Saturday, 22 May 2010

Grown Ups in the Sudan (part 2)

Having just enjoyed the most recent Dr Who the distaff side of the Trebian clan's obsession with musical reality shows has driven me out into the summer house to enjoy this beautiful evening and write part two of the blog about Friday's game.

As you will recall from the last blog I had assembled my group of three players, and they were off to make the Sudan safe for the Empire in the roles of a scientific soldier from Wolesley's Ring, a bumptious "Scotch" gadabout and a threadbare aged warrior forced to seek his fortune in the Egyptian army.

The basic scenario is that the players have to enforce British power in a village near Suakin where the local headman seems to have swapped sides after taking a subsidy.

The game started a days march from Suakin, half a day from the target village where the force, (one British brigade, one Egyptian brigade plus cavalry support some RHA, the odd engineer or two plus loads of camels and wagons) was in their overnight zariba. I represent this with barbed wire entanglements from my WWI box. This occasioned much discussion when the players were challenged to march out. Eventually the players decided to march in open square (ie two lines and columns at the side to get decent movement speed), and leave one of the British regiments behind to guard the zariba. The front, back and left hand side of the square was provided by Egyptians, the right hand side bythe Highlanders. A British regiment was then left in the middle of the square to deal with break-ins and so on.

The terrain at this point was open desert, and they put out a cavalry screen about 300 yards ahead. Overall the time taken to form up and the chosen formation meant that they were a bit behind the clock, especially as they didn't start to break camp until dawn.

About 9am they encountered the first challenge, which was a khor with steep sides (represented in the picture by a couple of lengths of dowel). This was meant just to provide a brief hiccup whilst they roped up to get the wheeled transport and guns down and provide some opportunity to spook themselves as they'd have to break formation. In practice it took forever to work out what to do. First choice from the Major-General was to march the whole square along the khor until the banks got easier (the idea of sending a cavalry recce didn't occur for a while). In the end they realised that the problem to solve was to cross the khor, not go round it, so a few companies were dispatched to hold the other bank whilst they got on with it. My initial intention was not to challenge the crossing but it all took so long that in the end some Baggara camelry turned up to see what was going on. Six bases turned up and before you know it some cavalry types (one squadron thereof) had gone through the reaction phases to "Excited" and thrown themselves into combat with nary a look behind. Totally outnumbered they proceeded to roll the most amazing dice and blow the camels away. The best I could get out of it was "That squadron is completely blown, and needs to rest".

The only other casualty from the crossing was the commander of the RHA battery (Captain Shreader) who suffered from heatstroke caused by over zealous participation in moving his guns.

After some minor faffing about they finally made it to the edge of the acacia & mimosa shrub that surrounded the target village. With only a few miles to go (although only three hours to sunset) they formed up into a tight square and plunged into the scrub.

Despite my best efforts I was unable to spook the Egyptians and make them blaze away their ammunition (the players didn't know that they were only carrying an 8 minute supply with none on the camels and rifles incompatible with British cartridges).

They finally got to the village and finding it deserted and only a couple of hours to nightfall they set about building a zariba. I got them to mark the outline with bits of quadrant doweling which I intended to replace with barbed wire as they built it. But I got bored with that and suddenly erupting from the scrub came a horde of dervishes "all hot sand and ginger" storming up the slope towards the Egyptians.

What I expected was for the Egyptians to panic and break and the Brits to have to do some fancy footwork to about face from their side of the zariba. In practice the Egyptians got off a devastating volley (despite all the minuses) and shot away most of the Dervish front rank. They then resolutely refused to fail a reaction test and stood their ground. The hand to hand was pretty bloody, but casualties were only marginally in the fuzzy-wuzzies favour and again the Egyptians refused to run away. Some dervishes got in amongst the camels and cut up an RHA horse team as well. Whilst this was going on the Brits fortified themselves in their corner of the zariba before launching some devastating local counter attacks with the bayonet (spearheaded by dismounted cavalry, would you believe). Eventually the mahdists were wiped out and order restored as darkness fell.

I'd like to thing the players spent a restless night, unable to complete their defenses, but they seemed to feel they'd done pretty well despite the big pile of dead baggage and the corpses of about a whole Egyptian Regiment to deal with.

Overall I think we all had a good time. SvP takes a time to warm up and whilst it's mostly free kriegspiel there's quite a few rules to keep in mind (plus remembering to roll 2 dice for the mahdist reaction test, not just one!). Furthermore the players have to role play and that can take a while to get in character. Even if the umpire gave you a fez.