The Back of Beyond, Setting the East Ablaze!, 28mm
We can’t go too long without staging a Back of Beyond game. They’re just such good fun. This week’s one was set on the road between Samarkand and Bokhara, where a Muslim League blocking force was trying to delay the Red Army’s drive westwards. The game was played on an 8×6 foot table, with the Muslims at one end and the Bolsheviks at the other.Running the length of the table was “The Golden Road” (which didn’t really live up to its name), and the equally grandly-titled Trans-Caspian Railway – even though it only had a single track. Along one table edge was an arm of the Zeravshan River, which was fordable in a couple of places. On the Muslim half of the table lay a sprawling sun-baked shitty-looking village – all stinking goat pens and peeling adobe walls.In this game, Campbell played the part of the Emir of Bokhara, aided by Tim as his Turkish adviser and Michael as his Basmachi tribal ally. Bill and I played the commanders of the Red Army. Both sides had similar numbers of troops – 7-8 infantry units, 3-4 cavalry ones and 4-5 support weapons (machine guns and field guns), but the troop quality varied.All units were 10 figures strong, although the two Basmachi cavalry units came in dozens. The Muslim League force included a small Turkish expeditionary force, there to bolster their Bokharan allies. The Reds though, had three things the enemy didn’t have – an armoured car, and armoured train, and an off-table flanking march…The game began with the Red Army advancing up the table. We were using the 2nd Edition of the rules, and we hadn’t all read them yet, so there was a lot of rules-book flicking, and peering at the playsheets. There are a few subtle differences from the last edition – most notably artillery is quite a bit more effective, while light machine guns aren’t nearly so good. Anyway, the first few turns followed the same pattern – a ponderous Red advance, and some long-range firing from the Muslim side of the table. Then, things started to heat up. First, Michael got a little bored with his Basmachis, and launched them in a charge. Actually, this was part of “the big plan” – a Napoleonic-style mass cavalry attack down the centre of the table. Unfortunately it never came off – instead the cavalry went in in “penny packets”. It started well though. Despite being halted by rifle fire the leading Basmachi unit rallied, then charged home, routing a unit of Red infantry. It was an impressive feat – these were good-quality troops – but the tribal cavalry paid a hefty price, as they were promptly mown down by Bill’s sailors, waiting in reserve. The second Basmachi unit took a few casualties, and retired to the back of the village, and didn’t emerge again for the rest of the game. Next, the Red Army’s flanking column appeared on the far bank of the Zeravshan – three cavalry units, a field gun and a tschanka. Their immediate opponents were the Turks – they had two infantry units, a field gun and a machine gun on the far bank of the river. The Turks scored the first kill though, destroying the tschanka with a direct hit from the Turkish field gun. The leading Red Cavalry unit splashed over the eastern ford and charged an outpost of Bokharan militia, holed up in a dilapidated goat pen. The militia were spared being ridden down by the fact that the goat pen – while not classed as cover – at least wasn’t classed as open ground either. That helped. Still, they lost the melee, which went on to a second round. This time the Bokharans were cut down to a man. If you look at the picture above you’ll notice the Turkish cavalry in the background, advancing up “The Golden Road”. This was Tim’s big moment. He launched them in a charge at the Red infantry, but his charge move left him short of the Red sailors. He was promptly cut down by rifle and machine gun fire.The fourth and last Muslim cavalry unit – the Bokharan Guard “Cossacks” – wisely stayed behind the cover of the village. The Red advance was painfully slow though – while these suicidal cavalry charges hadn’t really worked, at least they’d delayed Bill’s Bolshevik steamroller. Over on the banks of the Zeravshan my Red cavalry was also coming unstuck. While my first charge had seen off that unit of Bokharan militia, the Turks were now ensconced in a khat field, which counted as soft cover. They and the Turkish machine gun wiped out the victorious Red cavalry unit, which was still milling around the goat pen. Back at the western ford though, the Red field gun scored a hit on its Turkish opposite number, and destroyed it. That though, was pretty much where the game ended. it still had everything to play for, but as we just had a couple of hours to play this evening, we’d run out of time. The Red army’s advance was stultifyingly slow, but while the Muslims had delayed them, they hadn’t stopped the Reds. By now the armoured train and the armoured car were coming into play, dueling with the obsolete field gun the Bokharads deployed to block “The Golden Road”.My two remaining cavalry units were still in play, although one of them had been battered a little by the Bokharan artillery. Almost inevitably though, the Muslim League would have had to cede the field. In this game however, we declared the result a well-fought draw. These games are always lively, and great fun. I’ll look forward to the next outing of the Red Army of Tashkent, and their forthcoming adventures on the road to Bokhara.