Above is a pic of Lt. Colonel James Galbraith, Regimental Colour in hand, alongside Bobbie the regimental dog and some of the other "Last Eleven" survivors of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment, making their last stand in one of the walled gardens just South of Khig village, a few miles West of the Afghan town of Maiwand.

Friday, September 24, 2010


It's been a couple of weeks now since myself, my son and our buddy Matthew got back to LA from Santa Clara but I am happy to finally get around to reporting on the results of Nick Stern's Black Powder Maiwand game at the Pacificon Game Expo…

A snare drum-roll, please…

Absolute British victory.

(above is a pic of the MAIWAND LION, set down to commemorate the momentous occasion)

For obvious reasons the game moved much faster than TSATF version we played on the day of the 130th anniversary. It also ended in a far better manner for the Anglo-Indian forces. I would pinpoint 2 main reasons for this result:

FIRST, a lack of coordination among the various Afghan players, some of whom did not feel a need to defer to the wishes of the player serving as their overall commander-in-chief; and...

SECOND, unhistorically excellent use of cavalry by the British.

At Maiwand both units of Bombay cavalry were held in reserve, under enemy artillery and small-arms fire for several hours. By the time their infantry fighting line was about to break and the cavalry were ordered to charge the onrushing ghazis in a last desperate effort to save the day, they never really engaged the enemy, instead turning and racing away in the same general direction most of the infantry was headed by then. But throughout the game the British cavalry commander handled his units with utmost aggressiveness and "dash", tying up countless Afghan regular regiments, charging and breaking several before both cavalry units were finally destroyed. By that time however, the Afghans had suffered over 40% casualties, while failing to break a single infantry or artillery unit of the outnumbered and outgunned (but not out-fought!) British army -- though several of the British units had suffered badly and were admittedly poised to potentially break after receiving slightly more damage.

I think it was a very successful convention game, with a large number of players (8 or 9 altogether?) who all appeared to very much enjoy themselves, the figures and the terrain… though admittedly the 3 of us playing as the British may have had a bit more fun than our opponents, particularly when we finally managed to break the ghazi unit which had managed to withstand what should have been utter devastation, inflicted over and over again. The ghazi player kept rolling whatever impossible number he needed to roll in order to save his troops from the effects of medium and close range artillery fire, Martini-Henry volleys, Snider-Enfield carbine fire and finally the cold steel of cavalry sabers, until finally -- after innumerable turns -- he mercifully (for the British) rolled to succumb.

NOTE: While commanding the Anglo-Indian forces I also managed to take about 50 decent to good quality pics of the game, all of which I hope to post here in the days to come...


  1. Even granted that BP was faster than TSATF and of course the fact that the British won . . . which set of rules did you feel was better at portraying this level of action?

    -- Jeff

  2. Ahhh... good question, Jeff, though perhaps not a question I'd feel so good answering!

    I am a long-time TSATF loyalist but... I would have to say that for a brigade/division level game such as this (one British brigade vs. approx. a division's worth of Afghan forces) Black Powder would win in a direct comparison with TSATF.

    I hope to play the scenario again using a pure version of "800 Fighting Englishmen" rather than the somewhat bastardized "big battle" home-brew of modified TSATF which we used on the 130th anniversary. The big problem with my bastardized system is the card-flip unit activation, even when the "unit" has been upgraded to contain 3 or 4 sub-units (a 61-fig tribal or 85-fig regular "maneuver element").

    That card deck unit-activation system is one of the key elements at the heart of TSATF, at least for me, and I love it dearly, so it's hard to let go, but letting go of it is the only way to plow through turns in a reasonable time-frame when you are talking about armies the size of the Afghan army (548 figs.) we fielded for Maiwand on the 130th anniversary (the Afghan army used by Nick Stern up at Santa Clara in his BP game was not as large, it only out-numbered the British by about 3-to-1, while the game I ran in my garage was closer to 4-to-1).

    There were things I liked a lot about Black Powder and things I didn't like that much. Overall I have to say I enjoyed playing the game, despite the details which bugged me -- specifically, the "saving throw" defense value which basically corresponds to the quality of the target troop type and which I saw enable certain units to take so much punishment it became nearly absurd -- though in the interest of full disclosure I have to admit that this only happened because of the absolutely incredible luck of the player commanding the unit in question, who simply kept rolling elevens or twelves or whatever it was he needed to roll on 2xD6, over and over again (people kept saying they wanted to go to Vegas with him!).

    One thing that is common between TSATF and BP is the obvious ease with which players can customize the rules, adding and subtracting, adjusting and fine-tuning as they see fit. Of course, this can be done with any commercial rules set but it's not always as user-friendly and simple a process.

    There are a myriad of "special" rules contained in the BP rule-book and I suppose playing more games, more specific scenarios involving more specific units, each making use of different "special" rules, would be an opportunity to start picking and choosing the exact "set" we'd choose to keep using for large-scale Second Afghan War and NWF games.

  3. Thanks for the response, sir.

    I think that you might enjoy reading one of Ross Macfarlane's recent "thinking" posts . . . specifically in regards to his "Double Jeopardy" post of 28 September of this year:


    -- Jeff

  4. Did you ever think of using half sized (10 figure) or the "Fastoso" variant for your units? And if I may ask, how big was your game board?

  5. Never mind the last question-I can be a bit dim...I just saw the earlier posting, it was 6' x 12'.

  6. Hi, Larry and hi, Jeff!

    Jeff, I read that post by Ross McFarlane, it was interesting and I appreciate you providing the link. I suppose it could be argued that the saving throw type "defense" rolls for units in Black Powder are a bit of "double jeopardy", since the attackers have already had to earn their hits on the enemy, taking into account certain defensive factors.

    Larry, nope, I haven't considered down-sizing my TSATF units. I guess that's because I like playing with more of my collection on the table at any one time, rather than less. But it might well be the key to shortening the running time of games and might be particularly well-suited to a giant battle (in TSATF terms) such as Maiwand. I'm slightly familiar with the Fastoso variant but have never actually participated in such a game. I'd certainly be open to giving it a try, thought as I say, just in attempting to service a very large game.

    I am going to attempt to refight Maiwand some time in December or January, when one of my close gamer friends will be back visiting LA. The plan is to use 800 Fighting Englishmen straight out of that rule-book, rather than my own bastardized "big battle" version of TSATF. My hope is that such a game will move much faster than the first game we played!

    Also, in fact, when we played the first time on July 27th, the table was only 6'x10' and the plan was to ROTATE the sole flat board from the north end of the table to the south end, when and if the British had retreated to the south side of Mundabad Ravine.

    Then we built one more flat board during the lead-up to the Pacificon Game Expo up in Santa Clara, so we wouldn't need to rotate the boards. Though in fact, during that second game, the Brits never retreated at all! Still, the table looked great with Mundabad and Khig and its walled gardens all laid out from the start.

    Before this Maiwand madness began, we always played on my 9'x5' ping-pong table. I decided to build the Maiwand terrain at 10'x6' because it would only overhang half-a-foot in each direction, which I believed would allow it to maintain its "structural integrity" while providing a really big tabletop to play on, plus it worked well with the size of the styrofoam boards that were available, which were 8'x2'.