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.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Bala Hissar or Bust! AAR

This past Saturday, 5 fellow gamers joined me for the first ever running of my, "Bala Hissar or Bust!" scenario.  This game is supposed to be set in 1841 during the First Afghan War, but as I do not yet have enough (or really any) painted and based c.1840 British or Indian troops, I took the liberty of transposing it to the c.1880 Second Afghan War.

The British force starts in their camp in one corner of the table and must escort their BAGGAGE & CAMP FOLLOWER TRAIN -- consisting of 4 separate baggage units, each of which move on a separate MOVEMENT CARD -- to sanctuary in the Bala Hissar fortress, located on the diagonally opposite table corner.

In order to enter the refuge, the British must first gain entry to Kabul through one or both of two gates in the city wall, one of which is located on the near side of the Kabul River and Canal, the other on the far side.

Here's the table seen from the North, with the British Cantonments at the lower right corner of the pic...

And the opposite view from behind the walls of Kabul at the South, with the British objective of the Bala Hissar fortress also in the lower right hand corner...

Here's a look at the large British Baggage Train, divided into its 4 component parts/"units"...

7' away as the crow flies, the Union Jack beckons
the British force as a lighthouse beckons a ship at sea...

But there are rough waters ahead, including one Afghan gun,
pre-positioned atop the Seah Sung Heights to the East...

The British chose to split their forces roughly in two,
sending half to the East, across the Northern Canal &
River bridges, before turning to the right and marching
South to the Lahore Gate of Kabul, located very close
to the entrance to their Bala Hissar objective.

The other half of their forces made an immediate
right turn and headed South to the Kohistan Gate.

Each force was led by its own unit of Bengal Cavalry...

Tribesmen in nearby Mahomed Shareef's Fort open
fire on the British as they emerge from their camp...

The view from inside the British camp...

Sikh unit in the camp fires back at the Tribesmen
ensconced in their CLASS IV buildings

Afghan cavalry emerge from hiding behind the Seah
Sung Heights and CHARGE the Bengal Cavalry...

Meanwhile the Bengal Cav. heading South to the
Kohistan Gate CHARGE a nearby unit of Tribal
Infantry occupying the TREELINE to their left...

They CLOSE, the Tribesmen fail their STAND & FIGHT
roll, turn tail & ROUTE down the road towards Kabul...

Casualty cards take out an Afghan Rifleman and Leader...

British officer fires 2 pistol shots (close range) both need a 6 as the
targets are in cover (Class I hits on 5 or 6) and guess what he rolls...

Tribal Cavalry attempt to CLOSE with the Bengal Cavalry...

The Afghans fail to close, turn tail and ROUTE...

The Bengal Cavalry take the opportunity to occupy their routed foes previous position...

Bengal Cavalry ride on, then find themselves face-to-
face with ANOTHER BAND of Tribal Cavalry...

Meanwhile the sole British Infantry unit crosses
 the North Bridge, calls VISIBILITY and
discovers Tribal Infantry waiting in ambush... 

The Tribal Inf. scoot away, the Brits unable
to hit them with PASS-THROUGH FIRE as
they've already moved this turn...

Behind the line of cypress trees at the upper
right of this pic stands Mahmood Khan's Fort,
from which sprang one of the Ghazi units...

As one Baggage Train moves across the North Canal
Bridge, Bengal Inf. exchanges fire with Tribesmen
lurking in the orchard on the far side of the canal...

Opponents strike opposing poses...

Meanwhile the second Bengal Cavalry unit has charged a unit
of Tribal Inf. who failed their STAND & FIGHT roll and ran off
the table, then CHARGES for the Kohistan Gate to the city,
just down the road... but the Afgans open fire from inside the Gate,
leaving only 1 Sowar still in the saddle, who chooses to head back
to the British lines...

Meanwhile Ghazi Fanatics have appeared to charge the Sikhs,
but rolled poorly on their movement dice and fallen short...

The second Sikh unit has climbed over the cantonment wall and
continues to pour fire into the Tribal Inf. occupying a nearby compound.
But the target is a tough nut to crack in their CLASS IV buildings...

Back inside the British camp, remaining camp-followers
& wounded grow impatient to start their march to safety...

We played from 12:00 to 1:00 PM, took a break for lunch, recovened perhaps an hour later and played on until 5:30, so a grand total of 4-1/2 hours.  Everyone seemed to really enjoy the game, despite the hard-going which the British faced.  It's meant to be a challenge for the British to succeed, but when 5:30 struck and 4 of our players had to depart, we all agreed on the need to adjust some things to improve the balance of play.

(1)    I will downgrade Afghan rifle fire so it uses the "PATHAN JEZAILS" heading on the fire chart in place of "PATHAN RIFLES," without adding to the standard 24" rifle range.

(2)    I will adjust the opening Afghan deployment so half of their forces can be hidden as they were this time, while the other half will be coming on table as reinforcements as the game proceeds, their exact arrival point on one of the table edge roads determined by die-roll.

(3)    I will reduce the number of British BAGGAGE TRAIN UNITS from 4 to 3, so each British Player is responsible for one.

(4)    If an Afghan unit below 50% strength FAILS a Critical/Pinned Morale Check, it will be removed from play immediately, rather than routing towards the nearest table edge and having a chance to rally each turn until it exits the table.

(5)    In an effort to speed up play and also to get more use out of the CARDS specifically assigned for BAGGAGE TRAIN movement, I will create a game-specific deck with one red card for each British Basic Unit and one black card for each Afghan Basic Unit, with the addition of those specific cards assigned to the Baggage Trains -- including the BLACK JOKER which will allow the Afghan player to move one Baggage Train unit however he sees fit (to block British fire or movement, to return towards the camp, to create chaos in the midst of a British unit's formation, etc.)

Most of these excellent ideas came from my fellow gamers, for which I thank them immensely!

Though the odds were stacked too high against them, the trio of British players did a fine job, making excellent use in particular of the striking power of their 2 cavalry units to dispatch 3 or 4 Afghan units, none of whom were able to pass their STAND AND FIGHT morale checks in the face of onrushing Bengal Cavalry.

Overall they chose to play their race to safety at the Balla Hissar fortress more, "slow and steady," than, "mad dash" -- which only became a problem when it was time for them all to drive away!  In this they were also impacted by some particularly bad rolls of the old movement dice, but such is life, and wargaming.

On the other hand, though their troops took some substantial casualties, they suffered literally NO CASUALTIES WHATSOEVER to their all-important Baggage Train, while inflicting serious casualties on the Afghans, and when we called the game, it was not impossible that they might still have reached their objective and pulled off a victory against somewhat overwhelming odds.

My sincere thanks for a great day of gaming to Michael, William and Jeff (my British foes), and to Daryl and Odin (my Afghan comrades-in-arms).

Hopefully we'll get to play the new-&-improved version of this scenario soon, so I won't have to put all the terrain away first!

Now I need to get back to work doing head-swap conversions to create more 44th Regt. Infantry in c.1840 greatcoats and bell-topped shakoes, and figuring out how best to transform my Afghan terrain into Afghan WINTER terrain, so we can play this scenario in a more historically accurate fashion!


  1. I expected something good, but not this good! Absolutely excellent figures and terrain. Who cares about the game? I could sit and look at this stuff all day.

  2. Everything about this is Superb! I like the little details, the wounded officer with bandaged head and his arm in a sling, the bearers and palanquins.

    It was quite the play-test. I find it difficult to strike a balance between making native forces tough enough to stand yet brittle enough to break under pressure in my own Colonial-era games. Ambushes seem the best way to redress the balance between modern firepower and old school melee weapons.

  3. Fantastic. This is why I love purpose built terrain. The whole thing looks great.

  4. Great terrain and figures, looks fantastic

  5. Thank you one and all for the many kind comments!

  6. Most impressive pictures, a beautiful looking game on an amazing terrain!

  7. Wow, fantastic figures and brilliant scenery, it's all so good but my favourites are the Sikhs really so good
    Best Iain

  8. Merci beaucoup, Phil, and thank you very much, caveadsum1471! I agree, the Sikhs are standouts!