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Shirani, Tochi Valley, 1897

Queen Victoria’s Little Wars, The Men Who Would Be Kings, 28mm

This week Bill Gilchrist and I tried out these new colonial rules from Osprey. In theory they’re a version of Lion Rampant, but after reading and playing them we found them a very different creature.  In The Men Who Would Be Kings there’s a much greater emphasis on leadership – a good leader can make or break the game – and as you’d imagine in a black powder era game the rules covering shooting contain a lot more range and subtlety than their Medieval counterparts. img_3556Our little game was set in the Tochi Valley in 1897, the scene of the first flare-up of the rising that consumed the North-West Frontier that year. In our game, a detachment from the garrison at Datta Khel had been ambushed by local Afridi tribesmen from the village of Shirani (or Sheranni), and so a punitive expedition was sent out to teach the tribesmen who was boss. Bill commanded this detachment of the Tochi Valley Force, while I commanded the local Afridis. This was a pretty small game, with two matched sides of 24 points apiece. The British (a term we use even though there were only two British officers on the table) fielded three units of 12 men – two of Sikhs and one of Gurkhas, supported by a four-man screw gun team. The Afridis had four 12 figure bands of irregular infantry, all with the “fieldcraft” upgrade, and a poorly-manned gun and crew. img_3558Being a punitive expedition, the British objective was to demolish as much of the village as they could in 12 turns. This seemed a tough prospect given they moved 6″ a turn, and it would take their infantry seven turns to reach the village, sited just past the midway point on a 6×4 foot table. However, the screw gun proved a secret weapon. Before we started we rolled for all of our unit leaders. Most were unremarkable, although the two British officers commanding the Sikhs were fairly inept.

img_3562The Sikh sergeant leading the screw gun team proved a “Hero of the Empire”, activating on a 4+ on a D12 – something that made him the best soldier on the table. By contrast, the guy leading my Afridis in the village was a “10+”, and the worst warrior in the province!  Another of my leaders was high on opium, making his leadership value vary from turn to turn,  but another was the son of the local khan, and so his unit got the “sharpshooter” upgrade for free. All good stuff at providing period flavour – and for dictating the course of the game.img_3560The three British regular infantry units entered on the short edge of the table and advanced steadily in three columns, their progress screened by some low foothills. For my part my Afridis seemed strangely reluctant to move. i started with just 12 points on the table – the rest were reinforcements, arriving from other nearby villages.  The first few turns therefore passed fairly uneventfully. Then the screw gun detachment reached its firing point on Bill’s left flank. its mules were unloaded, the gun assembled under the watchful eye of Havildar (Sergeant) Sing, and then it opened fire.img_3561The rest of the game saw its remorseless fire aimed at the village, destroying one building after another. If one of my units occupied a building it would be killed when the building collapsed, so the best cover on the table therefore became a death trap. Still, the Afridis fought back. Bill’s Gurkhas were the first into action, driving back the defenders lining the outskirts of the village with their fire. This interestingly actually saved them from the fire of the darned screw gun. The two Sikh detachments advanced on the Gurkhas left and right, but eventually the right-hand detachment came under fire from my “sharpshooters” led by the young Firuz Khan. The Afridis were eventually pinned and forced back by return fire, but once reinforcements arrived they rallied and crept back to their firing position – a wood-lined hill on the centre of the long edge of the table. img_3564This Sikh detachment found itself outnumbered, and although it fired away to good effect, it took casualties. Eventually it was forced back almost as far as the screw gun, but my Afridis were equally battered, and in no real shape to follow up. Over on the British left the other Sikh unit advanced on the village, supported by the Gurkhas, only to come under close-range fire from a hidden unit of Afridis. Four casualties in two turns saw it pull back to the cover of a nearby ridge, leaving the Gurkhas exposed in the open ground in front of the village. Only the fire of the screw gun saved them by pinning the enemy.img_3563Then the 12 turns came to an end. Havildar Sing’s gun had destroyed three buildings, garnering Bill 9 points. I got 4 points for having to buildings still standing, and I scored nothing for enemy casualties inflicted, as I hadn’t routed any of the four British units. So, the game was a clear British victory – won largely thanks to Havildar Sing and his screw gun. I actually had a gun myself – a pooly-crewed one – but its bad leader failed all but two activation tests, and it was still lumbering onto the table when the game ended. That pretty much illustrates the importance of leadership in this nice little set of rules. Oh for an Afridi answer to  Havildar Sing! We had a bit of a problem working out the way pin  and rally tests work – the rules were a little unclearly worded – but we got there in the end. All in all this was a very enjoyable game, and we liked the rules – a lot. We’ll certainly visit the North-West Frontier again – and Bill was speaking about trying them out with his Mahdists. In other words, The Men Who Would Be Kings appear to have legs!  img_3565


2 Responses “Shirani, Tochi Valley, 1897”

  1. Michael Schundler
    7th November 2016 at 6:19 am

    I experimented with giving each side a C-in-C, who can use his leadership with any unit he attaches to and change units as needed. Works pretty good, especially if a unit takes a hit and loses its leader.

    I also have tried expanding all movement and fire ranges by 50%, so that units can cover more distance. Alternatively, I could have set the game up so that units started closer together. But with a 6 foot wide table, if you have units enter the table edge, a little extra movement helps.

    • 7th November 2016 at 7:17 am

      I like the leader idea … largely ’cause I have figures for them already, and this period calls out for mustachioed colonels and black-bearded chieftains. The extra 50% is worth trying out too, especially if we use a larger table. Thanks for the ideas, old boy!

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