Friday, August 12, 2016

Peticus Autem A Fortuna

So, the Great Man is off to Britain on a punitive expedition. Padding his resume, more like! He’s away beating up on a gaggle of bare arsed  shepherds while I’m left behind with 3 legions to keep a lid on this nest of Gallic vipers. I should have been Governor and he should be marching around these cold, rainy forests instead of torturing the Plebeians with his gutter Latin exaggerations. Well, things are as they are, and the Belgic rebel Syntax will rue the day he crossed Peticus Autem A Fortuna!

And so it was that Peticus found himself staring across a hilly, forested field at the barbaric horde of Syntax of the Belgii. The Romans deployed Legio VII on their left, Legio VIII in the center and Legio IX on the right. The barbarians were arrayed with their warriors in the center and a large body of horse on either flank.

                                                       Initial Roman deployment
The broken terrain made it difficult for the Romans to keep their legions aligned, and a good part of Legio VII soon found itself surrounded and fighting for its life. They faced out in all directions and fought back manfully until at last the barbarian commanding in this part of the field decided to lead the charge to break them once and for all. He and his Companions rode their chargers into the midst of the desperate legionaries, and…….died.  The barbarians were taken aback by this turn of events and, just then the rest of Legio VII came up and immediately went into the attack. The barbarians on this wing broke and, aside from a few scattered bands, were swept from the field.

                                                    Legio VII awaits the word to advance 
                                      Advance elements of Legio VII attacked from all sides
                                                   Legio VII breaks the barbarian right
                                                        Barbarian right flees the field
On the Roman right Legio IX adopted a defensive posture to avoid their formation being broken up in the rough terrain. Their opponents did the same, being reluctant to meet the Romans on the level ground.

                                                      Legio IX on the right flank in a standoff

In the center the barbarian leader Syntax led his men in an all out frontal assault against Legio VIII, After desperate fighting , most of the Romans broke and ran, while remnants too proud to flee delayed the pursuit.

                            Peticus views the Barbarian onslaught in the center with concern
                       Syntax breaks the Roman Legio VIII in the center with a wild charge 
On the Roman left, the victorious Legio VII reformed and began marching toward the barbarian center. Seeing the crisis of the battle had arrived the Roman right and their barbarian opponents fell on each other. After a desperate struggle the Romans prevailed. Syntax, seeing both of his flanks  collapse, pressed his pursuit of the unlucky VIIIth and so left the stricken field, to fight again another day.
                                        After a confused melee Legio IX wins on the right

                               Legio VII reforms and moves to envelop the barbarian center



Sunday, August 7, 2016

A simple real estate transaction

This is Good E. Tewshooze reporting for the BBC on the conflict raging in the Middle African Republic. As our viewers will recall, the problem arose several months ago when the government of the country implemented policies seen as oppressive by an eccentric splinter group, the Moslems for Jesus (MFJ). That minority was in possession of the richest farmland in the country, and their leader, the Mahdi,  declared the independence of their region.

 The national army was in no condition to move on the breakaway region but the President of the MAR had another solution ready to hand. For some time he had been in negotiations with the HAWGs (Honorable Association of White Guys), a group of white South African farmers interested in resettling as a community in the MAR.  The President agreed to sign over the lands of the Moslem rebels to the HAWGs if the immigrants could capture the land from the current owners and live there as loyal citizens of the MAR.

"Mad Mike", Commandant of the HAWGs plans his campaign
 On arrival the HAWGs were issued what military equipment the government could spare; A pair of rusty M48 tanks,  an ancient DC3 transport plane, three Panhard armored cars with big guns, assorted jeeps and trucks and small arms. Within a few weeks the newcomers had this motley assortment of weapons in working condition and were ready to move. Their force was organized into 5 companies, Tanks, Panhards, Jeeps with MG, and two infantry. The DC3 was equipped with homemade high explosive barrel bombs.
The defenders of the northern hamlet prepare for action

The Mahdi knew of the government plan and he had not been idle. Those of his people with military training were organized into an infantry company with truck transport. The rest of the male population was organized into four militia companies of infantry, each supported by a technical with AA gun and another with a heavy machine gun.
The Mahdi commands his forces from the central hamlet

The stage was set, the U.N. talked and did nothing. The MAR was of no strategic interest to any of the Great Powers, and so the tragedy played out. At dawn on the 6th of August the HAWGs advance elements of Panhards and infantry moved into MFJ territory. This part of the valley was watered by a pair of rivers, very low at this season. Three hamlets and the MFJ training camp were the major points of interest. Three MFJ militia companies were stationed there, one in the northern hamlet, one in the hamlet in the center of the valley and one in the military camp in the south.
Fort Zinderneuf, the MFJ training camp

The Panhards started shelling the northern hamlet and soon, what sounded like a flying washing machine but was, in fact, the DC3, appeared overhead and dropped a barrel bomb on the defenders. This was all too much for the defenders who started falling back in some disorder toward the central hamlet.
The militia flees the northern hamlet

The HAWG tanks followed on, rolling down the road toward the northern hamlet. Our BBC news crew, determined to expose the use by the central government of these mercenaries, blocked the advancing Panhards and exposed the unit commander to a scathing interview. This allowed the retreating militia to escape, but sadly the unit disintegrated during the retreat and was out of the fight.
Courageous journalists, armed only with cameras confront the HAWGs

The trio of HAWG armed jeeps entered the fray to the East and passed through the eastern hamlet without opposition. At the same time the BBC news crew had moved onto the road between the advancing HAWG tanks and the northern hamlet and brought the tanks to a halt with another withering expose’. The Panhards on the left were slowed to a crawl as they found themselves in a mine field. For the rest of the battle they proceeded with great caution to avoid losing any vehicles.
Gratuitous wildlife

The HAWG armed jeeps crossed to the southern bank of the river and encountered MFJ Regulars and militia advancing from the East. A savage firefight ensued in which the HAWGs lost two of their three vehicles but caused so many casualties among the MFJ that they, as well as the HAWGs were rendered combat ineffective. One of the HAWG infantry units, led by Mad Mike, was able to cross the river in this part of the field and helped to see off the remnants of the two MFJ units that had engaged the jeeps.
Hawgs force the river crossing against heavy opposition

 The DC3 made a pass over the central hamlet where the Mahdi was posted and dropped a barrel bomb on the militia unit there. At the same time the Panhards had managed (in spite of the mine field) to get into position to open fire on the central village. The commander of the HAWG tanks had finally abruptly ended the BBC interference  with his mission and was advancing on the central hamlet.  All of this was too much for the garrison, which withdrew in disorder to the south, toward the military camp. The garrison of the camp began moving up the road toward the fighting. The last of the HAWG units occupied the northern hamlet. The Mahdi surveyed the wreckage of his army and decided to withdraw from the field to reorganize, rearm and fight another day.    
The stricken field


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Up the Great Gray Greasy Zambesi

Trouble in the interior.....again. The Arab slavers and their tribal allies, the uWanna have resumed raiding the peaceful tribes near our coaling station at the mouth of the Zambesi river. A small expedition upriver to burn a uWanna village and take some cattle should serve to restore order.
                     The Governor decided to punish the natives and would not be gainsaid!
So it was that Captain Poulet found himself disembarking from a decrepit paddle steamer deep in the territory of the fierce uWanna. He led his company of about 50 Marines, a handful of sailors from the boat and a gatling gun. Hauling the gatling might slow him down a bit but it would come in handy if he met resistance. The key would be to strike quickly and get out before the tribesmen had a chance to gather.
                      The heat! The insects! Let's get this over with and return to the coast.
The heat was oppressive as the small expedition made its way inland. They were not halfway to the target village when they spotted Arabs advancing on them in the distance. The slavers had their spies watching the coast and had decided to interfere. They must be hoping to link up with the uWanna warriors to oppose the incursion. Cursing his luck, Poulet directed his small column toward a position where he could see off the rabble of slavers armed with swords, spears and a few ancient muskets.
                                                    Damned slavers, how came they here?!
As the Marines jogged into position on the ground Poulet had chosen, he ran an eye over the site. Yes, this would do very well. A stream to his front would slow the attackers. To his right an impassable ravine, His left and rear were somewhat exposed but his Bluecoats would hold, come what may.
                                          A good position, clear field of fire. Let them come!
Just as he began directing his men into position, a Lieutenant called to Poulet and directed his attention off to his left. In the distance he could see a large number of uWanna warriors moving rapidly to envelop him and cut off his retreat to the river. This was starting to look like a proper battle! For just a moment Poulet remembered the stories of the terrible things done to the rare European who had the misfortune to fall into their hands. Shaking off the thought, he returned to the business of deploying his men.
                  The uWanna Chieftain known to the Europeans as 'Pete' makes his dispositions
Poulet had planned to form a line along the bank of the stream and direct all of his considerable firepower against the Arabs advancing slowly toward his front. The arrival of the fast moving, aggressive uWannas on the field had changed everything. Now he was cut off from the riverboat with enemies on three sides. He quickly changed his dispositions, setting his back to the ravine and positioning his rifles and gatling gun in a three sided "square". Everything now depended on the steadiness of his Marines and the awful stopping power of their breech loading rifles.
                                                                     Form Square!
The Marines had seen action before but they couldn't help but feel apprehensive at the swiftness and discipline with which the uWanna warriors formed up. On the other side of their position the Arab leaders seemed to be having some difficulty preparing their men for the attack.
                                                             The lull before the storm
The white men and their enemies stood in their ranks in silence for what was probably just a few minutes, but seemed much longer. At last the silence was broken by the uWanna chief who called out the order to advance, which was repeated by his several sub chiefs. The warriors jogged forward on two sides of the square, chanting their war song. On the third side the Arab leaders were doing all they could to move their men against the Marines, but those men knew better than the tribesmen the power of the white mans weapons.  
                                               The tribal wave breaks on the wall of fire
At a word of command from their Chief, the uWanna warriors gave a great shout and broke into a run. The commands Present...Fire! were barked out along the line of bluecoats and the terrible volleys crashed out, blending with the chatter of the Gatling. The bullets tore great bloody holes in the ranks of the charging warriors. In a few places, knots of warriors managed to close with the enemy only to be cut down by the steady line of Marines. For most of the natives the fire was more than flesh and blood could bear. The charge faltered, stopped and then fell back, step by step still facing the enemy. Their Arab allies had failed to charge at all, and that account would be settled in time. Poulet, seeing the enemy withdraw, ordered the cease fire. The Marines waited in their position until mid day. It was clear the enemy had withdrawn and Poulet had just enough time to burn a nearby village and get back to the river by dark.   

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Battle in the bocage

Mike and I had a 1500 Bolt Action game this afternoon. The scene of action was Normandy, 1944. We used a scenario out of the rule book whereby his German kampfgruppe of Wehrmacht,  Fallschirmjager and Waffen SS infantry supported by assorted armored vehicles were tasked with holding a crossroad against my two U.S. reinforced infantry platoons backed by a pair of Sherman tanks.
                  The crossroads viewed from the American lines East of the bocage
The Germans started with an infantry squad and a light howitzer in position near the objective. One American platoon moved on them from the East and another from the South. They were supported by a pair of medium mortars.
                  American infantry advance past the chateau toward the objective
German infantry reinforcements took up position in the bocage edged field Northwest of the crossroads. Their small arms fire started taking a heavy toll of the American platoon moving up from  the South.
American infantry rush to occupy the hedgerows adjoining the German position
Armored assets from both sides were deployed on the flanks of the main infantry battle around the crossroads. To the North a PZKW IV began to move on the American left flank. It destroyed a bazooka team, sniper team and a Sherman while the mortars fired on it with more enthusiasm than success.
The bazooka team tries to address the Panzer problem

The Americans cross into the bocage
Meanwhile, the Germans attacked the American right flank with a StugIII supported by an armored scout car and a howitzer armed halftrack. The Americans deployed their other Sherman to oppose this move while their forward air observer team called in airstrikes in support. The first target selected was the scout car. The aircraft didn't arrive but the Sherman took out the enemy vehicle. The Stug and Sherman engaged in a long range duel but another aircraft arrived over the battlefield and took out the Stug. The Sherman then engaged the enemy halftrack which fought back gamely but finally was destroyed by the more heavily armed and armored American.
The Stug and scout car burn while the halftrack advances undaunted
Meanwhile, back at the crossroads the more numerous American infantry were putting pressure on the German defenders from the East and South. Losses mounted on both sides. One American squad passed through a gap in the thinly stretched German defense of the hedgerow and close assaulted an enemy squad. The Americans prevailed, but their squad was rendered combat ineffective in the effort. The hard pressed Germans could ill afford the loss and their commander determined that he had too few resources left to hold the position, and ordered a withdrawal.   


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Swamp Gas

It was a warm summer night in West Monroe Louisiana. The Robertson clan was sitting in Patriarch Phil's front yard after enjoying one of Miss Kay's excellent dinners when something large streaked across the sky and crashed into the woods just a few miles away. They weren't sure what it was, but it didn't look like an aircraft, so the 8 men of the family armed themselves and drove off toward the crash site. They pulled off the road near the crash and moved carefully through the woods following a path of downed trees and gouged earth. Entering a clearing they were stunned to see a crashed saucer shaped craft.
The Robertsons enter the clearing....

                            and are stunned to see a crashed flying saucer
As they cautiously made their way forward the Robertsons were shocked to see a group of about 10 small men across the clearing making their way toward the crash. These were the "little green men" they had heard about on the History Channel! 
                             Phil Robertson says "Not in my back yard!"
The men spread out and began moving toward the craft. The two youngest, John Luke and Cole had only their hunting rifles instead of the assault rifles carried by the others, so they were detailed to take cover in the trees and start sniping at the invaders. Cole was wounded almost immediately. John Luke killed one of the little green men and was wounded by return fire soon after.
Cole and John Luke were wounded covering the rest as they advanced
While the men jogged forward to take cove behind the saucer the aliens retrieved a small package from the craft and started withdrawing the way they had come. Phil, enraged by the wounding of the two boys, sprinted ahead of the rest and went full auto on a group of three aliens covering the withdrawal, killing one, wounding a second and suppressing the third.
       The alien commander looks on as Phil takes out three of his crew
The return fire from the alien rearguard caused Phil to hit the dirt shaken but unwounded. He soon recovered and began trading shots with the alien rearguard. Alan ran up to cover him and was killed by the superior laser guns of the aliens. Meanwhile Willie and Jase moved around the other side of the crash site and suppressed one of the withdrawing aliens. Willie then moved up and shot him point blank. The firing tapered off as the aliens faded into the darkness carrying the mysterious package from the crash site that had been their objective.

Three of the aliens had been left dead on the field and two more captured, one of them wounded. The Robertsons had paid a heavy price with John Luke and Cole wounded and Alan dead. The Federal authorities arrived at the scene of the battle before dawn and took possession of the site. Within 12 hours the alien craft, bodies and prisoners had all been removed by the Feds, the Robertsons had been warned not to speak of it and the media had been told the crash had been a light aircraft. Phil tried to get the story out through various channels but found himself blocked at every turn. The alien prisoners were interrogated by their government captors and revealed their mission had been to retrieve a bootleg copy of the complete works of Willie Nelson. As a prank they left several pictures of that guy from the Ancient Aliens show behind in the crashed saucer.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Hoopla on the Hellespont

The battle of Plataea had temporarily postponed the Great King's conquest of Greece but it was thought advisable to maintain a presence on the Greek side of the Hellespont. From this position the Persians could launch the next campaign into the Greek heartland and finish the business once and for all. Toward this end Xerxes brother in law and favorite general, Ardo the Terrible held the land with a potent army of horse and foot. In response, the Greek alliance dispatched an army under the famous General for Hire, Mysoxargon to confront the Persians.

Mysoxargon deploys his flank guards to thwart the enemy horse
In due course the two armies met near the temple of Dionysius. The terrain was a flat plain broken by a few rough hills and a large pond. Mysoxargon placed the main body of his hoplites in the center screened by skirmishers. Smaller bodies of hoplites were told off to protect the flanks of the main phalanx. The center of the Persian army was composed of massed bowmen supported by skirmishers. Their cavalry was deployed on both flanks.

The battle opened with the Greek skirmishers being roughly handled by the massed Persian archers while the Persian cavalry moved to envelop the enemy flanks. Unfazed, Mysoxargon deployed his Hoplite flank guards near the rough hills such that the Persian horse had to face them head on rather than sweeping around. At the same time, as his battered skirmishers streamed to the rear, he drove the main body of hoplites straight forward into the arrow storm.
The hoplites advance on the Persian center
The Persian right broke rather quickly as the hoplites weathered the shower of arrows and drove into and through the Persian foot. On that side the Persian horse never engaged, and fled when the infantry broke. On the Persian left the infantry lines were only partly engaged, but the horse did their best to overcome the hoplite flank guards. However, their repeated charges were driven off by the steady Greek line of spears. In the end the Persian army broke and fled the field.
The last attempt of the Persian horse to turn the Greek right flank
The game was played with Big DBA rules. The problem with DBA is not enough toys, so our version has 6" wide elements of various depths with lots of 28mm figures on them. For example, an element of hoplites has 16 men in 2 ranks, and an element of Persian bows has 6 spearmen and 18 bowmen on a deeper base. Movement, shooting ranges and the table size are in proportion. Overall, it provides a great looking game that can be brought to a decisive conclusion in a reasonable length of time.   

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Turtle Island, Part 4 - The Legacy

Jim and I were standing the last watch before dawn. I had no trouble staying awake after the story the housekeeper had told. I could scarcely credit her tale but I had no other explanation for what I had seen with my own eyes. With the first false dawn Margarate approached me. Her tone was less imperious and more friendly than it had been earlier. She offered up some small talk which I found tedious at this time of day, and at last I asked her plainly what was on her mind.  She bridled, but adopted a more business-like tone. She described how her husband had kept a fortune in silver coins in a small chest in his study. When the situation began to deteriorate, he secretly hid the chest in the warehouse by the dock. She hinted that her father would not be pleased if we left the island without recovering the chest. I explained to her that our departure was likely to be a desperate business and it wasn’t likely we would have an opportunity to search for the chest. At that moment a picture of that horrid pagan altar we had seen in the warehouse when we landed was in my mind. Margarate started to argue the matter, but at that moment the maid, Martha interrupted. With tears in her eyes she said she had gone to check Seth’s wound and had found him dead. Doctor Menting and Hector soon joined us. The doctor expressed his surprise at the death, as the wound had not been a mortal one. While Menting went to examine Seth the housekeeper entered the room and told us the slaves were gathering about 100 yards from the front of the house. She showed no surprise at the news of our man’s death, but said he must not fall into the witch doctor’s hands or he would become like those things outside.
                                          ....the slaves were gathering...


All of us were now together. The light was increasing and there were a dozen or a few more of the slaves forming a ragged line across our route to the dock. A few others could be seen in the distance moving slowly in our direction. We had to decide quickly what we would do. We couldn’t bring Seth’s body with us and we couldn’t leave him behind. At this juncture, Hector spoke up. He asked the housekeeper what might be done to prevent Seth’s transformation. She responded that the body must be burnt or the head removed. Without hesitation Hector directed Menting to remove the head and rejoin the group ready to move out.  He spoke to us in an even tone but he wore the habit of command plainly and I think our spirits were lifted by his steadiness. We were going to stay in a tight group with the four men in front and the three women close behind. The line of slaves blocking our path was broken up by scattered patches of dense undergrowth. We would exit the house and move quickly toward a gap in the undergrowth to our right front. Three slaves stood in that gap. About halfway to that gap Hector would give the command Halt! Fire! We would drop those three slaves and bolt through the gap. As we had observed the previous day, the slaves were slow and clumsy. Our speed would be our salvation. Hector warned us that no one must stop to reload, and any man that fell behind must be left to his fate, Speed was everything.

                                              I was being left behind!

We broke from the front door, formed quickly as instructed, and began to jog toward the gap. The slaves were in motion toward us all along the line. About halfway Hector gave the command to halt and fire. Our four muskets banged out a ragged volley. We were blinded for the moment by the smoke but Hector shouted “Move!” and we began jogging forward again. I was relieved to see all three of the slaves on the ground, but two others were now near enough to dispute our passage. My crewman Joe moved the women through the gap and to the right, away from the closest slaves while Menting and Hector struck the two slaves with their musket butts. I moved to follow Joe and the women when I felt a pair of claw-like hands clutching my leg. One of the slaves I thought we had dispatched was dragging at me and snarling like an animal. I think I am as steady a hand as most men, but at that moment terror overtook me. I saw Menting and Hector running to catch Joe and the women. I was being left behind! Several slaves were approaching me, attracted by the sound of my struggle with the thing clawing at my leg. I felt despair and surrender rising in me, the horror of becoming one of them, and then I found a last reserve of strength. I struck savagely with my musket butt on the head of my assailant and twisted out of his grip. I slipped on the blood and went down on one knee. As the monsters closed on me, I sprang to my feet and ran. I felt fingers clutching at my coat but I focused all on just running as fast as I could. My musket fell from my hand and was left behind. The path the others had taken was now blocked, so I swerved farther to my right and found another path.

                                              I sprang to my feet and ran

 I had left my pursuers behind but I didn’t slacken my pace until I reached the shore. I saw the others gathered at the dock, but instead of boarding the sloop there was some sort of argument underway. Doctor Menting had Margarate by the arm, Hector was loading his musket and looking back at the slowly advancing slaves. Joe was helping the men left behind to prepare to cast off. I ran down the beach to the group just as Margarate broke away from Menting.  She ran to the warehouse intending,  I suppose, to search for her husband’s chest of silver. Just as Menting caught up with her, she pulled the door open and recoiled in horror. There in the shed, seated above that awful pagan shrine was a slave with elaborate symbols painted on his body and her husband and the overseer! I reached the dock and could see the slave stand up, laughing maniacally. The two white men were dead, but awake like the other slaves. The painted man must have been the witch doctor. I ran down the dock and boarded the Hermione. Hector stood at the end of the dock, eyes fixed on the advancing slaves and called out “To me, Doctor!”.  Menting slapped the struggling Margarate hard and half dragged, half carried her to the ship.  We were able to push away from the dock just as the slave things emerged from the path onto the beach.  


As the island faded in the distance we fugitives were still sitting on the deck, in silence. Hector was in conversation with the mate, who was steering a course for Saint Martins. I feared that if I stood and walked over to join them my legs might fail me. Hector walked over, sat next to me and offered me his flask. He smiled (for the first time since we met) and said “You did well, Captain”. That, and the strong drink in the flask steadied me and I was soon able to assume command of my Hermione. The voyage back to Saint Martins was uneventful. The man Hector took his leave a few days after we landed as, he said he had business in Havana. Doctor Menting spent a good deal of time in the company of the widow Margarate. They were married a few months later. I wish him joy of it but I think a good man like him could have done better. Still, her father was a very wealthy man. For my part, I got to know her maid, Martha on the voyage home. She was a sweet girl who I thought had conducted herself with credit on the island. We talked for hours when I took my turn at the helm, and by the time we reached Saint Martins, she had agreed to be my wife. Over the years of our long and happy marriage we had rarely spoken of Turtle Island, until the night of the Governor’s reception, and if God grants it we will think of it no more.  


Note: This was originally a game that I played with Mike (who styles himself King of St Maurice) using The Dead Walk zombie rules with some basic card draw stuff to generate zombies and random events. After the game Mike began riffing on all that we might do with the card deck to flesh out the characters and generate actions they might take consistent with their personalities. I’m retired now, so I did a solo rerun of the original later in the week using the additional ‘chrome’. The story above is that game. Mike and I will continue to refine the thing for use in other heroic adventure type games set in various periods.