Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Last Stand on the North West Frontier...

At the Little Wars Revisited event a couple of weeks ago, my British and Pathans had their first outing and I tried out The Sword and The Flames as a rule set.  I wasn't overly impressed with TSATF...they worked well enough and certainly suited the type of rules we needed on the day (nice and simple and easy to pick up) but they felt quite dated and a bit clunky.

For their second outing Anthony and I had planned a game using The Men Who Would Be Kings from Osprey.  These are another ruleset from Dan Mersey and follow the same kind of mechanics that you'll find in Lion Rampant, The Pikeman's Lament etc. but with a few tweaks to suit the late 19th Century.  I'd played these once before but not for some time.

Image result for the men who would be kings

Probably the most striking difference is the Order system...in Lion Rampant etc. once you fail to successfully activate a unit your turn is over completely and play passes to your opponent.  In TMWWBKs a failure means you move to your next unit and you get to try and activate everything.  I guess this reflects better command and control in this era and certainly makes for a more engaging game.

Units can also be pinned by casualties, causing them to halt and requiring a 'Rally' order to get them going again. 

The rules come with a range of suggested Field Force lists but there are a lot of individual tweaks and abilities that can be given to units to personalise them and create scenario specific units.  The Field Force (the rules use this term for 'army') doesn't have an overall leader but each individual unit does: each of these has a Command rating which is determined at the start of the game.  This does mean that you need to find a way to record this for each unit (I used a dice next to each one) but I guess there is nothing to stop you simply allocating a standard command rating to all units if this seems like to much paperwork or you don't fancy having table clutter.

Each leader is also meant to roll for individual traits which can be good or bad depending on the dice roll...we opted not to bother with this as it seemed like another list of things to remember (or more likely, to forget!).  I can't see me using this for every unit but it might be entertaining to do it for one or two or perhaps in a multiplayer game it could be given to each player.

The rules also come with a range of scenarios and an interesting solo play system (Mr Babbage) which I haven't tried but looks like it would make for some fun games.  Because of the size of 54mm figures and a 6' x 4' table we decided to use one of the optional rules and fielded half-sized units...this worked out at 6 figures for Regular and Irregular infantry, 8 for Tribal Infantry and 5 for Cavalry.  This looked fine on the table...any bigger and I think we'd have been struggling for space.

So, on to the game...

The scenario we played was the 'To The Last Bullet' scenario which saw a small British force falling back towards a ruined building in the face of a full strength mob of Pathans.  As Anthony always makes a point of playing the British wherever possible, I decided a scenario where they have to spend the game retreating would prove annoying... Afghan psyops!!   This gave the British 3 Regular Infantry units versus 3 Irregular Infantry, 2 Tribal Infantry and 2 Tribal Cavalry.  This seemed a lot but it didn't stay that way for long!

The Pathan Field Force...

And the British defenders...note the vulture on the hill getting ready for some rich pickings....

The British can win by having 5 successive turns in which they received no casualties (the Pathans are assumed to have got bored at this point and wandered off home!).  The building provides hard cover but can only hold one unit so some of them will have to mix it with the Pathans.

The Pathans made a hesitant start with some units reluctant to advance but a few did advance at the double (a special order with an extra dice of movement) to try and close the range.  Not surprisingly the British outranged the Pathan rifles.  The cavalry enthusiastically charged across the table hoping to ride down one of the British units.  I'd set up the terrain rather randomly before the game with a mix of hills and a small stand of trees.  The only other feature was a dry river bed running across the table which proved a blessing and a curse!  The river counted as an obstacle so units had to halt before crossing it and this stopped the cavalry within rifle range.   Some spectacular dice throwing from Anthony quickly despatched both units and ensured that Nibbles, the local vulture would be well fed that evening.

The rest of the Pathan infantry finally made it to the river bed and decided to use it as cover rather than advancing.  One of the Bitish units had pulled back into the building by this point but the Gordons had bravely decided to stand in the face of the advancing hordes and slug it out with rifle fire

Ultimately this proved disastrous as, although they inflicted heavy casualties on several Pathan units, they were gradually whittled down and eventually the Colours fell.

The Pathans reach the river bed...

On my right I tried charging my Tribal Infantry (faster but poor shots) against the British with predictable results...one unit was wiped out and the other badly damaged and forced to retreat due to Pinning results.

The tribes charge...

With the Gordons despatched and the 2nd unit skulking in the building, the Pathan rifles turned on the 3rd British unit and casualties mounted on both sides.  The Pathans were badly damaged but eventually reduced the British to one figure.  As he wouldn't be able to inflict a casualty at long range Anthony decided to withdraw him close to the building.  At this point the Pathans decided that they'd achieved all they could...the British in the building looked pretty impregnable and there weren't many Pathans left to attack with so they withdrew.  A British victory but a costly one...

The survivors take cover in the building ...

The building is the old Airfix Desert Outpost...

And a special mention to Nibbles the Vulture...

A great game and a lot closer than I thought it was going to be...especially when my cavalry were mown down in quick succession.  The rules worked really well and I think will be my 'go to' rules for this level of game.


  1. Thanks for a great game Alastair! I think using half strength units for 54mm works really well on a standard-sized table. I've been inspired to do the same with Lion Rampant and Pikeman's Lament. Loved your figures (and especially Nibbles the Vulture!). Cheers, Anthony.

  2. Nice report on a scenario I’ve recently played myself (as Zulus vs British). The defenders won that too but they did benefit from a mistake we made about hard cover in melee. It’s a good scenario and a good game.

  3. Looks like it was a close run thing, looking forward to trying these rules out myself.

  4. Good report Alastair, I found TMWWBK rules to be perfect for this type of encounter, we made a minor tweak for scouting cavalary to allow them to evade and also added in flanks... but they always give a fun days gaming.