Tuesday, May 18, 2021

A Dark Day in Darkest Aithiops...

This posting is a hard one to write. Did you ever have a day - or even a sequence of events - that started bad, and you knew it was going to start bad, but it carried on bad - unrelentingly bad - and ended bad? Observe the use of the adjective in place of the adverb. Ever had one of those? Chief-King Barra Kuta did. Did he what!

Lt.Col Relaxado's first distant glimpse of the fabulous 
Montanhas Diamantes - Diamond Mountains.
(Picture by Paul 'Jacko' Jackson)

Following his repulse from the Azeitonian column at the edge of the jungle, he drew his army off up the Limpopo River trail towards the market town, Kachinga, which lay at the confluence of the north and south branches of the Great Grey-Green Greasy Limpopo River. Perhaps the wound received at the battle had impaired the Chief's faculties, or left him tired.  The retreat was slow and as early as noon the next day, the colonialists caught up with the m'Butu on the road. It was probably as bad a stretch of country as could be imagined to face a foe superior in numbers, firepower, technology - and even had an edge in mobility. Here the country was flat - several casual undulations of ground, and hardly any scrub, brush or trees in sight. There was no question but to accept a hopeless battle - and hope for the best.

This was one of those occasions that crops up in a campaign in which the outcome of a battle is certain, right from the get go.  It then becomes a matter of how bad it's going to be. The first battle had ended the Azeitonian run of activation cards (Red), but the m'Butu drew one Black card only, a number, which gave it one grid area of movement for one force.  Barra Kuta's army drew back along the road one space. Back to the Red cards: n, K, n, n, n. Unlike the number cards, the King allowed 5 (!) activations, which could be used all by one force, or shared among as many as 5 forces.  

Now, rather than make the moves card by card, I proposed drawing the cards as 'strings', ending when the colour string ended by the appearance of a card of the other colour.  At a slight reduction of the 'fog of war', it does speed up proceedings. But nine activations -  no wonder Tenente-Coronel Relaxado's expeditionary force ran down the m'Butu.  

Meanwhile, far to the south, a secondary colonial force penetrated the jungle west of Oportonovo, following a trail that soon led to a small, palisaded kraal. A reconnaissance indicated the presence of a small garrison (1 warrior stand). The Azeitonians declined for the moment to press the matter.  Meanwhile, the garrison, alerted to the presence of the enemy, were for the moment unable to determine their strength (having to wait for an activation card to carry out the recon).

Events were developing far more quickly along the Limpopo trail. Chief Barra Kuta threw out his line in much the same formation as he had to begin the earlier battle. As the Azeitonians approached in a broad column, he hoped that by enveloping its open flank he might do something to offset the disparity in numbers. There was no question of defending. He had to carry the fight to the enemy.

It did not go well.  

The m'Butu army comprised 11 warrior stands plus the Great Man's entourage - 12 units in all: 50 Strength points all up; exhaustion point 17. As Barra Kuta counted as a brilliant commander, he might activate 6,7, or 8 stands per turn. 

The Colonists were far more powerful, though their cavalry had been halved by the previous day's action. Their strength points had been reduced by 10 to 82, exhaustion point 28. He had available 20 units - 1 cavalry and one infantry stand lost, plus a couple reduced to 3 SPs, - so, the Colonel counting as an average commander, could activate 9,10 or 11 units per turn.

m'Butu advancing  to close quarters...

Now, to the ground.  As my table is rather larger than uses for examples of Bob Cordery's terrain generation method, I made certain adaptations.  
Second Battle of the Limpopo - terrain 

Now, the river and the road/ trail, were a given. The river was placed first, but the road could wait upon the rest of the terrain. This was flat grassland, so any rises in the ground were merely casual undulations - enough to create dead ground.  


  • Rolled for number of hills, 2D6 + 1D3 gave us 10 hills.  
  • Rolled 2D6 and counted down the left hand edge for the starting row.
  • Rolled 4D6 and counted along the horizontal rows 'ploughman's fashion'. 
  • When a hill was located, rolled to determine whether it was part of a larger hill (5 or 6 confirming)
  • If part of a larger hill rolled 1D6 and, counting from the upper right counted the hexes clockwise to locate the next part
  • Then or otherwise, rolled 4D6 and continued, until all 10 hills were located.

The large rise at the upper left seems somewhat to exaggerate the size of that rise.  It began as a 2-hex hill, but another appeared right beside it, to extend its size.

Patches of bush/ scrub:
The method was the same.  This time the 2D6 + 1D3 roll gave us 1+1+1 = 3 such patches.  You can see the extent to which the Fates, the Gods, Karma, and Providence had it in for the m'Butu, eh?  Man, what a miserable piece of country when you have nothing - nothing at all - going for you!

Hamlets/ Villages:
To determine whether there were any, I figured that, as this was a fairly sparsely populated country, I'd stay with 'the book' on this.  The D6 - 3 roll was a '2', so there was no habitations.  

The Road/ Trail:
I simply laid down close by the river as seemed sensible.

The battle:

Figuring that to close with the enemy (if they could not retreat betimes) would be better than to stand about to be shot to pieces, the m'Butu advanced rapidly to close the distance. Losing several SPs in the process, they found they could do little better in the close quarter fighting. They were completely outfought all day. Unfortunately I failed to take any pictures of the actual fighting, but an after picture might at least partially tell the story.

...m'Butu retreating, much reduced.

The attack failing to make the least impression, the m'Butu fell back, close to their exhaustion point. Nor was that withdrawal to remain unmolested. Although they managed to put some distance between themselves and the enemy, not a few could not get beyond rifle and artillery range. And the colonists' shooting this day was desperately accurate.

This was a terrible defeat for the m'Butu - a massacre, withal. As the m'Butu dragged themselves from the field they mourned (well, I did) the loss of 20 Strength Points. The Azeitonians had lost precisely two.

Now the battle losses, as before stated are divided in 3 - 
  • one-third permanently lost as killed and seriously wounded
  • one-third will be replaced after a number of campaign turns (roll 1D6) as recruits or recovered
  • one-third are returned immediately.
Rather than dice for the remainders, I find it simpler to form the losses into a species of palindrome.  The single remainder goes to the delayed replacement; two remaining will go to 1 permanently lost and the other immediately replaced.

The net effect of this 'battle' was that the Azeitonians lost exactly one SP.  The m'Butu lost 7 outright, 6 to be returned later, and 7 returned immediately - a loss for the moment of 13SPs, on top of the 16 lost the day before. That there would be 14SPs available some time in the future was small consolation to Barra Kuta.

At this point in the campaign, recall that the Azeitonians still had 4 campaign moves to play. Strictly speaking, they could probably carry out a recon, then attack along the road, drive the m'Butu into Kachinga Town, to finish the outstanding moves with a reconnaissance. It would simply have been a pressed home pursuit of a defeated enemy. The drawback to this would have been that, handling the m'Butu, I would simply have refused battle, and drawn off the remnants of the army.

So Paul and I negotiated the subsequent events, allowing the m'Butu to retreat all the way into Kachinga. That saved the Azeitonians a campaign move, which meant that they could, after a successful recon, end the sequence with a battle. To make absolutely certain this was to be a great day for the Azeitonians - and an utterly miserable one for the m'Butu - their recon roll was a '6'. Of course it was. One suspects a local entrepreneur in this market town wished early to ingratiate himself to these enterprising strangers...

Chief Barra Kuta had left a small garrison in the place, 2 warrior stands (8 SPs). Added to what was left of his field force, brought the m'Butu strength up to 45SP, as follows:

Chief Barra Kuta (brilliant commander) plus entourage = 6SP
6 Warrior units, spear @4SP = 24SP
3 Warrior units, musket @4SP = 12SP
1 Warrior unit, spear = 3SP

11 units, median = 6 + 1 (Brilliant commander) = 7.
45 Strength points (37 [main army] + 8 [garrison]); exhaustion point = 15.

To be continued: The Assault on Kachinga.


  1. Hello there Archduke,

    Wow! There are times throughout one’s wargaming journey when such an action is fought and no matter what one does Dame Fortune will prove to be a fickle mistress - as in the real world I should add! I guess that having retired to Kachinga the option of the M’Butu using guerrilla tactics against the invaders has now passed as they are too close to home.

    There are teasing opportunities for both sides in the coming days and certainly what the adversaries do in life will echo down through eternity...

    Excellent stuff old chap - a really enthralling sequence!

    All the best,


    1. Hi David -
      Fickle?! Barra Kuta could have done with 'fickle'. Fickle might have got the m'Butu a hit or two and some more SPs taken from the Colonists! All is not lost for the m'Butu, though. I've mentioned some recruits, and there's a secondary m'Butu force kicking around that might have an impact. Maybe.

      Archduke Piccolo

  2. Another good interesting report. This sounds like the Zulu war of 1879. I suspect the results will be the same. Spears just do not stack up against rifles. Regards Tony

    1. Hi Tony -
      They surely don't. And the m'Butu, it seems, don't even have the numbers the Zulu had. I wish I'd made them faster moving, though. Never mind. The Colonists have other (potential) foes kicking around, that might prove testing, and the m'Butu are not out of it yet - even were they to lose their market town, Kachinga...

      Archduke Piccolo.

  3. Good points. The Zulu's had amazing powers of marching or rather trotting for miles with no logistics to hold them back. They also had the numbers. Maybe the m'Butu have an allied tribe of numerous quick moving warriors who will come to their rescue ?? As ever we live and learn. That said the Zulu's still lost in the end . Regards Tony

    1. Not so much in the way of allies - more like other ... characters, shall we say, with interests of their own. Whether for example, the Corsairs of the Coast see in this new colony a prey or a rival, they are likely to test their mettle. And you can never quite tell what the Touaouin might do...

  4. Mmmmm I await with interest the next installment. Regards Tony

  5. One 'positive'; the lack of photographic record? The only upside for the m'Butu?!
    Regards, James

    1. Hi James -
      I think it was just the tension of the situation that made me forget to take pics of the real action. I took more than shown here, but none when it mattered.
      Never mind: I hope that I remember to obtain a pictorial record of the action in the next battle.
      Archduke Piccolo.

  6. Archduke Piccolo,

    I’ve been away for a few days, and I’m just catching up with visiting the blogs I read.

    This was yet another outstanding post, and has set the scene for more interesting action. I look forward to reading the next instalment.

    All the best,


    1. Hi Bob -
      I rather think the next instalment will be fairly interesting - something a bit different, anyhow...
      Archduke Piccolo