Tuesday, November 24, 2009

THW Colonial Adventures - playtest

Score: 8 out of 10
Over the holiday I play-tested Two Hour Wargames Colonial Adventures rules. First impressions is that this game has some real promise. The rules are written for solo or multi player gaming, the game can be played with miniatures of any scale or alternatively you can play the rules without any miniatures just paper, pencil and dice.

After Thanksgiving dinner I set up a small patrol scenario and played a game in about 45 minutes, the game probably would have taken less time but I had to look through the rule book several times as this was my first game. Before I get into the battle report I will give a brief overview of the rules.

The rule book is laid out as follows: Introduction,
Getting Started (stuff you need to play), Game Basics (discussion on how to determine troop characteristics),
Armies (divided into European and native, also there are additional army lists on-line at their yahoo group), Rules (Turn Sequence, Actions, Movement, Melee, etc.) and Scenarios (set-up, scenario specific rules). The rules are well written and organized. The scale is one (1) base equals approximately five (5) men so a standard platoon is 20 stands, although they do have rules to modify this down to 10 stands per platoon.
The main mechanic of the game is taking a series of "Crisis Tests" against the value of your units and/or leader's "Reputation". The more successful you are at passing the tests, (better rolls) the better the outcome and more options allowed. Example if your Ansar swordsmen want to charge a British Square, you must take a Crisis Test, if you pass you charge. Since the British are being charged they must take a Crisis Test, if they pass they do an action, (fire, stand, etc.) When the British fire at the Ansar, the Ansar must take a Crisis Test to see what happens when they are fired at. If you don't like rolling dice, you will not like this game. The game is played exclusively with six-sided dice so the variance in units is somewhat limited, however the mechanic is simple and elegant.
Players roll dice to determine which side goes first and based on the die roll for each side which reputation troops may activate. Each side complete all of their actions prior to the second side activating. However, Crisis Test will effect the ebb and flow of the turn. The ranged combat and melee are based upon unit reputation as well ,with some situational variables, (high ground, ferocious troops, etc.)
The game plays quickly, is simple and the solo version had just the right amount of tension and desperation. A few draw-backs, there were no drawings showing combat situations only text descriptions and a couple of the rules could have been fleshed out a bit more rather than left up to the discretion of the player. I will post my questions on the yahoo group and report on the level of assistance I receive. All in all a very fun first game, I look forward to trying the rules out with friends.
Battle report:
Set up: I selected the Patrol scenario. I played a company of Egyptian infantry sent out from their garrison to search for Mahdist troops and survey the surrounding lands. I rolled for terrain and below is a map of the area with hills, one clump of wooded area (oasis) in the middle and stick men (Possible Enemy Forces - PEF) where Mahdist troops might be. The Egyptian forces are given a Reputation of three (3), nothing to write home about. I rolled for my leader's reputation and ugh, a two (2) reputation, he would be no help at all, however as is usual in legend the NCO was reputation five (5). I imagined a young upstart Mulazim Tani (2nd Lietenant) leaning on the experience of his Sargent. My platoon consisted of 100 men (20 stands). The Mulazim ordered his men into line at the base of a hill and sent 15 men (3 stands) to scout the near hill and the wooded area. The scouts observed no movement along the ridge and slowly moved toward the oasis. Upon cresting the hill the scouts had direct line of sight to two (2) of the possible areas of Mahdi activity. The tension builds, no troops are to be seen, that means troops must be in area 2.
The rules dictate that when a unit moves into the center of a grid that the unit check for the enemy even if there are no PEF figures there. My Egyptian troops slowly marched over the hill and down into area four (4), the line of Egyptians inch forward when two (2) bands of ferocious Ansar spring up in the middle of area four (4). The Egyptians are outnumbered 150 to 85 and the Ansar are exceptional hand-to-hand fighters (I rolled really well for them).
At the top of the next turn the Egyptians and Mahdist roll the same activation number, in the scenario this could trigger possible re-enforcements and sure enough two (2) more PEFs popped up on the board.
While the Mulzim fumbles at his sword while the Egyptian NCO barks out the command to fire at the smaller Ansar unit in front of them (Crisis Test passed), the Egyptian line erupts in Volley Fire and causes 10 Ansar (2 stands) to fall. The Ansar seem inspired by the death of their comrades (Crisis test passed) and charge. The Egyptian NCO orders the troops to reload and fire just prior to the Ansar piling into the line (Crisis test result from charge) and the Egyptians once again unload their carbines, five (5) more Ansar fall (one stand).
Screams and curses are heard over the pitch of battle as hand-to-hand fighting erupts along the line. The Ansar inflict heavy casualties on the Egyptians (20 men, 4 stands) while another 20 men run for their lives (Crisis test Egyptians pass). The Lt. is nearly killed in the action (leader killed on 11-12, I rolled a 10). At the darkest moment the Ansar pause allowing the Sargent to call a fighting retreat and the line is reformed at the top of the hill.(Egyptians rolled higher on activation roll and broke from melee). The scouts are running to the sound of small arms fire but may arrive too late.
With the line depleted the Egyptians manage a smaller volley and inflict more casualties on the smaller Ansar band (5 men, 1 stand), 10 Ansar have enough and flee (2 stands). The Ansar mob ascends the hill (Crisis test to charge past), the Egyptians fire at will but have depleted most of their ammunition (low ammo roll). The Ansar mob crashes into the remaining Egyptians do not have much fight left in them and scatter toward their garrison, the Mulazim and Sargent with a small contingent of troops fight their way out. the scouts can see the Mahdi's men celebrating on the hill and do not dare to approach.
The Yuzbashi at the garrison waits for his report. The young Mulazim Tani arrives at his door. "Your report!", the Yuzbashi's voice is hard and short. "The enemy is in numbers to our east Effendi and my patrol barely escaped, I am sad to report 28 wounded and approximately 30 killed. Had it not been for the Sargent a fear it would have been worse." Just as the Yuzbashi was about to start his lecture on leadership and responsibility, a fellah burst into the room. "Effendi, we have spotted many men moving to the east and west, flying the green banner!" The Yuzbashi reached for his fez, "Mulazim prepare to redeem yourself ." "I will try my best, Effendi!"
The next scenario in the book is a raid by the winning force of the Patrol scenario. I will play this scenario with friends and report later. In summary Colonial Adventures is a fast, simple and good set of rules. I will report later and continue exploring other rules as well. On a crafting note I had a bit of time to work on my terrain table last night, I hope to post pictures soon.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Terrain, Miniatures and a New Book

My copy of Donald Featherstone's tel el-kebir arrived this past weekend and I have been enjoying it quite a bit. My knowledge of the period increases daily. I was pleasantly surprised that it was a hard-back first Osprey I have seen in hard-back. I have started building a scratch-built steam boat from a template by Gary Chalk that I found in Wargames Illustrated June 1999, which I bought at my local gaming convention a few weeks ago. I built one of Mr. Chalk's pirate ships from the templates on the Foundry page and have scratch built Dreadnought spaceships from card and foam core so I have a little experience at scratch building. The original plans are for 28mm miniatures so I copied the template at 66% for 15mm miniatures.

To the left is the beginnings of the stern-wheeler with a Peter Pig 15mm British officer fig on the upper deck. Speaking of miniature scale I have been going back and forth with scale for almost two-weeks now, the fear of selecting the wrong scale immobilizing me from ordering miniatures. I have done my Seven Years war armies in 10mm, 6mm and 15mm and they all have their merits. My first colonial miniatures were the Peter Pig 15mm but they don't seem to mix well with Old Glory, which for me in the U.S. is the best buy, my SYW is almost exclusively OG. I am tempted by 25mm or 28mm however the only appropriate miniatures seem to be Perry and they are quite expensive. Finally, I have been thinking of 10mm Pendraken, but having done the battle of Gettysburg in 10mm my painting style seems too dark for this scale or at least my impression of the level of detail gets lost. I have found a nice article on making a desert terrain board at the following link. www.quindia.com/studioart11.htm I immediately ran out and bought everything to make some terrain boards. I plan to make some desert boards and a couple with a river running through it. I will post pictures when I start the first boards, that makes deciding my scale paramount this week. I emailed my imagi-nation enemy Paul from http://www.bizercca.blogspot.com/ about possibly projecting out the Cavenderia - Bizercca war into the 19th century with the Bizerccans playing the role of the Egyptians and Cavenderi Imperial troops arriving to quash an uprising.

To the left another picture of the paddle boat started. If anyone would like a copy of the templates leave me a message, as Mr. Chalk published his pirate ship templates for free down-load I do not think he would mind my sending out an adobe of the paddle boat template. Cavenderi Colonialism seems like it would be great fun for a non-historical Egypt/Sudan campaign and allow me to paint up fictional Imperial units and fictional characters such as General Lindsey Wolsey leader of the Cavenderi expedition. I could even throw in references to the original 1757 conflict with names of ships, regiments etc. I will work on some fiction. Finally, I have been reading over Colonial Adventures by two-hour wargames and some house rules by Steve Hicks both seem very promising. My gaming group is playing Battlelore this Friday and with the holidays it may be a while before another rules review and battle report, however I will try and fill the time with posts on miniature painting terrain and book review, not to mention I put Khartoum in Que on NetFlix. Finally, Steve's rules can be played solo so I may be able to get in a battle report after all. Oh yeah nearly forgot, regardless of scale, rules, imagination or historical Captain Verbeek will be there for all of the action. I am thinking of painting up a Captain Verbeek in 28mm and sending him to Msr. Probst to see if he can't get attached to a military unit in his Captain Pedigree blog. Vive la Capitain!!

Yours truly,

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Battle of El-Teb

Last Friday 11-06-09 I played my first Sudan Campaign game using Too Fat Lardies' http://toofatlardies.co.uk/ Sudan rules They Don't Like it Up Em! These rules are available in their December 2008 Festive Feast special.
First impressions of the rules, short (10 pages), random card driven turn (not all units will activate each turn), funny (humorous card effects), ambiguous.
I have not played Too Fat Lardies' rule system before so those who have may have an easier time interpreting the flavor of the rules. The main driver of the rules is the action deck and blinds. The action deck is built by making a card for each large unit, most officers, some special event cards and one (1) end of turn card. During each turn cards are drawn and each card activates its' unit. The other major component of the rules is utilizing paper "blinds" for each native unit, I used 5X3 inch index cards face down. These are deployed by the native player for intial set-up, additionally the native players received blank "blinds" which would help hide the location fo their troops even more. The British officers and units can attempt to "spot" the enemy blinds (reveal if they are actually troops or not). The combination of the random end of turn and inability to see your enemy at the beginning are both interesting concepts.

The scenario started out with the Mahdi's forces (natives) occupying a couple of hills flanked by rough terrain (pictured left) and the British entering the board from the lower corner.
The British player began advancing and attempting to spot the Mahdi's forces with his cavalry and got a bit overextended on the left flank. The Mahdi's forces stayed undetected with little movement the first turn. However, the Native artillary started to fire at the British advance triggering the British player to fire his artillary and jamming his Gardner machine gun, which never unjammed the entire game.
Pictured left are the King's Royal Rifles and Yorks and Lancs advancing with their supply camels. While drawing cards we noticed a trend, the native player had many more units, i.e. his cards were being drawn quite a bit more often than the British, the British player did not even get his artillary card drawn to almost the end of the game. We had some issues with the rules as they seemed incomplete at points, sometimes not fully developing the rule before moving on. As these rules are based on the Lardies' system the gaps in the rules may be easily interpreted by players of other games within the system, however having never played them before we had to make some gentlemanly decisions on how we would treat the unknown.

Example: When the card "Blinds Move" is drawn the native player may move all of his blinds and wanted to charge all of his sub-units within the blind into the British, this was not covered in the rules. The rules said how to "shoot" from a blind but not how to move the sub-units within the blind into combat. We decided to have each sub-unit within the blind move and fight individually, ther was not rules for several units engaging one British unit, flanking etc. each combat was fought one at a time ala Kung-fu style, allowing the British to repulse each attack prior to the next.

Overall our gaming group gave the rules a C+ allowing a little room for our first Sudan rules test and we did have a fun time with quite a few laugh out loud moments as the native players became obsessed with trying to capture one of the British Camels and failing the entire game. The final outcome of the battle was a win for the natives who gave the British a bloody nose inflicting quite a few casualties, however a combination of horrible dice rolls, inability to draw more than one British unit card and no rules for passage of lines may have been a disadvantage for the Brits.

Will we play these rules again, probably with some house rules thrown in and several postings to the Lardies' Yahoo group. I would say if you have played other Lardies' titles you would probably have no issues with the game. It is a beer and pretzels game and I am not sure it is what we are looking for but it was an enjoyable evening and that is what is important. Finally for the record paper troops are not nearly as enjoyable as lead. Coming up Piquet Field of Battle, Two hour Wargames Colonial Adventures and The Sword and the Flame. I have been working on a steamer ship model and will post about that next week.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Paper Figures

I am playing my first Colonial war game this Friday 11-06-09 and will post a battle report. We will be using Too Fat Lardies "They Don't Like it Up em!" rules and playing they're introductory scenario. I do not have any Sudan figures as yet so what to do. As mentioned earlier when starting a new period I general turn to http://www.juniorgeneral.org/ for paper miniatures and once again the site did not fail. Don't get me wrong, paper figures do not IMO have the aesthetic appeal of lead minis but for the thrifty gamer or trying on a new set of rules they can not be beat. This picture shows an example of the King's Royal Rifle for the scenario.

The paper figs print out to approximately 15mm scale. However, you can adjust your printer to print them out larger or smaller if you wish.
I am basing them on square 30mm bases, this will fit the Lardie's rules and next up is Piquet Field of Battle. http://www.angelfire.com/az3/twohourwargames/index.html is running a special this week on their Colonial Adventures rules and I might pick them up. If anyone has a critique on the rules please feel free to post in the comments. I also have an interest in Pony Wars and Patrols in the Sudan. A few other rules have been mentioned on the miniatures page and have also sparked my interest.
I have begun the great delima of scale, 6mm, 10mm, 15mm or 25-28mm. Each has its' merits and drawbacks. But first to select a set of rules.
Finally, I ordered Tel el-Kabir by Donald Featherstone, a book on the Egyptian revolt for more background and perhaps to game some of that conflict as well. Back next time with my first battle report on the Lardie's rules.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


Welcome to my new blog. This blog will be dedicated to my new interest in learning about and war gaming the Sudan Campaign (1881-1898). Fought between the followers of the Mahdi and the Imperial British Army and allies.

First a bit about me. I have a bachelors degree in History from Marshall University, Huntington, West Virginia, United States, a Master's Degree in Environmental Science and have been playing historical miniatures war games for the past seven (7) years. My primary war gaming interests are the Seven Years War and American Civil War, however having read about colonial war gaming on blogs like http://www.steve-the-wargamer.blogspot.com/ http://www.generalpettygree.blogspot.com/ and http://www.theolddessauer.blogspot.com/ I have become interested in developing my own fictional colonial campaign.
My primary interest has been painting miniatures and playing games has always been a bonus. This has created shelves of beautifully painted miniatures that have not seen the battle field, and there is nothing worse than getting "all dressed up for nothing", but I really enjoy painting the little guys and new periods allow me to exercise my painting skills on different types of troops.
So why a Sudan campaign?
I believe the Sudan will allow me to start with small units, scouting patrols, raids etc and build to larger battles, covering both my desire to paint miniatures and allowing me to play games with smaller units of troops, I tend to paint fairly slowly. Having read about Sudan rules on other blogs, there is the opinion that the Sudan lends itself well to solo play. This is good because I can not always count on my friends liking every period I enjoy and this will allow me to play by myself if necessary. Finally, the romanticism of the Victorian era and the color of the characters has a certain appeal.
So what does the title of the blog mean?
Steve Turner of http://www.theolddessauer.blogspot.com/ started a fictional Northwestern Frontier campaign and solicited advice from fellow war gamers on his blog. I, not having had any experience in colonial warfare, created the fictional character Captain Lucien Verbeek of his majesty King Leopold II's Belgium Armee. Having read Adam Hochschild's, King Leopold's Ghost, I thought, a Belgium observer attempting to understand the workings of colonial control for the future sole owner of the Congo would make an interesting character. So I created a back story, painted up a figure, pictured in the blog title banner above (figure by Peter Pig) and started reading more about colonial Africa. In the interim Captain Verbeek was shipped to the UK and assigned to the British Sudanese expedition at www.steve-the-wargamer.blogspot.com/2009/08/third-best-thing-to-come-out-of-belgium.html He immediately got lost, captured, nearly rescued and then actually rescued by a combined British/Egyptian column. It was reading Steve's blog on the rescue attempts that finally made the period irresistible.
So How did I get started?
I revisited some books, the previously mentioned, King Leopold's Ghost and Thomas Pakenham's The Scramble for Africa, watched a few movies, Zulu, The Man Who Would be King and Khartoum, drank a few Pimm's and Ginger and ordered some Osprey Books. While attending CharCon, Charleston, West Virginia's own gaming convention I picked up a few War Games Illustrated dealing with the Sudan campaign and Colonial war gaming in general, including an article on how to scratch build stern-wheel boats (but that is for a future post).
The first Osprey book to arrive was Khartoum 1885 by Donald Featherstone, I have only begun reading it but already it has increased my knowledge of the various tribes, army organizations and chronology of the first Sudan campaign. I look forward to completing it.
Next in the mail was The Sudan Campaign 1881-98, I gave it a brief thumb through and look forward to reviewing it in a future blog.
Early Focus:
My initial efforts will be in determining what set of rules to play and what miniatures to buy. I will be posting quite a bit on both of these topics. Additionally, I am going to start at the very beginning with the Mahdi's forces fighting for control of the Sudan against the Egyptian garrison forces, that means no British for a while. I believe this will give me a chance to play more evenly balanced games, is chronologically significant and will let me start painting exotic uniforms and building desert terrain right a way.
Finally, I have purchased Too Fat Lardie's They Don't Like it Up em! (TDLIUE) rules set and have planned their tutorial scenario to be played with friends next week. I do not have enough figures to field the forces yet so it was off to one of my favorite web-sites http://www.juniorgeneral.org/ which has great paper miniatures to cut out and play with until you can buy your own metal miniatures. Paper miniatures are an inexpensive way to test new periods, rules-sets etc. and only require a little work to produce a nice looking battle.
That was a long introduction but hopefully it will give you some information on why and how I plan to conduct some colonial war gaming.