Abushiri Revolt, 1889 – Arab Dawn Assault…(part II)

frost_von_prince

In part I we discussed the situation, preparation for play and the first half of the game. In this, the concluding part, we pick up the action with the arab forces, Nobles and Swahilis, advancing on the small garrison defending the church.

.

.

Donner und Blitz!

By this stage a brisk firefight had now developed in front of the church. The German garrison was definitely getting the better of the exchange and one unit of arab nobles took punishing fire from the askaris who were able to deliver three volleys of fire that decimated the unit. Unfortunately the Arab player’s dice rolling luck deserted him on this occasion and the nobles fled from the field, not to be seen again for the remainder of the battle…not a good start to the third turn.

IMG_2896

.

.

.

IMG_2897

Despite the loss of one of the key arab units the remaining men pressed on through the carnage. Not stopping to fire…they meant to close with and engage the enemy, realising their firepower was no match for the opponent’s now that the cover of darkness had passed. If they were lucky they may be able to get a shot away before they could attack…

.

.

.

IMG_2899

…and so it was…getting as close as they dared the Arabs loosed off a volley bringing down a couple of askaris through the fortunate play of a card just at the right time (played-in by the German player). In support the wangwana men threw caution to the wind and launched themselves at the askaris manning the defensive perimeter. In a quick a bloody encounter the askaris took down a couple of the Arabs but were unable to stop them cold. This time the dice gods did not desert them and they pressed the assault having passed their reaction test.

In the ensuing cut and thrust of the melee the askaris lost the fight and were forced to withdraw. Fortunately still in reasonably good shape and with their officer nearby they suffered only a recoil result. Nevertheless the Arabs had thrown their enemy back and they no longer had the advantage of their defensive position and things were looking much better.

.

.

.

Then, in yet another sign and portent, the completely unexpected occurred… the heavens opened up….thunder and lightning! A torrential downpour ensued. To the Arabs it was a reprieve sent from Allah himself. The effect of the rain was to reduce the effectiveness of the enemy’s shooting which could only help them even though their smoothbore muskets were not able to fire at all!! There was nothing for it…an all out attack was the order of today…Allah Ahkbar!!

IMG_2900
.

.

Player note – whilst the narrative doesn’t easily show it, the card play by both sides was producing some really interesting game outcomes and decision points. At various times, including the Arab attack, the opposing player was ‘playing in’ the opposition forces. By this I mean the opposing player was being ‘forced’ to play cards activating the opponent’s forces as it is not possible to ‘skip’ a turn if you don’t have the suitable card…you have toplay a card from your hand no matter what.

This produces an interesting tension throughout play as pending doom from the opposing player’s card is ever present…the card hand system works very well at not only driving the sequencing of actions but the feeling of trepidation or elation as each player uses his own hand to activate forces of his own or his opponent’s.

.

.

.

IMG_2901

Elated by his success the Arab player was convinced that the intervention of the storm clouds could only have been by the hand of Allah. No sooner had he rejoiced in his victory however that the German commander ‘played in’ his 2-action Regulars card…“form up to the left…Fire!!!”

The marines turned to face and issued a crushing volley at point blank range. It was a scene reminiscent of  the movie Zulu with Arab dead piled up in front of the Marine’s feet (in place of the Zulus). The effectiveness of the marines point-blank fire forced a reaction test on the arabs before they even engaged in hand to hand combat (this being part of the charge sequence). It was to much for the brave followers of the prophet to bare…the survivors turned and fled.

Joining the fusilade the Arab player then (had to) play-in the German askaris action card! …aargh!! Fortunately for him the askari shooting was terrible, the downpour reducing the effect of fire and he breathed a sigh of relief. Still, he had just lost one unit and he couldn’t engage in that sort of exchange too often if he was going to overrun the church.

.

.

.

IMG_2902
…Here you see the Marines and Askaris ‘dish it out’…clearing all before them…

.

.

.

Buoyed by their success the askaris activated once more on their leader’s Forward Boys! card which enabled the loyal Africans to press back up to the fence line. At the same time the young officer extolled his marines to ‘pour it on’, inflicting further casualties on the arabs to their front…it looked like superior Prussian firepower was going to win the day.

Rule note – the ‘natural talent’ of the German Regular leader is to allow him to use two actions on his Forward Boys! Card. As the askaris are trained ‘auxiliaries’ they are able to receive orders from a leader not of their type. 

IMG_2903
A close up showing the German defensive position re-asserted.

.

.

.

All this shooting at near point blank range was too much for the Swahilis. Now reduced in size the unit turned in flight from their reaction (test) from the fire of the marines. It looked as if the German position was starting to look a little more secure having seen off this determined assault. The men took a moment to catch their breath in the pouring rain, sweat dripping from their brow, with their enemy beaten, but not yet defeated.

It was about this time that through the downpour that another group of men could be seen approaching the battlefield. Though unsure exactly who they were because of their white uniforms, the garrison commander shouted  out to “hold fast men, help has arrived!”.

…through the pelting rain the men raised a cheer…“huzzah!!…vorwarts!!!! Indeed it was so!  A unit of Wissmann askaris finally had arrived, no doubt the early morning darkness and torrential rain slowing their arrival..surely their appearance would spell disaster for the arab attack..but we’re they too late? Regardless, they struggled to hit anything when they did fire, which announced their arrival to all with a desultory volley (much to the annoyance of the German player!)

Player Note – in this scenario reinforcements can start to arrive from the second turn on a 5 or 6. As it was the third turn the required roll was a 4, 5 or 6. Fortunately for the German garrison it was the Askaris that turned up and not the local levies who would be less effective.

IMG_2904
Garrison reinforcements arrive bottom right . One unit of swahilis breaks from the marine fire whilst the remaining Swahilis make very slow progress through north wood.

.

.

.

Realising it was now or never the card gods came to the rescue of the Arabs. With a great lunge two 1-action cards, played each by both sides, enabled the Swahilis to throw themselves at the enemy once more. With desperation the defenders fired as quickly as they could and an all in melee developed as the initial fire was ineffective.

IMG_2905

.

.

.

The Swahilis gave as good as they got in a lengthy struggle against the askaris as did the marines, backs to the wall…desperate stuff!! In what was to amount to the ‘do or die’ moment of the engagement the Marines and Askaris were in a death struggle with the arabs and Swahilis. The Askaris fought an extended two round melee whilst the Marines won by a comfortable, but not decisive degree.

Thus, on this day, Allah did not smile on Muhammad’s children. Whilst the Marines slightly outclassed their enemy the askaris won their combat by only a hair’s breath. It was very touch and go but today the god of war smiled on the Germans and their loyal African allies.

IMG_2915
The brave Oberleutnant waves his sword to spur his men on… fight to the death!

.

.

.

IMG_2916

..

Player note – a win here by the Askaris could easily have tipped the balance in favour of denying the Germans a chance to achieve their game objective. For the arab player, the inability to inflict losses was always going to mean that he was going to struggle to achieve his required enemy 2/3rds loss threshold for his own victory. He could however achieve his side plot goal and deny the Germans their objective of needing to keep Arab forces more than 4″ from the church and thereby carve out a draw. The truth is, the Arab Engagement objective was a tough one for the Arab player to win but he was making a good fist of it.

.

With all this action going on, you may ask, what in Allah’s name were the Arab commanders doing? Their presence would really have helped their troops stay in the fight.

One of the Arab leaders was slogging his way through the North wood and not doing much of anything truth be told. The other leader was strangely hanging back for the entire engagement on his baseline not moving at all…what was he up to? Well, as alluded to in the introduction, he was firmly fixated on achieving his side plot..damn the outcome of the battle!! This was the “Negotiation” side plot

Negotiations: Place an unarmed Civilian Officer in base-to-base contact with your Officer (you control that model). If both these models spend a whole turn without moving and in contact with each other (and without being engaged in melee), roll a D6 at the end of the turn. On a roll of 6 the negotiations have been successful. Add +1 to the die roll for each previous unsuccessful roll. If the negotiations have been successful and the Civilian Officer is still alive at the end of the game, you have fulfilled the conditions of your Side Plot.

Whilst the German player wasn’t overly interested in the lack of Arab command presence he did note the strange dice roll the Arab player was making at the beginning of each turn…so, it was this negotiation that was the reason the civilian and Arab leader figure were deliberately held back from the line of battle. No doubt the wily Arab commander was trying to ‘cut a deal’ most likely with some unscrupulous East African adventurer or trader!

…back to the action…

IMG_2917
…the brave but beaten arabs recoil from the fight…

.

.

Northwood?

So what of the Swahilis in Northwood?

Whilst the desperate struggle was happening in the eastern church grounds the Swahilis in North wood were making slow but steady progress. At first darkness had slowed their movement (reducing it form 5″ to 4″ per action) but noes the rain shower had slowed their movement (form 5″ to 3″ per action), however the arab player was able to fortuitously able to gain the Carp Diem bonus and was using it to push up a unit ever closer to the church perimeter.

With the German commander’s attention firmly fixated on the struggle to the east only four men manned the defences looking to the north from the church windows so the defences were a little ‘thin’ on that side of the perimeter. With the commencement and continuation of the rain shower the visibility was reduced to the point that neither side could see the other (now down to 2″!).  Whilst this would appear to be a disadvantage, in fact it worked in the Arab player’s favour as his Swahilis were able to advance unmolested toward the church, though at a reduced rate. The use of the Carp Diem was a very good play as it gave them just enough movement to get within 4″ of the church.

Player note – as mentioned above the Arab player need only have a unit within 4″ of the church to deny the German’s objective. With his side plot seemingly a ‘done deal’, the clever diversionary attack to draw off the German forces to hold the east defences of the church grounds he could use, first the cover of darkness, then the cover of the rain showers to creep up to the church and just sit tight and await the end of the game, which though determined randomly, would be likely at the beginning of the next turn. This tactic would compel the German player to come out of his defences to drive off the Swahilis if  he wished to gain a victory…clever arab!! 

IMG_2919
Overhead shot shows the east grounds swahili attack in disarray, whilst the arabs still push up through north wood; one unit still recovering from their lion attack which now seems an age ago!

.

.

.

With all this talk about what ‘could happen’ next turn one would think that the current turn had ended…not so…not by a long way!

Unfortunately by this stage all that arab activity at the beginning of the turn meant that their had to be a reckoning. Just to add insult to injury it was the Arab player who now had to play the next card…the German 2-action Regulars card….uh, oh…

Thirsting for revenge after their close call in the church east-grounds the order was given to fire…and fire again. Despite the continuous rain the marines did not miss their mark. They caused heavy losses on the Arab unit to their front…but worse was to come…the Swahilis realising that all was lost through down their arms and ran (rout), failing their reaction test…things were starting to unravel.

Following that calamity…the next card played-in was the remaining German askari 2-action card. The Askaris, both units, now exacted their own brand of vengeance. Despite the continuing sudden conditions the firepower from both units was sufficient to see yet another Arab unit break and run after having suffered heavy losses.

In the blink off an eye the game was up for the Swahili troops assailing the east-grounds of the church. However, hope still remained for the wily stealth tactics from the Swahili units in Northwood,  that the arab commander had been scheming on as a backup plan, which now was his only chance to force a draw.

…however, one more twist of fate was to play out before the battle ended…

IMG_2920
The devastating aftermath of multiple shots from breechloading rifles

.

.

.

The turn had almost come to an end with the Arab player with one card remaining and German player two. If the turn ended there would be a chance that no further turns would occur, determined by a random dice (5 or less on 2d6) …ie the game would end, most likely, in a draw.

The German player however now played his ‘ace’ as it were. He played-in the #1 Event Card which resulted in the rain showers stopping resulting in normal movement and visibility rules applying from this moment on. The Arab player then played in an Event Card, to no real effect..but this was followed by the German player using his last ace in the hole…his other 2-action Regulars card…ouch!

With a loud shout in the still of the air in the aftermath of the torrential downpour, the young Oberleutnant barked out orders to the marines in the grounds, who raced up to the fenceline and commenced firing using aimed fire at the swahilis in Norhtwood. This fire was joined by the four marines in the church window. With the Swahils now at point blank range they proved relatively easy targets just at the wrong time, their cunning plan now backfiring terribly.

Many men dropped and the remainder would have none of it…they broke and ran for their lives…not a arab or swahili was anywhere near the church and the piston was held for now.

…with that last act the turn drew to a dramatic close.

IMG_2921
Red splotches mark the spot where the hapless Swahilis met their fate courtesy of the Marine Mauser breechloaders.

.

.

.

.

IMG_2922

.

.

.

End Game

With few forces left the Arab player took stock and realised that his chances of ‘fighting for a draw’ were beaming slim. He did still have a unit of Swahilis that cold push up but now this turn the Arab Morale card woudl have to be placed int he deck which would all but see them withdraw so it would probably be a lost cause anyway.

What the Arab player could do however was achieve his side plot relatively easily if he could complete the task before the game ended. This could be attempted before any activation cards were played and intact the ‘housekeeping’ stage at the beginning of the turn also rquird the German player to attempt to bring in his reinforcement. This was attempted and failed, not the the contribution of a unit of local levies was yogin to impact on th egame at this point.

The arab player however needed to roll a 3+ on a D6 to achieve his side plot and thus pull back some kudos before the game ended. He rolled and much to his disgust, failed to score the required number (a two it is!!!).

With that the German player rolled 2D6, score a 5 …this being less than twice the number of current game turns 3×2=8) and this the game came to an immediate end.

Determining victory the final result showed that the Germans had kept the enemy away for the church, they had prevented the enemy form achieving their ‘body count’ objective and the failure of the arab player to achieve his side plot mean that the german player achieved his! On all counts the German player was successful and thus a decisive victory it was for the Kaiser’s arms..the church is held!!

 

IMG_2923

.

.

.

IMG_2924

.

.

.

IMG_2925
…a win for the Germans but not so much for those swine. I’m sure they’d have preferred an arab victory…pig’s knuckle tonight!!

 

Debrief

So ended one of the most interesting and varied games of Rifles & Spears (and Muskets & Tomahawks for that manner) that we have had to date. A number of interesting points emerged from the game.

The initial wargamer’s instinct to reject the night fighting conditions and revert to a traditional ‘day game’ were resisted and the game was much better for it. Games involving night fighting usually encompass all sorts of strange mechanics that are used to artificially create the problems of visibility and so on. The Musket and Tomahawks system however has a very elegant spotting and visibility method that is core to the system and thus works just as well in varying conditions of visibility for what ever reason, so night actions are totally doable. This allowed our night action to be played with little fuss and added so much to the backdrop of this scenario…indeed the tactics and how the game played out.

In the end the game was a complete victory for the Germans. However it was in fact much, much closer. The desperate struggle in the church grounds could easily have resulted in an Arab win in one of the three fights which would most likely have tied up the marines or askaris and possibly prevented them from being able up to push out the Arabs by the end of the third turn. If nothing else they would’ve caused additional casualties which would perhaps prevented the marines from delivering the coup de grâce at the end of the turn to the unit of Swahilis that was advancing through Northwood.

The card sequence itself has a heavy influence on how the game plays out. This is a good thing. The way the action cards play, the sequencing of the event cards, the way players can interact with the hand that they hold, and just the general involvement of the cards all combine to create an ever fluid environment with a player has some control, but never all control, over the events and secrets of actions as they occur. This is entirely appropriate for this period history or indeed any period in history. It provides an excellent narrative in the game and no special rules are required as the game more or less takes care of this through its core structures.

The introduction of the Carp Diem system worked very nicely. It only popped up two or three times in the game but nevertheless was important when it did. In fact it was one of the reasons why the Swahilis advanced through Northwood as far as they did. It’s a very simple and subtle system that leaders of the existing use of the event cards. It’s totally optional and need not be used if players felt it was unnecessary but it adds a very nice fog of war twist and in some respects can level out some of the differences between varying types of army combinations throughout the colonial period.

Once again the scenario suite worked very well to produce two sets of objective conditions for both sides that were opposed to one another but not of the same scenario. Probably fair to say that some scenarios suit certain armies more than others. In this case the Arab player was required to inflict two-thirds damage on the enemy and given his relatively low capacity to deliver effective firepower this was always going to be a little bit of a problem.

I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing. In fact it is the mark of all good ‘real commanders’ to overcome such limitations in their own force and come up with a creative plan for the situation at hand. This fits perfectly well with the feel of the game and indeed of the period. So much the better for the victory if you manage to do it against the odds. As you can see even in this scenario, there were a number of ways that the Arab player sort to achieve a victory or deny one to his opponent using his limited capacity to deliver effective combat power at the decisive moment and time.

If he really got lucky he could’ve ended up with some combat outcome results that would’ve delivered him the two-thirds threshold required for casualties dictated by the Engagement objective. Given that he should’ve rolled and passed his side plot conditions in fact it can be seen that if things had gone his way just a little bit then he could’ve achieved a decisive victory himself…though not easy to be realistic about it. Granted that was certainly much harder than another type of army in a similar situation that would’ve had to accomplish the requisite body count, but it was doable.

For the Germans the conditions for his victory were relatively simple…hold on and use your firepower as much as possible. Again, this was just the nature of the scenario that played out and was determined (randomly). It could have easily have been any scenario which would’ve resulted in a moving and more open field encounter with a smaller German force against a much larger enemy Arab force that would’ve changed the entire dynamic of the situation as it played out.

The important takeaway from the game was that you could play exactly the same armies against one another, randomly determining entirely different objectives and creating a completely different set of scenario circumstances. The fact that there are a standard six scenarios in the game is deceptive. Really the combination of scenarios are 36 types of games that can be played as each force has a chance to achieve its own scenario objective against the opposing force who is trying to achieve its objective….so 6×6 combinations possible.

This unique method of apportioning scenario objectives that differ is in fact one of the great strengths of the Muskets and Tomahawks system. In addition to the standard scenarios Rifles and Spears has included a number of additional scenarios that are more specific to the Darkest Africa theme. These include scenario combinations such as; expedition versus ambush, escort versus engagement, pursuit versus rearguard, engagement versus hasty defence, and raid versus fort defence. Each of these scenario combinations have their own rules specific to the nature of the scenario pairing.

The battle narrative itself was entirely in keeping with the period and had the right feel and flow of events. This of course is one important ‘true test’ of the game system to see whether it delivers on an historical result. It certainly played out like a good narrative read that one might encounter in any of the histories of the time. Even the lion attack was not beyond the pail and as mentioned in the better report the famous action at Tanga in 1914 involved the infamous attack of the killer bees, forever a piece of folklore for those that study the East African campaign during the Great War.

So in summation it can be seen that even with a relatively simple scenario there was a lot of action, tension, and excitement within the game… not to mention a very good strong historical narrative. Whilst Rifles and Spears at this point is dedicated to battles in Darkest Africa the game itself really is a colonial game system. Whilst I will certainly be continuing further action reports on actions within Africa I am going to expand in the focus of little bit in subsequent posts and discussion points and look at using Rifles and Spears in a few different theatres such as of the Indian Mutiny, Cape Wars and the New Zealand Maori Wars to name just a few.

I hope you enjoy this particular battle report and some of the  discussion points and thanks for sticking with it this far… I hope there is something here of interest.

 

IMG_2884
..pleased to say the Marines passed their first ‘test of battle’ so have not succumbed to the ‘gamers jinx’ of getting a first game drubbing!

 

 

Advertisements