After a break of a couple of weeks we returned to the gaming table for a colonial game. Once again Ahmed Mustafa was on a mission to defeat the insurgent Sudanese. His force had been led a merry dance by the Sudanese forces and he finds himself far from the Nile with water supplies running dangerously low. His one chance is to reach the oasis at Alam, a fact not missed by the Sudanese. Usually in these games the Imperial forces march onto a table devoid of Sudanese troops and have to feel their way forward; which is fine as far as it goes, but it does give a big advantage to the Sudanese. As an experiment we decided to include some element of doubt for the Sudanese commander. The terrain pieces on the table were each allocated a card from a pack which had 19 Sudanese units and 10 blanks. Any remaining cards were potential reinforcements which could arrive, at random, on any table edge.
I took the role of Sudanese commander and Steve deployed his Imperial troops ready for his advance on the oasis. Scouts were sent out towards the patches of rough terrain where my units may have been located. I did have the option of revealing a card myself, but thought it best to encourage Steve to spread his forces out. The units furthest from the Imperials were moved forward to support those defending the oasis and a good job too as things turned out.
The scouts reached the first terrain feature (just to the right of the wadi on the left of the photo above) and I turned over the card, to revealed a gun and crew. Perhaps a bit too close to the enemy, but at least there were a three cards in close proximity which could give some support. The card in the wadi turned out to be a blank as did a second slightly further back. When the scouts reached my third 'support' this also turned out to be a blank! My left flank was looking a little thin at this point, but at least I managed to roll high enough to receive a reinforcement, which arrived at the rear table edge.
My supports were now visible to the enemy and had to be revealed, fortunately they proved to be Hadendoa, though they had a long way to go to contact the enemy and were therefore vulnerable to fire. Steve was stretching out his left hand units to investigate more concealing terrain and was delighted when yet more blank cards were revealed; six of the ten blanks in the pack had been dealt to the terrain features nearest the Imperial troops! My artillery in spite of being very isolated had managed to draw back and thanks to a hesitant Imperial advance (low dice) had inflicted some casualties in the process. A charge by a unit of Egyptian troops failed to reach the gun due to terrain and yet more low dice and this enabled the Hadendoa to close with the Egyptian infantry without suffering too many casualties. The melee was brief and bloody with the Egyptians losing 50% of their men and retreating. A second unit, advancing in column was uncovered by the retreat, but the Hadendoa were still reorganising after their success and this delay gave the Egyptians just enough time to reform and then stop the Sudanese charge with a volley.
On my right two more Hadendoa units were advancing and the first attacked the Egyptian line. Again the Sudanese prevailed in the melee, but seeing the Egyptian artillery and also cavalry waiting for them, decided to take cover in some rocky ground. Just in time, my camel and cavalry units were revealed and they moved forward to tackle their opposite numbers. The camelry were successful against their opponents, but seeking to move around the rear of the Imperial force, found themselves isolated and subject to the fire of the Egyptian artillery. After losing over half their numbers they had to fall back to rally. The Sudanese cavalry seemed to have a charmed life. Three times the Egyptian machine gun jammed when it tried to fire at them (Steve rolled 6s at just the wrong time). However, when it came to meleeing the Egyptian cavalry their luck changed. In a trice, they were totally defeated leaving a large gap into which the Egyptian horse could advance.
The one unit of reinforcements I had received had by now made it's way forward and had occupied the last piece of rough ground in front of the oasis, (that card had proved to be a blank as well!). The Arab riflemen had managed to pick off a few artillerymen, but found themselves outnumbered and outflanked with no supports in sight. My gun crew were also falling back in front of the advancing Imperial troops, so in true native fashion my troops elected to fade into the desert, leaving the Imperials to reach the oasis, but regrouping to fight another day.
The use of the hidden units made for an exciting game, even though we had to cope with an extreme result; of the 10 blank cards, 9 were placed on the table, although only half the pack was dealt there. It did create a viable game with some realism, not all desert columns were faced by overwhelming numbers. Small harassing skirmishes could, over time, sap the strength of the column ready for the final battle.