We have just finished our inaugural Sudan weekend and what a belter it was. In the blazing heat of our toastie venue in Church Fenton, 6 intrepid Imperial players and 2 mad Mahdist men fought out a 36 move, 3 campaign day Sudan extravaganza.
The campaign was played out using the following map that represented 18 feet by 36 feet of our venue hall, plus an additional 9 feet by 9 feet in a side room for the Suakin Relief Column (SRC). The game was played as a four day, 12 turns per day campaign.
The Mahdi and his followers were besieging Khartoum and he had Osman Digna and another Emir with smaller forces positioned to delay or destroy the relief columns. The two players taking control of the Mahdist forces had a large map and counters to plot the moves of forces entering the table via the event cards as we limited visibility to 72”. Carl and Trevor did this “admin” brilliantly over the weekend, and it added intrigue and surprise to the campaign.
The Mahdist HQ planning the Imperial destruction
For this game, we added another 30 cards to the standard Sands of the Sudan (SotS) game deck with extra side missions, bonus’, penalties, and nasty surprises for both sides.
We had a number of special rules created for boats, squares, mobile hospital corps, personal combat, spies and supplies.
The Imperial player was allowed before the game to personalise their commanders with a random number of hand to hand combat and wound points, and a personal skill to improve their performance in melee, or when firing, or leading their troops.
Before starting the game, we played two small practice games, one to show some of the basic tactics that might be employed such as scouting and squares, and one as an attack on an Imperial supply base. This helped familiarise the players with the basic firing and melee mechanics of SotS.
Day 1 kicked off with the columns setting out from grid references B36 for the Desert Relief column (DRC), the River Boat Column (RBC) from E36, and the SRC from AA16. The first couple of moves were quiet. Then on move 3, HMS Bordein got a SotS card “Vessel in Difficulties” and was stuck on a sandbank for the turn. Having released itself, Maj General Earle then became ill (another card) and the Bordein stuck around opposite Korti for another two turns while he was treated.
Turn 4 also saw an attack on a supply base. A random role revealed it was at Bayuda Wells and another 50/50 chance roll indicated that it was the practice game we had already played. Therefore, the successful practice game had not been just for fun.
Turn 5 was quiet for the Imperials again, but turn 6 saw another card drawn for an attack on a supply base. This time it was Abu Klea, and this turned into a regular thing over the three campaign days. By turn 8, the attack had been driven off. Meanwhile, the RBC had got through the 4th cataracts, and the other columns were marching on triggering no ambushes and making steady progress. Some SotS cards for mahdist reinforcements had been drawn and were moving around via the map but had not showed themselves yet.
Turn 9 is when things started heating up. A small group of 300 spears was sighted by the SRC and the impetuous Bashi Bazouqs decided to follow them up over the hills towards the native village at W12.
Boy did this guys not live to regret this decision!
On turn 10 they crested the hill to see a huge force of 1000 fuzzies camped out and lead by Osman Digna. A reaction roll on turn 11 indicated that all 1300 would now charge after the soon to be retreating Bashi Bazouqs. As turn 12 drew to a close, so did the mahdists on the SRC and as they were within a charge move, we decided to play this into the first night as a melee.
The Suakin Relief column prepares to receive an attack by Osman Digna.
The Imperial commander had decided to ignore the tactic of the square, and deployed his whole force in line with Gendarmes to his right flank and the BB’s to the rear. Closing fire was not great but still did significant casualties, and with the result of the first round of melee, the Imperials had won, but the mahdists had not lost badly. A roll of 9 and they stuck around (even without the special rule for Osman and the Mahdi to influence the decision by one place up or down). The Imperial player in the 2nd round knew he would now be outnumbered by 2-1 so threw in everything he had. The combat went for two more rounds that the Mahdist player won during which Maj Gen Graham sought out Osman and killed him in hand to hand combat. However, by the end of round three, there was almost no Imperials left. By round 4 there were none and only 400 remaining fuzzies. The War Correspondent was the only one who survived as he legged it to make his report on the inadequacy of the Egyptian allies. Maj Gen Grahams head adorned a spear as the Mahdists retreated to their village with the body of their fallen leader. Definitely 1-0 now to the Mahdist players.
By the end of campaign day 1, the RBC had reached Abu Eglid where the Jocks had jumped off to investigate the Wadi and the boats had tied up for the night. The mounted troops of the DRC had reached Gakdul and the rest of the foot were approaching it.
The back-end of the Desert Relief column struggles to keep up on foot.
The mounted part of the Desert Relief column reaches Gakdul Wells for a nice cup of tea before leaving it the next day to be repeatedly assaulted.
Day 2 of the campaign was half played on the Saturday, giving us another six moves of action (moves 13 to 18). On turn 14 a major sandstorm hit the table stopping all Imperial movement and reducing visibility to 4”. This was very annoying for the RBC commander, Nigel, as he had just arrived at the 5th cataracts and was unable to proceed until he could see the rocks. When the sandstorm lifted on turn 15, he discovered that not only had he the cataracts to navigate, but also a blockading force of 3 Mahdist dhows to deal with. Never smooth sailing, even on the Nile! Fighting here now took from move 16 to move 20 to complete before the native dhows were sunk or routed.
The RBC locked in a firefight as the Jocks jump off to scout the ground
The DRC was now moving towards Abu Klea and was stretched out along the road between there and Gakdul, but was hampered by the sandstorm and then on turn 17, excessive heat causing the column to slow to half speed for 4 turns or risk losing men to exhaustion. Finally, on turn 18 an Emir leading a force of1200 spear, 170 rifles and 200 camels from the native village at O26 started to approach Gakdul where the back of the DRC had just left. Sunday was going to be very interesting.
One for you Carlo. Thanks for the rules, as seen here just before Gakdul receives its first attack of Day 2.
On turn 19, the first played on Sunday, Gakdul was attacked. However, the board was then hit by a minor sandstorm that reduced Imperial movement and visibility was down to 10”. It was funny the way some cards came out despite being shuffled, sorted into 4 decks for the 4 campaign days and then reshuffled individually. Also on that turn the Drums started. Additionally, 400 fuzzies mounted another assault on Abu Klea.
A view of almost everyone at the table reviewing proceedings.
Turn 20 saw the Drums stop, possibly due to a poorly finger of the mahdist drummer or no staying power. The attack went in on Gakdul’s small Garrison of 24 Egyptians and unbelievably due to the first round melee calculations, they beat off the spears and rifles. Our super mahdist statistician, Trevor, was by now pointing out some issues with probability, but we pointed out that this is normally a game where the players are all Imperial and are designed so as not to annihilate the Imperial forces too quick or too easily.
By turn 21, the DRC was thinking its rear was saved by the brave defenders of Gakdul and so continued on their merry way towards Abu Klea only to suddenly spot 700 spears and 200 cavalry heading down from the direction of the Hamboli Wells.
Also along came the travelling menagerie which they decided to sweep aside. Lucky the consequence card had already been out.
Turn 22 saw the Mahdi himself make the decision to not continue the siege of Khartoum, but to use his 2000 spears to attack Abu Klea and the DRC. Tom who was commanding the Wells of Abu Klea was able to see off the attackers once again, but was starting to be worn down by the repeated attacks.
With almost 3000 mahdists now barrelling towards them, on turn 23, Ian, the DRC commander had the Camel Corps form into 2 deep square, as did the reduced battalions of the Royal Sussex and Black Watch that were lagging a few moves further back towards Gakdul. The three troops of cavalry also dismounted to form a tiny square in the middle and to the rear of the other two. Matt was able to complete a personal mission to rescue a missionary and his daughter from a native village in the hills to the SE of Gakdul. At Gakdul itself, the smaller mahdist attack on the rear building was driven off, but the defenders are the front were cut down on turn 24. Three Egyptian figures remained and during the night, they removed their uniforms and disappeared off towards Bayuda Wells, never to be seen again.
On the final turn of campaign day 2, the Mahdists addressed their own lines just outside rifle range and one of the two cards drawn for the turn was Drums Start again. Obviously, they had recruited a new John Bonham to the drums and the Mahdi had ordered that the Imperialist dogs endure a very restless and nervous night in their squares. The RBC had cleared the rapids and were approaching Berber.
The sun came up on campaign day 3 and both sides were eager to get stuck in, although after day ones hammering of the SRC, there must have been a few squeaky bums on the Imperial side. Turn 25 saw the Mahdi order in the charges. He had picked up another few hundred spears and he sent the whole of his foot warriors against the camel corps and Abu Klea. The cavalry went to try and break the Royal Sussex, Black Watch and Gardner Gun on the corner of the their square (where have we heard of that one before?).
The Mahdi (far right) releases his 2000 spears towards the British relief column along with 900 other assorted cavalry, Fuzzies and spears
Turn 27 was when the mahdist forces hit home. The cavalry were badly mauled and retired, but despite heavy losses versus Abu Klea and the Camel Corps, with the special modifier for the Mahdi (+1 or -1 to the reaction result), the mahdist forces stuck around for more. Turn 28 saw the Abu Klea garrison fend off the attackers against them, although it left them with only a few figures left. The fight at the square continued into turn 5 after the mahdists won the second round. Great skill (throwing a cavalry squadron into the back of the spears) and luck then combined to enable the Imperials to win the third round. After a poor initial random roll of 5, they worked out that they would need to have thrown a 1 and the mahdists would need at least a 5 to enable them to win. They played their “Second Chance” card that enabled them to throw the dice again and they scored a 1. The mahdists then threw a 5 and there were many British hurrahs and much rejoicing. Even the Mahdi could not then keep his remaining forces from retiring. The remaining Camel Corps marched into Abu Klea a turn later to lick their wounds and recover.
Another view of the epic battles about to take place.
Meanwhile, on turn 27 the RBC had disgorged the Naval companies and the South Staffordshire battalion and Maj Gen Earle who then preceded to march towards Abu Klea to reinforce the battered Brits.
HMS Bordein and the other boats along with the reduced Gordon Highlanders battalion continued on to the 6th cataracts. On turn 31 they are ambushed by two Mahdist guns and 100 rifles from rock positions at the other side of the cataracts, and so the Gordons get off again and advance towards them whilst the boats give what fire they can. On turn 34, a lucky hit on the ammunition store from the mahdist guns accidentally triggers a fatal explosion on the Bordein and it sinks with only the mobile hospital and crew aboard. The Gordons charge the guns on turn 35 and clear the position on the last turn of campaign day 3.
From turn 25, a new patrol consisting of a full battalion of Egyptians and some cavalry and artillery support emerged from Metemneh having been out on patrol from Khartoum and thought lost. A turn later and 6 companies from Khartoum left to march to the sound of the guns and join this column.
The outskirts of Khartoum top left and the converging Egyptian forces.
On turn 30, having joined up and marching directly towards Abu Klea, the leading troop of Bashir Bazouq’s gamely charge 300 intervening spears and cause them to retire. Over the remaining 6 moves of the day, they eventually silenced a Mahdist gun on the three hills facing Khartoum and form square on the kidney hill at grid reference L10.
This Egyptian Commander had learned the lesson of forming square for protection.
The final six turns for the DRC see the Royal Sussex and Black Watch first fight off 900 spears, and are then attacked once more by 400 camels. This resulted in the only breaking of a square by the mahdists in the game. Using our special square rules, the camels forced the weaker corner occupied by the Gardner gun and broke in. Unfortunately for them, although normally this would have resulted in them being able to outnumber the Imperials in the 2nd round of combat (we don’t allow squares to fight more than the front rank and never to be outnumbered unless broken), they did not have enough left to do this and were themselves now outnumbered and were subsequently driven off.
The camels queue up for their turn against the Imperial Square, before they broke it.
As night fell on the third campaign day, we had run out of weekend to play. The Mahdi’s main forces had been decimated and driven off, but not before causing considerable losses to the Imperial forces. It would make poor reading in the newspapers back at home when the War Correspondents despatches arrived. Whilst the siege of Khartoum had been lifted and Gordon was spared his real life fate, too many lives had been lost. On our points system, the Mahdist players, despite their general lack of control and the disadvantages due to the way the rules work, had caused so much damage to the Imperial players that they had kept them to a negative score.
Richard and I had a cracking time umpiring this game and we thank the Sheffield 1980 Uni boys for coming back again to Legendary Wargames.
If you would like a bash at trying to do a better job as Imperials, or get to wear the Afro wig as a Mahdist, please get in touch. We would love to host your weekend.