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The Hunt for El Niño, Sangria, Spain, 1808


The Napoleonic Wars, Sharp Practice, 28mm

The week between Christmas and New Year is known for the staging of “silly games”. This year was no exception. Jack Glanville and Derek Hodge (the Statler and Waldorf of Scottish wargaming) laid on this charmingly silly game set in the Peninsular War. The Spanish town of Sangria was held by the French, and the British decided to take it away from them. So, a British force attacked the town from two sides – a small frontal attack by a company of the Black Watch was meant to distract the defenders, while the main assault would go in from the undefended side of the town, Simple. What could possibly go wrong?The answer, of course, is quite a lot actually. Not only was the British attack uncoordinated, but the Black Watch were outnumbered, attacking a fortified town wall, and led by an eccentric Highland officer called Lady Colin. Their assault was launched with great spirit, and against the odds they broke through the town gate. That though, was their high water mark. Lady Colin was wounded just in front of the wall, and his men fought valiantly, but there simply weren’t enough of them.The highlanders managed to collect twice as many “shock” markers as they had people left, and so they fled the field, leaving their gallant leader behind. He was duly captured by the French garrison. Actually, it turns out they weren’t French at all – they were Polish troops, led by a certain Captain Zynda.My role in all this wasn’t to participate on the Franco-Polish side, or the British one. Oh no. My “character” was none other than El Niño, Spanish guerrilla leader extraordinaire, and a legend in his own imagination. The trouble was, El Niño was tied to a chair in the upper rooms of the El Gato Gordo Tavern, where he was about to be interrogated by the fiendish French spymaster and guerrilla-hunter Duclos-Lasalle. Then fortune intervened – in the shape of a run of “Grasp the Nettle” cards (or their Iberian equivalent). Armed with them, El Niño was able to cut his way free of his bonds, thanks to the specially-serrated heel of his left boot.When Duclos-Lasalle entered the room the Spaniard struck, pouncing on the spymaster and trying to club him with the chair. In the struggle that followed Duclos-Lasalle was badly injured (two of his three “lives” were lost), and he fled the room, rather than face death at the hands of El Niño. The lower floor of the tavern was full of Polish light infantry, so escape that way wasn’t an option. So, as Sous Lieutenant Le Pieu entered the room, El Niño leapt out of the window. that wasn’t such a good move though – he landed badly (or rather I rolled poorly), and he spent two turns lying there, cursing his two twisted ankles.Fortune though, still favoured him. While all this was going on two companies of the 28th Inniskillens had entered the town from its far side, and were advancing through the streets. Sierzant Paczeck guarded that side of the town with a section of Polish infantry. They blazed away at the Irishmen, and drove one body of them back. Their officer – a Subaltern called St. John Smiff – fled with them, but fortunately his sergeant was made of sterner stuff.Ignoring two sections who went in search of Spanish women, Sergeant Guinness led a section of Irish light company troops down the street towards the tavern, followed by a small party of Spanish guerrillas. The plucky Le Peu charged at them with his voltigueurs, but the French light infantry were driven back by the Irishmen – who proved better in a scrap. Seizing the moment, the band of six guerrillas raced to El Niño’s side. They carried him up the street, bundled him into an ox cart, and the guerrilla leader was whisked off the table.Another Polish hero – Porucznik Pierogi (who bizarrely was commanding Swiss troops) chased after the Inniskillings, who were now falling back. A firefight ensued, where Pierogi was badly wounded – possibly mortally – and the withdrawal continued. That pretty much ended the game. Who won? Well, not the British, who didn’t capture the town. The Poles still held it, but Duclos-Lasalle was a definite loser. No, the real hero of the game – dare I say it – was the redoubtable El Niño, who’s legend continues to grow with the telling.

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