Encounter in the Sudan: A Playtest

Now, after many trials and tribulations, I’ve got some basic rules that strike my fancy, and I thought it fit to give them a trial run to see just how they played out on the actual tabletop.

I selected two armies of equal strength (4 units each) and stood them in opposition across a vast, featureless desert plain (dining table).  I wanted to see how the rules played out in the most basic scenario I could think of first, before testing them in more complex circumstances.

To the British heavy patrol I gave:

  • 2 squads of Foot (Royal Warwickshire Regt.)
  • 1 squadron of Indian cavalry (2nd Bengal Lancers)
  • 1 field gun (32nd Field Battery)
The Mahdist forces were:
  • 2 bands of Arab riflemen (Danagla tribesmen)
  • 1 unit of spearmen (Black Flag)
  • 1 squadron of Arab cavalry (Kerreri)

To Battle!

The lay of the land; opposing forces

On the dice roll the Mahdists get the first turn, and, given the long range of the British field gun, elect to advance their Arab riflemen to within striking distance.  The British reply with a devastating volley which fells 5 Denagla tribesmen and causes the remaining 5 to turn tail (after failing a Retreat Test).

Mahdists grimly advancing as bullets fly

The Mahdists next advance their spear unit (20 strong, but with no ranged fire capability) and their second rifle unit, both of which suffer casualties from British rifle fire.  The second unit of riflemen turns out to be made of stern stuff, however, and holds on, even returning fire and cutting down 6 brave Warwickshire men, thus causing that squad to fall back past the lancers.

The 2nd Bengals, no longer having a protective screen of infantry to their front, decide to charge the Arab riflemen before they can loose another volley.

The shock and awe of a cavalry charge

The charge goes swimmingly and the lancers cut down 5 more Arabs.  Unfortunately, before they can withdraw in good order the nearby Black Flag spearmen rush into their flank. A vicious melee ensues, but the lancers are overwhelmed by the Black Flag numbers and fall under a sea of stabbing blades.

Lancers' last stand

The British field artillery crew looses a blast of canister into the spearmen horde before the savages are also upon them!

Hold the gun boys!

All but the stolid artillery captain are killed or run off in the brutal hand to hand combat that follows.  Luckily for him, the enemy fighters are so reduced that they turn tail back to their lines and are easily cut down as they flee.


By now both forces have been severely reduced, but the Mahdists manage to rally one of their retreating units of riflemen and proceed to advance towards the final British foot unit (which has lent one of its own to the gun crew to allow the field piece to continue firing).

Cut down

Again the British musketry proves deadly, and this time the entire attacking unit is felled before managing to get off even a single shot.  At this point the game is all but up, but the final squadron of Arab cavalry attempt a daring headlong charge into the mouth of the field cannon.

Despite losing 2 of their number to another shot of canister, the fearless tribesmen reach the British lines and cut down the remaining artillerymen.

Charge of the Mohommedan brigade

Their victory is short lived, however, as the British rifles which had so effectively decimated their mates earlier in the battle are now trained on them.  One thunderous volley of smoke and fire later and the battle is decided, with the British strong patrol just barely the winners.


A couple thoughts I had coming out of this:

  • Artillery is overpowered; the British possession of one field gun forced the Mahdist troops into the attack, simply because they had nothing to compete.  To counter this I’ve decided to institute an artillery reloading rule which means that artillery can not be used in 2 consecutive turns.
  • Victory seems to go to the defenders, since it is they who inevitably get the first shot off.  Perhaps an objective which causes both forces to need to advance will mitigate this.
  • Cavalry needs a better saving roll than infantry to counter the smaller unit sizes.
  • Units should be more likely to retreat when they are down to fewer and fewer men.  I need to have a simple mechanic to allow for this (perhaps roll one extra dice in a Retreat Test per man killed in the unit?  Please post suggestions in the comments!)
Coming next: The Defense of Rum Drift!  Hope you’ll enjoy.
Published in: on July 18, 2011 at 9:20 am  Comments (1)  
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  1. In some rules sets I use cavalry casualties are halved.

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