Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tyler’s Knoll: Post-game thoughts.

A dramatic shift in fortunes for the Barsetshires this time, with no casualties suffered whatsoever. The same can’t be said for “Brickie” Tuck-Poynter’s poor Volunteers, who died to a man...

As I’ve said before, under the Sharp Practice rules when natives get into hand-to-hand combat it can be very nasty for their opponents. I automatically rate all tribal warbands as Aggressive, meaning +1 to every combat die. So it was all up with the Volunteers, although the dice goddess looked favorably upon their last moments. Three times in succession they managed to inflict equal casualties on the warband in spite of being rated as Poor troops, and by the rules the melee continued. In the end sheer numbers told against them, but Brickie Tuck-Poynter challenged and engaged the warband’s Big Man in fisticuffs. This is quite allowable under the rules, and is the only instance it’s happened in any of my games so far. As single combat between warriors is a tradition with many African tribes I thought his challenge would be accepted. A swift blow according to the Marquess of Queensbury’s rules saw the native Big Man sitting out the match for a while as Brickie scampered off through the undergrowth.

And so to the British firing line. If a warband is deadly in melee, the firing line is deadly in ranged combat. The campaign saw a change to British army organization, with sections reduced from ten to eight men, including an NCO. Up until then the sections operated individually quite well, being large enough to present a good volume of fire and usually large enough to fend for itself in melee. With the reorganization, however, things changed. The smaller sections lost a certain amount of firepower – two dice less for fewer men firing, and as “Good’ troops rate one extra die per five men firing, they lost another die here.

The Barsetshire’s first venture into G’Wundaland showed how dangerous it is for British units to operate in the old-fashioned way. Captain Pike decided the platoon should thenceforth operate as one body (In Sharp Practice terms as a Formation made up of three Groups). This lead to it being somewhat cumbersome, but the firepower increase proved considerable.

In the game, volley fire didn’t inflict a huge number of actual kills on the warbands, but they accumulated Shock at a terrific rate. The Barsetshires benefited from the Breechloader card coming up three or four times in succession, which helped enormously. Five Rounds Rapid indeed. As a solo gamer I try to fight according to what I believe the commanders on the ground would do. In this action I decided the native Big Men would see how things were going and withdraw to fight another day. 

What would happen if the two forces get into melee? No doubt it'll be revealed in another game.

And so to the set-up for the next game. The Barsetshire’s brief is to establish a fortified camp or zariba on the hill-top to act as a way-station and supply base for farther ventures into G’Wundaland. I think the G’Wunda tribe will have something to say about this. The Arab slavers also won’t be too happy with the presence of Law and Order backed by the Red Queen’s Soldiers coming to this part of Africa. The mysterious great lake is still to be found, and there’s also the disappearance of the Reverend Tyler and Fatima bint-Daud, the Al-Quadi’s daughter to solve...

Monday, September 22, 2014

Action at Tyler's Knoll

Harrington eyed the platoon as it formed up into firing line astride the trail. "Come along, come along! Let's be having you. Georgie G'wunda won't wait on your dilly-dallying!"

One of the deadliest implements of Victorian warfare - the Thin Red Line.

The platoon had advanced across the savanna in skirmish order, but on approaching the objective Captain Pike had ordered it into firing line. Harrington glanced at the Captain where he stood examining the distant hill through his binoculars, with Bugler Bates and anthropologist Dr. Emil Beckenbaur of Hetzenberg University beside him. Fred's sniffing the wind. He's developed a nose for trouble in his time out here. Harrington looked over to the right, where the Volunteers were closing on the wood. And I hope that silly ass Tuck-Poynter doesn't find it first!
The presence of the Volunteers, all ten of them, had been a sore bone of contention for the platoon. Amateurs to a man, the Volunteers were led by Harrington's old Harrovian bĂȘte noire, Nugent "Brickie" Tuck-Poynter. A mixture of social classes, they’d proven game and quick to adapt to conditions in the field, which drew Harrington’s grudging approbation. The rest of the platoon had scoffed in the way old soldiers do. It would take a lot more action on the Volunteers’ part to win their approval. 



Harrington ran over to Pike who handed him the binoculars. “Take a look at that hut on the forward slope of the hill.”

Harrington soon found the object, adjusted the focus and scanned the humble dwelling. A number of western goods stood outside the door, and he could make out the squat form of a well to one side. On the other side a small field of millet waved in the north-westerly breeze. “No sign of life, sir.”

“No. It appears the Reverend Tyler has quite vanished.” Pike rubbed his left thigh, an unconscious gesture he made when thinking deeply. He’d suffered a wound there in a fierce skirmish when the regiment had first come to Africa in search of a missing merchant. Now on their way north, they searched for a missing missionary...

“Orders, sir?” 

Pike took back his binoculars. “Something’s in the wind, Sarn’t-Major.” He looked to where the Volunteers approached a small wood. They’d been ordered to scout it, but they did so with every appearance of trepidation. “If those chaps want to play soldier, we’ll let them do so.”

“Sir!” A shout came from the left. Harrington saw one of the new men pointing urgently at a stand of scrub some yards away. Birds flew up from the cover, shrieking their alarm calls. Dark figures moved there.
Pike looked at the assembling mass and nodded, as if he’d been told the cricket score at Lords. “Well spotted... ah, Barlow? Good eyes, that man.”

“Yes, George Barlow, sir. New recruit.” Harrington came to attention. “Permission to take post, sir?”

“Please do, Sarn’t-Major. I intend to left wheel and face those fellows.”

The bugle sounded. Under the urging of Harrington and the other non-coms the platoon wheeled to face the burgeoning threat. Harrington checked the Volunteers. They’ve made little progress into the wood, but at least they’ll act as a tripwire should anyone come at us from that direction.

After that he turned his attention to the oncoming tribesmen. Menace filled their very being. A small shiver ran down his spine in recollection of the platoon’s first foray into G’wundaland. At least we’re now familiar with these gentlemen and their ways.

Pike eyed the diminishing distance. When he judged the moment right, he raised his arm and barked his orders. “Platoon! Five rounds rapid! Make ready! Fire!

The deadly volleys crashed; the Martini-Henry bullets harrowed the oncoming warriors, cutting great swathes through their number. Men fell and the warband shuddered and stopped. Through the smoke Harrington could see a leader waving his spear not at the Barsetshires but to the rear of his band. Slowly, reluctantly, the natives withdrew. One last volley and the bugle blew cease fire

“Good work, men.” Pike’s voice sounded loud in the sudden silence that followed the last volley. “You’ve seen them off. Sarn’t-Major, realign across the trail. Keep an eye on those fellows in the wood.”

“Sir.” Harrington resumed his position on the right of the line, the better to check the platoon’s alignment and watch the activity in the wood. It wasn’t long before trouble started with a rustling in the scrub just north of the little patch of woodland. “Sir!”

Pike shouted back. “I see ‘em! Saints alive, the Volunteers are in for a hot time!”
Native appeared out of the brush, ghosts become flesh in the afternoon heat. They moved with cunning, flitting into the wood before the platoon could get a bearing on them and give fire in support of the Volunteers. Harrington's heart gave a lurch as a wild scream rang through the sultry air. Dark shapes rushed through the streams of light coming through the trees and within seconds the sounds of combat arose.
Harrington had been in combat enough times to know how time seemed to dilate when it came to fisticuffs. The fighting in the wood went on a long time by his measure. 
Eventually a single figure emerged from the wood, bloodied and staggering, new clothes torn, broad brimmed hat still on his head but skewed at a rakish angle. Harrington waved. “Brickie! Over here man!”

The Old Harrovian swayed, peered like a drunkard in the CSM’s direction then tottered over to the platoon on unsteady legs. “They’re dead,” he mumbled as he came up, slurring like a drunkard too. “They’re all dead.” Tuck-Poynter’s eyes streamed with tears as Harrington took his arm. “My men fought like demons but there’s too many of ‘em. I...” 

Corporal White glanced at Harrington and offered his canteen to the broken man. Knowing White, Harrington suspected it contained something a little stronger than water but declined to comment. Tuck-Poynter accepted the offer and drank deep. After a few moments he seemed to regain some of his composure. Handing the canteen back with a grateful nod to White, he resumed his tale. “I was the only man standing. The natives... they made to surround me. I remembered what the old gymnastics master at school told us, Horrible.”

Harrington winced inwardly at the use of his old nickname. White tried to hide a smile. His face turned blank when Harrington gave him a hard glance. “Old ‘Smasher’ Smethurst?”

“The very same." Tuck-Poynter grinned manically. "‘If faced by a bully, then face him like a man!’ I faced the leader of that band, challenged him by signs to fight me man-to-man. I think I surprised the fellow but he was game. 

“We squared off. He came at me with arms wide but I tapped him, one-two Marquis of Queensbury fashion, and he went down on his arse.” Tuck-Poynter giggled, a note of incipient hysteria in his voice. “He and his chums looked so surprised I took my chance and hoofed it!”

Harrington gripped his old school chum’s shoulder. “Have some more of Corporal White’s medicine, Brickie. You’re safe now.”

George White looked a little embarrassed at Harrington’s dig, but gamely offered his canteen again. 

Pike came up. “What news, Sarn’t-Major?” Harrington filled him in. “Ah, bad show, that.” Pike looked at the wood where dark forms lurked, his expression grim. “We’d better address the matter. Left wheel, Sarn’t-Major.”

Harrington took over. “Platoon! By the left, wheel!” 

He and Captain Pike watched as the left flank of the platoon marched forward at a steady pace until the line faced the wood. “Platoon, halt!”

Feet crashed, dust rose, and the line of Barsetshire men faced the enemy. Pike raised hand and voice. “Five rounds rapid... fire!” 
The volleys crashed out, gunsmoke drifting away down the line as bullets slashed through the wood. Screams and cries rose and Harrington could see the natives recoil under the impact. Within minutes they’d fled the wood, leaving a few bodies behind. “Cease fire!” he shouted. 

Pike scanned the area, assessing the situation. “Right wheel!”

The platoon responded like a well-oiled machine, wheeling by the right to face north-west and the scrub to one side of the rudimentary track. Pike pointed to the western side of the steep knoll, beyond the scrub. A mass of men appeared to be gathering there. “There’s our next threat. We’ll deal with them, by-the-by. Stand easy a moment, men. Drink some water.” 
Harrington saw Tuck-Poynter had calmed down after his near-death escape. Whilst he felt sorry for his old school-fellow, there were other issues to take care of. He went down the line, ensuring the corporals were seeing to their men and that ammunition was ready in sufficient amount. When satisfied he returned to his position on the end of the line, ready for Pike’s next order.

It wasn’t long coming. “Atten-shun!” 

The platoon hastily dropped their canteens on their slings and came to attention. The native mass, a threatening body of some fifty or so were moving toward the platoon through the scrub, menace plain in their bearing. Pike waited until the main part of the warband had emerged from the scrub before barking his next order. “Shoulder arms! Present arms! Load!” Up and down the line twenty-four thumbs pressed fat cartridges home into twenty-four breeches. The natives came on. “Make ready!” The range dropped to scant thirty yards. “Volley fire, by command – fire!

Rifles blazed, dun colored smoke gushed and the volley tore through the warband. It recoiled, but Harrington’s experienced eye told him only a few fell. “Fire!”
Shock mounts up fast in the G'Wunda warband, stopping it in its tracks. 
Volleys crashed, one after the other. The native horde seemed to shiver and came no further. More men fell there. The Men of Barsetshire perspired as they rammed cartridges into their Martini-Henrys and plied their weapons to telling effect. Eventually, with evident reluctance, the warband retired back into the scrub. 

Harrington squinted, his eyes stinging with gun smoke. The bugle called the cease fire and the world fell quiet.

“Is that it?” someone in the ranks asked. 

“Quiet there, Moss,” Harrington said without heat. “Thank your lucky stars they didn’t come to grips.” Now his ears ceased ringing he could hear the moans and cries of the wounded natives. 

Pike came up and also looked in that direction. “We’ll attend to those poor devils shortly.”

“Right sir. We didn’t see any of their musketeers or archers this time.”

“No.” Pike rubbed his jaw. “Colonel Trollope told me there’s a rumor the Belgians are active to the west of G’Wundaland. Perhaps the tribe is busy with those. In any case, now the area is clear we can investigate the Reverend’s hut over there and see if we can find any trace of him.”

The hut proved empty of humanity but showed evident signs of systematic looting. A plain wooden cross had been smashed and discarded at the foot of the wall where it once hung. As Harrington and Pike looked around the one-room dwelling Harrington spotted something odd. Stooping, he moved a bed pallet aside and picked up a long scarf of bright scarlet silk which had been partially covered by the bedding. A delicate perfume filled the air around it. “Sir? It looks like a woman was here.”

“Really” Pike examined the article, fingering the smooth material. “Arabic, if I’m any judge.”

“Yes, sir. It’s what I think.” He looked around again at the few pathetic remnants of a hard religious life lived on the edge of tolerance. “Something tells me the G’Wunda tribe aren’t responsible for this.”

Pike nodded, his expression thoughtful. “I think you’re right. This looting, the broken cross, all bear the hallmarks of slavers. And that scarf... Y’know, Albert, the Al-quadi’s daughter is still missing. Too much of a coincidence should this scarf prove to be hers, do you think?”

“It’s possible, Fred. It’s dashed odd they’ve kept her as a hostage when her old man said they wouldn’t.” 

“Hmm, quite.” Pike sighed. “Well, we’d better move on, do what we came here for. Perhaps the Reverend and the young lass will turn up yet.”
Harrington nodded. ‘We can but hope.”
The command party meet atop the hill to confer.
Will Tyler's Knoll solve the British army's G'Wundaland headache? 
* * * *
The cold still lingers but I'm feeling much better. Thoughts on the game and how it played out soon.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wedding Bells and a Cold

Today is quite a day. My oldest stepdaughter got married in England this morning, to a wargamer no less. I feel a little bit smug about the match since I was the one who introduced them. Here's wishing the happy couple all the best!
* * * *
Action was joined in G'wundaland yesterday where the Barsetshire Regiment encountered the fierce native warriors during a march northward. I'll post a report in a few days, since I have caught a stinking cold and really feel rotten right now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

In the Barracks, Fatah

"Horrible Harrington!"

The upper-class English voice rang across the town market square. CSM Harrington paused in the act of haggling for a rather nice blanket for his quarters and looked up, slowly scanning the crowded scene for a familiar face to go with the voice. I've not been called Horrible Harrington since I left Harrow. So who the hell is calling me by that name here?

A beaming if sunburned face beneath a broad-brimmed hat leaped into focus some yards away as a man approached him. Harrington took in the guise of a roughneck clad in new hard wearing clothes, subtracted them, the mustache and about a decade and groaned quietly. "Brickie Tuck-Poynter?"

That worthy rolled up to him, hand thrust out. "The very same! I heard you were in town." Cool grey eyes looked him over as they shook hands and the smile took on a tint of smirk. "In the army as a non-commissioned officer, no less!"

"It has its benefits. What are you doing here, Brickie?"

Tuck-Poynter thrust his thumbs through his belt and grinned. "I'm here to aid the military power!"

Harrington looked at him, puzzled. "As what, a civilian commissary?"

Tuck-Poynter roared with laughter. Wiping his eyes he shook his head. "Oh, no, no. Something far better than that. I formed a volunteer group, a handy little unit, actually. We've got new Sharp's carbines - well, new-ish - from America. The government came up with the idea, actually. Well, they came up with it over a century ago to deal with all those annoying Scotch fellows sloshing about the place after that '45 revolt nonsense. Gave 'em land and gold if they'd bugger off to the Colonies to fight the French, what? My chaps and I are going to do the same here." He pointed at the dusty ground with a flourish.

Harrington had a sinking feeling. "You're going to fight alongside the army in return for land and gold?"

"The very same! What do you think?"

Harrington stared at him. "I think you're off your bloody rocker!"
* * * *
"No help for it, Fred, old chap." Colonel Trollope shook his head. "We're stuck with the silly blighters."

"They'll be a hindrance in the bush, sir." Fred glanced out the colonel's office window at the empty barrack square. "With this new advance planned we don't have time to play nursemaid to a band of adventurers, however well-connected they are. Can't we leave them in garrison here?" 

"I'm afraid not."Trollope tidied a stack of paper on his desk then clasped his hands and looked at Fred. "The Colonial Office is keen to see how this experiment plays out. If it works, well and good. If it doesn't..." He pursed his lips then gave a wicked little smile. "Too bad, really. Are your fellows up to snuff?"

Fred noted the change of subject. "They are, sir. They're keen to take another crack at the G'wunda tribe after what happened last time."

"That's the ticket. We're in better fettle than we were then, too, so I have confidence." Trollope glanced at the clock on the wall. "Well, young Fred, go and see all's well in their mess, then join me for a snifter." 

Fred stood, came briefly to attention then departed. 

He encountered CSM Harrington on the way to the barracks. "Have you heard the news, Sarn't-Major?"

Harrington looked glum. "If you mean the new volunteers, sir, yes, I have."

"What do you think?"

The tough young CSM sniffed. "I know the chap leading them. He'll either lead them to hell or glory."

Fred blinked at the depth of feeling in the CSM's voice. "Oh dear..!" 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Poplar trees 2 - finished

The poplar trees are finished, and I think they look rather good.

Northern France, September 1914. 
RFA 18 pdrs take up a position astride the highway, ready to challenge the pursuing Germans.

They'll work for early World War One, World War Two, and AVBCW as a poplar-lined driveway to some posh house or institution.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Roadside poplars 1

Bad weather and a number of computer problems have eaten into my free time, but I've made a bit more progress with the chaff scenery project.

Dunking the whole strip top-down into the latex household paint level with the upper part of the 'tree trunk' worked better than I hoped. I propped the strip on the can to let it drain for a minute or so before giving the foliage part a good dose of dried tealeaves. The paint is sticky: It absorbed the leaves quickly, and I kept applying more until it stopped. Hanging the strips upside down overnight let gravity pull the trees straight as the paint dried and stiffened the foliage. The top photo shows the result at this stage.

Next, I gave the bases a thin coat of latex paint, followed by a light dusting of fine sand for ground cover. Once this dried I sprayed the lot with khaki green/'avocado' Krylon-brand paint. Krylon gives good coverage and dries within ten minutes on average, but it stays smelly for some time so the trees will remain outside for another few hours. Results so far in the photo below. I think they're shaping up nicely. 

The next stage will be to paint the trunks and foliage and probably dry-brush the bases to bring out details.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Roadside trees

Carrying on from the other scenery project, I've begun assembling rye chaff into N-scale/10mm poplar-style trees of the kind seen alongside French highways.

Taking a few longer pieces of chaff I trimmed the stiff bristles that poke out from the sides. Next I smeared one inch long slips of paper with craft glue and wrapped it around the stems to form the trunks.

Once dry, the trees were set in place on wooden tongue depressors, five to each strip, using hot glue.

I'm making a big enough batch to stretch 38" or so on both sides of a road. Once they're all in place I'll spread spackle on the bases and trunks, allow to dry, then dip the trees in beige latex household paint. Shaking off the excess paint and sprinkling heavily with dry tealeaves should give a reasonable approximation of foliage. It'll then be ready for paint. More on the project later.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Chaff scenery

And here we have it, the end results of my experiment with rye chaff. Some of my new trees and wood chip rocky outcrops are behind.

Local native musketeers lurk in ambush for unwary Imperial troops.

One thought crossed my mind about the crop rows on the left. With longer stalks and a little work they could be used as small-scale poplar trees such as those used alongside French highways. This would jive with my recent decision to 'do' Early War Chain of Command in 10mm, which in turn would allow me to use some BEF figures and equipment for AVBCW, and existing scenery for the latter in France and Belgium. Win-win!

All farther down the pike for now, but I'll get there one of these days...

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Chaff Inches

The next step in the rye chaff scenery project - a good dose of spray paint. I decided against using flock or dried tealeaves on the stalks as I don't think it'll enhance the effect of vegetation and would cause a lot of mess for nothing.

I've expanded on the idea and created six rows of crops (top of photo) using bases made from tongue-depressors (I found a box full at a local charity store). They're 5½ inches long by ¾ inches wide. I planted ten stalks on each in a semi-regular fashion, enough to give a good impression of dense crops and provide a neat block to line-of-sight. These I sprayed first with the 'avocado'/khaki green, following up with the darker green whilst the first coat was still wet. The round scrub bases got a good going over with the avocado followed by a light dusting of the darker shade.

I'll add some flock and dry-brush the bases with lighter shades once they've dried off and the stink of paint fumes has dispersed. They should then be ready for use.
* * * *
Our local library is having its yearly sale of surplus books, and yesterday I picked up Ian Knight's Marching to the Drums below for only a dollar.

Published by Greenhill Books/Stackville Books in 1999 it has accounts of campaigns and actions throughout the reign of Queen Victoria (Gawd Bless 'Er!) by soldiers from private to NCO level. It looks like an interesting read, and one with plenty of inspiration for gaming.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Capturin' the Rye

Winter Rye. A marvelous plant, beloved of gardeners and horticulturists as ground-cover to prevent soil erosion, and for its nitrogen-fixing capability. We grew a large patch of rye in our back garden over the winter for the above reasons. In spring and early summer when it was fully grown, it made a kind of restful, real-life screen saver for our back windows as it peacefully waved in the breeze.

Okay so, now my wife and I have to shuck the seeds ready for this autumn's planting. A bit of a chore, but one which had an unexpected benefit - Wargames scenery. I noticed the chaff resembles small shrubs and bushes. It took but a moment to figure out how to use this. And what's more, there's a large supply.

I have a small stack of the metal lids used in frozen fruit juice containers. A spot of hot glue tacked the chaff stalks to the lid, and I followed up with a blob of liquid nails around each to secure it. Hot glue may be quick, but it's not strong. The liquid nails also gives purchase to the spackle that will follow.

The photo shows the general result before the spackle is applied.

Straw is durable stuff. Once protected from the environment it can last literally for centuries. At the moment I'm undecided how to seal these and finish the job. Once the spackle is on, my options are:
  1. Dip the stalks in the nasty beige-colored household latex paint left over by the house flippers, shake off the excess then dump a heap of dried tealeaves on it. Once dry I spray them a couple shades of green then paint the bases to match my tabletop.
  2. Use spray adhesive and dump tealeaves on, etc.
The first option may be more thorough but messier, the second is quicker but the spray tends to be a bit indiscriminate. Decisions, decisions.

These are easy to make, so I may do another batch. What I hope to end up with is a spread of scrub land suitable for 25/28mm figures. Plenty of places for hostile forces to hide in ambush for when the Colonial Powers march by... Set in regular rows and painted dark green with yellowish tops, they would even serve as a crop such as millet.

With luck and a following wind, I might even get to game with these next week.


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