Queen Victoria’s Little Wars, Muskets & Tomahawks, 28mm
This game was going to be a little different. Bill and I are planning scenarios for an Indian Mutiny weekend, and the idea is to use a slightly adapted version of Muskets & Tomahawks. Bill has come up with all the amendments- all we need to do now is to tweak them , and to make sure the scenarios are both balanced and fun to play. This is one of them – an attack on a hilltop stronghold. In the Mutiny game this is going to be a bandit’s lair, but for this evening we set the game a few decades later, and moved it to the North West Frontier. Michael played the British, while I took on the role of Painthar Khan, a Pathan chieftain. The 6×4 foot table was dominated by my Pathan Hill Fort, a really nice bespoke piece of terrain from the Colonial Steamboat Company. It isn’t shown off at its best here – I had a smudge on my camera lens, so all the shots have a blurry spot in them. Still, you’ll get the idea. The fort sat on its own little crag which dominated one side of the table. In this game I called it Painthar kee maand – the Panther’s Lair. On the other side was a Pathan village, while the rest of the table was open apart from a few pine woods and small hills on the opposite long table edge. This is where the British would come on. In the fort were two units of Pathan tribesmen (both of eight men) and a unit of 12 Afghan mercenaries, together with Painthar Khan himself. Another three units of Pathans lurked in the village, together with a Pathan sub-chief. The British could come on anywhere on the long table edge, and Michael’s force was made up of a unit of 12 Highlanders, another of 12 Sikhs, one of 12 Gurkhas, a mountain gun and crew, and two officers, Captain Plumduff and Lieutenant Silibub. While his troops were of much better quality than mine, he had a tough task to accomplish – the capture of the Khan.
Michael had two main options. One was to go hell for leather at the fort, in the hope he could reach it before the Pathans in the village could launch an effective counter-attack. The other one was to send his whole force against the village and overwhelm it. This might cost him a few casualties, but it meant his flank would be secure when he launched his main attack. We had deliberately set them over two feet apart – the range of a rifle. Michael opted for the village assault, and so the British appeared in force, directly opposite the settlement. Now, in Muskets & Tomahawks you can perform actions (move, shoot, reload etc.) when the appropriate troop type card is turned. The Highlanders and the British officers were activated by the British regulars card, the gun on the artillery one, and the Sikhs and Gurkhas on the turn of a Provincial card. We declared before the start that on the first turn all movement would be doubled – that certainly speeded up the action, and meant the British were at the edge of the village really quickly.Street fighting is a messy business, and this was no exception. The Highlanders were forced to recoil thanks to casualties from the Pathans, and for a moment it looked like the attack would fail. Then the Sikhs traded fire with one unit of Pathans and forced a retire result on them, which meant they vacated their rooftop and withdrew deeper into the village. The Highlanders were up next, firing a volley that also drove off another unit of Pathans, and then charging the first unit up a lane between two buildings. The Pathans there were virtually wiped out – the two survivors took no more part in the game. Then it was the turn of the Gurkas. They had a tougher time of it. The fire that drove the Highlanders back had come from square whitewashed building on the edge of the village. The Gurkas stormed into the place, chopping down the tribesmen at the doorway and ground floor. The two sides fired through the open trapdoor for a bit, until a couple of brave Gurkhas clambered through it. One was killed, but the other survived the melee, and soon more Gurkhas joined him, and the Pathan survivors promptly surrendered. With the Pathan sub-chief and two survivors fleeing towards the fort, it was now time for the main event. Still, the village assault had cost Michael dearly. The Gurkhas were in surprisingly good shape, but both the Highlanders and the Sikhs were now down to half strength (six figures). This looked a pitifully small force to storm such an imposing-looking fortress! Undeterred, Michael raced across the intervening ground, taking a pretty ineffective long-range fire from the fort’s defenders as he advanced. The Sikhs bore the brunt of this harassing fire, so it was the Highlanders who won the race, and charged up the steps leading to the fort’s main gate. As they did so the British mountain gun opened fire, having unlimbered from its mules on the outskirts of the village. The first round missed completely, but the second struck the gate squarely, its blast coinciding with the explosion of the dynamite charge carried by the Highlanders. The doors blew off, and the remaining four Highlanders charged into the fort. One of them went down to a tulwar blow, but the others not only survived the melee thanks to some dreadful Pathan dice rolling, but they forced a flight result on the defending unit of Pathans. It high-tailed it out of the little gate at the back of the fort, conceding the courtyard to the Highlanders, who quickly took cover inside the ground-floor buildings. Up above them were two hostile units – the Afghan mercenaries on the ramparts and the tower, while a unit of Pathans defended the roof of the main residential block. that’s when it all changed in the turn of two cards. First, a “Provincial 2 actions” card allowed the Sikhs and Gurkas to pepper the tower, forcing a test on the Afghans. They had begun to clamber down into the courtyard, but this sent them back up the tower again. then came an “Artillery” card. The mountain gun lobbed a perfectly-aimed shrapnel round at the fort’s exposed rooftop, causing heavy casualties. Michael had rolled a “6” for his gunnery. This time the Pathans got a flight result, and with nowhere else to run this became a surrender instead. That ended the game, as Painthar Khan meekly surrendered to the Highlanders hiding in his basement, and So his Afghan mercenaries did the same. It was a great little game, which was on a knife-edge right until the end. It certainly looks like Bill’s rule amendments are on track, which in turn bodes well for the fort’s next outing a week on Saturday.