Saturday, December 3, 2011

48. Death in the Desert

As I mentioned previously, I'm playing a game in honor of Inter-Galactic Solo Wargaming Day (IGSWgD).  I've kept it simple.  One squad of French Foreign Legion, assisted by a unit of Tirailleurs Algériens, is to make contact with a noted Professor/Archaeologist and escort him and his artifacts to safety.  The Arabs would like to stop that from happening.

I played this using the "Pith Helmet 2" rules by Don Bailey (although since all three games I've played using these rules involved the French Foreign Legion, maybe I should rename them "Kepi").

Pith Helmet 2 is written more from the perspective of gaming with British troops against their many enemies.  There are provisions for using German, Sikh, Gurkha, Japanese, U.S., Boer, Other European, and Egyptian troops; as well as Punjabis, Imperial Chinese, Native Levies, Zulu, Pathan, Boxer, Dervish and Other Natives.  So as you can see there is no real option for French Foreign Legion and Arabs/Berbers/Tauregs/other North Africans.  As I did in my previous games, I will use the FFL "as British."  To represent the Arabs, I decided on using them "as Native Levies."  I wavered between Native Levies and Pathans; I wanted to be able to see the determination of the Arabs but still show their general lack of organization (more a mob than a squad).  In the end, I opted for Native Levies, as their stats were, I felt, a good compromise between the two choices.  I was also leery of making them too tough for the FFL, since I was planning on taking 60 Arabs versus 30 Legionnaires (and allies).  I wanted a fighting chance for both sides, after all.

My table layout is shown in a previous post here.

Pre-Game Setup:
The situation is as follows:  a French Archaeologist, Professor Trouver, while attempting an unauthorized dig deep in the desert, has sent word that he needs rescuing from hostile locals.  He has "acquired" many valuable historical relics from an ancient ruin, but he fears for his safety in getting them out of the country.

In response, the local constabulary has requested aid from the French garrison.  The officer commanding has ordered a squad under an upwardly-yearning Lieutenant to extricate the errant Professor as quickly as possible, with as little fuss as possible.

The Arabs would like to stop them.

In game terms, the French must travel to the Objective area (the Ruins), make contact with the Professor, and escort him and his Bearers off the same table edge by which they entered.

The view from the Legion starting position.  At the far end of the table is the Archaeologist, behind the trees.
The Archaeologist--the famed Professor Trouver--and his Native helpers, ready with the historical relics he has stolen, er, liberated.
The French Foreign Legion (Légion Étrangère), led by Lt. Sylvère, assisted by Cpl. Favrel.
A unit of Tirailleurs Algériens, led by Cpl Cendrars, for added firepower.
A view from Prof. Trouver's position.
The same view, but with the Legion in focus, so you can see them.  That's a lot of open ground to cross.  Then again, it is the freaking desert.
Before I began the game, I wanted to build-in the element of suspense.  I originally diced for where the three Arab units would appear, then diced individually for which turn they would arrive.  However, I didn't like the perfect fore-knowledge this gave me; instead I wanted their arrival to be "imminent" but unpredicted.  I finally settled on a suitable compromise.

I decided to add the Turn number to a d6 roll.  On a 6+, all three Arab units would enter at the same time (I liked that better than them arriving piecemeal) at a d6-rolled table edge (divided into sectors, numbered 1 through 6).  I then arbitrarily determined to not allow the first three turns.  This pretty well guaranteed an arrival very quickly, but not so soon that the Legion couldn't at least get onto the table.

There are three units of Arabs, 18 men plus a leader and a sub-leader figure.  (As you can tell, my figures are built to conform to The Sword and The Flame, but I don't know how to use those rules solo.)  One unit is armed with Swords, one with Spears and one with Rifles.  Some of the figures (but not all) in the Swords and Spears units also have pistols.  This gives the units a ranged attack, of a sort.

Turn 1:
I knew the Arabs were out there, coming closer; I wanted to get the Lieutenant to the Professor as quickly as possible, take him under my wing, and get off the table.  I didn't know exactly how long before the Arabs would show up.  Luckily, my Action Points allowed me to move almost halfway onto the table.

Each turn I rolled a d100 for each Unit, compared that to their Initiative and came up with 2 to 4 Action Points.

Action Points:  FFL, 3.  Tir.Alg., 4.  Professor, 4.
Swords, Spears, Rifles:  Not on table, no roll, no AP.

I then drew a card from a shuffled deck of normal playing cards, to determine which units could act first.  This is divided into French (FFL+Tir.Alg.), Professor, and Arabs (all three units).

The Arabs scored highest, but were not on table so no move.  The Professor scored next but chose to pass.  The French were able to act with half of their units and use up to all AP.  Lt. Sylvère had the Legionnaires advance 3 AP worth of movement.  "Quick march, double time!"
Turn 1:  The Foreign Legion advance, in column, three moves worth (27 inches!).
There was no mêlée, and no Morale checks.

(I realize that it may seem odd to draw cards for units that are not on the table, but I like to stick to a certain amount of continuity.  It helps me keep my place if I get interrupted or confused, especially with stopping to take pictures.  If I always do the turn sequence the same way, then I never have to think about it.)

Turn 2:
Action Points:  FFL, 4.  Tir.Alg., 4.  Professor, 4.
Arabs:  Not on table, no AP.

Professor Trouver drew highest, but passed as he continued to wait.  The French drew next highest, 1 unit, up to all AP.  Lt. Sylvère ordered  Cpl. Cendrars to bring up his Tirailleurs Algériens three APs worth of movement, in order to keep them close to the Legionnaires; and then to reform them into Open formation.

Turn 2:  Not wanting to get too far from our support, I brought up the Tirailleurs Algériens.
Turn 2:  I then ordered the Tirailleurs Algériens to reform into Open formation.  I wanted them as a screening/scouting force.
There was no mêlée, and no Morale checks.

Turn 3:
Action Points:  FFL, 3.  Tir.Alg., 3.  Professor, 3.
Arabs:  Not on table, no AP.

The French drew first action, 1 unit, all AP.  Sylvère advanced the Legion squad 2 APs worth of moves, then, fearing the imminent arrival of unfriendly Natives, formed them into a Supported Firing Line.  The Professor passed; he is not going to come out to meet me, and risk losing sight of his precious artifacts.  The Arabs are not on table yet.

Turn 3:  I advance the Legion as far as possible.
Turn 3:  While I would have liked to move the Legion even closer to the Professor, my limited Action Points forced me to stop a little short.  I felt the more pressing need was to re-order into a Supported Firing Line; the dust clouds of the approaching Arab force were plainly visible in the near distance!
A view from the Legion's table entry edge.
Only twenty men, but a formidable firing line, with the glint of bayonets.
There was no mêlée, and no Morale checks.

Turn 4:
I rolled 1d6=2 + the turn number 4 = 6.  The Arab forces appear all at once, as early as possible!
Turn 4:  The Rifles arrive to the left of the line of retreat, behind sand and more sand.
The Spears appear to the right at the far corner of the table -- ready to block the line of retreat.
And finally, the Swords appear just to the extreme right flank of the Legion, as they face back the way they came.  They are the closest immediate threat.  "Allahu Ackbar!  Allie allie oxen free!"
An all-in-one view:  Rifles to the upper left, Spears to the upper right, Swords to the lower right; Tirailleurs Algériens in the center, the Legion at the bottem.
We are about to be well-and-truly engaged, and soon.  And the Lieutenant hasn't even made contact with the Professor yet!
A slightly better view of the tactical situation, and the relative distances involved, between the Tirailleurs Algériens, the Legion and the Swords.
I love to savor this moment of tension just before battle begins.

Action Points:  FFL, 2.  Tir.Alg., 2.  Professor, 4.
Swords, 3.  Spears, 3.  Rifles, 2.  (Oddly, out of six d100 rolls, I rolled an 89, 3 times!)

The carpet represents deep, sifting sand; or in game terms, Rough Terrain.  It affects LOS in that units can see into but not through it, and it can make movement slower.  The [poorly] sculpted sand dune functions exactly the same, and has the same Rough Terrain movement characteristic.  There are four such areas on the table.

The French drew first action again, 1 unit, 1 AP.  Whee.  Apparently the Lieutenant was taken by surprise by the sudden arrival of the enemy, and was unable to give coherent orders.  I detached the Lieutenant from the Legion, leaving it under the command of Cpl. Favrel.  I opted to not consider the Lt. "a unit."  He moved 1 AP worth, 9", toward the Professor.
Lt. Sylvère finally gets the Professor's attention.  "I'm here to rescue you.  I've got your R2 unit.  I'm here with Ben Kenobi!"  Wait, wrong rescue scene....
I then had the Tirailleurs Algériens move into the sand dunes.  In order to do so, I had to roll a 7 or less on a d10; I rolled a 4, so the Tir.Alg. successfully navigated the shifting sand.

The Tirailleurs Algériens advance into the Rough Terrain sand area.  Units can see into but not through Rough Terrain, so I judged that LOS was blocked until a unit is within 1" of the edge (to represent the hiding capability of the deep sand).  Therefore the Tirailleurs get closer than 10" to the Swords before being forced to stop, due to the fact that they did not have LOS until much closer.
Normally units must stop when within 10" of, and in LOS of, an enemy unit, forcing a Reaction check.  However, the Tirailleurs were in LOS-blocking terrain until within 1" of the edge, and that edge put them closer than 10", so the Reaction occurred at less-than 10".  No worries, it's all legal.

The Arab Swords react to the sudden appearance of an enemy by Firing! at them.  Only eleven model have pistols out of the twenty swordsmen, but they roll well enough to cause 1 potential casualty.  The Tirailleurs react to this poorly, firing at half their capability and then falling back.  Their shots miss, but they make their Rough Terrain roll and promptly fall back in good order 4".  (Any time a unit 'falls back' I left them facing the direction from which they came; if they 'retreat' then I faced them in the opposite direction.)
Turn 4:  The Tirailleurs are forced back, losing LOS.  The casualty would normally go "off-table" into the Rally Zone, but for simplicity's sake I just tipped them over this game; same result.
By falling back, the Tirailleurs broke LOS with the Swords.  The Swords reaction, then, was to Fire! but since they were unable to fire (owing to not seeing the Tirailleurs anymore) they advanced 1d10=3" towards the Legion.  They then spent a normal Action Point and advanced 9" towards the Legion.  This brought them to 10" from the French, prompting a Reaction.
The Arabs advance in Mob formation, ignoring the Tirailleurs.
A tactical view of the Swords and the Legionnaires.
The Legion reacts by not reacting, so no AP is spent.  The Caporal is cautious....

Meanwhile at the other end of the battlefield, the Arab Rifles advance 9" into sandy Rough Terrain.  They must roll a 7 or less on 1d10; they roll 10!  However, all Native troops may re-roll a failed terrain roll once; they then roll 3, and move into position.
The Rifles move into cover behind the sand dunes.  Are in they in range?
The Professor, feeling safe enough to venture out from his ruins, advances his Bearers in Open formation 9" to join up with the Legion, the Lieutenant at his side.
"Professeur, nous devons aller!"  "Eh, bien."  Finally, the Native pack bearers are under the protection of the Legion.  Now maybe we can get outta here.
There was no mêlée.  For the Morale Phase, I drew one card for the Tirailleur in the Rally Zone.  He would remain there, his survival undetermined.

Turn 5:
Action Points:  FFL, 4.  Tir.Alg., 3.  Professor, 4.
Swords, 4.  Spears, 2.  Rifles, 3. 
A lot is riding on the next draw of the cards.

Professor Trouver, while amenable to letting himself be "rescued," is nonetheless a bit bull-headed.  He doesn't completely see that he, an elder in society and a respected Académicien, should blithely follow some young pup's orders.  He has his own ideas about how best to get his historical relics to safety--after all, what could be more important than his unearthings?  (In game terms, I kept the Professor and his Natives as a separate card draw for Action Points.  He consistently, turn after turn, rolled extremely well for Action Points, indicating to me that he was a bit headstrong.)

The French won the card draw, with the ability to use one unit and all their AP.
The Swords threaten.
I judged the Swords to the most imminent threat and fired the Legion at them.  They caused 3 casualties, one of which was the "officer."
The Legion looses a volley.  Arabs fall.
The Swords reacted using their "NCO's" Coolness number, and did quite well, firing back and causing 2 casualties to the Legion.

The Legion, thoroughly unprepared for such stubborness, reacted poorly, firing at half their capability and falling back.  Their shots missed, and they fell back 1d10=8", right through the Native Bearers!  Even with an 80 out of 100 chance, sometimes you roll an 89.
The Arabs loose a volley, too.  Legionnaires fall.  And for some reason, they fall back, in good order, through the Native bearers.  "Je ne vais pas mourir à leur place!"
The Swords reacted to being shot at, and didn't like it much either, also firing at half their capability and falling back.  As the Legion was now out of pistol range, the Arabs simply fell back 1d10=1".  One whole inch.

I actually had to pause the game here, for quite a long time, while work called me away, except for a couple of days when I was sick and just didn't feel up to the book-keeping necessary to make a solo blog report.  It's given me plenty of time to mull over the situation, though, to be sure.  That "strategic withdrawal" by the Legion put a definite kink in my plans.  It was exquisitely delicious torture trying to decide what to do next.  This was a most unexpected development.  It just goes to show that even the best of troops can sometimes lose their nerve, and it will always be at the most inopportune moment!

It was still the Legion's turn, and they had 2 Action Points remaining...what to do?  You'll find out in the next write-up; this one is getting pretty long as it is.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it at least a little.

Here are some further "action shots" of the battlefield.

A better view of what the Rifles can see.
In this photo, it almost appears as if the Lieutenant is ordering the Native to lead the way!


  1. Nice report and minis and terrain and backstory and all!

  2. Great AAR & photos! MORE!!

  3. I'm enjoying this and look forward to the next installment of the battle.

    -- Jeff

  4. Good report. I find the explanations of the rules and your thought process very helpful. Looking forward to the next installment.