The Back of Beyond, Setting the East Ablaze, 28mm
This, strangely, was my last proper wargame before the lockdown. It was a get-together of the League of Gentlemen Wargamers, who meet up in Kirriemuir in north-eastern Scotland three times a year. This game will probably be our last until the end of the year. Anyway, it was a Back of Beyond extravaganza, with the Russian Civil War being fought from Riga to Vladivostok. Most of the fighting though, took place east of the Urals, in the wastes of Siberia and Mongolia. The Trans-Siberian railway ran like a thread across all of the tables, and so naturally it formed the centrepiece of the weekend’s campaigning. For my part I was stuck in the far east of Siberia, commanding the Soviet Far East Republic, based in Khabarovsk in eastern Siberia. On one side of me were the Chinese around Harbin, and the interventionist Japanese at Vladivostok. Beyond them, further up the line, was Mongolia, ruled by the Mad Baron – a White commander – and his Tibetan allies. Even further away were other Red and White forces, as well as locals and interventionists. All in all there were a dozen factions and players, and yards of tabletop. I knew I was in a tricky position. As guest to the group Peter Roy with his Chinese was an unknown quantity, I knew Peter Nicholson and his Japanese would be trouble. So, I decided to get my retaliation in first. So, for most of the first day, Peter and I fought our own private little battle at the eastern end of the Trans-Siberian railway. In the west, with the Red player defending Moscow unable to attend, the Whites and interventionists cleaned up everything beyond the Caspian Sea. In Central Asia, the various factions fought and plotted. In our little corner though, it was all-out war! At one stage we even had boats to fight each other with. Colin Jack, who organised the weekend, had even concocted rules for this, and so Peter and I happily spent an hour fighting a naval duel. I’m happy to say though, that in the end the Japanese were defeated, and the shame of the Russo-Japanese War was avenged! Eventually though, we decided to kiss and make up. After all, w’d reached a bloody stalemate, and we were eager to seek our fun somewhere else. So, with this unholy alliance in place, and a deal cemented with the Chinese warlord, we jointly set off to invade Mongolia! During all this, the Mad Baron (Charles Grant) and his Tibetan allies (led by his son Charlie Grant) had carved out an empire which ran from the Gobi Desert to the Himalayas, and Kashgar to Harbin. Peter and I had great fun sparring with the Grants, especially when we found we could send troops by rail all the way to the heart of Central Asia. With our help the Chinese were able to hold on to Harbin, and even threatened the Baron’s stronghold in Chita. Our fun though, was had around Ulan-Bator, fighting Charlie’s Tibetans, and trying to nip this new Mongol Empire in the bud. Over to the west, the Whites and their allies were pressing on the Soviet stronghold of Samarkand, held by Dale Smith against all-comers. It really was all -comers too, as at one time I saw him fighting off attacks by the Whites, the Turks, the German Freikorps, the Czech Legion and the Bokharans! Still, Dale managed to hold his own, and the great Allied attack didn’t make a great deal of progress. The Whites had it pretty sweet, capturing Bokhara, and controlling most of the lands beyond the Caspian. So, to mess thigns up a little, Colin started introducing little spoilers. One of these was aircraft, which culminated in a mass dog fight contest, won eventually by Charles Grant. HE of course was immediately dubbed the Bloody Mad Baron.The craziest bit came from the archaeologists roaming the Himalayas. They uncovered dinosaur eggs, which duly hatched. Soon, we had dinosaurs fighting the Japanese, the Tibetans and the Afghans. Utterly crazy, but good fun nonetheless. While all this was taking place the influx of spies and counterspies, special personalities, Russian royalty and even things like poison gas shells all helped make things a little more chaotic. The dinosaurs though really might have been a step too far! By then the advance on Samarkhand was taken up by the Czech Legion. Spearheaded by an armoured train they talked their way past Dale, and then seized Alma-Ata, further down the line. Ultimately the Czechs were trying to get to Vladivostok to find a boat home, but that’s really as far as they got. They’re probably still there, stuck in a one-horse town in Central Asia.By then we were well into the second day of play – Sunday – after a boozy night – probably our last visit to the pub for several weeks. The Chinese were holding the Baron, while the Japanese and my Far Eastern Republic were achieving little more than indulgent entertainment in the Far East. Around Bokhara, with its blue minarets, the campaign had bogged down, and everyone was really too shot up to achieve very much. So, things were decidedly running out of steam.I had to leave a little early, to catch a ferry, so I did a deal with the Chinese, handed over my possessions and left, in return for control of Formosa. I packed up my two armies – Reds and Whites, and said my goodbyes. After I left I think they toted up the points and found Dale was the winner. I imagine the Grants came a close joint second. Still, this weekend was very much all about taking part.The main thing is, we ALL had a splendid time. I love the Back of Beyond – its one of my favourite “periods”. It has it all – colour, crazy armies, lots of cool tanks, planes and kit, and of course the chance to plot and scheme, and use poison gas against armed Tibetan monks. What’s not to like?!