The scenario as described to the players in the briefing e-mail was this:
Action at Tewphiyt
It is late spring 1885, and the force based at Suakin under General Graham has established its dominance in the region, forcing Osman Digma into retreat.
Tewphiyt is a small village several day's march north of Suakin. It has fresh water wells and provides an excellent staging post or base for actions against Osman Digma's forces who are hiding out in the hilly or nearly mountainous area in that region.
The area is mostly quiet and a significant show of force will keep it that way. In order to support operations in the area a light railway will be built in the future to bring up further supplies. The aim of this action is to occupy the area of Tewphiyt, establish a forward operations post having confirmed the adequacy of the wells to support a sizable force, and then retire having left a garrison behind.
The force has advanced for a day and bivouacked last night in a zariba. It estimated that there are two day's march ahead to the village, although the force has brought supplies enough for at least 5 days, including water should the wells at Tewphiyt prove inadequate.
The ground between Tewphiyt and Suakin is not exactly “trackless waste” and is frequented by goat herders and similar. It is also a minor trade route and although commerce was interrupted initially by the uprising this is steadily returned following the arrival of the British. This is important as it must be shown that rejection of the Mahdi and his ilk will lead to a better life all round. Some scouting has been done and the ground is mostly rock and desert. The going is good, and the acacia bushes whilst not sparse do not provide a significant handicap to movement.
Sunrise: 6:15am, dusk 6:00pm. Temperature c80 degrees, peaking at 90-100 midday (27 centigrade, up to 38)
The surprise for the players was buried in the personal briefings , - the force had a telegraph wagon with them that meant they could get up to date information and guidance direct from Suakin. Having set up their zariba about midnight the telegraph starts to chatter and new orders are received.
A potentially friendly tribe led by Mohamoud Arabi is being threatened by Osman Digma's main force. This village is within a day's march to the North West, in the foothills of the Waratab mountains. "Erskine force" is therefore ordered to march to suppress the forces in that area and stamp the British presence on the area. The current zariba is to be turned into a semi-permanent base with 2 days water supply stored there in the canvas water tanks and a permanent garrison to be determined by the Major-General. When the force arrives in Mohamoud Arabi's area it is to establish a further zariba to over awe the surroundings.
Due to a number of issues to do with work & trains being late I was unable to develop all of the scenario completely, so to a certain extent there was a need to devise some of it on the hoof. The outline of events was to be like this:
1) Player debate about what to leave behind, order of march etc
2) Small ambush about a hour or two out from zariba (aim to force a bit of march discipline and slow them down)
3) Smoke in the distance, - a burning slaver's village with a small force of Mahdists dealing with recalcitrant locals
4) The main action. I set this to be at a point in the foothills where the hills were covered by thick mimosa scrub, where the ground was too steep to take a formed square. There is one gap that is flat enough to put a column through about 600- 800 yards wide, and a dry wadi that runs along the bottom of the hills then out into the desert parallel to the line of march. A force of 8-10,000 Fuzzies will attack the column at this point, starting with rifle fire for the hills. The sword & spear men will emerge from either the scrub or the wadi, depending upon what the players have done.
5) Post action. Depending upon what happens the players should find they don't have enough daylight to get back to the original zariba and it'll be touch and go if they can get to Arabi's village with enough time to finish the zariba, especially as they should now have a lot of wounded.
6) A note on ambulances and water. I designated a couple of wagons as hospital wagons for the wounded as a hint to the players to ensure their wounded are taken with them. I provide each infantry brigade with a mule drawn water bowser (not completely authentic, I know). It should be important to the players to look after this important resource, and if the mahdists break into a square or get in amongst the baggage ensure there is a fight round the water supply. If they lose it or have other concerns and are sensible enough to ask the RE officer they'll discover they have a Norton Tube or two, that will probably work in the wadi
It may not look like a lot of incidents, but on past experience that's enough to get about 3 hours gaming which is enough for an evening.
I think that's enough background. Next post, - the opening of the game.