Recommend
27 
 Thumb up
 Hide
8 Posts

Little Wars» Forums » Sessions

Subject: An epic French Foreign Legion scenario for Little Wars rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Pete Belli
United States
Florida
flag msg tools
designer
"If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb


H.G. Wells developed rules for a wargame using toy soldiers and published his classic book entitled Little Wars in 1913. To celebrate the 1913-2013 centennial I plan to create a series of illustrated Session Reports depicting several famous battles.






This epic French Foreign Legion scenario is intended to represent a broad spectrum of engagements that were fought in North Africa between 1881 and 1912. While elements of several different tactical situations have been incorporated in this Session Report the basic framework for the battle depicted here was Sidi Bou Othman… where the legion did not have an important role. More on this later.






A sincere attempt was made to follow the intention and spirit of the original rules created by H.G. Wells. Of course, a few adjustments were made in order to recreate the historical narrative. I also modified the Close Assault rules in an effort to clarify the fiddly method used by H.G. Wells and his companions. I will describe many of these relatively minor changes in the Session Report.






This photograph shows the typical starting positions for both commanders. Most of the French formations represent battalions. The Arab forces abstractly represent tribal groups of varying loyalty to al-Hiba, the charismatic leader who claimed the title of Sultan in Marrakesh. For convenience, one commander will be called the “French player” and one commander will be called the “Arab player” in spite of the fact that both armies included a diverse assortment of soldiers from Europe and Africa.

The map is a depiction of the terrain near Sidi Bou Othman. The rectangular grid measures six feet by four feet and the scale is approximately 1 foot equals 1.5 miles. The contoured hills are rough terrain which restricts movement. The towns near the bottom of the map are the French objectives. Each turn probably represents a couple of hours. Infantry moves six inches and cavalry moves twelve inches.

A simple command rule was inspired by the classic Memoir '44 system developed by the talented Richard Borg. The map is divided into three sections. During a turn a player can activate all of the figures in one section or activate one “formation” in each section. For the purposes of this scenario a formation is all of the figures which can be deployed under my special battle zone template. I will illustrate the rules for this device later in the Session Report.






I mentioned the theme of this scenario and its attempt to portray a broad spectrum of battles fought by the French Foreign Legion. This photograph is a good example. At the battle of Menabha in 1908 a detachment of legionnaires fought behind a hastily constructed stone fortification as they protected their irreplaceable pack train from Arab marauders. So… here we have a French unit in defensive positions behind a crude breastwork.






The shrapnel rules from the original 1913 edition have been included in this scenario. The same three inch circle is used to represent the impact of the shell. I decided that when a shell strikes a figure it stops its trajectory immediately. A shell which ricochets off a piece of terrain like a rock or a bush (these are largely for display purposes) continues its flight unless it bounces backward.

I retained the basic firepower rules developed by H.G. Wells. A player make take one shot for each five infantry or cavalry figures and one shot for each machine gun. The superior French artillery fires two shots per action phase but the inexpertly targeted Krupp guns in the army of al-Hiba receive no such benefit. French machine guns played a crucial role in most of these battles so the Maxim gun unit may fire automatically every turn without a specific order… if it has a clear field of fire.






French forces in North Africa included colonial Zouaves, Tirailleurs (light infantry) from Senegal or Algeria, Spahi cavalry, Chasseurs d’Afrique (African light horse), and the Foreign Legion. To reflect the superior fighting ability of the legion this formation includes 12 figures instead of eight like the other French units. In this photograph the French commander Colonel Mangin is observing the action. This headquarters cadre can “order” one additional French unit each turn. Since al-Hiba remained at Marrakesh and sent his brother out to fight the Arab player receives no command bonus.






The different colored Arab figures (beige, tan, brown) are used to represent the loyalty each formation is willing to offer al-Hiba. He had promised his followers that divine intervention would render the French bullets totally harmless. When an Arab defeat during an early skirmish with Mangin’s approaching column proved otherwise al-Hiba’s supporters began to waver. These tan figures represent a tribal formation willing to defend this town and the surrounding region but not willing to participate in a jihad against the French interlopers. This formation must remain in one corner of the board near the line of hills.

These hills (or djebels) hinder the movement of infantry and halt the advance of cavalry formations for the remainder of a turn. There are two territorial objectives for the French player: the towns guarding the passes which lead to Marrakesh. Stopping the French advance will give victory to the Arab player. Both commanders may receive a bonus for the capture or destruction of an enemy supply train. The scenario lasts six turns.






The beige Arab units represent those formations most loyal to al-Hiba. Since these tribal warriors should never be committed to the battle until a crucial moment arrives the four beige units (camel cavalry, infantry, pack train, and artillery) can’t be moved during the first turn.

For the purposes of this scenario horse cavalry formations and camel cavalry units function identically. However, the French cavalry unit in gray uniforms is intended to represent a contingent of goumiers, or irregular Algerian cavalry fighting with the French. These men served primarily as scouts and were more interested in plunder than hard fighting. If the goumier cavalry unit is targeted by a Close Assault the formation retreats automatically.






French mounted troops were heavily outnumbered by Arab cavalry formations but the Arabs suffered from two tactical challenges. Since most of the Arab horsemen fired while mounted their aim was often a little high. The tribal warriors also faced a chronic shortage of ammunition. To reflect these elements Arab cavalry formations include eight figures while Arab “infantry” units have twelve figures. Even during combat at close quarters almost all of the French casualties were gunshot wounds… the Arabs seldom used their edged weapons.






The original melee rules developed by H.G. Wells had an awkward quality because each unit involved in a Close Assault could be entangled in a complex web of supported and unsupported formations. I avoided that by creating a 4 inch by 8 inch “battle zone” template which performs multiple functions.

The center of the template is placed at a point of contact chosen by the attacking player and any figure within that sector is participating in the Close Assault. The commander has the option of an echelon advance by a deep column (shown here) or a broad front attack with the battle zone turned in the other direction.

Keeping the original charm of the H.G. Wells system without complicating the rules was a challenge. The rules for Close Assault are similar to the 1913 edition. The difference between the two forces is calculated and both armies lose that number of figures. When the attacker obtains a 2-1 advantage in combat power the defender is forced to retreat and the victorious attacker is awarded one free shot from the location of the Close Assault. If the attacker begins the Close Assault with a 2-1 advantage both sides suffer losses with the defender losing 50% of his force and the attacker losing 50% of what the defender lost. Once again, a withdrawal is followed by a free shot with the spring-loaded cannon.






The template is also used to determine which groups of five miniatures are eligible to fire. All of the soldiers in a firing group must be inside the 4 inch by 8 inch template. This prevents an extended line of scattered figures deployed several inches apart by an unscrupulous commander from claiming the status of a formation for combat purposes. Massing troops for a powerful Close Assault leaves formations vulnerable to enemy fire. Figures advancing in skirmish lines will probably suffer fewer casualties but can’t overwhelm the enemy defenses without numerical superiority.

Although leaving the dead or wounded miniatures on the battlefield added clutter to the terrain I took a childish playing-with-army-men pleasure in seeing these empty saddles. I absolutely refuse to grow up.






The wadi or dry streambed is one of the most crucial terrain features in this arid environment. A wadi is like a marriage… it’s easy to get into but hard to get out. A formation maneuvering along the course of a wadi moves normally. However, a unit attempting to enter or leave a wadi across the escarpment pays a severe penalty. A unit may never fire while in a wadi.






This photograph of a column advancing on the French left flank depicts a scene similar to the battle of Moualok or Chellala in 1881. A large group of Arabs took up defensive positions to block a French advance. When the French infantry impulsively rushed forward Arab horsemen concealed nearby swept behind the legionnaires and pillaged the supply train.

While the Arabs certainly fought to defend their homes and families the potential for lucrative plunder was an important motivator. Pack trains became prime targets because they were military objectives and a source of instant wealth. Of course, the French troops were also interested in loot. After one detachment of legionnaires captured a herd of four thousand sheep the animals were auctioned off and each man in the expedition received 15 francs… a small fortune in the underpaid French Foreign Legion.

The capture of an enemy supply train earns the player a substantial victory point bonus. There is also a special “panic” rule for the rear echelon types who guard these pack animals. A supply train may never move backward. If it is forced to withdraw, the formation scatters and is considered to be a casualty.



This scenario turned into a slugfest across the middle of the table after the bold actions executed by the Arab player on each flank fizzled. The cannon fire on both sides was not accurate and a lot of time was wasted looking for shells that sailed over the heads of the French army. Neither player captured a supply train. The French artillery mowed down the Arab cavalry but timid leadership slowed the offensive to a crawl. I need to make a special rule allowing the Foreign Legion to move and fire in the same turn, so the legionnaires can assume their historical role as shock troops.

Thank you for taking a few minutes to read this lengthy article.

Future scenarios in my Little Wars series will include Ethiopia 1936, Spion Kop 1900, an alternative history American Civil War battle fought in 1918, and hopefully many more.
26 
 Thumb up
7.25
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Pete Belli
United States
Florida
flag msg tools
designer
"If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Here is a camel's eye view of the action:



After a quick calculation:

The scenario includes 133 foot soldiers (including officers) and 48 mounted figures. There are 16 camels, 32 cavalry horses, and 3 pack animals. It also includes 3 artillery pieces and 1 machine gun. Toss in the buildings, palm trees, olive trees, and assorted scenery items and I have a 250+ piece French Foreign Legion playset!

14 
 Thumb up
1.00
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Barry Kendall
United States
Lebanon
Pennsylvania
flag msg tools
designer
mbmbmbmbmb
Another splendid job, Pete! I'm thinking you must have a very sturdy table for all those little 20mm guys to stand on without toppling.

When you used the word "playset" my mind flashed to the grand old Marx days and I pictured a 54mm set. That would take a stage instead of a table! But the colors on your figures are so close to what I remember that if not for the different poses, they'd pass for Marx guys!

P.S. I've never seen a wadi compared to a marriage before! But quite apt.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
"L'état, c'est moi."
Canada
Vancouver
BC
flag msg tools
admin
designer
Roger's Reviews: check out my reviews page, right here on BGG!
badge
Caution: May contain wargame like substance
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Brilliant Pete.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Seth Owen
United States
Norwich
Connecticut
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
You should do an eBook, Pete. this is fantastic.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
Lighthouse Beach
NSW
flag msg tools
badge
Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb



A group of Legionnaires found themselves stranded in the desert, lost on patrol, wandering aimlessly, starving and close to death. They are ready to just lie down and wait for the inevitable, when all of a sudden one of them detects the distinct smell of smoked meat. "Mon capitaine, do you smell what I smell? It’s bacon. I’m sure of it. It must be ze bacon tree.”

"Yes, Pierre, it smells like bacon to me as well."

So, with renewed strength, the entire platoon struggle to the top of a sand dune and can see a few dunes away, a tree loaded with smoked prosciutto, culatello, shanks, butts, picnic and country cuts, . . .every imaginable kind of cured and smoked pig meat.

"We are saved." Pierre exclaimed "It is in fact a bacon tree".

"Pierre, are you sure it is not a mirage? We are in the desert don't forget"

"Mon capitaine, it is no mirage, it is a bacon tree".

The entire platoon starting running, with the last of their remaining strength towards the bacon tree.

Just before they reached it the ground around them exploded with automatic weapon fire.

The capitaine shouted to his men, "It is as I expected...It’s not not ze bacon tree. It is...ze 'am bush"


6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
John
United States
Masspequa
New York
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Terrific job Pete, the figures remind me of the old Airfix 00 gauge that I used to collect.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Peter Veenstra
Netherlands
Delft
flag msg tools
Attaque! Toujours attaque!!
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
pete belli wrote:
Here is a camel's eye view




Great report!
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.