Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Soldier's Companion Refresher - the Northwest Frontier

We played another Soldier's Companion refresher game this past Tuesday.  I had originally intended to field my new Martian artillery from Paroom miniatures in another canal-trotting scenario, but rumours of a large turnout caused me to switch to a Northwest Frontier scenario, of which I have figures aplenty.

(As it happened, it was a dismal, rainy winter's night, and half the attendees funked out through sickness or apathy.  Sickly apathetic swine...)

The scenario was set in 1863 and very loosely based on the events surrounding the Umbeyla Campaign. A British column has been damaged while traversing a supposedly friendly valley.  Two companies fall back to an abandoned mission station, dig in to await reinforcements, while the Pathans hold the high ground and take potshots at any man daft enough to put his head up.

It was something of a Colonial Gaming trope, the Besieged Outpost and all that, but I make no apologies as I had to come up with something overnight. Come to think of it, the Brits could have done with the addition of Jack Hawkins and Ulla Jacobsen figures, as the Meddling Civvies.

There were two 10-man companies of Highland Light Infantry, each in two detachments, defending the mission, and commanded by Mike (aka "Dr. Goldwyrm" due to an unfortunate resemblance to a stock James Bond villain). There were four 18-man Pathan war-bands - each armed half with melee weapons and half with rifled muskets, commanded by Tonri Khan. The Pathans hid their melee tribesmen in the brush at the base of each hill.


Umbeyla Mission

The first turn or two saw the two opponents sussing out how the shooting worked. Both sides were equipped with rifled muskets (being 1863, the British were still using the Enfield, proving you can teach an old dog a new trick, but can't make him drink, or something) but in SC the Pathans have a sharpshooter advantage, giving them a 50% increased range over the beleaguered Brits.  They could simply sit back and whittle the defenders down.

Not being much of a whittler, Tonri Khan decided to charge his sword-wielding Pathans in on the second turn, after causing one of the detachments to fail morale and become "checked".  Hmm...this should prove interesting, or at least amusing.

The Initial Pashtun Charge
Bursting out of cover, the screaming fanatics did catch the British defending player by surprise, but only slightly. The devilishly clever cove had hidden a five man detachment in one of the buildings, even I hadn't caught that.  As the Pathans were caught climbing the barricade, this surprise reserve dashed out of the building (using an optional "Reaction Half Move") and stood in the gap in open order.

Breaking In
Defending in open order against natives is never a good idea, unless they are attacking in open order, which these ones were. Due to the gap, the Pathans weren't able to bring their superior numbers against the defenders.  The attack was thrown back.

(We had a slight confusion as to where the Pathans withdrew to - they had been "pushed back" but couldn't reform within two inches of the Brits.  I decided to let them reform on the far side of the barricade, once they won initiative.)

On turn 3 the Relief Column arrived. Four companies of the 45th Sikhs, led by a company of Queen's Guides, accompanied by a mountain gun. Before they could move, the Pathan player stole the initiative by charging two more hidden units at the mission.

The Relief Column
Infantry defending a barricade get a +1 on their melee combat role. The HLI also had a +1 for quality superiority against the war-bands. Charging in open order gave the Pathans a morale disadvantage.  By the end of the turn, the attack had failed, and one of the half war-bands failed morale and broke. Meanwhile, the HLI who were defending the gap between buildings formed up and volley fired, sending the war-band that was inside the barricades back outside the barricades.

It's alright, lads! They're ours!

Tonri-Khan decided to pack it in, and I agreed with him. Colonel Goldwyrm was sending columns up into the hills to chivvy off any remaining firearm-wielding Pathans. and the elite Guides were going to tear up any Pathans that got too close.  We gave the day to the British.

Post-Game Thoughts

Rather than surround the British, the Pathans should have set up with two firearm units able to hit a single rooftop.  Instead, they deployed in a broad ring, which spread their sniping over the entire mission, and also left them vulnerable to the Relief Columns counter-attack. Having done that, the Pathan player could have relied upon firepower to cause the British to blink.

Pathans could have done with one more war-band to slow down the Relief Column, or at least make them work a bit for it.

The British player was dismayed by the lack of firepower the Crown's forces had at their disposal in 1863. The Enfield musket gave the HLI one shot per two men, and because they were scattered about the mission, could only put one or two dice (usually one) on the charging war-bands. It would have been better to form up and charge the hills with the bayonet, except that I had lumbered him with extra wounded at the start of the game.  Such is the life in the Queen's service.


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