Thursday, June 30, 2016

Mend a Gunboat!

A minor maritime mishap resulted when a book fell off one of my shelves and dropped square upon the upper deck of my river gunboat model. Crunch!

I've no idea where the smokestack went. Maybe I should go walking around the area in bare feet, that usually does the trick when seeking lost items, especially those with sharp bits...

Anyway, it makes for a good time to turn lemons into lemonade. I built the current model to be convertible from civilian to military use and back within seconds through swapping out the top deck and the guns. The military top deck is shown in place, the deceased civilian deck lies beside. This time, instead of repairing it, I'm going to turn the model into a permanent civilian version and yes, build a spanking new military vessel.

My plan is for a side-wheel paddle steamer, with guns on the fore and after deck and a Nordenfeldt on the upper. I'll retain the current upper military deck, perhaps with some modifications. The guns shown have steel nuts for bases and are held in place by thin magnetic strips attached to the decks. It works up to a point but has a weak grip and even a small knock will topple the guns. Needing something with a stronger grip, I sought for and found this pack of small magnets in Lowes hardware store.

They're the kind used to hold kitchen cabinet doors closed and will give a good magnetic hold on the gun bases. I plan to embed them in the decks of the new gunboat so they'll hold the deck guns in place while allowing me to traverse the weapons in any direction.

The guns are a 9-pounder breech loader, and a 5-barrel Nordenfeldt. I have a another gun which I think is a 4.7" with a curved shield knocking around somewhere in my lead pile. It may be too big for a riverine gunboat, as it was really a primary weapon for sea-going gunboats and light cruisers, and a secondary weapon aboard larger ships of the Colonial period.

I do have an idea for making a Coehorn-type mortar, something like the British 12-pounder version shown below.

The design was in use from 1674 through to the end of the First World War and saw plenty of use during the ACW. In this case it would sit on the rear deck of the gunboat to provide high-angle fire support against fortifications and earthworks.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Jam'aah Game

Come on, you knew there'd be a pun in there somewhere, didn't you? ;)

Anyway, I played the Jam'aah Valley game to my usual Sharp Practice (v.1) rules with house modifications, and it went well.

The rules use Blinds for hidden movement, and some terrain features are considered blinds by their nature. I decided the rocky hills either side of the valley were such, but I drew up four cards for slaver forces. Two were for Groups of 12 men, one was a Mob of 24, and the last card was blank. In the game the two 12-man Groups turned up on the first hills the Imperial force came upon. I half-expected the 24-man Mob to show up on the second hill on the right of the valley, but it turned up on the tower hill, raising the strength of the tower garrison to 50 men. Rather a tough proposition!

During the game the British infantry blasted away with rifle fire, and even the askaris performed nicely for a change. The slavers inflicted some shrewd casualties on the British force, which otherwise would've caused them serious trouble, but the Bonus cards appeared quite often in this game where they hadn't in previous ones. In this instance the British got a Stand Fast card while firing on the slaver band upon the hill to the left of the valley. This card allows the British commander to rally off 1d6 Shock points. When the slaver force in the tower let fly they inflicted six points of Shock on the British column. Thanks to the Tiffin card coming up next followed by Captain Pike's card, he was able to rally four points off right away and keep his men in the fight.

No, the Wali didn't have an astroturf lawn laid next to his tower. I forgot to pick up the Blind card in the excitement of the game. ;)

Due to this the slavers didn't fare as well as I expected, even behind fortifications. Shock built up quickly under the incessant rifle and shell fire, and the death and/or wounding of their Junior Leaders didn't help their cause. It's a different matter in hand-to-hand combat, where the slavers count as Wallahs with big choppers. Then they're capable of slicing a British Tommy up like a kipper, as I found in other games where the sides closed to melee. I think on the whole it balanced out.

Speaking of shell fire, I hadn't used the screw gun (or mountain gun; it takes various guises) that often in games, and when I did I found it underwhelming in action.

You can go where you please, you can skid up the trees, but you don't get away from the guns! ~ Kipling, The Screw Guns.

Except up to now the enemy had little to fear from this example of the species.

After thinking over the problem I decided the heart of the matter lay in the fact that the rules were written for Napoleonic smooth-bore muzzle-loading artillery, and not the rifled pieces of the 1880s. Yes, it was a bit of a duh! moment. After another bit of thought I uprated the gun to count as Heavy under the rules, allowing it twelve fire dice instead of the usual ten to reflect the power of the explosive shell. To reflect the greater accuracy of a rifled artillery piece, I also gave it +1 to each fire die. This worked nicely in the Jam'aah Valley game, making the screw gun a force to be reckoned with.

So, on to the post-battle campaign book-keeping. Under my campaign system a unit has to perform well for three consecutive games before being uprated on the Sharp Practice chart - Poor to Regular to Good to Elite - or perform poorly to be downgraded. The askaris are fresh recruits and rated as Poor, but they did well in the Jam'aah Valley. If they continue to make good progress over the next two games they'll be uprated to Regular.

The Barsetshires fought their third action as Good troops on this occasion, and are hereby uprated to Elite. They did suffer six men killed in action, a sizable percentage of their strength, but they kept their high morale all the way through so I judged the losses would not affect their being uprated.

They accrue all sorts of nice benefits on the firing and morale charts. As Elites the Barsetshires now count +1 per fire die for every four men firing. The "Cardwell Reforms" I imposed several games ago reduced the section strength from ten to eight men. It gave the company tactical flexibility at the cost of firepower. In most encounters up to now the Barsetshires have had a few rocky moments as a consequence of native or slaver warbands coming into melee with the smaller sections due to the troops being unable to shoot down attacks as easily as they once did. It forced Fred Pike to fight the company as a tactically-stiff Formation in order to deploy useful firepower and melee combat ability. As Elites the company should regain that lost firepower and retain the flexibility.

Morale improves too. They don't recoil as far if they lose their bottle, and it becomes easier to replace Big Men who fall to the enemy, wounded or dead - although I hope Captain Pike and CSM Harrington will be around for a long time yet!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Action in the Jam'aah Valley - conclusion

The air filled with the buzz and whine of bullets. A man fell dead in front of Captain Pike. He glared at the tower, its sides disappearing in a cloud of greasy yellow gun smoke and shouted to the bugler. "Blow Skirmish order!"

Bates moistened his lips and the call echoed in the valley. Pike followed up with the order "Action left! Fire at will!"

The Men of Barsetshire immediately began to spread out and seek what cover they could, all the while laying a fusillade of rifle fire against the ancient embrasures and firing ports of the old fortification. Up on the hills CSM Harrington and Sergeant Rutledge deployed their remaining men and added fire to the onslaught. Havildar Shukla deployed the screw gun and soon the regular thump of seven-pounder shells impacting the tower sides added to the din.

The company deploys by the ford in the stream.
(Unknown to the Red Soldiers, one of the first bullets fired had badly wounded the ra'if in command of the tower. His underlings tried their best to take over, and for a while got their men up to the embrasures and firing slits where they traded shots with the enemy. Their abilities did not match their initial enthusiasm. As men fell back dead or wounded, the interior of the tower began to fill with choking smoke through which bullets and shell splinters slashed cruel paths. Slaver morale plummeted and, eventually, broke...)

Down in the valley Pike wiped sweat from his brow. The return fire had been hot, other men had fallen. He knew his men, he knew how much they could stick it out in action, but he also knew their tolerance would not hold forever.

At that moment figures appeared on the hill below the tower. Pike stiffened and stared, thinking an assault was forming up. He knew his men excelled in musketry, but close-combat was another matter when going up against the vicious slavers with their swords and spears.

To his immense relief the figures grew into a crowd that streamed away down the track to splash across the river before the town. Fire from the tower slackened then died away to nothing. "Cease fire!" Pike called, and Bates added the bugle call to reinforce the message. For a moment Pike debated with himself whether to pursue the fugitives with fire, but decided against. A beaten man was a beaten man. To shoot him in the back, even a slaver, was simply Not Done.

Meanwhile the survivors from the warband routed by the askaris had found safety within the town walls. Ra'id Hakim drew breath, no easy task given the pain in his ribs, and exhorted his men to stand their ground and recover their courage. "The infidel are few, we are many, and we shall destroy them!" he shouted. The racket of gunfire filled the air. "Listen to how our brothers shoot them down like dogs!" He pointed to where the enigmatic figure of the Wali could be seen gazing down at them from the roof of his house. "Come, my men! To the ramparts! Will you shame yourself before our beneficent leader, peace and blessings be upon him?"

The men looked shamefaced, but with smiles and nods of encouragement Hakim persuaded them to line the ramparts either side of the gate. Hakim glanced up at the Wali, who nodded and raised his hand to him in benediction. Pleased to have gained the notice of the great man, Hakim took his place to the left of the line on the ramparts and looked out at the valley. He fully expected to see the slaughter of the Red Soldiers enacted by his brethren in the tower. Instead he saw the long line of fugitives streaming from that ancient edifice. His heart sank, but he found a residue of resolve. "Courage!" he shouted again. "We will hold them here or die trying!"

Down the valley Captain Pike reordered his men into line and continued the advance. On the right flank Harrington and his men occupied the hilltop overlooking the town. 

Over on the left, Sergeant Rutledge responded to a bugle call to advance. A shouted order from the Captain told him to take and occupy the tower. "You've earned the right, lad!" Pike had called.

Pike halted his men adjacent to the height where Harrington stood. The slaver band occupying the ramparts let fly with an ineffective volley. The British responded to greater effect, and the ramparts began to empty. On the hill, Harrington noted the presence of a leader among the enemy ranks. "Marksman Lewis, front-centre!" he ordered.

Lewis trotted up. "Yes, Sarge?"

Harrington pointed. "That lad there, the one in the bloodstained blue robe. Can you get him from here?" Lewis squinted at the distant figure and nodded. Harrington stood back a pace. "Good. In your own time, Jack."

Lewis stood, licked his thumb and smeared the spit on the back-sight of his rifle, then took aim. The section's fire died off as the men watched the marksman at work. Lewis took aim, his finger tightened on the trigger...

Ra'ik Hakim felt a smashing impact in his chest which hurled him to the floor - then everything went black. 

Hakim's fall proved enough for his men. Wali or not, they refused to stand against the deadly marksmanship of the Red Soldiers. They fell back from the ramparts, some finding enough courage to cover their fellows' retreat as they streamed away through the streets of the town.

As resistance ceased, Captain Pike ordered the advance. On reaching the gate he half-expected they would need to be forced. Instead, they swung wide open at a push. Suspecting a potential ambush, he ordered the men into skirmish order. Two covered the opening as two others observed what lay beyond.

"Nobody there, sir!" one called, relief evident in his voice.

Pike turned to address Harrington. "Sergeant? What can you see from up there?"

"The enemy's retreating through the town, sir. They're heading for a line of dhows drawn up on the waterfront."

"Waterfront?" Pike gazed mystified at the CSM.

"Yes, sir." Amusement and amazement vied in Harrington's reply. "I can see what must be a bloody great lake from up here!"

The End.

* * * *

So there we have it, a game fought on-and-off over the course of three days - one of the blessings from having a permanent table! I hope everyone enjoyed it. With the lads from Barsetshire safely ensconced in Jam'aah, I'll write a few thoughts on the turn of events, the Sharp Practice (I) rules and house modifications in a day or so.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Action in the Jam'aah Valley - 2

CSM Harrington watched with satisfaction and no small degree of relief as the screw gun shell exploded on the brow of the hill. Shrapnel and fragments of rock flew everywhere, knocking down some of the slavers. The brisk rifle fire from the main force kicked up more splinters of stone and found a mark or two in human flesh. The slavers began to waver then stream back over the hill and away from the galling musketry.

Harrington nodded. "Right lads, forwards with me." The men stepped out, sparing sorrowful glances at their two fallen comrades. Harrington silently thanked the steady discipline of the British soldier, for they'd lost men but stayed at their posts, firing steadily at the enemy. They reached the slope to the top of the hill, and found the going tougher than it looked.

"When you're first under fire and wishful to duck, don't look nor pay heed to the man that is struck. Be thankful you're living and trust to your luck, and march to your front like a soldier."

In the valley Captain Pike turned his attention to the left flank. To his pleasure the askaris were holding firm, kneeling amidst the scrub and trading shot for shot with the slavers on the hill. Soon the steady crash of Martini-Henry volleys added their din to the firing, punctuated by the regular thump of the screw gun.

Over at the town gate the fleeing slavers pushed through their tribal allies and into the town, causing confusion in their wake. Chief Ngutyana watched them go, sneered in derision and considered his options.

The regular beat of gunfire and rising clouds of rifle smoke down the valley decided him. Instead of going to meet the Red Soldiers head-on, he would lead his men on a flanking march around the hills and fall upon the intruders before they could react. His mind made up, Ngutyana led his men across the stream, the waters feeling pleasantly cool on their legs as they waded.

Down the valley the hand of death touched many and spared others. Ra'id Hakim, leader of the slaver warband, staggered and fell as a shard of stone thrown up by a shell burst hit him in the chest. He rolled to his side and knelt on all fours, watching with bemusement as blood seeped through the breast of his robe to drip upon the dusty ground. Groggily he looked around and saw how many of his brothers had fallen to the infidel weapons. The survivors were starting to draw back, to find shelter from the musketry. As more men fell the backward motion turned into a rout. Hakim got to his feet and followed, holding his side and wincing at the pain lancing through him from his broken ribs.

Having disposed of the first slaver threats encountered, Captain Pike ordered Bugler Bates to sound the advance. On the hill to the right, Harrington led his men warily through the bodies and rocky ground. Movement on the next hill caught his eye. "Look sharp, lads," he called. "Enemy front."

Marksman Lewis drew a bead on the movement then lowered his rifle with an incredulous laugh. "Bloody 'ell, Sarge! It's a vulture." He squinted. "Crikey! I've seen smaller ostriches."

To the right the askaris clambered up the slopes of the hill, unaware of what approached them from the direction of the tower...

The alarm soon went up as excitable askaris shouted to Rutledge and pointed down the hill to the massed natives sweeping by below. Rutledge swore, formed his men as best he could in the press of the moment and opened fire. A man fell from the warband but it deigned not to notice, instead storming on toward the unsuspecting British column.

As his men manhandled the screw gun to keep pace with the main body, Havildar Shukla glanced over toward the hill where renewed firing had broken out. A few moments later he gaped at the mass of men bursting out from behind the cover of the hill, and knew in an instant he was in a pretty pickle. There was only one viable option to chose. "Leave the gun! Cross the river, juldi, jao!"

His men took to their heels, Shukla leading the way, splashing through the stream toward the front of the British column and safety.

Captain Pike saw the threat in time. "Well, dash it," he said mildly. "Column, halt! Left face! Make ready, preee-sent, fire!"

Martini-Henry bullets slashed into the advancing warband, the slaughter added to by Remington rifle fire from the askaris' Remington on the hill. The warband staggered, convulsed, then fell back.

The immediate threat dispersed, Bugler Bates once again blew the advance and the column continued up the valley, flanked by the covering force.

The column passed the ford and drew closer to the tower frowning upon its height. Suddenly every embrasure spouted dun-colored smoke!

Bullets from muskets and a few obsolete rifles rained down upon the Men of Barsetshire, causing them to stagger in shock. Over on the hill the askaris were subjected to a similar deadly fire...

* * * *

I'll post the third and final installment of Action in the Jam'aah Valley sometime this weekend.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Action in the Jam'aah Valley - 1

The Jam'aah Valley, looking north toward the town.

Captain Pike disposed his troops as planned. Number 2 section under CSM Harrington shook out into skirmish order and approached the first rocky hill on the right as the main body moved up the dirt road into the valley.

In the town, the slavers go about their foul business, watched by the Wali himself.
More goods - human and material - for market; but who's the European man chatting with the slaver?
The Men of Barsetshire see their destination through the heat haze.
They have also been spotted. Native allies of the slavers move through the town, ready to be deployed as the Wali decides.

CSM Harrington eyed the hill. "Be ready, lads," he said. "There's something moving up there."

Over on the far left, Sergeant Rutledge led his askaris toward the western hills. He knew the British soldiers had a poor opinion of the troops he commanded, and was determined to prove the askaris' worth in battle.

A keen-eyed observer keeps watch on the distant Red Soldiers.

As Number 2 section approached the hill, robed figures stood up from where they'd hidden amongst the rocks. A wild fusillade broke out and a man dropped in the Barsetshire ranks. "Fire at will!" Harrington roared. Soon gunsmoke filled the air as a brisk exchange of fire broke out.

A similar scenario played out over to the left. The askaris had better cover than the Barsetshire men, and it proved its worth as they traded shots with the slavers.

To the north the town gates of Jam'aah swung open to allow the tribal warband through. Chief Ngutyana halted his warriors and took stock of the situation opening down the road. The Red Soldiers of the Great White Queen had a reputation for destroying her enemies in brisk fashion, and he thought over ways to counter them.

Harrington's men had difficulty picking out the enemy warriors as they moved nimbly across the rocky hill. Bullets found their mark on both sides - but help for the Barsetshire men was on its way.

Over at the main body Pike seized up the situation. "Form line! Make ready! Preee-sent! Fire!" A regular volley crashed out, peppering the distant figures with Martini-Henry rounds. Close by, Havildar Shukla brought up his gun and unlimbered it on the flank of the main body. Loading the seven pound shell and taking aim took but moments. With a final check that all stood ready, the Naik took up the slack on the lanyard, tugged, and -

- The shell exploded right on target.

* * * *

The account of the Action in the Jam'aah Valley will continue soon.

"You can go where you please, you can skid up the trees,
But you don't get away from the guns!"
~ Rudyard Kipling, Screw Guns.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Into the Valley of Jam'aah.

The flying bullet down the pass, That whistles clear, "All flesh is grass." ~ Rudyard Kipling.

The Company broke camp well before dawn, and several miles of African dirt passed beneath their boots until the sun rose over the faraway ocean. Instantly the heat soared and sweat broke out on every man. Clouds of insects rose with the sun to engender an irregular chorus of slaps and curses as the vicious creatures homed in on the succulent flesh of the intruders. After a short pause for rest and water the Men of Barsetshire marched on, until the range of craggy hills grew distinct out of the heat haze and the opening of the Jam'aah Valley lay ahead.

Captain Pike called a halt, climbing a rocky outcrop to view the scene through his field glasses. CSM Harrington stood beside him, trying to turn his thoughts from the delightful Fatima bint Daud to more military matters.

Eventually Pike lowered the glasses and pointed. "The tower's there, on that hill at the far end of the valley just as Miss Daud described. The town lies beyond. I think the slavers are on to our presence. There's a red flag with Arabic script waving over the tower, and I can see movement on some of the hills either side."

"A nasty place for an ambush, sir." Harrington pointed to the road, little more than a track that ran beside the Jam'aah stream. "I propose taking our main body down the road to the town, with at least a section either side to clear the heights. If we keep pace with each other we'll be able to give support to whoever needs it."

Pike nodded, his expression thoughtful. "That's my idea, also. Two sections - Numbers 1 and 3 - will do for the main body, and you will take Number 2 section up on the hills to the right of the road. Sergeant Rutledge will take the other side with his askaris..."

The Captain glanced down and back at the side of the road where the white-clad askaris had fallen out to rest and drink water. The rims of their red fezzes were dark with sweat. The blond and blue-eyed Sergeant Rutledge, on loan to the askaris from one of the Barsetshire's sister companies, moved among his command, seeing to their needs as a good NCO should. He had caught the sun; the skin on his face and neck was red and peeling badly. Harrington could see the doubt in his officer's face as Pike looked them over, for the new askari sections had not covered themselves in glory on their previous deployments.

Pike gave a little shake of his head, as if to say it was all out of his hands now. He continued with his briefing. "We'll bring up Havildar Shukla's gun for support. It can accompany the main body, and help winkle out any stubborn fellows who may be hiding amongst the rocks."

"The valley floor's not so wide, sir. We'll need the infantry on the road. The gun will have to make best speed the other side of the river."

Pike studied the flow of the stream. "Yes, the ground looks dry there and should do very well for the gun. It's a good job the wet season's a week overdue, otherwise that side of the valley would be impassable." He paused, as if thinking of anything he might have overlooked. "I think that's all, sergeant. Look to your men, if you please." As Harrington saluted and made to move away Pike added. "Albert?" He held out his hand. "This may be an unpleasant task that awaits us today. Good luck."

Harrington returned the handshake and nodded respectfully. "Thank you, Fred. Good luck to you, too."

As Harrington made his dispositions Number 2 platoon fell in by the side of the road. The CSM moved off to confer with Rutledge of the askaris, and Marksman Lewis nudged his neighbour in the ranks, a comparative newcomer to the company. "I think we can expect a hot 'un today, Tommy boy."

The man glanced to where Lewis watched Harrington. "Why so, Jack?"

Lewis sucked his bottom lip thoughtfully. "Albert 'imself probably never notices it, but whenever we're about to take a tiger by the tail, 'e starts whistlin' Lillibulero through 'is teeth. 'E's been whistlin' that bloody tune since 'e came down off the rock after talkin' with the Captain..." 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Of Intelligence Received.

CSM Harrington escorted Fatima bint Daud under the open fly and into Captain Pike's tent. Pike looked up from his folding desk and smiled with relief, which turned to open interest when he saw Fatima.

Harrington saluted. "Reporting as ordered, sir. Our mission was a success. May I introduce Miss Fatima bint Daud."

She made a pretty curtsy. "À votre service, m'sieur le capitain."

Pike got to his feet in a hurry and bowed to her. "Je suis enchanté, mademoiselle." He opened his mouth a couple of times and looked at Harrington with a pleading expression.

Harrington hid a smile seeing Fred Pike had pretty much exhausted his stock of French. "Miss Daud speaks reasonable English too, sir."

"Phew! That's a relief." Fred smiled at the young woman. "Barchester Grammar School failed me in languages, I fear." 

Her lips twitched. "I know the sergeant speaks a little Arabic, so I am sure between the three of us we will manage some'ow, Capitain."

"I'm sure. I trust I see you in good health?"

"Mais oui." She turned shining eyes upon Harrington. "The good sergeant 'ere is très galant."

Harrington blinked. Oh my! He knew feminine interest when he saw it. And by Jove, Fatima's a pretty little thing...

Pike missed the moment, as he bustled about setting out camp stools. "Please, take a pew. Would you like some tea? My batman has just boiled the kettle."

"Most kind."

"What of the Reverend Tyler, sergeant?" Pike asked.

"He's rather distressed, sir. The experience he went though was a harsh one for a chap his age. I took him straight to the medico."

"Good man. I shall trot along and have a chat with him presently."

Pike's batman entered and served tea with a curious glance at the young woman, before taking up his post within shouting distance outside beyond the open tent fly. Pike turned to business straight away. "Now, Miss Daud, I hope those dogs didn't... ah, um, upset you in any way?"

She shook her head quickly. "Oh no. I was too valuable to them. And now I 'ave escaped, I 'ave valuable information for you, capitain."

Fatima reached into a fold of her dress and produced a small calico drawstring bag. Handing it to Pike she sat back with an air of expectation. With a questioning look he untied the strings, opened the neck of the bag and tipped a number of rough crystalline stones into the palm of his hand. Harrington stiffened and his eyes went wide. When Pike looked at him Harrington cleared his throat. "Diamonds, sir. In the rough. You've got a small fortune there in your hand." He made a quick calculation. "Enough to buy Barchester Grammar School outright, sir, and have enough over for Lady Gertrude's Day School."

Pike's expression went wooden. He let the stones trickle back into the bag. "Good heavens!"

Fatima leaned forward, her dark eyes sparkling. "They were in the town 'ouse in Jam'aah, where I was kept prisoner. I over'eard the Wali saying they are to be found in the 'ills in the vicinity of the town. Not only that, there was a white man there. 'e met with the Wali to discuss trading in slaves."

Pike stiffened "Did he, by jingo!"

"Most certainly. They discussed my price." She tossed her head, an effect which Harrington thought would have looked far better had her hair not been covered in a modest way. "Naturally I could not allow the trade to 'appen, so I took the diamonds and, 'ow your soldiers say, I legged it."

"Jam'aah, you say?"

"Oui. It lies beyond the range of craggy 'ills where the galant sergeant and 'is men rescued me. There is a stone tower guarding the pass, but the walls around the town are not strong."

"Indeed." Pike looked into space for a minute then eventually stirred and got to his feet. "Stay here and keep Miss Daud company, sergeant. I had better inform the Colonel of this intelligence. If there's slavery afoot, it needs to be dealt with."

He departed, shouting for the heliograph section to muster. Fatima sipped her tea in a decorous manner, her gaze flicking ever and anon to Harrington. Silence fell in the tent. Beyond the canvas walls the sounds of the camp and the noises of the African veldt could be heard. Minutes stretched, with Harrington feeling more self-conscious by the second. Finally he mustered the courage to speak.

"Miss Daud..."

Pike entered the tent with a smile. "We're under orders, sergeant. Reinforcements are on the way, and we're to attack and capture the town of Jam'aah." His smile faded when he saw the expression on their faces. "I say, I hope I wasn't interrupting anything..?"
* * * *
The next battle featuring the Men of Barchester was played out over the course of three days. A full report will follow soon.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Stars of Empire - RPG Kickstarter.

It's my pleasure to support the kickstarter for three new books covering the RPG version of Hive, Queen & Country!

A startling discovery on Venus - Artwork © Paul Daly, used here with permission.

To quote from the Kickstarter page:

"The Hive, Queen and Country Universe is a hard Science-Science Fiction setting. First published in 2010 the background has been researched and discussed for over a decade. The detailed Universe has been created by a community of Role Playing and Miniatures Gamers, historians, scientists, engineers, lawyers, rogues, vagabonds, and heroes. Hive, Queen and Country has unprecedented depth and scope, with the flexibility to allow you to set pretty much any sort of campaign your game master and players desire. We present a detailed and fully realized game universe: Steampunk with an emphasis on the Steam-not the punk!"

The objective is to produce two core books, one for Referees and one for Players. To support both Role Playing and Miniatures gaming it will also produce the Land Fighting machines book for the HQC Universe, with over 100 designs, 3D graphics, histories, orders of battle, tables of organization and equipment and color schemes. The book should run about 300 pages and will be out by June 2017. It's been play-tested at conventions across the country including Origins, Gencon, DragonCon, Diecon, Borderwars and Colonial Barracks.

The project creator is that doyen of all things VSF, Mr. Terry Sofian, and the game will include the splendid artwork of the esteemed Mr. Paul Daly.

God Save the Queen!

Monday, June 13, 2016

CoC eyed.

So, the mini-campaign based on the Too Fat Lardies' Chain of Command and At the Sharp End rules is at an end.

On the whole they gave a good series of games, with logical steps and post-battle effects in cascading order. Campaign wise, I found that once a force suffers two defeats in succession it's hard for it to retain effective fighting capability. It's realistic, given forces locked in a prolonged fight will suffer degrading combat effectiveness to the point where one side or the other goes beyond the ability of the senior command to restore its strength. The BUF found this after the defeats at Honington and the following clash over the Crown Jewels.

The friction of war is the major feature of the CoC rules, and it certainly appears on the tabletop battlefield. I did find it frustrating when a unit vital to the success of the engagement refused to move or got bogged down somehow. Overall, I have no complains and much to praise in these rules.
* * * *
Sometime this week I hope to play the next game of Colonials, with the Men of Barsetshire making an appearance. I have the terrain made up for it now, so I can go ahead when I find time.

Meanwhile VSF stuff is catching my eye, including this beauty...

It's Neverwas Haul, out of the Obtanium Works stable. A mobile three-storey Victorian steam-powered university-cum-observatory, it frequently appears at the famous Burning Man steampunk festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.

I believe I'll attempt to make something in 25-28mm along these lines. It'll be just the ticket for an eccentric expedition into strange lands. To see it in action amidst a dust storm, check out the video.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Attack on the Lark

The Anglican League is on the offensive. Lieutenant Southgate knows he and his men have to seize the B1106 bridge over the River Lark and take the BUF HQ beyond. The captures would open Bury St. Edmunds to the unstoppable advance of the Anglican League and the banishment of the hated BUF from the area. The weather has been damp, the going underfoot is somewhat soft. Movement off-road is reduced.

Southgate attaches himself to the First Section, upgraded to regulars in the last action and the best chance he has of carrying-through the assault. His plan is to take the outlying house south of the B1106, from where he'll be in a position to direct fire upon the nearest BUF trench, hopefully displacing its occupants and allowing an attack on the bridge.

The League begins to form up. On the B1106 the Vickers Mk VIb noses tentatively toward the enemy.
The League took time forming up. Southgate grew impatient but held himself in check. Too much depended on the attack to allow things to go off half-cock.

At least the 3-inch mortar team was on the ball. Guided by the OP they dropped smoke in front of the house and wooden garage that formed Southgate's first objective.

The League begins to walk.
The smoke poured forth, masking the house. BUF troops had been seen running toward it earlier but not in any strength. Now they would be unable to interfere with the advance. Over to Southgate's right and much to his irritation the MK VIb still moved with caution. He hoped the tank's young commander would pull his finger out and provide the support the League needed.

In any case Southgate had enough to worry about. In spite of the heavy going underfoot the men moved with commendable speed over the claggy soil of the neglected field. Before long they plunged through the smokescreen and into a maelstrom of fire.

Men fell to left and right but the determination of the section carried them onwards. They stormed the house, forcing open doors and smashing their way in through windows. A brutal hand-to-hand struggle with the BUF men broke out.

Over on the B1106 another section moved up across the culvert to cluster behind the slow-moving tank whilst a sister section kept pace across the field.

The fight became too much for the BUF section occupying the house. Faced by superior troops they fled, along with the specialist carrying the shiny new Boyes AT rifle, who'd hoped to set up a nice flanking shot on any League armour that dared move up the road.

Southgate and the mortar OP team set up shop on the top floor of the house whilst the rest of the section spread out through the building. Before long rifle fire and mortar bombs began to fall upon the nearest of the BUF trenches. The survivors from the fierce hand-to-hand combat in the house cowered in the riverside trees behind the trench line and regained their composure. Before long the bombardment grew too much for their comrades occupying the trench. As one they ran over the bridge and off down the B1106.

Run away! Run away!

It was not all plain sailing for the League. A veteran of the Great War, the Boyes rifleman had found better shelter. As the mortar fire was redirected onto the bunker he saw an excellent opportunity. The MK VIb had ventured a matter of a few yards up the road, and directly into his sights...

Clang! Crack! Bang!
Fat .55 calibre rounds began to smack into the front armour of the MKVIb. The new weapon proved its worth. A chip of spalled metal killed the gunner and threw the already-nervous commander into blind panic. Behind the tank the infantry could only slog forward, hoping to gain a firing position to give the tank much needed support. Would they be in time?

The mortar observer, seeing the MKVIb in peril, ordered smoke rounds to be dropped in front of it. The smoke provided valuable cover, but proved intermittent. The Boyes rifleman continued a gleeful persecution of the hapless tank in those moments when the smoke lifted, although he couldn't manage a killing shot. The lack of mortar fire falling upon them allowed the BUF section to stand their ground, to the detriment of the advancing League.

The Boyes rifleman's chances of destroying the tank fell by the minute as the League began a general advance. The section moving up the road passed the MKVIb sitting silent and useless in the middle of the highway. It hadn't fired a single round in the entire action. Bright splashes of metal on the hull front showed how accurate the Boyes fire had been. The section commander wondered why the crew didn't attempt to move. One of his men would later swear to hearing the sound of hysterical weeping coming from inside the vehicle as he marched by. Doubt was cast upon his statement but the subject was never raised again.

The battered BUF section occupying the southern trench did what they could through the heavy fire from Lewis guns and rifles blanketing them. They inflicted enough casualties on the nearest League section to force it to ground.

The damage was done, however. As men fell the BUF section morale shattered and they set off after their comrades, haring over the bridge and past the BUF HQ in the Priory Hotel. Seeing what was happening the HQ staff began to pack up and burn papers. The Boyes rifleman had become obsessed with killing the MKVIb. He dodged the shrapnel and bullets to find safety and a new firing position in the bunker.

But it was not to be. Mortar smoked blanketed the bunker, screening the advancing troops until the order came to switch over to HE. Explosive rounds began to fall upon the bunker roof, where the BUF Platoon HQ section held on grimly. The third section in the trench to the north had done nothing to justify their worth. Now BUF Platoon Leader Huggins ordered them to head for safety, hoping to salvage some lives from the wreckage.

The end came soon after. The roof of the bunker collapsed, burying and killing most of the occupants, including the persistent Boyes rifleman. Huggins would later be found wounded and taken prisoner. Before then, a triumphant Lieutenant Southgate led his men past the shattered structure and over the bridge. Bury St. Edmunds had fallen.
Onward, Christian Soldiers!

And so the VBCW mini-campaign centred about Bury St. Edmunds comes to an end. Some thoughts on the Chain of Command rules and the way the campaign played out will follow. For now we'll leave the newly-promoted Captain Southgate and his men at the thanksgiving service in the yet-incomplete St. Edmundsbury Cathedral and turn elsewhere, perhaps to a time fifty years before and a world away in Darkest Africa...


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