The Great Game was a strategic rivalry between Russia and the British Empire which ran throughout most of the 19th century and early 20th century which both powers duelled for control of Central Asia using local proxies and outright military intervention but not coming into direct conflict with each other. The Russians wanted increased influence in Central Asia and India while the British felt threateened by Russian expansionism.
Center to the great game was Afghanistan as for the Russians it was right smack in the middle of Russian central Asia and British India. Both sides feared Afghanistan could be used a a staging ground for further expansion to each other's territories.
In 1837, the British fearing increasing Russian influence in Afghanistan sent an envoy to parley with the ruler of Afghanistan Dost Mohammad Khan. Talks broke down as Dost Khan wanted the city of Peshawar back as it was conquered by the Sikh Empire who was an ally of the British. Growing Russian influence in Dost Khan's court prompted a British expedition of 16,000 British and Indian troops to remove Dost Khan from power and install their puppet leader Shuja Shah Durani.
While the expedition started on Feb 1839, due to a long and unstable logistical line, negotiations with local tribes along the invasion route, and rough mountain terrain resulted in the capture of of Kabul in Mid 1839. After a few disastrous clashes with the British. Dost Khan abandoned Kabul an headed off into the mountains to gather a resistance force.
With the capture of Kabul(the traditional capital of Afghanistan) the British thought the war won and installed their puppet Shah Durani. However, Shah had little support from the Afghan tribes as his troops and entourage were mostly Indian. The British conquest of Afghanistan was also superficial and the British only controlled the cities but the countryside was controlled by the Afghan resistance. However Dost Mohammad due to decided to parley with the British(since his was increasingly isolated as the Afghan tribes were bribed by the British not to ally with him) and in exchange for a luxurious exile in India. Afghanistan now seemed to settle down and become new territory in the British Empire.
However a new Tory Government under Prime Minister Robert Peel in England came into power in August, 1841. England was at the time in an economic recession due to a huge budget deficit run by the earlier Whig Prime Minister William Lamb(Viscount Melbourne). Peel had done huge budget cuts in government spending...part of these cuts affected the bribes to keep the Afghan tribes in line. These bribes were cut in half and this enraged the Afghan tribes and in Nov. 1841, they revolted and by Jan. 1942, the British Army in Kabul was literally almost wiped out to the last man with 16,000 men destroyed. Some were kept as hostages mainly high ranking British officials and their families.
With the situation in Afghanitan reaching catastrophic proportions, the British defeat at Afghanistan was seen as a beacon for active anti British resistance within its Empire. Something had to be done. While the British saw their position as untenable, a lesson had to be taught to the Afghans not to fuck with the British.
A large British expedition consisting of 14 regiments and support artillery and dependents marched to Kabul. Brushing off Afghan ambushes, managed to capture Kabul, sack the city and rescue the hostages.
However the British did not stay and the reprisal expedition marched back to India leaving Afghanistan to its own devices.
Throughout the rest of the 19th century and early 20th century, Afghanistan would remain a thorn on the side of British India and was considered a lawless region(also known as the northwest frontier which the British established to be a buffer to Afghanistan).
This would not be an end to conflict as due to Russian intrigues the British would again try to conquer Afghanistan in 1878-1880 in the Second Anglo Afghan war, this would also bloodily fail. Another war in 1919 mainly fought in the Northwest frontier border areas taking advantage of British weakness due to the Great war and in order to divert political problems at home. But that's another story.
The First Afghan war has 180 counters and a nice looking map. Since this is S&T in the mid 1990s. The production levels are not as good and not colourful however, the production levels. are OK.
Sequence of play as follows:
Depending on the scenario, either the British(Scenario 1), or Afghan(scenario 2) goes first.
First player turn
A. Events segment. The turn player rolls on his sides respective random events table and applies the results. random events show the background events happening in the greater context of the war like revolts in British India, Russian intrigues etc.
B. Reinforcement and Replacement Phase. the current side gets replacements and reinforcements during this turn. The British and Afghans have a different system of getting reinforcemetns and replacements.
The British have a set schedule of Reinforcements to come in though British entry sites and have a limited number of replacement points to recover eliminated units.
The Afghans are much more informal as a die roll is rolled during the Afghan reinforcement phase on the Afhgan reinforcement table, and this could result in either nothing happening, desertion(in which case a 1d6 is rolled and that number of Afghan units are returned to the Afghan reinforcement pool) or recruits are successful and a 1d6 is rolled and the number rolled is the number of units drawn from the Afghan reinforcement pool. (modified by the number of Victory points(Vps) one side or another has.
This is a great way of showing the British had a formal and defined military structure while the Afghans depended on tribal loyalty to muster their forces. During the war, Afghans fought en masse and followed a charismatic leader with proven battle prowess however when the battle was not going their way, the Afghans would just go home and fight another day.
C. Movement segment. The Phasing player moves his units. Again both sides have movement differences. The Afghan player generally pays less for moving through rought terrain(well its his home turf).
A very interesting mechanic is brought forth in this segment as before a force moves(a stack of units in a hex), a roll is made on the March table, the roll is modified by a selected leader adding his strategic rating to roll. roll can result in a force not being able to move in a turn, moving normally, or doing a forced march which double movement rates(a wrong roll can result in a lost unit).
Again this is realistic as units of the time were very much constrained by logistics(in the case of the British) and by the will to fight and the charisma of its leader(in the case of the Afghans) in order to move and follow orders.
ZOCs(Zones of control) work differently here as entering ZOCs just means the force pays 1 extra MP to move into.
Optional rules for the movement segment allows a force to attack while moving while paying for more movement points.
D. Battle Segment: The Phasing player decides to attack enemy units. When combat is decided. Units are put on a battle mat. Before each battle. Initiative is rolled for by both sides with a leader chosen(if any), their respective tactic ratings are added to the rolls. The higher roll fires first for the whole battle. Ties are rerolled.
A battle is divided into three subsegments followed in the following order:
Artillery segment: Both sides fire their artillery at each other.
Rifle Segment: Units with rifles or muskets get to fire during this phase.
Melee segment: Units with rifles, muskets, Melee weapons get to fire during this turn(in short units with rifles get to fire twice every battle, well they got bayonets and melee weapons too).
To reflect this, there are three different CRT(combat tables) tables(artillery, rifle, Melee) and the effectiveness of combat units depend on the weapons used. The discipline class of a unit also greatly affects combat(veteran, Line, rabble and Fanatic). This is excellent as it greatly illustrates the armies of the time. Veterans are great when using artillery and rifles(due to their discipline) while fanatics are great at melee(lots of testosterone but low on discipline).
Units hit are either demoralized(no DRMs can be added to the fire) or eliminted(outright or with a second demorazlized hit on the unit).
Unit fire is also seperated with units with matching morale and weapons used firing seperately from other different units. Leaders can add their tactical rating to their die rolls of a target firing unit(or group of units).
E. Logistics Segment: the Phasing player checks the supply status of their untis. Again this segment illustrates the differences of both armies.
The British are dependent on supply trains to supply their units. They are less adept at foraging.The Afghans do not have supply trains but are better at foraging.
A force either expends a friendly supply train in range to supply their force in a turn or forage. When foraging, a die is rolled and a leader adds his strategic value to the roll. The terrain which the force is in is critical to the roll. It is easier to forage in plains, towns etc. but more difficult to do in hills and mountains. The result is the number of units in the force that are in supply. Units not in supply are demoralized but if already demoralized are elimianted.
Afghans have an easier time to forage as they have better forage results.
F. Rally Segment: Demorazlied units controlled by the phasing player are rolled to have their demoralized rating removed. Again the tactical rating of a leader can be added to the die rolls and the better the morale rating of a unit, the easier is it to rally. Units can also desert and be removed from play.
The Second player then copies what the first player does. Then on to the next turn.
Victory depends on accumulating victory points, victory points are accumulated by eliminating enemy units, occupying and controlling important cities and towns. Eliminating enemy leaders etc.
At the end of the game, the difference of VPs between the players determines the level of victory.
Now I really like this game and in my humble opinion is the best of the Sun Never Sets series(First Afghan war, French Foreign legion, Sun never Sets 2). This is an excellent system to illustrates the colonial wars. The game also shows not only the differences between both combatants well but also the background politics which affected the war.
In order to get the full historical flavour of the game, I recomend the full optional rules suite be applied. The optional rules include the use of engineers, attack while moving, entrenchments and especially negotiations....The British can negotiate with enemy leaders in order to gain safe passage through their areas. This was actually common during the war as the Afghan tribes accepted bribes to gain their loyalty(temporarilly of course since they would ask for more bribes).
The British units are strong especially in artillery and rifles but they are very much dependent on a tenous logistical situation where they are dependent on supply trains and capturing and occupying fortresses(units in fortresses are auto supplied). They also have a set number of reinforcements and their eliminated units can only be brought back by a limited number of replacement points(all reinforcemtns and replaced units start at the British starting positions at the edge of the map). the British also have the onus of attack as they have achieve their goals by the end of the game.
The Afghans have weaker units and have a more random means of gaining reinforcements. Destroyed units are placed in the Afghan reinforcement pool(except for leaders) and can come back later but you never know what kind of units you are getting. However while weaker, the Afghans are particularly strong in two areas. One, they have a substantial number of rifle units, historically, the Afghans used Jezail muskets which have a longer range than European muskets. Two, they have strong numbers of high quality melee units. These are deadly in melee combat. While the Afghans have rifle units, many of them are rabble. So while the Afghans have the potential to cause more damage, they do not have fire discipline. However when it comes to melee, the Afghans are deadly. The Afghans are also on the onus to defend. Afghanistan has excellent defensive terrain and this shows in the game as Afghan units generally do not get penalties for moving or attacking into Mountain or hilly terrain.
So the general tactic for all sides is, for the British attack but also watch your logistics and supply lines and do not bunch up too many units in a hex as they couuld get messed up by supply, however bunching up less can make them excellent targets for the Afghans. Again Afghans defend but have to counterattack too.
The British have the advantage in the first scenario but the tables are turned in the second scenario due to almost no main British reinforcements coming in except for random events.
Still while one side has the advantage in the scenarios, its still not easy going and I found it a hard slog with an even chance of losing especially when not using the optional rules.(engineers in particular).
I like the game since its balanced, has innovative rules to show the politics, logistics and combat in an easy but innovative way. The rules are also easy to understand and the game is fast to play. Also there is a relatively low counter density with 180 counters and I found that the game has an excellent replay value....VERY HIGHLY recomended.
Very nice review of a game that I have not played for a long time.
I actually bought this game sometime in 1999 and I am just playing it now...too busy....it is a great game.
Yeah, the game is replayable and plays fast too once you get the hang of the rules which is not difficult.
If the Brits don't use the engineer optional rules, its more difficult trying to dig out the Afghans in their fortresses and more difficult in winning the game. In the first scenario, the Brits had one column destroyed because of overextension.(too much attacking not watching logisctics and the eventual Afghan counterattack).