Monday, April 17, 2017

The Hunt for the Bey of Bassorah - A Portable War Game

After a lengthy wait, I finally got my copy of Bob Cordery's The Portable Wargame, arriving, oddly enough, on my birthday.  I sometimes wonder how 'they' arranged that.

Col Redfers Carmine and his flying column about to
embark on his expedition into Medifluvia.

To resist the invaders, the Bellicose Bey has assembled
this fine array. ESCI French Foreign Legion infantry,
HaT Mamluk cavalry, ESCI/scratch-built gun.

The book is a fine read, very accessible, with interesting ideas. Apart from the hex-board war games of Avalon Hill and Simpubs, and the games of Wizard's Quest and Shogun in which the board is divided into regions, I have had no past experience of gridded war games. An old friend did try, over 20 years ago, to transform DBM into a board game, but it didn't seem to work, for mine.  So I was having more or less new ground opened before me.  Possibly my one caveat is that for one of my eyesight the pictures could be a little crisper, but I'm not complaining very hard.

Of course I had to try out one of the scenarios on a square grid, namely, 'The Hunt for the Mahdi'. But as I don't have the armies for that scenario - not even approximately - I had to make certain adjustments.  It had to be armies of c.1880, of course, which is roughly - very roughly - the period of my 19th Century Ruberian (RED) and Azurian (BLUE) armies.  But Azuria being vaguely French didn't quite 'fit'.  

The field of battle, Tell El Woznaim, with the Bey's men
lurking behind hills, rises and clumps of palm trees.  Somewhere off the
top edge of the picture (i.e. to the east) , the Ruberian column is approaching 

Behold the Settee Empire of Turkowaz (TURQUOISE), still 'BLUE' you see, but ... a different BLUE. Ruberia, of course has long established itself as the ruling power of the Sangrian subcontinent (SANGRIA- a kind of RED), upon which Turkowaz has for as long cast covetous eyes.  A certain Omar Arslan, Bey of Bassorah, a remote province at the eastern fringes of Turkowaz, has in fact been conducting raids into the areas of which Ruberia has claimed suzerainty.  The Governor General of Sangria has placed an expeditionary force  - a flying column - under command of Colonel Redfers Carmine to set off into the Medifluvian country, find and capture the nefarious Bey of Bassorah, extract reparations, and to to raze his provincial palace.


Col Redfers Carmine advancing into the Medifluvian
desert.  ESCI infantry and cavalry; HaT Gatling gun,
ESCI artillery trail and wheels, with scratchbuilt gun.
Now, this, and more particularly the Bey's, armies are slightly different from 'the book', and comprise as follows:

Ruberian Expeditionary Force:  Col R. Carmine, commanding.

- 3 rifle-armed infantry units (3 @ 4SP each = 12 SP, rated Average)
- 1 machine-gun infantry unit (1 @ 2SP = 2 SP, rated Average)
- 1 cavalry unit (1 @ 3SP = 3 SP, rated Average)
- 1 rifled field artillery unit (1 @ 2SP = 2 SP, rated Average)
- 1 commander and HQ staff (1 @ 6SP = 6SP)
Total Strength points = 25 SP; Exhaustion point, 9 SP).
The trap about to be sprung...
Well served by an efficient spy network that extended far beyond his borders, the Bey was soon enough warned of the impending approach of the Ruberian column.  In view of the inferior quality of his own forces, and rather than subject his provincial seat to a siege, he bethought himself to take his chances in the open field - not in a stand-up fight, but in ambush.
As the Turkowazians come howling out of the desert,
the Ruberians form three sides of a square...

 Provincial Army of the Bey of Bassorah: Commanded by the Bey in person.

- 6 smoothbore musket-armed infantry units (6 @ 3SP = 18 SP, rated Poor*)
- 2 rifle-armed infantry units (2 @ 4SP = 8 SP rated Average)
- 2 Cavalry units (2 @ 3SP = 6 SP, rated Average)
- 1 smoothbore medium artillery (1 @ 2SP = 2 SP, rated Average)
- 1 commander, HQ, hangers on and camp followers (1 @ 6SP = 6SP)
Total Strength Points = 40 SP; Exhaustion point = 14 SP.

(* I really don't like using the expression 'poor' in this sort of context, but have no really good substitute.  Maybe I should call them locally raised levy or something such.  The 3 SP levy infantry was due to a mis-remembered reading of the rules.  It so happened it probably helped the game balance!)
Turkowazian sipahis get the early edge on the Ruberian
dragoons. The white SP dice would not fit the receptacles.
I'll carry on the narrative another time, but for now, I'll mention that I had to adapt the battlefield according to my available space.  The original was on a 12x12 grid, but mine was limited to 10 squares in width, and although longer, the kitchen table's round ends tended to knock the corners off a a bit more as well.  By dropping the southernmost two rows, however,  I managed to fit all the terrain features comfortably on the table.  Quite satisfactory.  


  1. Nice report, truly splendid armies!

    1. Oh, those aren't even a tithe of those armies! But it is part of a project that has been more off than on for twenty years and more. The other day I found a sprue of ESCI 'Khyber Pass' Brits that I didn't know I had...

      But I have a feeling there might be more contretemps between Ruberia and Turkowaz as time goes on...

    2. I have traced back to your blog spot. Splendid: it is now on my reading list
      Ion A. Dowman

  2. Archduke Piccolo,

    A great looking game! I am looking forward to seeing how the battle unfolds.

    I arrived at the choice of 'Poor' as a troop quality after all sorts of attempts to find a different word to use ... to no avail.

    All the best,


    1. As in education there is no polite way of saying 'sucks'.

    2. ...Or 'absolute pants' as I saw in a series of war games articles a few years ago. I think I might just go with 'levy' or 'untrained' or something. Napoleon once said that 'there are no bad troops, just bad colonels.'

      Thanks Bob, for your comment. Part of the reason it has taken so long to produce this has been the time taken to mark out my base cloth, make and flock the hills, flock the bases, and paint up my Gatling gun crews.

  3. A very attractive start.

    In order to improve the look of my Zulu vs British game as in have the Zulus outnumber the Brits, I resorted to using the Poor stats but called them Brave instead, as in they'd rather die than retreat!

    1. Speaking of which... Whenever a musketeer unit took a hit or retreat roll, it was interesting deciding whether to take the hit or to retreat given their few SPs. But I'll leave that for the concluding instalment.