Friday, March 17, 2017

The Capture of Piet Petronius-1880
A Great Solo Game-The Men Who Would Be Kings

The Men Who Would is Kings (abbreviated TMWBK) is a great fast play Colonial game. I was drawn to it, as I really liked Lion and Dragon Rampant. Some of the mechanics in those two games such as activation, morale and simple melee/reaction transfer quite well to this period.  I also have a nice collection of colonials including British (Stadden circa 1975) used in my 28mm War of the Worlds game, Boers (Falcon circa early 80s), Arabs (various manufacturers circa mid 80s), and Zulus (Old Glory I believe circa 1990-ish).  These collections have not seen the light of day since about 2000 so this was the time to dust ‘em off and get them out.

Mersey has included a solo gaming component that seemed to work well with a smaller Afghans vs. British game. I wanted to try it with an enemy that had modern weapons and field craft.  After reading The First Boer War by Joseph Lehmann for the umpteenth time during 2017 Spring Break, it was a done deal. 

The solo gaming segment is called “Playing Against Mr. Babbage”. This is a dice controlled, automated action game. Each time the British move, fire, or charge; the automated “Mr. Babbage” motivates the Boers.  An after action report follows. 

Piet and his Boer friends
Piet Petronius was a member of the Transvaal Council and a radical adherent to the ideals of the Revolutions of 1848 and the American Revolution. His roots were Boer; independent, highly religious, a quiet conservative in appearance.

Recently, large diamond deposits were unearthed near the small farm town of Kimberly by an English concern. Additional gold deposits were found further north in the Natal.  English commercial concerns have moved quickly to dominate the gold mining industry and threaten the fortune of the Boer family; the De Beers.  Given the political and economic instability in the region; the Boers decide to strike for independence. 

Piet hissef!
Petronius held court at his farm near the Skrakenberg Kopje.  The British East India Company presses the Governor to take Petronius into custody for sedition.  The stage is set for an epic first battle on the veldt near Cape Town.

Table set up for game 6'x6'

Forces: 25mm and 28mm

1-Ground Rocket Troop
2-Regular Infantry x12 figures
1-Regular Infantry (Punishment Battalion) x12 figures
1-Cape Town Mounted Constabulary x8 figures

Kommando Koptje: 12 figures (may be mounted or dismounted)
Kommando Junkers: 12 figures (maybe mounted or dismounted)
Kommando Smythe-Fruitbat: 8 figures (maybe mounted or dismounted)
Kommando Fannin: 8 figures en route from Bulenberg

Table Size: 6x6

Don't ask her
to make you a sandwich!
Turn 1:
British forces under Major Hedrick Batguano, Esq. arrive on the farmstead of Petronius thinking a quick snag and grab will take the area Boer forces (commandos-citizen soldiers, skilled in field craft and crack shots).  The wife of Petronius and a field hand meets them initially. Color Sergeant Harvey Wallbanger tries to put the woman into custody and is cut down by a bush knife wielded by the field hand. Battle is on!

Two Boer Kommandos arrive and begin firefights with the regulars at long range from the Skrakenberg Kopje above the farmstead. Years of hunting and protecting their farmsteads against native raids pay off with the “rooineks” being pinned on the left and right.  The rocket battery commander orders the rocket fired but the rocket is a “dud”. Piet gathers several of his friends that were staying the night and go to the upstairs firing positions. Piet’s father constructed the farmhouse and is a massive stone construction with an upper housing of dense and expensive ebony wood imported from the Congo. 
The British trudge forward in open order braving the fire of the Boers.

Turn 2:
These Boers
Shoot GOOD!
Mr. Babbage motivates Smythe’s and Koptje’s Kommandos to move forward and engage the British in short range firefights giving better than received. Two British units are pinned. That means they can only shoot with ½ dice and must try to rally under fire.  Not easy when facing angry Boers with rifles.  The British return fire, pinning 1 Boer unit.  Mr. Babbage tests for a responsive action and the Boers “slink away” to the protection of the Skrakenberg Koptje.  Mr. Babbage rolls for his patented “recycling machine”. The unit melts away.  Round 1 to the British!

Turn 3:
Volley Fire
at 100 yards!
British forces form close order and prepare to return fire to the stinging fire put upon them by the Boers.  The punishment platoon fails their check and stands in place. Platoon H and J give fire and the Boers react. They pass their pinning test and stand tall in the face of Martini-Henry’s best efforts.  The rocket troop has limited ammunition and does not pass their activation to shoot. Major Batguano is not pleased. There is no way into the farmhouse without their support. 

Boers at the
Skrakenberg Koptje!
Mr. Babbage rolls a charge into the pinned British to the chagrin of the Boer commander Smythe.  They are easily repulsed by the regulars with cold steel and pluck in the best traditions of the service.  They have been mentioned in dispatches to Whitehall.  As a result, Babbage rolls a reaction and the unit melts back into the veldt to reappear the next turn in the same place but at long rifle range. Mr. Babbage manages a wry smile.  He rolls the arrival of Fannin. His commando arrives to the east of the Skrakenberg Koptje.  They immediately form mounted skirmish line and start to give fire to the “rooineks”, pinning H Platoon.  Things are looking rather grim for the British.

Turn 4:
Bird's Eye View!
The British rally all Platoons and move against the farmhouse taking long and short-range rifle causalities.  Fire from the farmhouse kills the horse of Major Batguano. He is shaken but not stirred. It is reported Piet’s wife in revenge for his aborted detention took the shot.  Mr. Babbage responds by rolling a charge upon a rapidly depleting platoon; routing it. It melts in the hot African veldt never to be seen again. It is reported in dispatches that Boer women and children shoot the stragglers and take their weapons. That is a fact that will haunt the British throughout the conflict.  

Cape Town Mounted
The Cape Town Mounted Constabulary arrives to support Batguano. They fail their move motivation roll and stand in place to the rear of Batguano’s position.  The remaining two British platoons are pinned again by rifle fire and are becoming rather sparse and shaky.  They do pass their morale rolls and stand in place.  The mission is becoming rather “sticky” according to Batguano’s journal.  Koptje’s commando returns via the cattle paths in the Skrakenberg Koptje; giving long range rifle fire onto Batguano’s platoon. 

Additional fire is noted and causalities are taken from the farmhouse. Protests to the Transvaal Council about the use of large caliber elephant guns against the NCOs and officers of the British units. The Transvaal Council as “loser talk” summarily dismissed this protest. 

Batguano happens!
Mr. Babbage rolls two charges upon the depleted British force.  H and J platoons rout. Piet Petronius escapes through the Skrakenberg Kopje to the north and is seen at the Boer Council chambers in Pretoria.  Major Batguano is called back to Whitehall, faces charges and is summarily cashiered from the British army. He later takes residence in the Belgian Congo training Askari units in British drill and tactics.

Take Aways:

1.     This game must contain at least 2:1 attacker/defender units if playing British vs. Boers.  The Boers shoot as sharpshooters and have “field craft” allowing them to go “down” for additional cover modifiers.

2.     Playing against “Mr. Babbage” may be an acquired taste and may be unsuitable for a multiple player game against the automated opponent. I’ve had a blast in the two games I’ve soloed so your mileage may vary.

3.     Keep the terrain simple. There is a balance.  Too much terrain is boring in this game. Too little terrain is deadly for the forces involved as rifle ranges are a maximum of 24”. 

4.     Field guns, machine guns, rocket batteries are a bit funny to play. They either work quite well or suck VERY VERY badly.

5.     Playing against Mr. Babbage is a challenge and does not produce the same results each game. Highly recommended as a diversion for an evening after work or afternoon. The game lasted 2.5 hours and that was because I took two days to play it.

Would I do it again? You bet. The rules are recommended as a fast play alternative to older, slower rules systems.  Now it’s time to put on multiple player games without the “help” of Mr. Babbage

Gallery: Some of these pics are in the post. Some are sue me! hahaha



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