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Black Powder- Sudan

A try out of the Black Powder rules set in the Sudan using 15mm figures.

Although the Black powder rules are worth the money just to read and look at the pictures it's always nice to actually get to play something new as well. It was a cause for celebration therefore when my friend James announced he had amassed armies for the Sudan and wanted to try them out.

The proposed scenario was a fairly straight forward affair. I, as the British, had to capture the village in the centre of the table and, if possible, capture the wives of the Ansar leaders who were hiding there. My opponent Mark, playing the Mahdi, would attempt to stop me.

At the start I had to decide if I wanted to build a zariba barricade (I most certainly did) and if I wanted to deploy any units behind the Mahdists to try and prevent the women's escape. I chose to deploy the 21st Lancers and a Highland regiment as I was certain that the women would flee at the first opportunity. The women were due to begin their flight on turn six but, because of my choices, they could now begin to run on turn four.

Mark deployed his formidable host in two large groups with some cavalry reserve on a hill and a pair of guns in the centre. I faced off against him with by british on my left and my Egyptians on the right. I put my Maxims and Krupp in the front ranks and held an Egyptian unit in reserve just in case. I was frankly terrified of the Mahdist charge and expected my Egyptians to fold early even though they were facing the smaller enemy group. My plan for victory was to use my Lancers and Highlanders to take the village early and snatch victory before the Mahdists destroyed my main troops.

The opening positions are shown below.

Since I was the attacker I opened proceedings by sending the Highlanders to attack the cavalry on the hill in the rear. I didn't want them racing after the Lancers. As it happened the Lancers refused to move but I did disorder the enemy and made some of the cavalry move off the hill. I opened fire on the rest of the Mahdists with my field gun and Maxims. They were outside rifle range.

This is where the first interesting game mechanic appeared. Maxim guns fire (hitting on a 4-6) until they miss twice. My first gun missed twice straight away, probably jammed by sand, but my second inflicted eight hits on an enemy group cutting it to pieces. First blood to me and a cheer from the Naval brigade.

Then the Mahdists surged forward.

Unhampered by the rough ground it wasn't long before the fanatical savages were on me. One group was destroyed by more Maxim gun fire but the rest charged home in the face of some very ineffectual rifle fire. The British, being steady chaps, stood their ground unphased.

The second interesting game mechanic came into play here. Charging mahdists are fanatics so they hit quite easily (the zariba countered this at least) and, on the first turn of combat after a charge, they re-roll misses. My poor bloody infantry took a real hammering and only some good saving rolls and steely nerves prevented an immediate rout.

On my other flank I feared for my not-so-steady Egyptians. However, against the odds, they held firm and even forced one group of Mahdists back. Their initial fire had been soaked up by the enemy skirmishers and they ended up with a real fight on their hands.

Behind the enemy my Lancers were still refusing to move and my hopes of snatching an easy, early victory were fading.

My Egyptians not breaking had given me the chance to deploy my reserve and steady fire began to have an effect. The enemy regrouped and charged again but with the same lack of success. Despite most of the Egyptians being shaken and suffering casualties they refused to run.

My Lancers finally decided to move and swept into the village to capture the women. My Highlanders wouldn't follow them though and the village remained uncaptured.

The Egyptians finally saw off their enemy forcing the Mahdists to break and run. The Egyptian officers set about fortifying their men for the advance to the objective.

The Highlanders, seemingly resolute in their decision to avoid moving, continued to fire and disrupt the enemy cavalry on the hill.

On my left flank things were looking dicey. Two British units broke and ran, a Maxim gun was destroyed and the Mahdists were over the zariba. Heavy fire from the remaining infantry prevented an immediate surge forward and the small Naval Brigade contingent sent the enemy they were fighting packing.

My Lancers swooped down to engulf the fleeing natives.

Brushing their first opponents aside the Lancers crashed into the rear of the enemy at the zariba and destroyed another unit. The rest lost heart, so close to victory, and fled.

Victory was mine but it hadn't been easy.

The game lasted four and a half turns and took about two and a half hours to play. Things moved around at a decent pace. Stuff happened and a result was achieved in good time. The forces behaved as one would expect for their troop types and the command roll mechanics ensured nobody was ever in complete control.

The resulting game was tense, exciting ( relatively speaking for a game of toy soldiers) and fun. I think we all agreed it was a success.

Mark's thoughts.

This was a first run for both Paul and myself using Black Powder, but under James’ expert tutelage it all zipped along very well.  I confess that much of time I had no idea why I was rolling dice but it all made a strange sort of sense.  The game moved along at a good pace with a ‘clean’ feeling – no host of sub-routines clogging up the works and slowing the game.  Lots to engage the attention at all stages, and as Paul says, actual edge-of-the-seat feelings in a game of toy soldiers.  Indeed, Paul showed rather more excitement than is seemly for English Gentlemen of a Certain Age.  As the wild eyed fanatic I could get away with this sort of thing more easily.

For the game itself, we decided to leave the mounted mob as a general reserve and to deal with any outflanking units.  ‘Turning round’ when these appeared turned out to be rather more difficult than anticipated, so this idea fell apart fairly quickly.  For the rest, we are the Dervish and were put on this Earth to charge fanatically.  So that’s what we did, and it almost worked.  Almost.  Anyway, whoever lost two British battalions is going to face an uncomfortable interview back at the War Office, unless the gentlemen of the Press can be persuaded to write instead about the huge achievements of the Khartoum Public Health Department in digging new drains.  Our bones bleaching in the sun will show our actions to have been honourable, if unsuccessful.

So, hats off to the Senior Service for showing everyone how it should be done, and many thanks to Paul and James for a very enjoyable afternoon.  Who knows, the room may get fixed up for gaming and we get to play again before too long.

James' thoughts.

A very entertaining game played as the author intended - between friends in a 'spirit of mutual empathy'. I might be exaggerating the empathy bit because there was the occasional bit of sniggering, especially when the British massed volley at the screaming hordes of Dervish probably killed more circling vultures than fanatical musselmen. In fact the British obviously thought they were playing tennis over a giant zariba shaped tennis net at times because some of their shots were frankly awful and there was a strong feeling amongst the audience (including Paul) that they could do much better (maybe next year...) I blame his motley collection of dice. Something not quite right about them. Fortunately the Egyptians fought much better and the Naval detachment, once again, showed the army how to do it. In fact their resistance saved the British Brigade from breaking towards the end.

As for the Dervish, they attacked with fanatical vigour and their refusal to post units facing to the rear despite strong rumours of a British presence was very much in keeping with the times. Their firing was utterly ineffectual as was to be expected but Mark's sense of achievement when he crossed the zariba was very clear - something akin to breaking a square (cue poem).

As umpire there wasn't much for me to do except look up the odd rule or two and eat the digestive biscuits provided by our excellent host who cleared up his gaming room for its first wargame in a number of years. We made a few errors with the rules as Paul and Mark were the two virgins and I have only played a couple of Black Powder, but it's nothing a mug of cocoa and a bit of late night reading wont put right.

"Picture yourself in a boat on a river" - The Beatles