The Back of Beyond, Setting the East Ablaze, 28mm
This week we were off to the backwoods of Lithuania for another Back of Beyond game. I know these games should really be set in Central Asia, but this time we felt like a change. Bart also wanted to field his Poles, so we duly moved our theatre of operations about 2,000 miles to the north-west, placing the game against the backdrop of the fight for independence by Poland and the Baltic States. It was set in early 1919, when the Poles were driving the Red Army back into Lithuania, and were threatening Wilna (now Vilnius). To capture it the Poles had to cross the River Vilnia, a tributary of the Niemen. That was where Vozyliuka came in.The little town was garrisoned by the Red Army, who turn were being besieged by the White Army. Peter commanded the garrison, while Dougie and Tim controlled the Whites (pictured above). The riverside town lay in the centre of an 8×6 foot table, while the river itself marked the northern table edge. Bart’s Poles (allies of the Whites) appeared from the south-east corner, while Donald’s British intervention force, there to help the Lithuanians, appeared from the western edge, next to the river. Not to be outdone the Reds sent two relief columns – a largely cavalry one led by Campbell which came on in the south-west corner, and Bill’s naval detachment, which appeared from the eastern edge, next to the river. So – seven players and me pretending to be the umpire. This was going to be interesting! Each of these seven factions had a force of 3-4 infantry units (each of 10 men), a machine gun and either a field gun, a tank or an armoured car. However, the Poles, the Red Army Cavalry column and the Whites had the option of replacing infantry with cavalry. Donald and Bill didn’t get a tank – they had a boat to play with instead. Bill’s Red Vilna was a small torpedo boat, while Donald had the use of the British patrol craft HMS Midgie. So, the stage was set for a Back of Beyond game with a twist. The garrison and the Whites began battling it out from the start. While Peter was outnumbered, he expected Campbell’s red Cavalry column to support him pretty quickly. He certainly needed help, as on turn 2 the White tank – an FT-17 – knocked out the Red garrison’s armoured car. So, when Campbell’s horsemen appeared they were met by a tank acting as a mobile pillbox, and massed rifle fire from the woods. Tim wasn’t playing a defensive battle though – he also threw in his reserve – a unit of White Cossacks. the cavalry clash was impressive, but the two sides effectively cancelled each other out. The reds largely prevailed, but they took such heavy casualties that they were a spent force. Over to the east of the town Bill’s naval infantry were advancing steadily towards Vozyliuka, supported by a unit of elite Siberian Rifles. On the river the Red Vilna puttered slowly downstream, its bow machine gun peppering the oncoming British gunboat. The Midgie though, carried a small bow gun, and thanks to some great die rolling Donald comprehensively won the gunnery duel. By the end of turn 4 the Red Vilna was a shattered wreck, beached by the eastern outskirts of the village. At least her skipper – the dashing female agent Helena Gilkristi managed to survive the loss of her craft, and made it safely ashore. That though, was only the start of Bill’s troubles. Bart had worked out that the only real threat to his Polish contingent came from Bill’s sailors. So, he deployed everything he had in a long firing line, and swept northwards through the trees towards the river. This of course meant that Bill had to turn and face him, which effectively stopped his drive to relieve the village. Besides, with the loss of the Red Vilna the riverbank could now be swept by the Midgie’s guns. Then things got even worse, thanks to the Polish Air Force. Bart’s secret weapon was a plane, which carried a couple of small bombs and its machine guns. He originally planned to bomb the Red Vilnius, but with it now a smoking hulk the planed banked over the town, and attacked targets of opportunity as they ran for cover. This included a strafing run on Peter’s garrison, and a bombing attack on Campbell’s surviving Red Cavalry tschanka (a machine gun on a horsedrawn cart). His job don,e the Polish pilot flew off the western table edge, waggling his lightly riddled wings. That marked the start of the battle’s climax. With both Bill and Campbell’s relief columns shot up or pinned down, the way was clear for an all-out Allied offensive. While all this fighting had been going on elsewhere, Dougie’s Whites and Donald’s British had a pretty quiet time of it. they came into play now, as both players launched their assault on Vozyliuka – the Brits from the west and the Whites from the south-east. No more pussy-footing around – it was now time to fix bayonets! In the east, Bill’s Siberian Rifles did what they could to harass the Whites, but they were already locked into their own firefight in the woods with the Poles, and thanks to his tank Bart was gaining the upper hand. Still, their fire caused a few casualties – but not enough to stop the White shock troops. The attackers drove into the town, and after a brief hand-to-hand struggle through the buildings they gained control of its south-eastern corner. Over on the western perimeter the British gained a foothold too, helped along by supporting fire from the Midgie, which had now positioned herself so her guns swept the town’s main street. That was it. Peter’s garrison had been shot up pretty badly by now, and he was down to two battered uinits and a machine gun. Clearly he was in no position to put up any more of a fight, so we called a halt to the game there, with the garrison surrendering to the British. All in all it was an excellent game, and great fun to play. One innovation (an idea stolen from Bolt action) is that rather than drawing cards to activate each unit, we gave each player was assigned a differently coloured set of dice. When one of their dice were pulled from a bag they got to activate a unit. To spice things up we also threw in two “Vodka Break” dice – when the second one came out the turn ended, and all the dice were stuck back in the bag, which was shaken ready for the next turn. This worked a treat, and as a result the game moved along at a cracking pace. We’ll certainly use that innovation again.