The Back of Beyond, Setting the East Ablaze, 28mm
Next month we’re playing a big weekend multi-player game, set in “The Back of Beyond”. This game was all about giving people a flavour of the rules, and trying out a few amendments. The brief was, each of the four players had a battalion-sized force of four companies – infantry or cavalry, or a mixture of the two. They could be backed up by a piece of armour of any kind, and a support weapon. For those without armour they were given the chance to deploy extra support weapons, including machine guns and field guns. It was a strange mix of nationalities. There were British, Italians and Germans on the table, led by Bill, Olivier and Jack respectively, as well as my Bolsheviks. With hindsight I might have interpreted the use of an armoured unit a bit literally, as I deployed the small armoured train “Red Victory”. It would prove to be a battlewinner.I suppose the excuse for all these nationalities being there was that the Italians and British were intervention forces, while Jack claimed his Germans were Latvians. What they were doing in one of “the Stans” eludes me, but I suppose we could claim they were former PoWs, a bit like the Czechs, Poles and Austrian prisoners who found themselves roped into the war. Or, they might just have been Latvians who got on the wrong train. In any case, this four-cornered contest involved the four factions appearing from the four corners of the table. We rolled to see who could choose which corner, and if we say north is at the top of the picture below, then the Germans appeared from the north-west, the British from the north-east, the Italians from the south-east and my Bolsheviks from the south-west. I got to choose last, which meant there was a 75% chance I couldn’t use my train, as we had to deploy within 12″ of our corner. Fortunately the other guys opted for the three corners without a railway line emerging from it.Our biggest change to the rules “as written” was that we changed the way units activate. In the rules, a pack of cards in used, with the name of each unit on it. When its card is turned the unit is activated, and can move, fire or melee. To speed things up we used a plain pack of cards. Each of the our players chose a suite – for instance mine were “Hearts” – and when your suite came up you could move a unit of your choice. The only limit was that they could only be activated once a turn, so once all your units had gone you had to sit idly by while the other players moved their remaining units on the turn of their suite. We also introduced a bit of friction by inserting two jokers. When the first was turned it served as a warning. When the second joker appeared the turn ended, regardless of whether all your units have gone or not. The pack was then reshuffled, and we started over again. As a system it works well, and makes for a much faster game than the “as written” version, especially for multi-player games.So, when the game started all four factions headed towards the town. Naturally I led the advance with my train, my cavalry and my support weapon – a tschanka (a cart with a machine gun on it). The Germans had the problem of crossing a big wadi, but managed to find a crossing place for their truck-towed field gun. They had a sniper too, and a heavy machine gun, and soon the sniper was ensconced in the eastern end of the Wadi, sniping at the advancing British. They were moving cautiously, deploying their field gun and machine gun to cover the advance by two companies towards the northern fringes of the town. The other two infantry companies screened the Italians and the Germans respectively. The Italians got off to a good start too, a Lancia armoured car spearheading their advance.That is where the game turned into a bloodbath. My train could move in increments of 6″ a turn, gathering speed or slowing down in 6″ chunks. It clanked forward to the town, taking up position where the railway crosses a road, just south of where a “T” junction marks the centre of Zakhsy. It began shooting up the advancing Italians, supported by the tschanka, while my cavalry made a dash for the western edge of the town. The Italians kept advancing, but they started taking casualties. When their lead unit became suppressed I unleashed the Red cavalry, who charged out from behind the buildings and cut them down. This though was only the start. The train edged forward, its guns firing to either side. it was bristling with them – a field gun in front, a machine gun on either side of the gun wagon, and a rear wagon with two machine guns a side. It made it an early 20th century “Death Star”! It was fired at by the British field gun, by Italian and British machine guns and by the armoured car – all to no avail. Over the next couple of turns it effectively wiped out the whole Italian contingent, including the armoured car, and scored a bulls-eye against the British field gun. Effectively the game was over, as now only the Germans were in a position to capture the town, and they were too far away to intervene. So, the game was declared a Red victory – wholly thanks to the armoured train of the same name. Next time, for the sake of fairness, I might bring along a tank instead.