Sunday, February 3, 2013

Going To The Frontier With MacDuff

This Friday at the Mad Padre's Wargaming Chapel my friend Ryan came over to help me accomplish two objectives. The first was to dust off some figures that haven't seen use in my last two moves and postings. The second was to try Ross MacFarlane's free rules, With MacDuff To The Frontier. Ross describes these as "19th Century Toy Soldier Wargaming Rules", and they always look like fun when featured on his blog. They didn't disappoint.

We chose forces by die roll, with the high dice getting the redcoats (me). Ryan took his colonial mob and set them up 18" in on his side of the table, a barren, featureless waste, with the objective of keeping the British column of Colonel Clive Whicker-Baskett from traversing the road to Strategibad. Ryan had two large units (20 figures each) of mutinous trained regular infantry, looking resplendent in their red fezzes, but rated as Militia/Levy, shown top left. In front of them was a troop of a dozen irregular cavalry with hand weapons, a large mob of some 28 irregular infantry with hand weapons, and on the bottom right a dangerous mob of 24 irregular infantry with jezail type firearms. All the irregular troops were rated as impetuous. It looked like getting through that lot would be impossible. The more pressing task for the British looked like fighting for their lives.

The British force was much smaller. I had forty figures of infantry, which I divided into four units of ten, two on my left and two on my right, with two guns in the middle. We rated the infantry as regular veterans, giving them the ability to skirmish, and rated the guns as horse artillery.

First turn to the British. I roll for orders and get to move four units, so I elect to move my two guns forward ten inches and unlimber. On the bottom right, I send a company of the Black Watch forward in skirmish. On the top left, I send a company of the Lancashires forward in skirmish, hoping to grab that nice steep hill that guards my left flank.

Ryan unleashes his mobs of infantry. The figures in white are part of a whack of colonial figures are I think RAFM or Ral Partha, as are all of the British. The shirtless chaps on the top left, well, I have no idea who made them. Sing out if you know more than I do. Had them for ever, bought them painted in a job lot for my 28mm Ottomoan army, known to my wargaming group at the time as "The Turkish Love Slaves". Go figure.

Ryan sends his cavalry forward, hoping to grab the hill. I have a grand total of one order to respond before they get there, so I send the Lancs forward to grab the hill and form square. I bite my nails hoping that they will hold.

Lancs musketry drops a rider on the way in. In melee the cavalry are penalized by charging uphill and fighting infantry in square, so they need a 6 on a d6 to cause a casualty, whereas the infantry need a 4-6 per d6, so the Brits have the advantage in a melee that would last for several turns. . One thing that wasn't clear to us was whether the infantry could shoot in the action phase before the melee phase. We gave the infantry the benefit of the doubt, which helped them whittle down the cavalry to the break point in a few turns.

While the fight on the hill rages, the British artillery bombards the love slaves (I can't resist calling them that) on their way in, while the forward company of the Black Watch engages the native riflemen on the hill, drawing first blood.

"Steady, lads!". The Black Watch skirmishers fall back and reform on their sister company, ready for the coming storm. As mentioned before, the British figures are RAFM (Ral Partha?). I got them all in a trade. Their owner wanted the Sharpe and Sgt. Harper figures that I got when I bought the Sharpe Practice rules from Too Fat Lardies when they were released. He was willing to offer a hundred well painted colonial figures in return, including the two guns. Who was I to refuse? I think I got the better of the deal.

The tragic scene a moment later. The Black Watch elect to stand and shoot as the love slaves charge home, and in the melee that follows drive them below their 50% break point and drive them off, but at a terrible cost. The right hand company of the Higlanders is reduced to 40% and routs, while the left hand company is down to 60%. The British right wing is now looking rather shaky, and there is still another mob threatening the right.

On the left the Lancs, having seen off the cavalry, whose remnants can be seen skulking in the rear, now resume skirmish order and shoot at the enemy regulars as they move forward. At this point Ryan had a miserable streak of luck, rolling a series of 1s and 2s for his orders, and thus a very piecemeal and halting attack, which saved me from being swamped.

A nice feature of MacDuff is the rally rule, which allows you to try and recover casualty figures, though with the risk that the unit might not rally, but panic and fragment further. In this case Col. Whicker-Baskett was fortunate, returning one company of the Highlanders from 6 to 8 figures, as they get ready to stand against the oncoming mob.

Col. Whicker-Baskett just has time to attach himself to his rallied and remnant Highlanders before the mob is on them, determined to do or die with his men.

Sadly all the remaining Highlanders are killed in the melee, along with several of the mob. The Colonel is captured and led off into captivity. The game is lost!

But wait, what's this? Ryan counts his casualties and discovers that in dying in place, the Black Watch dropped the mob below their 50% break point. We decide that the mob routs and runs away, leaving Col. Whicker-Baskett standing, his smoking Webley revolver in hand. The man's a bally hero!

Ryan watches as the fight against the Highlanders unfolds, while his infantry plods forward, taking a heavy pounding from the Lancs and from the British artillery. The next turn will be decisive.

Ryan's infantry trudge forward, but the rserve company of the Lancs, my last untouched unit, steps forward and unleashes a volley, devastating the one unit. The survivors melt away, and that breaks the moral of Ryan's army. We call it a night.

Two good things happened tonight. We had a terrific game, thanks to a rules set that Ross has generously provided to the gaming community. MacDuff was quite friendly and easy to play, with only a few questions that I need to put to Ross offline, probably because I didn't read the rules carefully enough. Thanks for these great rules, Ross, they were great fun. The other good thing was that I got a chance to have a great game with Ryan, and to use a whole mess of figures for the first time. Hopefully they will be used again soon. I have plans for another outing with MacDuff soon. They are billed as being 19th century rules, but I have a feeling that they will work for my 18th century Russians and Turkish armies, which is basically a colonial wars matchup only with tricornes instead of pith helmets. Thanks for reading, and may God prosper yoour brushes and dice rolls.


  1. First time I've read a baterp for a non-zulu pith helmet based rumble. Very fun and well put together sir. Thankyou

  2. Very cool Colonials Mike- I've downloaded a copy of the rules :)

  3. The sand of the desert is sodden red, --
    Red with the wreck of a square that broke; --
    The Gatling's jammed and the Colonel dead,
    And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
    The river of death has brimmed his banks,
    And England's far, and Honour a name,
    But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
    'Play up! play up! and play the game!'

    1. well done that man! Steward, get him a drink.

  4. Great battle scene, Padre! I like the colonial fights.

  5. Quite a nice evening's fun wee action. Very tempted to look quite a bit more closely into that rule set.

    The verse quoted by Conrad Kinch is the middle of a 3 stanza piece by one Sir henry Newbolt. Conrad's remainder is timely, methinks. Here are the other two stanzas, which put the middle one into context.

    "There's a breathless hush in the close tonight,
    Ten to make, and a match to win -
    A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
    An hour to play and the last man in.
    It's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
    Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
    But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote:
    'Play up! Play up! And play the game!'

    "The sand of the desert...

    "This is the word that year by year,
    Which in her place the School is set;
    Every one of her sons must hear,
    And none that hears it dares forget.
    This they all with joyful mind
    Bear through life like a torch in flame,
    And falling fling to the host behind:
    "Play up! Play up! And play the game!'

    Neil Cameron and his City of London pals should be hanging their heads in shame.

  6. What a pleasure to read this report over my morning coffee. Glad you enjoyed the game, I certainly enjoyed reading the report. By all means fire away any questions and comments, both are not only welcome but sought. At the same time I encourage players to tweak them to suit their own tastes.

    The British and Afghans are indeed Ral Partha which RAFM used to sell and which are available again through Great Endeavors.

    Could we please have a close up of the Love Slaves? Can't see 'em clearly enough to hazard a guess.

  7. Thanks gentlemen for your kind comments. Glad you enjoyed the game.

    @Jacksarge: Let us know what you think of the rules, I am sure you will enjoy them.
    @Young Kinch & Milord Archduke: You chaps will scarce believe it, but for a few years as a youngster I went to an Anglican boarding school where I read, AND memorized, the whole of Newbolt's Vitai Lampada, and have vivid memories of old Father Sergeant in his mouldy black cassock standing behind me, ready to twist my ear, if I got the recital wrong. I confess that I had the vaguest comprehension of the first verse, being innocent of the art of cricket, until later in life.
    @Ross: So glad you enjoyed it, sir. I will put some questions to you later today, and tonight I'll post a close up of the Love Slaves. I'll be interested to know your thoughts. RAFM figures were the first ones I bought as an adult; old Minifigs were my first purchases as a youngster.

  8. I'd wondered what you'd done with those figures. I remember when you got them. Now you're going to get a good dose of Colonialitis, for which their is no cure. But my man, Radu, makes a smashing G&T and your chappies will have lots of little lead mates here in Stratford. :)

    Col Whicker-Baskett I think desrves a VC or at least a Knighthood, and then be asked to quietly retire for loosing so many men in the first place.

    The Love Slaves are Essex Cossacks from their Renaissance range.


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