Monday, April 17, 2017

The Hunt for the Bey of Bassorah - A Portable War Game

After a lengthy wait, I finally got my copy of Bob Cordery's The Portable Wargame, arriving, oddly enough, on my birthday.  I sometimes wonder how 'they' arranged that.

Col Redfers Carmine and his flying column about to
embark on his expedition into Medifluvia.

To resist the invaders, the Bellicose Bey has assembled
this fine array. ESCI French Foreign Legion infantry,
HaT Mamluk cavalry, ESCI/scratch-built gun.

The book is a fine read, very accessible, with interesting ideas. Apart from the hex-board war games of Avalon Hill and Simpubs, and the games of Wizard's Quest and Shogun in which the board is divided into regions, I have had no past experience of gridded war games. An old friend did try, over 20 years ago, to transform DBM into a board game, but it didn't seem to work, for mine.  So I was having more or less new ground opened before me.  Possibly my one caveat is that for one of my eyesight the pictures could be a little crisper, but I'm not complaining very hard.

Of course I had to try out one of the scenarios on a square grid, namely, 'The Hunt for the Mahdi'. But as I don't have the armies for that scenario - not even approximately - I had to make certain adjustments.  It had to be armies of c.1880, of course, which is roughly - very roughly - the period of my 19th Century Ruberian (RED) and Azurian (BLUE) armies.  But Azuria being vaguely French didn't quite 'fit'.  

The field of battle, Tell El Woznaim, with the Bey's men
lurking behind hills, rises and clumps of palm trees.  Somewhere off the
top edge of the picture (i.e. to the east) , the Ruberian column is approaching 

Behold the Settee Empire of Turkowaz (TURQUOISE), still 'BLUE' you see, but ... a different BLUE. Ruberia, of course has long established itself as the ruling power of the Sangrian subcontinent (SANGRIA- a kind of RED), upon which Turkowaz has for as long cast covetous eyes.  A certain Omar Arslan, Bey of Bassorah, a remote province at the eastern fringes of Turkowaz, has in fact been conducting raids into the areas of which Ruberia has claimed suzerainty.  The Governor General of Sangria has placed an expeditionary force  - a flying column - under command of Colonel Redfers Carmine to set off into the Medifluvian country, find and capture the nefarious Bey of Bassorah, extract reparations, and to to raze his provincial palace.


Col Redfers Carmine advancing into the Medifluvian
desert.  ESCI infantry and cavalry; HaT Gatling gun,
ESCI artillery trail and wheels, with scratchbuilt gun.
Now, this, and more particularly the Bey's, armies are slightly different from 'the book', and comprise as follows:

Ruberian Expeditionary Force:  Col R. Carmine, commanding.

- 3 rifle-armed infantry units (3 @ 4SP each = 12 SP, rated Average)
- 1 machine-gun infantry unit (1 @ 2SP = 2 SP, rated Average)
- 1 cavalry unit (1 @ 3SP = 3 SP, rated Average)
- 1 rifled field artillery unit (1 @ 2SP = 2 SP, rated Average)
- 1 commander and HQ staff (1 @ 6SP = 6SP)
Total Strength points = 25 SP; Exhaustion point, 9 SP).
The trap about to be sprung...
Well served by an efficient spy network that extended far beyond his borders, the Bey was soon enough warned of the impending approach of the Ruberian column.  In view of the inferior quality of his own forces, and rather than subject his provincial seat to a siege, he bethought himself to take his chances in the open field - not in a stand-up fight, but in ambush.
As the Turkowazians come howling out of the desert,
the Ruberians form three sides of a square...

 Provincial Army of the Bey of Bassorah: Commanded by the Bey in person.

- 6 smoothbore musket-armed infantry units (6 @ 3SP = 18 SP, rated Poor*)
- 2 rifle-armed infantry units (2 @ 4SP = 8 SP rated Average)
- 2 Cavalry units (2 @ 3SP = 6 SP, rated Average)
- 1 smoothbore medium artillery (1 @ 2SP = 2 SP, rated Average)
- 1 commander, HQ, hangers on and camp followers (1 @ 6SP = 6SP)
Total Strength Points = 40 SP; Exhaustion point = 14 SP.

(* I really don't like using the expression 'poor' in this sort of context, but have no really good substitute.  Maybe I should call them locally raised levy or something such.  The 3 SP levy infantry was due to a mis-remembered reading of the rules.  It so happened it probably helped the game balance!)
Turkowazian sipahis get the early edge on the Ruberian
dragoons. The white SP dice would not fit the receptacles.
I'll carry on the narrative another time, but for now, I'll mention that I had to adapt the battlefield according to my available space.  The original was on a 12x12 grid, but mine was limited to 10 squares in width, and although longer, the kitchen table's round ends tended to knock the corners off a a bit more as well.  By dropping the southernmost two rows, however,  I managed to fit all the terrain features comfortably on the table.  Quite satisfactory.  

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Stonewall in the Valley 14 - No rest for Rebels.

As Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks trailed northward with his battered corps, the Confederates found they could not yet rest in the laurel so far won.  True, it was likely Shield's - now General Erastus Tyler's - command would probably put in an appearance in a day or so.  It the appearance at last of  the third Union player in the drama, Major-General Fremont Mountain Department Army that would force the weary Army of the Valley back onto the road.

As the fighting of the 23rd May drew to a close, word had arrived at Major-General Jackson's battle HQ that Fremont's army had entered Strasburg.  Although his first impulse was at once to turn on his heel and storm that place, it was clear that his army needed a short rest to gather in his wounded, stragglers and prisoners of war. At once sending off his wagons and ambulances, escorted by the remains of Ashby's cavalry to White Post thence to turn southwards toward Front Royal,

For his part, Major-General was in a quandary.  Occupying Strasburg cut just one of at least two roads south available to the Rebs.  Should he stay and hope Tyler cut the other at Front Royal? Should he attempt to hold both roads with his own force unaided?  Perhaps he should advance upon the Confederate rear.  That he could reach Middle town by nightfall made that an attractive option. So the Union commander resolved.

Of the three options, that last seemed so likely compared with the other two that I weighted them, with the last a 50-50 proposition.  I rolled a 5, which score would have settled upon the Middleton move even were to options unweighted!

Learning of this, General Jackson was of half a mind to follow his ambulances and wagons with his whole army, and to get himself behind the Shenandoah River before seeking battle once more.  The alternative was to strike Fremont at once, when he was but two hours' march distant.

Because the option chosen by Jackson would remain a mystery until tested by the Union, the whereabouts of his army would no be known until his army was about to enter Middletown, or was a mere hour's march west of White Post.  If that route had been the one taken we might have got a peculiar running action at Cedarville, the head of the Confederate column reaching the place a half-hour ahead of the Union.  But I might have guessed how it would be.

Stonewall Jackson's bellicosity undimmed by the the hectic five days just past, he sent his army straight southward.  The enemy had spent early daylight hours preparing dug in positions.  If the Confederates still enjoyed superior numbers, the difference was far less - almost insignificant - compared with what it would have been on the 19th.

To be continued -
NOTE:  The next couple of postings will be on different topics.  But we will get back to this story. I'm all agog myself whether the Army of the Shenandoah can pull off another victory - this time with an entirely fresh opponent.