Making them pay!: A play-test of the revised Colonial version of The Portable Wargame rules

Having written a new and revised draft of my PORTABLE WARGAME: COLONIAL rules, I decided that they needed play-testing. As the weather outside yesterday was terrible (it had been raining all night, and it continued to rain well into the evening), it seemed like an ideal day to do it … so I did.

ScenarioThe tax collectors are having more trouble extracting money from the tribes in Southern Zubia, and after one of them was beaten so badly that they died, the local Governor decided that the most troublesome tribes needed teaching a lesson. He therefore sent a small but heavily armed column out into the desert to find the tribal encampments and to ensure that the overdue tax was levied … along with a bit extra to pay for the trouble the tribes had caused.

As the column advanced deeper and deeper into the desert, they became aware that they were being shadowed. As a result they were fully prepared for an attack, and when the tribesmen came into sight, the column deployed to meet the threat.

The Zubian column comprised 8 units:

  • 4 Infantry Units
  • 1 Cavalry Unit
  • 1 Machine Gun Unit
  • 1 Rifled Field Artillery Unit
  • 1 Command Unit

This force had a Strength Value of 26 and an Exhaustion Point of 13.

The Tribal forces comprised:

  • 6 Infantry Units armed with hand-held weapons
  • 4 Infantry Units armed with smooth-bore muskets
  • 1 Smooth-bore Artillery Unit
  • 2 Cavalry Units
  • 1 Command Unit

This force had a Strength Value of 39 and an Exhaustion Point of 20.

The BattleThe Zubian troops advanced to meet the Tribal forces.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

Both sides moved forward, with the Tribal cavalry trying to work around onto the Zubian column’s flank. The Zubian Artillery Unit fired at the Tribal Infantry Unit immediately in front of them, and caused the first casualties of the battle.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Black 2, Black 2, Red 4, Black 3, Red 3, Black 4, Red 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

The Tribal Cavalry Units finally moved forward to engage the Zubian column’s flank, and whilst the battle continued elsewhere – without much effect – there were a series of close combats between the Tribal Cavalry Units and the Zubian Machine Gun Unit, as a result of which both sides sustained casualties.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 4, Black 3, Red 3, Black 3, Black 2, Black 2, Red 2, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

Circumstances and chance seemed to favour the Zubians who, despite the loss of their Machine Gun Unit …

… managed to advance and pour a deadly volley of rifle fire into the line of Tribal Infantry Units.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 4, Red 2, Red 4, Black 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

As so often happens, things now swung in favour of the other side, and the Tribal forces were able to charge forward and engage the Zubian troops in a number of close combats. As a result the casualties on both sides began to mount. (The Zubians had lost 8 of their initial total Strength Value of 26 and the Tribal forces had lost 16 from their initial total Strength Value of 39.)

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 3, Black 3, Black 3, Black 3, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

The course of the battle moved towards its climax. The Zubians lost their Field Artillery Unit …

… but in achieving this minor victory the Tribal forces reached and passed their Exhaustion Point.

The Zubians were able to exploit this, and inflicted further casualties on the Tribal forces.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 2, Black 3, Black 3, Red 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

At this point it was obvious that the Tribal forces were beaten, but that the Zubians were only a hairsbreadth away from reaching their Exhaustion Point. As a result, both sides fell back to lick their wounds. The Tribal forces did so in the knowledge that the dreaded tax collectors had not been able to enforce their demands, and the Zubians were well aware that although they may have won the battle, they had not achieved their main objective.

Lessons learntAs expected, the rules work fairly well and produced a fun battle that did not take too long to fight. The combat results were reasonable, and the Unit Activation Cards ensured that there was a degree of uncertainty as to what was going to happen as events unfolded.

I think that the clear casualty markers (they are plastic Roman Blind rings) are less intrusive that the normal white ones, and make it very easy to keep a tally of the Units that have suffered casualties. I do need to have a better method of recording each side’s overall losses, and I am thinking about buying a cheap cribbage board to fulfil that function.

One aspect of the rules that I think does require a minor change relates to flank and rear attacks. At present the tactical advantage this should give to an attacker is not factored into the rules, but it would be fairly simple to do so. I have therefore made a note of this and will make the necessary changes to the next draft of the rules.

The attack on Atmara

This battle was fought as the second play-test of the existing draft of my MEMOIR OF BATTLE (MOB) rules. Although there has been considerable discussion between myself, David Crook, and Kaptain Kobold about certain developments and improvements that the rules could incorporate, I planned this second play-test before the discussions began, and want to keep to my original intention of testing the extant rules with at least two play-tests. I suspected that doing this would confirm that some of the developments and improvements were necessary and it would help prepare me to make the required changes.

As a result of the massacre of Bimbashi Bumble’s Punitive Expeditionary Force there was a general upsurge of discontent and violence in Southern Zubia, particularly along the border with Sadun. The Khedive seemed unable to respond, and as a result the commander of the Zubian Army sent one of his best young officers – Miralai Ahmed Kurti – to the nearest provincial capital – Atmara – to ensure that it was properly fortified and able to resist an attack. The commander also sent a consignment of new magazine rifles to arm the town’s garrison.

The garrison comprised:

  • Four Infantry Battalions
  • An Artillery Battery
  • A Machine Gun Battery

(N.B. Each of the units that made up the garrison had supernumerary figures that were included so that they could be removed to show casualties. It also allowed the units to fit into the Hexon II trenches, which would otherwise have been impossible. The garrison’s Exhaustion Point was 11.)

This proved to be a very sensible course of action and when Miralai Kurti arrived in Atmara he found it to be almost devoid of proper fortifications. Within days he had ensured that the town’s defences were repaired and improved, and that the garrison were trained how to use their new rifles and were ready to resist an attack.

The attack was not long in coming.

Turn 1

Atmara’s defences.

A large Native army advanced out of the desert to attack Atmara. Thanks to the successful destruction of Bimbashi Bumble’s Punitive Expeditionary Force, the numbers of insurgents had greatly increased, and besides Infantry (two bands of rifle-armed Native Infantry and six bands of spear-armed Native Infantry) and Cavalry (two bands each of Native Cavalry and Camelry), it now had a battery of ancient smooth-bore field guns. (N.B. The Native army’s Exhaustion Pint was 23.)

The Native army on the march.

Turn 2
The Native army’s advance brought them within range of the Zubian Field Artillery …

… who selected as their target a leading band of spear-armed Native Infantry …

… who suffered 25% casualties from the effects of the artillery shells that were fired at them.

The Zubian Machine Gun battery then joined in, and fired at another band of spear-armed Native Infantry …

… whom they almost wiped out!

Turn 3
Before the Native Army could move, the Zubian Field Artillery was able to fire at them for a second time at its previous target …

… and inflicted a further 50% casualties upon it!

As the Natives had the initiative, they surged forward undaunted by the casualties they had already suffered.

The Cavalry and Camelry advanced unhindered towards the flanks of Atmara’s defences whilst the much-depleted band of spear-armed Native Infantry assaulted the position held by the Zubian Machine Gun Battery. Their attack was unsuccessful …

… as was a second that was conducted by another band of spear-armed Native Infantry …

… but a third assault did manage to inflict a casualty on the Zubian Machine Gun Battery.

An assault by the other much-depleted band of spear-armed Native Infantry of the Zubian trenches also proved futile …

… and the rifle fire from one of the two bands of rifle-armed Native Infantry cause no casualties on the entrenched Zubian Field Artillery Battery.

The Native Army closes upon the Zubian defences.

The Zubian Machine Gun Battery opened fire on the large band of spear-armed Native Infantry to its right …

… which it almost destroyed, the survivors falling back to avoid further casualties.

The Zubian Infantry Battalion in the trenches to the left of the Zubian Artillery Battery fired at one of the on-coming bands of Native Camelry …

… inflicting 66% casualties on them.

The Zubian Infantry Battalion in the trenches just behind the Zubian Machine Gun Battery fired at remains of the band of spear-armed Native Infantry in front of them …

… whom they wiped out.

On the right-hand side of Atmara’s defences, the Zubian Infantry Battalion stationed in the trenches fired at one of the advancing bands of Native Cavalry …

… whom the forced to retreat after suffering 33% losses.

(N.B. At this point it is worth noting that the Native army is already over halfway to reaching its Exhaustion Point.)

Turn 4
As the Zubian Artillery battery was the only Artillery Unit on the battlefield able to fire, it engaged the closest Native Unit, a band of rifle-armed Infantry …

… which it forced back out of single-shot rifle range after causing it 25% casualties.

At this point the battle could have gone either way, and whichever side had the initiative during this move might have been able to assure themselves of victory.

The D6 dice were thrown … and the Zubians gained the initiative!

They began to exploit their advantage by firing their Machine Gun Battery at the nearest full-strength band of Native Infantry …

… which it forced to withdraw after it had suffered 50% casualties.

The Zubian Infantry Regiment in the trenches to the left of the Zubian Field Artillery Battery engaged the sole remaining members of a nearby band of Native Camelry …

… which they destroyed with the rifle fire.

The Zubian Infantry Regiment in the trenches immediately behind the Zubian Machine Gun Battery then fired on the nearest band of spear-armed Native Infantry …

… who were forced to withdraw after almost being wiped out!

On the right-hand side of Atmara’s defences the Zubian Infantry Regiment positioned there chose as its target the nearby band of Native Cavalry …

… which fell back after suffering 33% casualties.

The Native army had now reached their Exhaustion Point, and were forced onto the defensive.

The situation on the battlefield at the point when the Native army reached its Exhaustion Point.

The Native army began to withdraw, suffering further casualties as they did so as a result of Artillery and Machine Gun fire. The uprising was suppressed – for the moment – and the Khedive could sit more easily on his throne … although the commander of the Zubian Army had shown that he might be a potent rival in the months and years to come.

As in the previous play-test, one side achieved a decisive victory at a very low cost to themselves in terms of casualties. The rules regarding the ability of troops in trenches to resist unsupported Infantry assaults worked very well, and the idea of using supernumerary figures seems to make perfect sense when space is limited.

Although neither side fielded Elite Units, I am now coming round to the view that the rules must be redrafted to include such Units deal with Poorer quality Units in a more workable way.

One thing did strike me during today’s play-test. When one is fielding quite large armies on a small tabletop, the move distances as they currently stand are a bit too long, and this is certainly something that I will need to look at again.

All-in-all this was a very enjoyable play-test, and I look forward to play-testing the next draft of the MEMOIR OF BATTLE (MOB) rules.

A Punitive Expedition

Having made a few minor changes to my MEMOIR OF BATTLE (MOB) rules, I decided to play-test the latest draft using a scenario that pitted a European-style colonial army against a larger Native irregular army.

A tax collector operating in Southern Zubia had been ambushed and killed, and his head returned to the Provincial Governor. The latter knew that the local situation was volatile, and asked that troops be sent from the north to ‘punish’ the tribes that had killed the Government Official.

The Khedive of Zubia had little option but to accede to this request as a refusal to do so would be regarded as a sign of weakness … and this might have given the Sultan of Fezia all the excuse he needed to remove the Khedive. A force was therefore assembled under the command of an ex-Captain of the Britannic Army, Bimbashi Hector Bumble.

Bumble’s ‘army’ comprised:

  • Four Infantry Battalions
  • A Cavalry Regiment
  • An Artillery Battery
  • A supply column

Despite being described in a local Zubian newspaper as being ‘probably the best military units in the service of the Khedive‘ (and as the ‘sweepings of the jails‘ in the foreign press) all of the units were poorly trained and under strength.

The journey south was uneventful, and despite fears that many of the soldiers would desert (something that was prevented by chaining the recruits together!), the newly-named Bumble Punitive Expeditionary Force was soon assembled in the capital of the Southern Province and ready to move against the rebellious natives who had killed the tax collector.

Turn 1
The Punitive Expedition marched unhindered across the desert towards the area where the tax collector had been killed. Locally recruited guides led the Expeditionary Force towards the village of Jebel-al-Kutallah, the supposed home of the natives responsible for the murder. The Expeditionary Force approached the village down a valley through a range of rugged hills that separated the village from the desert. Bimbashi Bumble ordered his Cavalry to scout ahead of the main body of the Punitive Expeditionary Force in order to ensure that no ambush had been set and that the advance would be unhindered.

This proved to be a wise decision.

Bimbashi Bumble’s Punitive Expeditionary Force on the march.

The Punitive Expeditionary Force advances into the valley leading towards the village of Jebel-al-Kutallah.

Turn 2
The Cavalry moved ahead of the main body of the Punitive Expeditionary Force. The latter’s advance was slowed by the restricted speed of the Artillery and the need to keep the Force together.

The Cavalry scouts ahead of the main body of Bimbashi Bumble’s Punitive Expeditionary Force.

Turn 3
The Cavalry continued to scout up the valley, and the rest of the Punitive Expeditionary Force followed behind as fast as it could.

The Cavalry begin to scout the head of the valley.

At this point, the trap was sprung! A group of previously unseen band of Native Cavalry charged the Zubian Cavalry …

… who suffered casualties and retreated …

… but not far enough! A second band of Native Cavalry charged into the fleeing Zubians …

… who suffered even more casualties.

Whilst this was taking place at the head of the valley, the main body of the Punitive Expeditionary Force was attacked. A band of spear-armed Natives charged over a small hill that formed part of the valley wall …

… and into the leading Zubian Infantry Regiment on the left-hand side of the Punitive Expeditionary Force. The impetus of the Native Infantry charge caused the poor quality Zubian Infantry Regiment to collapse and they were wiped out to a man!

On the other side of the valley a band of rifle-armed Native Infantry emerged from a side valley and opened fire on the leading right-hand Zubian Infantry Regiment …

… causing it to lose one-third of its strength.

At this point Bimbashi Bumble’s Punitive Expeditionary Force had reached its Exhaustion Point, and was unable to take any further aggressive action … not that this was an option that the Bimbashi was contemplating as he saw his troops dying around him.

Turn 4
Everything now hinged on whether or not the Zubians would have the initiative this turn. The dice was cast … and they did not!

One of the bands of Native Cavalry pursued the remnants of the retreating Zubian Cavalry Regiment …

… and cut them to pieces!

The other band of Native Cavalry charged down the valley and engaged the under-strength Zubian Artillery Battery …

… which they wiped out!

The band of spear-armed Native Infantry charged the second Zubian Infantry Regiment of the left of the Punitive Expeditionary Force …

… and totally destroyed it!

On the other side of the valley the band of rifle-armed Native Infantry fired at the rearmost Zubian Infantry Regiment on the right-hand side of the Punitive Expeditionary Force …

… and caused 33% casualties!

Two bands of Native Camelry now appeared at the head of the valley …

… and a further band of spear-armed Native Infantry joined the first band on the Punitive Expeditionary Force’s left flank.

The leading Zubian Infantry Regiment fired at the band of Native Cavalry that had destroyed the Zubian Artillery battery, and inflicted some telling casualties upon it.

The other Zubian Infantry Regiment deployed so that it could engage the nearby band of rifle-armed Native Infantry …

… upon which they inflicted 25% casualties.

Turn 5
The Zubians gained the initiative, and attempted to retreat back towards the desert.

Unfortunately they could not outrun their pursuers. The leading band of Native Cavalry attacked the Punitive Expeditionary Force’s supply column …

… and wiped it out.

The band of rifle-armed Native Infantry fired at the nearest retreating Zubian Infantry Regiment …

… and wiped it out.

The spear-armed band of Native Infantry caught up with Bimbashi Bumble and his headquarters …

… and slaughtered the Bimbashi and every single member of his staff!

The remaining Native troops advanced down the valley to engage what remained of the Punitive Expeditionary Force …

… who were wiped out before the end of the next turn.

Only a few survivors made it back to Zubian-controlled territory, and when their stories were published, there was rioting on the streets of Zubia’s capital. There were calls for the removal of the Khedive, and what was left of Zubia’s Army threatened to revolt unless their honour was restored.

Had the circumstances not made it irrelevant, the Exhaustion Point rule would have stopped Zubian aggressive action at a very early stage of the battle. The changes to the combat system that penalises Poorer quality units did have a major effect upon the ability of the Zubians to survive attacks … and it is possible that this might have made the whole thing a bit too one-sided. I certainly think that it needs further play-testing, especially in a battle where one or both sides field at least one Elite Unit.

Looking backwards to go forwards

I spent this morning – and a chunk of this afternoon – at my father’s house helping my brother to remove some items of furniture before the house clearers arrive. This meant that it was not until quite late in the afternoon before I was able to complete the transfer of my blog print-outs to their new storage folders. (Yes … I am that anally retentive … and yes, I do have printed copies of all my blog entries filed in date order!)

This has been a time consuming process … and not just because there are so many pages of A4 paper to file! I keep finding myself stopping quite frequently to read and review what I have been writing about since I started this blog. After a time one begins to notice certain themes that have reoccurred and developments that have taken place.

Most noticeable is the fact that almost from the beginning I was designing and fighting wargames that used some form of gridded playing surface. It is also noticeable that the rules that I have been writing seemed to have been becoming less and less complex, and that with the growth of simplicity has come greater enjoyment.

Another trend has been the increasing use of imagi-nations in my wargames. Over the past four years I have taken part in historically-based battles, but all of these have been organised by other people. Mine have been firmly placed in an imaginary world that is similar to our own … but not an exact replica. To date I have used the following imagi-nations in the wargames I have written about in my blog:

  • Morschauserland (and its colony, New Morschauserland): a quasi-Germanic country located somewhere in Central Europe.
  • Eastland: a country in Eastern Europe that resembles Soviet Russia during the Stalinist era.
  • Fezia: a country that bears a resemblance to Ottoman Turkey.
  • Laurania: Winston Churchill’s invention, it is located on the Mediterranean coast somewhere in Southern Europe.
  • Cordeguay: a South American country that has similarities with Chile and Peru.

In addition I have created several other imagi-nations – some of them a long time ago – that could be used in wargames:

  • Upsland: a Nordic country located somewhere in the Baltic area.
  • Opeland: similar to Upsland – its great rival – and also located in the Baltic region of Europe.
  • Zubia: an Arab country that has similarities with Egypt … and may, therefore, be a former vassal sate of Fezia.
  • Maldacia: Laurania’s neighbour and archrival in Southern Europe.

Finally, there are the imagi-nations that I have used – or been associated with – in my Colonial campaigns, both in the distant and more recent past. These include:

  • Madasahatta: an island in the Indian Ocean, it was the setting for Eric Knowles’ epic and long-running World War I Colonial campaign.
  • Dammallia: a British East African colony.
  • Mankanika: a German East African colony.
  • Marzibar: an island nation that bears a passing resemblance to Zanzibar.
  • Deutsches Sudan: a short-lived German colony on the Red Sea coast.
  • Chindia: a sort of amalgam of British Indian and Indo-China.
  • Gaziristan: China’s north western neighbour and home to a number of warring and very warlike tribes, in has similarities with Afghanistan.

As I wrote this list I realised that the imagi-world that I have been trying to create – on and off – for the past few months is already populated by a series of countries that I need to include. Furthermore, their locations were already roughly fixed, but as yet I had not taken that into account.

So keeping file copies of my blog entries does make sense … as long as I re-read them once in a while!

Zubia – A ‘forgotten’ imagi-nation rediscovered

Some time ago – before I started writing this blog – I began designing and developing a Matrix Game based around a European invasion of a North African country during the latter part of the 19th century. The intention was to use the Matrix Game to run the campaign, with the battles being fought out on the tabletop. It was designed like this to facilitate the involvement of a friend who had been posted overseas. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, the whole thing never got off the ground, and the whole thing was filed away on my computer.

This morning I decided to have a trawl through my computer files. I do this every so often, deleting files that are no longer needed and logically sorting files out into folders. It was whilst I was doing this that I came across the Zubia file. Besides a short briefing document about Zubia, there was a map of the country.

It is very obvious that Zubia is based upon Egypt, but the map is actually a map of a river delta in Lithuania …

… turned through 90-degrees, and then re-drawn.

Thus Zubia was born.

The briefing stated:

The history of Zubia can be traced back to the beginnings of recorded history and beyond. It is one of the earliest cradles of civilisation, and its people live in the shadows of many ancient monuments. However its era of importance as a major power has long gone, and it is now just a dusty, insignificance province of the Ottoman Empire … or is it?

Zubia occupies a potentially strategic position in northeast Africa. At present its current ruler – the Khedive of Zubia – is a middle-aged, fat, and indolent individual who lives in luxury whilst the peasants live in abject poverty. He is descended from an Albanian soldier who was made Khedive over one hundred years ago by a grateful Sultan (the Albanian had saved the Sultan’s life). The country could be rich – it has the potential to grow far more food crops than the population can eat – but the Khedive has done little to improve the lot of the population. Instead he taxes them hard and uses the money to buy fine wines for himself, French dresses for his numerous mistresses, and to build himself bigger and more lavish palaces.

The River Zub is Zubia. Without it the country would not exist. The river brings the silt that makes the land fertile. Its water is used to irrigate the fields. It also provides an easy means of movement from one end of the country to the other. Along the banks of the river everything is green; away for the river everything is desert.

The majority of people in Zubia are hard-working peasants who live in the villages and settlements that dot the fertile area along the edge of the River Zub. They tend their fields, grow their crops, and pay their taxes – often under duress. They are not generally a warlike people, but when roused they can be formidable opponents. Most towns are populated almost exclusively by urbanised Zubians, whereas a cosmopolitan mix of European traders and bankers, Turkish civil servants, Albanian army officers, Levantine businessmen, and Zubian servants forms the population of the capital city – Zubairo – as well the main towns of Secundria and Port Zub.

A few Zubians still follow the old ways and live nomadic lives. They move from one oasis to another as the seasons change, and they depend upon their herds of camels and goats to supply them with almost everything the need. They rarely visit the fertile area along the River Zub except to buy essential supplies and to trade camel or goatskins.

The army of Zubia is small but reasonably well equipped (see Note 1). Its recruits are ‘taken’ (see Note 2) from amongst the Zubian peasants and the officers are mostly second or third-generation Albanians and Turks, although a few Zubians have been promoted from the ranks.

The Zubian Army is composed of:

  • 1 Battalion of Guard Infantry
  • 3 Battalions of Infantry
  • 2 Battalions of Zouaves (Light Infantry)
  • 4 Batteries of Field Artillery

In time of crisis a levee en masse would raise further troops:

  • 3 Battalions of Irregular Infantry
  • 2 Batteries of Field Artillery

The Zubian Navy is small and virtually ineffective. Like the army, its recruits are also ‘volunteers’ (mainly from the coastal area and the River Zub’s delta) and the officers are mainly Turkish in origin.

The Zubian Navy is composed of:

  • 2 ‘Flatiron’ Gunboats – ‘Khedive’ and ‘Zubia’
  • 4 Batteries of Coastal Artillery

Note 1: The regular infantry are armed with Remington Rolling Block rifles and the field artillery is equipped with modern Krupp breech-loading cannon. Irregular troops are armed with Snider-Enfield Mark I & Mark II rifles and rifled muzzle-loading artillery.

Note 2: Service in the ranks of the Zubian Army is supposedly voluntary, but almost all recruits are press-ganged.

I am really pleased that I rediscovered this ‘lost’ imagi-nation.

If you are wondering where the name Zubia comes from, the origin of the name came about as a result of an incident during World War I. The Royal Navy had a class of destroyers named are various tribes, and two of these were called HMS Zulu and HMS Nubian. HMS Nubian hit a mine, which destroyed the ship’s forward section, off the Belgian coast on 27th October 1916. On 8th November 1916 HMS Zulu was hit by a torpedo off Dover, and lost her stern as a result.

Rather than repair both ships, the Royal Navy decided to join the two undamaged parts of the ships together, and the ‘new’ ship – HMS Zubian – was commissioned into service on 7th June 1917.