Wednesday 29 March 2023

Mahdists and Magyars - another fun club night at OWS

OWS's rude health continues. This week's game was so over-subscribed we had to lay on a second so everybody could play. The two battles were very different, but similar in both being obscure and both presenting very distinctive tactical challenges:

- Shaikan (1883), in which 40,000 Mahdists massacred Hicks Pasha's 10,000 or so hapless Egyptians;

- Szőreg (1849), in which retreating Hungarians fight a delaying action against imperial Austrian and Russian forces breaking out across a defended dike.

Both games were so exciting and absorbing that there is a paucity of pictures. I'll offer the few that Dave T and I did take and describe the games in the captions, followed by some reflections as usual. Two for Shaikan first:

Essentially this scenario is a race in which the Egyptian force has to dash from one corner of the table (top of photo) to the opposite one (bottom right of photo) and exit a certain number of units. The photo shows most of the Egyptian force being massacred mid-table, but some are about to get away - will it be enough?

Close-up of the one cavalry unit and one baggage train that did escape - enough for Dave T to claim a draw. He said the scenario is an interesting combination of moving fast (the Egyptians need 6 full moves out of 9 turns to reach the far corner) while being able to concentrate the fire of a couple of units to take on the big Mahdist units. As they are rated Aggressive, if the Mahdist units close they can easily wipe out one Egyptian unit and then overrun a second. 

And now two photos of the climax of our Szőreg game. (We last played this scenario a year ago; report here gives more background.)

View from the Hungarian side with one turn remaining. The imperials have broken out from their entrenched bridgehead (top right), easily cleared some irregulars out of the wood objective top left, but not advanced far enough to take the village beyond it (out of shot, lower left of pic). On our right, the Polish Legion did a great job of delaying the allied advance across the embrasured dike that runs across upper centre of pic. The Poles (pink hats, bottom right) and friends are now holding two of the three Szőreg village objectives (foreground) against three disrupted Austrian brigades (the white-uniformed chaps with the yellow Disruption markers). Thus the Austrians only hold two objectives (the dike and the wood); they need two more for a draw and three for a win.
The Austrians needed everything to go right for them on their final turn. Their small unit upper left got the full move it needed to seize the empty village lower left. Both units in the centre managed to rally and charge. The rockets (top centre) moved up and added crucial fire, meaning that when the Austrians rolled boxcars for their attacking fire, my defending infantry were not just disrupted or damaged but wiped out. The small hussar unit on its own could not withstand the massed assault, so the Austrians took the central village objective as well. Finally, because we had failed to withdraw some troops scheduled to retreat, there was a 50-50 roll; this succeeded and gave the Austrians the final objective they needed for victory.

A word about this last point. Historically, most of the Hungarian army withdrew without fighting because other Austrian corps were conducting strategic outflanking to north and south. The 50-50 'flank threat' rolls are incurred if any of three Hungarian contingents are committed instead of withdrawing. We withdrew two of the three. In retrospect, we would have done better to commit the lot, giving good guarantees of holding a couple more objectives, and take our chances on the 50-50 rolls. I'm sure Clausewitz would agree.


What a happy club! Great to have so many players and two such exciting games.

Unusual situations make for good games. I was pleased that both Mark and Crispin separately enthused about Szőreg's distinctive nature. It presents unique challenges for both sides, which makes it interesting for the players. Evidently the same was true of Mark's Shaikan race-against-massacre game.

Principles of war apply on the wargame table. I've been reading a lot of Clausewitz again lately. (Some readers may not know I've published translations of three histories by Clausewitz.) Reviewing my actions through a Clausewitzian lens, I can see I transgressed some of his advice (again). Must try harder.

Good scenario design makes for great games. As I said, both games were so absorbing, we hardly took any photos. They both produced super-exciting, tense, close finishes that came down to the last few dice. It takes judicious scenario design to achieve that fine balance. Special kudos to Mark for making such a good game out of such a one-sided massacre as Shaikan.

Szőreg is one of the scenarios in the "Bloody Big Hungary '48 Battles!" campaign book.

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