Thursday 12 October 2023

Kassassin & Tel-el-Kebir (1882) as a single scenario

After last week's excursion among the sun-kissed vineyards of northern Hungary, this week we were transported to the sun-baked sands of northern Egypt. As part of the "Bloody Big AFRICAN Battles!" project, we playtested Mark's scenario for Tel-el-Kebir (1882), the major action during the British conquest of Egypt.

Tel-el-Kebir on its own is not very exciting as a situation to wargame: a frontal assault on a simple line of entrenchments that was over in an hour after a rather one-sided fight. (See my post here on whether frontally assaulting redoubts can make a good game.) Mark's creative solution was to combine it with the preceding action at Kassassin. This entailed some compression of both time and space: Kassassin should really be another four feet away from the entrenchments, rather than on the table edge; and the 'Night Interval' between the two actions is actually the fortnight between 28 August and 13 September 1882. This compression did not create any distortion or other problem and produced a scenario in which both sides get to do some maneuvering and have some genuine decisions to make.

Herewith a brief photo-AAR followed by some reflections:

It really was a very pretty table. Proper sand-coloured cloth, sandy hills, sand-embanked railway, exquisite palm trees, and a tidy British tent encampment in the foreground. The loco is pushing a flatcar-mounted 40-pdr gun. The British 2nd and 4th Brigades are all that stands between the 15,000 Egyptians debouching from their entrenchments (top of pic) and the British camp and the village of Kassassin (lower left). If either of these two objectives is taken, however briefly, the Egyptians earn a victory point - in effect, establishing a 'highwater mark'.

The open sandy plain on the British right. A small Egyptian force threatens from top right, opposed by British guns bottom left. Just visible at top of pic, to the left of the QR sheet, is pale felt representing the soft sand ('Difficult Terrain') protecting the Egyptian lines' left flank.

The Egyptian assault inflicted casualties (you can see both British 3-base infantry units are now reduced to 2-base) and came close to breaking through and taking the camp. However, the thin red line held firm long enough for the Household Cavalry to come to the rescue (upper right), to be followed on Turn 3 by the Guards Brigade. Egyptian losses were heavier (blue cube indicates a Spent unit; another brigade was wiped out entirely). The scenario gives the Egyptian player the option of pressing his attack for 4 turns rather than 3, which has two advantages: it not only gives another bite at the cherry to take the camp or Kassassin, it also means the British player will have one turn less when it comes to assaulting the entrenchments. However, Mark opted not to take the extra turn, preferring to have his troops spend it defending entrenchments rather than being ridden down by Horse Guards in the open.

Cavalry action on the British right. I sent the Indian cavalry brigade (top left of pic) through the gap between the two advancing Egyptian contingents and then wheeled it right to take on its Egyptian counterparts (right foreground). This put it in a crossfire from Egyptian guns, not to mention an infantry brigade. Fortunately, my enfilading artillery helped to wipe out the infantry. Still, I was lucky not to lose the Indian horse entirely. Don't give me cavalry to command, I clearly don't know how to use them.

I only took photos of the first third of the game, so apologies that you will have to make do with my 1,000 words to paint a picture of the rest of it. Having repulsed the Egyptians from Kassassin, I needed to take 5 of the 9 remaining objectives to win. Two of these were villages among the palm groves and farms south of the canal (top left in first pic), the other seven being redoubts dotted among the entrenchments (all marked by white counters in first pic). In the Night Interval, my troops set up in the historical deployment for the assault on Tel-el-Kebir: Indian brigade on my left south of the canal; Highland Bde and 4th Bde north of it; a grand battery in the centre; 2nd Bde and Guards Bde on the right; Cavalry Division on the right flank.

Honestly, I found the prospect of assaulting the Egyptian fortifications daunting. Most of the Egyptian troops had modern breechloading rifles, with long effective range and deadly short range; they also had a lot of Krupp breechloading cannon, which are no fun to assault frontally. I was especially concerned about the risk to my cavalry (the BBB rules make them a more vulnerable target than infantry) so I fannied about trying to hide them initially, rather than using them to outflank or assault.

Still, I got stuck in eventually. On the left, the Indians took one objective village but ran out of time to reach the second. Next along, the Highlanders and 4th Bde took a long time to storm one objective redoubt, so although they then had another at their mercy, they only had one turn left to take it and failed the movement roll to do so. On my right, the Guards and the Household Cavalry broke in and took one redoubt; the HC were so successful they had a compulsory exploit that actually put them in a position where they had a chance at taking another redoubt in the second line of entrenchments, but didn't quite manage it; redoubts to right and left of the Guards' incursion were at risk on the last turn, but all my three units in range failed to get the necessary movement rolls.

Thus, I took 3 objectives, and had chances at 5 others on the last turn. As none of these came off, I was left with a defeat, but it was by no means a crushing one-sided one, as victory had been very much a possibility until those last few dice. It was a thoroughly entertaining game and should go down well when Mark takes it to the club.


Too much artillery. The typical BBB figure ratios are either 1,000 men / 24 guns per base or 1,500 men / 36 guns per base. For this scenario, Mark had used 500 men / 6 guns per base. That meant artillery was 100% overrepresented - no wonder I was daunted! It evened out to some extent, of course, because the British have plenty of artillery too, but it advantaged the Egyptians more because their guns were in fortifications and we had to approach in short range of them. Fixing the gun ratio shouldn't change the game balance radically but should make it a shade easier for the British to storm the redoubts they need to take.

Characterful units: it's always fun to be able to point out the Highlanders or the Guards. On the British side, Indian troops and the railway gun added further colour. On the Egyptian side, at one end of the scale were the Sudanese veterans - hardcore! - and at the other, a rabble of fellahin conscripts and Bedouin bashi-bazouks.

Scenario design: the concept of combining Kassassin and Tel-el-Kebir in a single game absolutely worked and made it far more interesting than the simple assault would have been. Punctuating games with a Night Interval always seems to have that effect, providing a significant pivot point that entails significant decisions before and during it and gives different aspects to the game.

Cavalry: nope, still don't really know how to use 'em. Any advice? Maybe we should dispense with the wretched nags and replace them with some kind of armoured landship powered by the new-fangled engines those German fellows invented in the 1870s.



  1. No, you need some steam powered landships!

    1. Yes, if only because we can get such nice models of them these days!

  2. Good show Chris. For the artillery ration I tend to go with 8 or 12 for 500 men

    1. There is always room for some 'fudge factor', but 12 guns to 500 men maintains the same ratio as the basic rules.

  3. Or double the number of infantry/cavalry stands, 250/6.

    1. The boys played it at the club last night while I was away. They used the corrected artillery ratio. With half as much Egyptian artillery to deter them (and a better plan than mine) the Brits apparently achieved a convincing victory, despite having it very rough on day one. Another good game.


Comments welcome!