Monday, June 20, 2016

A Punitive Expedition on the North West Frontier

Skinners Horse scout down the valley

After a long break, we finally made it back to the Northwest Frontier. This game followed the adventures of the Royal Mallows 2nd Platoon, led by the Lt. Unlikely Douglas McKenzie, whose last game was in May of 2015.  I am aghast that it has been that long.

The scenario was that a radical preacher from the princely state of Kala Akaata had been stirring up trouble on the Northwest Frontier.  As a result the men of the village of Medina Wasl have been raiding their neighbours rather more than usual.  Attempts to negotiate an end to the raiding have proved fruitless and McKenzie has been despatched to burn the village.

He had 24 turns to make across the board, burn the village and then make it off.

The field of battle - note the pass on the left, which McKenzie referred to as "Ambush Valley"

McKenzie had a squadron of Skinners Horse, a platoon of Ghurkas and his own platoon of the Royal Mallows under his charge. He decided to stay on the right hand side of the river and avoid the steep sided valley on the right, which he reckoned was prime ambush territory.

The Gurkhas spot a group of Afghans lying in wait

The Gurkhas proved themselves some very dangerous customers, though I did mix up their rough terrain bonus with the river crossing rules, which meant that they were able to ford the river rather more quickly than I anticipated. 

This was their inaugural game and they did Nick proud.

And make short work of them

They set about the ambushers with a will, though they lost their officer wounded in the fray. The Ghurkas would prove to be the men of the game as the Royal Mallows proved sluggish, prone to rout and generally liable to disgrace the name of Corkmen for the duration of the game.  

McKenzie makes for an enthusiastic ghurka

Skinners Horse charge home

The yellow boys swept around to flank the village and took some scattered fire which emptied two saddles along the way, but they couched their lances and charged.

The melee was a surprising one as the Afghans drove off the fearsome horsemen with some casualties.

Meanwhile, a sturdy rifleman stand his ground and drives off many times his own numbers

Now lead by their Havildar, the Ghurkas secured the flank on the right of the Imperial advance. There then followed one of the curious runs of luck that TSATF is prone to.  One of the Ghurkas did not have sufficient movement to climb the hill and ended up being charged by a unit of Afghans defending the village.  The narrow space between the river and the hill meant that only three men could reach him at a time and he promptly slew anyone that came near him, including their leader and  driving them back.  

"Zing!" goes the Jezail bullet.

Meanwhile, McKenzie had finally gotten his sluggish Irishmen moving and advancing in line down the valley. The Afghans having a rush of blood to the head after defeating Skinners Horse, dashed out of the reeds and charged the redcoats. Meanwhile, a single half unit of Afghan rifles accompanied by a jezail sniper, appeared in the Imperial rear.

McKenzie decided to use independent fire, burning two ammunition counters, and absolutely smashed the Afghan charge, destroying the unit almost entirely until only the leader remained. Then disaster struck a single shot from the Imperial rear rang out and McKenzie fell from his horse, wounded.

What followed was one of the most unlikely series of die rolls I have ever seen.  The lone Afghan leader managed to complete his charge and the Mallows blew their roll to stand. They were chased by that single screaming swordsman until he failed his morale and was bayoneted by the Ghurkas. The paths of glory lead only to the grave.

The rallied Lancers look on as the Ghurkas advance and take fire from the village

It was left to the Ghurkas to advance on the village, supported by Skinners Horse. These dismounted and began peppering the village with their carbines.  Meanwhile the Mallows managed to fail their rally rolls three times running and narrowly avoided routing off the table. They rallied eventually, but not after some truly impressive swearing on McKenzie's part, and started advancing down "Ambush Valley".

I'm afraid we got too caught up in the game at that point and I forgot to take any further pictures. The Ghurkas won a pyrrhic victory in the village and ended up routing off the field, after a hard fought battle in the streets of the village. By the time the Mallows arrived, the fighting was pretty much done, the Ghurkas having killed the fakir in the confusion.

A lone Ghilzai prepares to drop a "large rock" on the advancing Royal Mallows (carrying two wounded figures at the rear)

The Mallows pressed for time headed down "Ambush Valley", but managed to spot the lone figure waiting Road Runner style next to a large rock.  I had used a scrunched up business card to represent the rock as I reckoned it couldn't do too much damage to the figures. But the Corkmen making up for a pretty dismal performance spotted him and brought him down before he could do any damage.

In the end, they arrived in the aftermath of a terrific battle to burn the village, gather up the wounded Ghurkas and make for friendly territory. Lt. McKenzie is recovering from his wound and has apparently experienced something of a "road to Damascus" moment*, though it remains to be seen whether it will stick.

The Sword and the Flame, even though I still managed to get rules wrong and I lost, still manages to give a tight and exciting game. I think one of my goals will be not leaving it so long to play next time. McKenzie will ride again!

*Readers of the next issue of Miniature Wargames will understand why.  


  1. Very impressive terrain, are the rocks made from florists oasis?

    1. Thank you. They are made from upholstery foam. I just ramble into the local upholsterers and give him a few quid for a bag of off cuts.

  2. Exciting game! full of cinematic moments, Tony

  3. Nice looking game...and glad to see enthousiast people playing!

    1. McKenzie is always the most loyal of oppositions and a pleasure to play against.

  4. A fabulous report, still shuddering in fear at the sight of the large 'rock'! :D

  5. Love it! I can almost see Sean Connery and Michael Caine making their way across the table. Reciting some Victorian-era verse of course. Great looking game.

    Best Regards,


    1. Exactly the feeling I was trying to evoke. Thank you Stokes.

  6. Splendid action, unpredictably fun. good colonial game tension (different than non-colonial games) and appreciated.
    Bill P.

    1. From you Bill, that is high praise indeed. I am honoured.

  7. Replies
    1. You certainly can not. There were elements of "The Drums of the Fore and Aft" on show in this one.

  8. Looks like it was an exciting game.

    Great write-up Mr. Kinch