a wriggly blue line, an offshoot of the mighty Ukrazi River. “You’ll travel up the Gwunda River on the Lady Cynthia as far as it’s navigable, then proceed on foot from there. We’ve reports of hill country and possible desert beyond. It’ll be good to confirm those features. There’s a sept of the Gwunda tribe that way too.” He rubbed his nose thoughtfully. “They’re not exactly the friendliest coves around, hence the need for an escort to show the flag and teach the blighters who’s in charge here now.”

“Very good sir.”

Trollope nodded. “That’s all for now, Fred. Pop off and put things in hand. These gentlemen expect to leave three days hence.”

“Sir!” Fred came to attention, nodded respectfully to the others and departed.
He walked along the veranda overlooking the parade ground. The sun had heaved up over the distant sea but an hour before; most of the parade ground still lay in the shadow of the barracks, but already the mercury touched ninety. Company Sergeant-Major Harrington stood farther along the veranda, his hands clasped behind his back, watching the newly-constituted fourth section sweating through its drill before the heat of the day came full upon the parade ground. He turned and saluted as Pike walked up. “Good morning, sir!”

“‘Morning, Sarn’t-Major,” Pike replied, returning the salute. He nodded at the sweating men. “How’re the new recruits doing?”

“They’re shaping-up nicely, sir, now they’ve got acclimatised.”

“And Hudson?” 

“Percy’s doing fine.” Harrington’s handsome face showed a wry smile. “He’s firm enough without being a tyrant. He’ll do. Nobby Clark’s experienced enough to help out.” 

“What do you think of the new eight-man section formation?”

Harrington pursed his lips and nodded slowly. “I think it’ll work, sir. It’ll give us more flexibility at the cost of only a modicum of firepower.” He cocked an eye at Pike. “Is there something in the wind, sir?”

Pike nodded as he watched the drill. “We’re to provide escort for the new DC and a surveyor up-country, three days from now.” 

“Whereabouts, sir?”


“Ah.” Harrington rubbed his jaw. “That’ll give our new order of battle a chance to shake down.”

“That’s one way of looking at it, Sarn’t-Major,” Pike said dryly. “It’ll also be our first official outing as the Barsetshire Regiment. Quite an occasion, don’t you think?”

Harrington chuckled. The Regiment had been so-named long before Cardwell’s reforms had made the territorial titles official. “It’ll please the county.”

Pike flicked a glance at his NCO, the words You should know, Albert – your family owns half of it on the tip of his tongue. Instead he resorted to formality. “Once the lads have finished out there, begin preparations for a month up-country. You know the drill.”

Harrington nodded and came to attention. “Very good sir.”

Pike touched the peak of his cap. “Carry on, Sarn’t-Major.”

Thursday, July 11, 2013

New Table

With stormy weather around Tuesday I could ignore the gardening with a clear conscience and put my new gaming table together. It comes apart for storage and transport. The idea I had for making it capable of doing so worked out well.  

Yesterday saw a huge storm front blow through the area, with trees and branches down and heavy flooding in places. Thankfully we suffered no harm in selves or property, but we spent a lot of time yesterday and this morning clearing up the aftermath which delayed any plans I made. I hope to play an inaugural game on the new table this weekend.     

Monday, July 8, 2013

New gaming table coming soon!

A hectic July 4th holiday week has come and gone without much activity on the gaming/modeling front. It's amazing how much stuff grows in the garden during such wet weather, so that's where I've spent a lot of time. But! After a foray to Lowe's today I now have the components of a gaming table! 

The main part is cheap, smooth 8' x 4' particle board, which will get two solid wood battens on one side to prevent warping. To make it easier to move around it's cut into two 3' x 4' and one 2' x 4' sections which will bolt together. At the moment my plan is to mainly use it in 6' x 4' configuration. I'm thinking of giving it a coat of paint both sides, shading it in various colors and maybe sprinkling sand on the paint on one side to get texture for a playing surface. The reverse side might act as the basis for my model railway layout. We'll see. Photos of the finished table hopefully coming soon...


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