Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Mask of Aksoum

It was in December of 1866 that I arrived in Zanzibar. I had been contacted by the correspondent of the Paris Charade magazine, Georgio Snufalufigos. He knew I would be passing  through that port on my journey back to Paris and he wished me to carry his account of a mysterious expedition he hoped to complete before I arrived.  On the appointed day and time I entered  the Cafe European to meet my friend. He wasn’t there but the barkeep directed me to a stranger sitting in a dark corner who had been upcountry with Georgio.  I approached and introduced myself to the stranger, explaining my agreement with Georgio. He shrugged and pushed a chair out with his foot by way of welcome. He was gaunt and hollow eyed and already drunk, while it was not yet 2 PM.  
Bentley Speedicut takes the field
The man’s name was Bentley Speedicut and he was one of those English gentlemen who inherited a great deal of money, allowing him the freedom to wander the dark places of the earth for the purpose of enhancing his status and reputation at home. This Speedicut had heard from the Arabs, tales of an ancient ruined city in the hills above Lake Tanganyika. He set about organizing a small expedition to the area, hoping to be the first European to explore the site, and perhaps pick up a few shiny objects for his trouble. Georgio heard of his plan and offered to chronicle his exploits and make him famous. The expedition, Speedicut, Georgio a few porters to carry trade goods to barter for food along the way and twenty tough looking young Ruga Ruga mercenaries, set off for the interior in the Spring.
The tribesmen of the interior practice dark magic

The native chief deploys his men

Georgio Snufalufigos chronicles adventure
Speedicut described how they found the site easily enough, using a map purchased from an Arab trader. They began exploring the site but found nothing of value among the ruins that looked to have been abandoned for a thousand years. The local natives were not taking the intrusion well. At first a few elders turned up at the site gesturing and complaining loudly in a language no one understood. Speedicut dismissed them roughly and the next morning they were replaced by warriors armed for battle with spears and shields. These were few in numbers and kept their distance, but they watched day by day as the exploration proceeded. After four days, an elaborate tomb was discovered a short distance from the main site. At this point the natives observing from a distance became agitated and sent one of their number away, presumably to raise the alarm. Undeterred, Speedicut and the Ruga Ruga forced the door of the tomb and emerged a short time later with a beautifully crafted and heavily jeweled mask. Dusk was coming on and the decision was made to return to camp for the night and leave for the coast the next morning.
The camp is surrounded before dawn
Just before dawn Speedicut was awakened by one of the Ruga Ruga standing guard. Armed tribesmen had surrounded the camp in the darkness. The word went around the camp to prepare to break through the ring to the South, the direction that would get them out of this tribes’ territory soonest. Placing the mask in his pouch, Speedicut gave the order to move out. The natives were ready and charged toward the camp from all sides. Half of the Ruga Ruga were engaged by the natives before they had a chance to clear the camp. They fought back fiercely but were all cut down. Speedicut led one group of the mercenaries down a path to the South, encountered a band of natives and dispersed them with a volley and a charge. Georgio was with another group of mercenaries not far behind. Speedicut’s path to the South was clear for the moment. He heard Georgio call out for help as the group of mercenaries he was with was swamped by native spearmen. More natives were rushing up the path toward the fight. Speedicut knew Georgio was as good as lost and made the snap decision to run to safety with his three surviving  Ruga Ruga while the tribesmen were busy mopping up Georgio and the others and looting the camp.
Speedicut fights through the ring of attackers
Snufalufigos is taken ....but does he live?
Speedicut and a few survivors head for the tall timber
I was horrified by the mans’ story and the coldness with which he told it. He noticed my reaction and a corner of his mouth turned up in what must have been a smile. “As good as dead, you see?” he said. “No point in joining them, eh? Still, sorry about your friend. Who will write the story of my discovery now, eh? Can’t very well write it myself. It just wouldn’t do.”
This was a game of Congo that Mike and I played recently. I was cast in the role of the amoral (or practical?) Speedicut, while Mike played the native chieftain whose name does not translate easily into English. Georgio was still alive and was being dragged away by the natives when Speedicut exited the scene. When we counted up the points to determine victory I got 10 for capturing the crown and 4 for destroying two groups of natives. That’s 14 total for you arithmetic fans. Mike got 6 points for wiping out three of my groups of brave and loyal Ruga Ruga, and another 8 for looting the camp. Also 14 points. Technically a tie, although Mike claims a culinary victory for capturing  Georgio, who he says was delicious. The Congo rules represent the early days of European exploration in the African interior. We do enjoy them. The rule concepts are simple enough but there are a lot of little ‘moving parts’ that the player has to bear in mind.

Another of Mike's creations

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