Sailors, Sikhs and Slavers…(part II)

 

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Ngoni!

 

We pick up the action where we left off. If you recall, the Atonga levies were all locked up in combat, contesting the jungle area on the British right flank with a unit of Sikhs in support, but the enemy Ngoni massing dangerously close. The Ruga-Ruga were moving up slowly in support building up the strength of the Arab force against Johnston’s teetering right wing. The Baluchi withdrew toward the village with the British main battle line fording the stream acutely aware of the limitations of their matchlocks vs Lee-Metfords.

 

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…back to the action 

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Combat! On the British right flank the Atonga levies did their utmost against two enemies at the same time producing a wild melee. The contest in jungle was desperate with Swahili slavers fighting themselves to destruction before the Atongans, who fought like lions (the Swahili men rolled a ‘1’ for the combat roll – not good!) gave way to the Arab slavers who proved dependably tough (rolled a ‘6’) by sweeping away the Atongas resulting in both the Swahili and Atonga men routing and scattering to their respective rear, as both had reached 5 disorders.

(In Death in the Dark Continent combat is adjudicated simultaneously. In a multiple engagement like this it is possible to win against one opponent and lose against another. A unit must take the worst of the two outcomes. This system, due to the sequence of play and movement sequence, works quite well).


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…both units gone!..but the stricken show the spot where it all occurred..

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Meanwhile, just outside the ‘brawl’ in the jungle the warcry of the Ngoni struck terror into the hearts of the Atonga levies resulting in them fleeing from the combat, with many dead from Ngoni spears, suffering yet another two disorder and a base loss for losing the fight. The levies could not be expected to stand against these ‘true’ warriors and for Johnston, these valiant allies sold their lives dearly to gain him a little more time.

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Here you can see we are on turn 7 and much has happened on the British right (Arab left) flank. Both British Atonga levies have broken and left the field as have the Arab Swahili levies. The Sikhs are now facing two Ngoni impis and cannot realistically be expected to do much beyond delay and perhaps hold their ground…they will certainly have their work cut out.

The Arab slavers near the jungle are now supported by Ruga-Ruga warriors and have an unencumbered route to support Zafari’s position near the village and stream….the net is closing around Johnston and he needs to get on with things and break through to complete his objective.

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Johnston’s men wade though the stream “…one more push boys!…”

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Seeing his Baluchi fall back, Zafari, in the previous turn, orders them back into the battle line even though they still carry some disorder. Somewhat shaken and brandishing their aged matchlocks they advance with trepidation against their kindred folk from India. Johnston obliged by pushing the Sikhs forward as well forming them up to engage in a firefight. The Sailors, whom Johnston is accompanying, press on toward the small cannon which doggedly holds its ground.

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On the British right, the Sikh leader, trying to hold off the Ngoni menace building before him, gave the order to fall back and defend the small hillock to the rear. Before they could complete the movement however the Ngoni, flush with victory, charge straight into the teeth of the repeaters blazing away, but they will not be denied…

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…”right lads, form up, prepare to fire!…let’s get on with it!”…

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After advancing last turn the Baluchi once again pull back toward the village. Like some sort of Arab fandango the colourful Zanzibari mercenaries retreat as quickly as they moved up, utterly perplexing the phlegmatic Sikhs before them.

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Whilst things looked better for his Sikhs, Johnston now got wind of the growing menace to his rear. Arabs, armed with breech loaders, closed the distance resulting in his men now being between cannon and rifle fire…he must move and move fast…

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…”FIRE!!!”…

In a frenetic fusillade the arab gunners were shot down manning their gun. “Brave chaps” one sailor was heard to say, but finally the way was clear.

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The Ngoni did not have as easy a time of it against the small unit of Sikhs however. Charging into the face of repeaters blazing away is generally not recommended but the shooting was ‘high’ and their rattled nerves (disorders) further weakened the Sikh’s ability to resist. Coupled to that they took a base loss for being defeated by Warriors so were now much weakened with four disorder and only one stand left.

(In Death in the Dark Continent usually a losing force will take disorder and fall back however fighting against fierce warriors, who engage in an ‘up close and personal’ style usually results in greater physical destruction of the enemy, hence the base loss when fighting them…think Zulus, Ngoni, Masai).

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…”forward, to the baggage…drive off those men in red hats”…

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In the following turn Johnston’s men passed though the swamp, narrowly avoiding having some taken by crocodiles (rolled a “3′ on a D20 – 1 or 2 means you lose a base!). However despite this momentary good luck the Arabs had closed on their rear and now something had to be done about it!

All resistance on the Arab left wing had been swept away, bar one stand of Sikhs defiantly hanging on, resulting in the small British expedition now being reduced to a unit of Sailors and Sikhs facing off against the growing tide of Arab slavers and their allies…death in the dark continent indeed!

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Zafari, seeing the battle now turn his way, pulled back his Baluchi and hoped his Arabs would trust to their breech loaders to shoot the Englishmen rather than get their blood up and charge into the teeth of their repeater fire. The wily arab was marshalling his forces and things were starting to look a bit sticky for Johnston and his men.

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Ruga-Ruga with their ‘slow’ shoes on today…have not fired once as yet..barely broke a sweat!

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Ngoni push on toward the British baggage…loot!…but what of the small band of Sikhs still before them?

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Realising that Johnston may be unable to contest the village the Sikh commander ordered an advance to get the job done. Pushing forward toward the jungle near the village, suddenly a rustle and crack of fire…ambush! Another Arab unit suddenly appeared before them…argh!  In a show of defiance Zafari moved toward the battle line, showing himself to the enemy, in what he saw as the final act playing out.

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…”Oh my…steady my lads…reload…we can hold ’em”…

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The leader of the Arabs ordered his men to start shooting from the cover of the stream rather than attack, and fire as fast as they could. Bullets whizzed about hitting the silhouettes of the British sailors visible to the Arab riflemen on the skyline. It was to be their undoing.

In what is now known locally as Johnston’s knob, the men of HMS Blanche, clinging to their little hillock fought bravely, dropping one by one, with the gallant officer falling wounded on the ground, sword and pistol in hand.

“…for England!…”

It was to be his last stand.

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…the end of Johnston and his men…

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Whilst Johnston met his fate the Sikhs, seeing the small naval standard fall in the distance atop the hill, and taking heavy fire from the two units before them, now became confused as the British were clearly outnumbered and being outshot.

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In a moment of panic, the Sikhs, testing their resolve (morale) for the ambush they stumbled into, failed to steady themselves and broke, seeing that the battle was lost.

Bursting through the baggage, the survivors ran for their lives knowing that they could expect little but a life of slavery if captured or death. As they ran they could see their brethren hotly pursued by the Ngoni who caught and cut them down…it was all over.

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For Zafari, it was total victory. The British expedition had been utterly defeated. So complete was the destruction that the ultimate fate of Captain Johnston was not even known as so few escaped, though local tribesmen talk of a white man in “blue clothes” being held in a village not far from where the battle took place….

POSTSCRIPT

…word of this ‘white man captive’ has subsequently found its way to the British mission and been passed to Whitehall…talk of a rescue mission is already in the press…

“Remember Gordon” is the cry…

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…not needing to roll any dice, the crocodiles moved in to take their own spoils of war…

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DEBRIEF

So, that was our second game of DitDC!

A most enjoyable one it was to! Fortunes for both sides swayed. Initially it looked like the Arab commander had ‘taken the bait’ and been drawn off to the left bank of the stream and away from the village…which was the British player’s plan. For a while it seemed that all the British had to do was march forward, dish out some Lee-Metford ‘magic’ and all would be good…whilst the Arabs, Ruga-Ruga and Ngoni fought over the Atonga tribesmen and a small band of Sikhs amongst themselves..not so!

When playing a regular army that moves roughly 3″-5″ per turn you really need to keep things zipping along and resist the temptation to stop and engage in too many firefights. This slows down your force considerably.

In this scenario the British attacker was not ‘time limited’ by the scenario but he became time limited as the weight of enemy forces moved against him. Some ‘unlucky’ fire by the sailors on those damnable arab gunners could not shift them! They really were the lynchpin of the Arab defence and luckily passed two morale checks to stay in the fight and keep up a ‘hot fire’.

Combined with the loss of a base from the unit of sailors the British force became quite brittle in the end. A point worth noting is that quality of the target makes no difference to whether an opponent shoots successfully against you…so anyone can bring you down and this played out with rifle fire taking out some sailors somewhat unexpectedly from some long range shooting..albeit with breech-loaders. In the wash up it was these same Arabs that ended Johnston’s run to the village.

For the Arabs, they set up a very good defence. The gun on the hill proved a solid position and the effectiveness of the gun, the simple fact it needed to be taken account of, made it very useful. Long range fire is fairly poor with smoothbores but up close they dish out three fire dice and can easily ruin an attacker’s day if he feels he can simply ‘run over it’. Even though I played the British, I must say it’s hats off to those plucky Arab artillerymen!!

The ability to lift off morale with only a score of 6 on 1D6 or 2D6 again seemed a bit harsh as discussed in the previous post. For the most part it didn’t dictate events too much in this game, but the addition of an extra 10% shift to improve morale recovery I think is still warranted or at least should be allowed as an option IMHO.

The game setup however proved a weak point. The terrain layout system is too ‘loose’ with wording for the defending Arabs being – “Coastal: Sea or major lake compulsory. At least 3 marsh, sand, stream or river pieces. No other restrictions”.

This essentially means that as long as there is a compulsory sea or major lake and at least 3 marsh, sand, stream or river pieces, then a defender can then place whatever else he likes….ten other pieces of terrain if he decides. The attacker then gets to move/remove/change up to three pieces of terrain which doesn’t make a lot of sense really as moving/removing/changing a few piece of terrain won’t really make any difference if the other player can place terrain ‘with no other restrictions’. It’s the ” No other restrictions” that is the bit that needs tightening up and I’d think any new edition of the rules really needs to look at how terrain is laid out in the game to make it all work properly in the ‘game system’.

Whilst I fully appreciate that you can layout terrain as you choose and play any which way you like, that is kind of not what Death in the Dark Continent is trying to do. The whole reason for having specific points value, scenario specific conditions using aggression levels affecting who attacks and defends, having army categories of Disciplined, Organised and Tribal which impact on Late Arrivals, etc  is to play into the idea that terrain matters when deploying your army and indeed putting it together.

In real life off course terrain is principle to any engagement and is often overlooked in wargames rules as an inconvenience when preparing for play. Whilst I am no fan of the DBx systems overall, to be fair, DBM and its kind do this very well and the writers of the new edition DitDC would do well to look to those systems for ideas about terrain set up for a future edition of Death in the Dark Continent.

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A few discussion points

Flanks!

Flanks are not easily defined in DitDC. It’s not a big deal once your thrash through how (we think) it’s meant to work, but it’s worth a moment or two to discuss. This will aid in helping players best agree how flanks are defined in the game as the rules are a little rubbery on the subject. The fact that I’ve heard a couple of views on it means it needs clarifying. For the benefit of others we did as follows…if we got it wrong then I’d like to know!

The DitDC rules (p21) state that “No base may contact the flank or rear of an enemy base unless already at least partly behind it when it begins its move”.

That’s not entirely unreasonably stated but the small sticking point is simply what does “behind” literally mean..behind the whole base or the front edge? We decide the literal words of behind was the ‘entire base’ that was intended and this worked well in our game. It also prevent too many ‘marginal’ flank attacks being possible. By way of example you can see how this looks.

 

A unit even ‘partly’ behind this black dotted line at the start of its move would be able to claim a flank attack bonus in combat.

The diagram above shows that the Sikhs, though seemingly in a ‘flank’ position and quite capable of engaging the enemy base on its flank (side), the rules in fact would say that this is not a flank attack. This is the relatively easy bit!

This does bring up a number of other points in the game that are subtle and worth illustrating as the above rule combines with other conditions to allow an attacker to claim a flank attack bonus in combat.

A subsequent passage in the rules, in fact, the second of only two references to flanks in the rules, states that...”a base not already engaged in close combat can turn to face an enemy which has subsequently charged it in flank or rear”.

That’s important..and a bit confusing! What it’s saying is that if an enemy base does move into contact with an unengaged enemy base then it can turn to face, even if it has been charged in the flank or rear. But in this context of ‘charged in flank’ we assume it means it will fulfil the conditions described in the first statement above to be considered a flank attack and we also consider that if an enemy base is simply contacted on its side or rear, even if it starts its move in front of the enemy base, which kind of seems to run against the first idea of what a flank attack is…and here is the reason why (as far as we can tell).

The combat factors say that an “Attacker in contact with the flank or rear of an enemy base engaged frontally and not in square” gains a +2 attack bonus in combat. So to gain this +2 bonus you must have both a unit in contact with the front of an enemy base and have a unit in contact with the flank or rear as well..otherwise it can choose to simply turn to face. Note that even if it doesn’t turn to face or the initial attack wasn’t from behind the target base (counting as a flank attack), then the attacker does not gain the +2 ‘flank attack’ combat bonus…confusing huh!

So, the upshot is you must start behind the enemy base to gain a flank attack bonus and you must have engaged the target unit frontally to essentially ‘pin it’ so the flank attack derives the +2 combat bonus. the rules don’t state that a different unit needs to do this either so a suitably large unit that had the movement could conceivably contact the front and flank of a target unit as movement is conducted by the base, not by the unit.

The implication is that a single unit that charges an enemy from the rear does not in-fact gain any combat benefit at all as the defender is assumed to turn and fight the attacker somehow…which seems odd but that is what it seems to be saying. However it is important to remember that a charging unit still must have part of its base behind the target enemy base to claim the +2 flank attack bonus.

IMG_1967 flank attack

Here you can see an example illustrating both points. If the arab unit at top (left) had rolled sufficient movement distance then it could contact the Atonga skirmisher base in both front and flank. However the charge started in front (not behind) the flank of the Atongans so no flank combat bonus would be allowed anyway..better to keep a straight line and shoot with the unengaged bases at potential targets.

However the Sikhs below do start from behind the the Swahili target to their front, who are also contacted by the Atonga skirmishers on their front face, so in this case the attacker (Sikhs and Atongas) will gain the +2 flank attack combat bonus.

 

One aspect that does effect whether a unit would turn to face (and would want to) is the way the front edge faces when firing is conducted. If a base stayed facing forward then it could not shoot at the attacker in the firing phase as the target would be out of firing arc (note – a target unit can always fire at its attacker if he contacts in his firing arc). As firing is conducted before combat then this is certainly something you want to do as it is possible that sufficient disorders (3) could cause a unit to fall back as stated (p24)…

“A disorder penalty applies as soon as it is inflicted, so that for example a unit which accumulates 3 markers as a result of being shot at while charging into close combat cannot complete the move, but must be moved back outside the 6 inches distance, or to its starting position if that was closer. “

Note, nowhere else in the rules does it state shooting occurs against a unit that moves into close combat! But it is explained here in the Effect of Disorder rules!…a point that needs spelling out. So in most cases you do want to turn to face an enemy that charges you so you may fire at into before combat commences to hopefully drive it back or perhaps inflict some disorder before combat.

It is also worth noting that an addenda in the DitDC supplement was made to combat, but it only applies vs artillery, machine guns and rockets i.e. not vs infantry targets. It states “add 2 if the attacking unit starts its move entirely outside the defender’s arc of fire.” I’m a little surprised this doesn’t apply to all shooters but just as a special case to account for last second artillery or machine gun fire. Given the very powerful effects of small arms fire in the close combat factors I would’ve though this factor appropriate, or perhaps a +1 to account for the lack of last second small arms fire before the attacker closes…anyway, it seems to just apply to artillery, machine guns and rockets.

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If all the above sounds like the game was clumsy then it really wasn’t in practice. We worked through it just fine bit it’s a little confusing in parts when you start to try and extract this stuff during a read through and during play so clear diagrams and explanations will be the order of the day for the new edition by Northstar. I think the above proves the point!

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Ruga-Ruga

One other point we felt didn’t quite feel right in our game was the manner in which the Ruga-Ruga were portrayed. They are treated as “Soldiers with muskets” in the rules. This kind of seems right but for such a fast moving fearsome force (by reputation) they seem a little pedestrian in their movement at 1d6″+2 in the open, d6″ in difficult ground. They move like slow regular askaris. We felt that this didn’t seem right given the descriptions we have of them, particularly warriors of an earlier period like the 1870-80s. It seems the classification of them reflects the period when they were uniformed in the Wissman era, not the earlier fast moving plundering warband style infantry of Mirambo’s time.

A couple of ideas for making them more in keeping with how we perceive them would be to rate them as Elite Skirmishers. This would allow them the benefit of shooting effectively as they are experienced with weapons and also give them an attack advantage commensurate with their fighting reputation. It makes them less effective defensively as they suffer a hefty -2 as they are skirmishers. This would leave them as 9pts per base in the lists as they are now. it would not be unreasonable to allow them to be rated Untrained to lessen their fire effectiveness to reflect poorly trained or armed warriors.

Another option would be to leave them as Soldiers, thus allowing them a steadiness in attack and defence (no combat bonus i.e. neither better or worse) and give them a special ability to allow them to move 2D6″ more akin to fast moving tribal troops. Not as fast as skirmishers but not far behind and certainly quicker than formed askaris as they are now. If this option was chosen then they should lose the ability to form square. Probably an additional 1pt per base would be appropriate to account for this extra move ability….or move like Warriors but fight like Soldiers..doesn’t sound to bad for Ruga-Ruga. Such a special modification is not without precedent given the Force Publique askaris have a firing rule to account for their unique attributes.

I think a fair case can be made for a few types of Ruga-Ruga, one to represent the young unmarried warriors and the older less excitable and more dependable men, combined with the differing shooting abilities with firearms. Using the above ideas they seem perfectly historically justified.

I’d be interested to hear anyone else’s opinion on Ruga-Ruga classification in the rules…plain old Soldiers with muskets just doesn’t seem quite right….maybe only for the later period and even then the options above don’t seem beyond the pail.

 

Oh, by the way, for some Ruga-Ruga inspiration I suggest you check out this thread on the Lead Adventure Forum…more wonderful figures by Plynkes.

 

Finally, the game itself played out a little longer than our last one as the victory conditions were more open ended and not with a scenario based time restriction. In total it took a comfortable 3 1/2 hours….add in 30mins for all the messing about and you have a nice evening or afternoon game experience.

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I hope we’ve uncovered a few more aspects of Death in the Dark Continent and shown that despite a few quirks to get your head around the game really is a lot of fun and enjoyable to both prepare for and play with….thoroughly recommend!

 

Final point. I have updated the Death in the Dark Continent play sheet to make it a little easier to use by putting all the attacker then defender combat factors together so that it’s easier to add up each others combat factors without sifting through the table as it was before. It also includes artillery, machine gun and rocket attack outcomes as well.

 

Grab the printable version here.

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