On Friday I had my second go at The Men Who Would Be Kings. Once again, I tried for a three-way battle. It went a bit better this time, but that was mostly due to Doug Hamm's enthusiasm for playing the Afghans as they were squeezed between two Imperial powers. My biggest lesson learned was that I should probably try some two-way battles before playing any more three-ways!
The scenario this time was Scenario A from the book, Just Passing By. The British and the Russians were each required to cross the table in opposite directions. As a spoiler to this, I added some Afghans to slow down the Imperials. The Imperial forces were almost the same as in the last game, except that I took away the field guns as this scenario requires near constant movement for the Imperials, so the guns would only slow them down. The Afghans, on the other hand, ended up more powerful than before, as I added one unit of Afghan regular infantry to the force.
First thing we did was roll for leader attributes. The three British units were pretty much textbook, stiff upper lip chaps. The Highlanders were led by a sportsman, the Sikhs by the General's favourite nephew and the Gurkhas by an expert marksman. The Russians were less fortunate, with a couple of solid, dependable infantry units but the Cossacks found themselves with a bulletproof bumbler (resulting in the comment, "you mean my leadership will actually improve if my officer gets killed?").
However the real fun came when we rolled for the Afghans. Of the two units of Ghazis (primarily equipped for hand to hand), one was led by a cad who would retreat faster than he attacked, the other (even better!) by a coward who would never close into melee. The jezail men (irregular infantry) included a hapless leader (10+), a drunk (which we reinterpreted as an opium addict) whose leadership needed to be tested every turn and one more who was simply inept. The regulars were led by an idiot, requiring a test every turn to see if his opponent could move his men (we made a bit of an exception for this unit: the test would only be required if he attempted to issue an order, so he could avoid the test by not doing anything). Once Doug saw these results, he insisted on playing the Afghans.
Here are a couple of shots of initial deployment. Afghans set themselves up in various bits of cover around the battlefield as the Imperials form up at each end of the table.
Russians check to see if they can be hit by long range fire. Only the Highlanders have modern rifles (Martinis); everyone else has obsolete rifles or worse (carbines for the Cossacks, various sticks and blunt instruments for the Ghazis). This went poorly for the Cossacks. They took one hit from the Afghan jezailmen, failed their pinned roll, failed to rally and retreated off the board in the first turn.
Tribal infantry are shot to pieces by the Sikhs.
Russian infantry climb the hill. This went on a bit through the game: Russians could barely pass a test for orders, so spent the game fidgeting around their end of the board either standing around or just barely peeking past the rocks. Peter was a good sport but I think ended up somewhat bored at the lack of movement from his troops.
Here you can see the Afghans holding the middle of the table. Regulars are still drinking chai in their barracks while the tribesmen are watching as the Russians remain out of sight.
More action was happening in the south. The Afghan horse were moving around, maintaining a threatening appearance to keep the Sikhs in place. Meanwhile, the Gurkhas advanced to threaten the Ghazis (not knowing that the Ghazis were never going to fight anyway).
Still drinking chai...
Ghazis reposition as the Gurkhas advance. Highlanders are ready to support either the Sikhs or the Gurkhas as needed, and the Sikhs form close order to repel cavalry.
Ghazis have pulled back, but look! Sikhs are pinned by jezail fire from the pomegranate grove, then charged and wiped out by the Afghan horse!
Alas, the follow on charge into the Highlanders is repulsed.
Elsewhere, Russian infantry chase off another charge.
Finally, the Regulars emerge from their barracks, and promptly walk out into the open...
Where they are shot down by the Russians.
I didn't take photos from the last few turns of the game. The Russians ended up basically pinned in place by jezail fire, but the Gurkhas and Highlanders ended up dashing along the side of the table, ignoring what little jezail fire that the Afghans were able to send their way. The Regulars were reduced to almost nothing (I think they had two figures left at the end of the game). We called the game for time before the Gurkhas reached the Russian end of the board, but there were almost no troops left to stop them at that point - just the remnants of a Russian infantry unit. The Afghans did brilliantly to keep the Imperials at bay, fighting a war on two fronts and holding both sides close to their start lines for most of the game. Especially impressive as the leadership was mostly incompetent!