Sunday, 15 January 2017

Batrep(Congo): The Last Queen

Introduction

At last, we played a game of Congo!  In a sense, this is something that I've wanted to do for several decades, ever since I discovered a large cache of books by H. Rider Haggard at Newington library in Edinburgh, when I was a student there.  Those tales sparked an interest in the exploration of Africa by Europeans that has abided to this day.  However, Congo was only available to the general public some 5 months ago.

Since August 2016, I've built enough forces for a small game, but didn't have an opportunity to use them for real - until about 2 weeks ago.  After playing the game, I've been putting off this report for a variety of reasons.  Until now, that is (obviously!)...

The Scenario

Scenario 1 for Congo is entitled "The Last Queen of Aksoum".  A White Man Expedition has discovered an archaeological treasure (the ancient crown of the monarch from a long lost realm), but they may have overstretched themselves.  Tired and exhausted, their camp is attacked by another force who do not want to see the crown carried off.

Note that in the scenario as written, the attackers are Zanzibari slavers.  Since I don't have such a force (yet), we used my Forest Tribes band instead.  We also changed the setting from savannah to jungle.


In the middle of the night, Professor Forester's exhausted expedition was awakened rudely.  The two sentries were shouting loudly and excitedly.  Everyone piled out of their tents or open-air sleeping places; white men, Sikh soldiers, ascaris and native auxiliaries - all chattering and confused.  It took Major Forbes' bellow of "SILENCE!" to restore some level of order.  The retired officer then called to the sentries "You!  Report!".  Abashed at the chaos they had caused, the shorter of the lookouts answered "Voices, sir.  We heard voices and movement all around.  There are men in the jungle, close, very close"...

As the White Men, I would score a lot of victory points for carrying the crown off the table in a nominated direction.  Steve (the Tribal leader) would score quite a few points if he could capture the artifact.  Either of us could also gain a few points for each enemy unit eliminated or for finding loot.

The Game


With a shrieking of war cries, tribal warriors broke through the undergrowth and charged the encampment.  They were also having a hard time of it in the dark; several units had taken small amounts of stress tokens and one unfortunate warrior vanished before the game had even started.  Nevertheless, they made a brave showing and the initial shooting from the camp's defenders was completely ineffectual.



The next volleys from the expedition were more effective, however.  Professor Forester's group of ascaris were trying to reposition when they heard sounds from behind the camp.  Fearing a flank attack, they turned around and fired with devastating effect, killing four of the five warriors who were creeping up on them.

Around the camp perimeter, rifle fire from the adventurers killed one attacker and (more importantly!) inflicted a red "need to rally" stress token on the native unit.  However, the Sikh soldiers still failed to do much - and the tribal champion continued to urge his followers on at speed.

Although in theory the crown of Aksoum could have been held by any one of four figures in the Expedition side (Professor Forester, Major Forbes or either of the 2 bearers), the tribal leader had quickly pinpointed it with Major Forbes.  It barely seemed worth the effort of hiding it...



Now it was the forest tribe's turn, as they streamed through the tents and attacked the intruders.
  • A last minute volley from the Sikhs devastated one unit of warriors, but the chieftain himself led another group of warriors into melee with the stalwart soldiers.
  • The champion's unit attacked the native auxiliaries, killed one and forced the rest back.
  • Finally, another group of young warriors attacked the adventurers.  They killed the attached bearer (a classic "Look out, sir!" moment, if ever there was one), but failed to do more than scare the white men into retreating.



The expedition went backwards, but it was a fighting retreat: more musket & rifle fire devastated the forest tribes' forces.  Only the champion's group still had enough power to assault Professor Forester's ascaris, killing two.

By this time, most of the tribal groups were looking much reduced in numbers; there weren't nearly as many warriors now as there had been.  Although the expedition forces had taken some casualties, these weren't particularly numerous.



In a slightly surreal moment, a sleepy gorilla charged from the nearest patch of thick trees.  The creature made a beeline for the tribal chieftain and his remaining retinue (they had been hanging back from the assault on the campsite after being targeted early on).

On paper, the gorilla looked to have a good chance of killing the men, or at least some of them.  However, this chieftain obviously didn't achieve his position solely for his good looks; he and his bodyguard made short work of the ape and took enough trophies from it to score 2 victory points!

In the foreground, one of the tribal warriors tried (several times) to loot a tent.  His efforts were not only unsuccessful in finding loot, but actually angered the white men enough to give them extra Totem cards each time!



Sensing that the end was near, the expedition's native warriors and ascaris charged forwards to drive the tribesmen from the camp.  They were successful in this, but not before a few thrown spears had killed one of the white adventurers and another of the Sikh soldiers.

Meanwhile, small elements of the expedition's forces took pot shots at the sole survivor from the tribe's flank attack unit.  After all, if he could be downed then the expedition would score 2 victory points!  He proved surprisingly elusive, however.



Suddenly, everything went quiet as the remaining tribesmen disengaged and took to their heels.  The campsite was a litter of bodies, broken tents and drifting smoke.

At this point, Terror attacks were used in earnest.  The expedition managed to kill the last figure remaining in each of 2 separate tribal units (so that's 4VP to the white men), but the tribe's response managed to terrify only one of the remaining two native auxiliaries.



Sensing that the game was all but over, Major Forbes and his surviving soldiers started to run for the edge of the table.  If he could escape with the crown then this would be a stunning victory.



He hadn't calculated correctly, however.  The tribal champion looked to be too far away to interfere, but a melee card backed up by a giraffe (extra movement) totem card allowed the last tribal unit of any significance to catch up with the soldiers.




The ensuing melee was very one-sided; the tribesmen inflicted two casualties on the defender's three models.  Now here's a thing about Congo: a character must remain attached to a unit; he cannot operate independently.  Since there were only two soldiers left, if they had both died then Major Forbes would also have been lost.  Instead, I had to take Forbes as one of the casualties, thus leaving the last soldier to hold on to the crown.  They killed the Major!



In a moment of light relief, the tribal chieftain tried to sneak away through a thicket of trees.  One of his entourage stepped on a sleeping warthog and even though the animal fought fiercely, it was swiftly dispatched.  So, as well as gorilla bits, this guy will be bringing home the bacon tonight...


Some further skirmishing carried on in the last turn as the Professor's ascaris tried to drive off the champion's warriors for good, but this was all inconclusive (apart from protecting the last Sikh soldier who was carrying the artifact, of course).


Conclusion

That was a fascinating game and very enjoyable to play!  The tribesmen's initial charge was frightening, but didn't have quite enough oomf to destroy the camp, helped to no small extent by the devastating volley against their surprise flank attack.

For most of the game, we were very wary of doing anything which would attract stress tokens.  However, these are all removed at the end of each turn, so in hindsight I think that we were a bit too cautious about this.

Neither of us realised until very late in the game how hard it was to kill off the last figure of a unit (and thus score points for it) if that unit just went into hiding.  In the end, terror attacks seemed to be much more successful than shooting though even these were a bit unpredictable.

Equally, the attackers might have scored a few points for looting the camp.  They had the opportunity and did try to pillage one tent (this is potentially a very useful job for units that have been reduced too much to be risked in fighting any more), but were very unlucky in the results.

Neither side scored many victory points; the major goals relating to the crown of Aksoum were not achieved by either force.  Instead, what few points we made came from loot and destruction of enemy units:
  • Forest Tribes: 2VP (for killing a gorilla and taking the impressive bits as trophies)
  • White Man Expedition: 4VP (for destroying 2 opposing units).
Even though the White Men technically scored more than the Forest Tribe, the points achieved were so low that I don't think they're worth counting.  In my mind, the loss of Major Forbes redresses the balance anyway, so I think that overall I would consider the game to be a no-score draw.

Will we play Congo again?  You can bet we will!

19 comments:

  1. Visually impressive Hugh, it sounds like you had a ball! I love the random animal intervention and craziness too. A very enjoyable read

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    1. We went at it quite cautiously, what with this being our first game and all that. I think it'll be much more brisk the next time.

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  2. Great looking game and nice report.

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    1. Thanks, Simon. I think the mat lets it down a bit, mind - it's not quite up to the standard of the models.

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  3. Great to read your first encounter, looking forward to more.

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    1. Thanks, Michael. There will be more, for sure. However we don't have a set timetable for this...

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  4. First Congo game, so we played carefully and took our time.
    I really enjoyed this, and could get used to the privileges that come with the Tribal Leader job

    I ended with a very positive impression of the game.
    The card activation isn't a random draw (The player nominates 3 cards, and then decides which to use in each phase).
    This is a very fluid mechanism; it keeps the game moving, keeps both players engaged yet ensures that nothing is completely predictable.

    Movement is "flexible" with measurement, but no restrictive rules like wheeling, or formations.

    Combat is quickly resolved. Based on our single game it seemed less decisive than shooting. That came as a surprise, but perhaps the dice fell for the shooters in this game.

    Fighting and shooting cause casualties, but also inflict "stress" - a penalty that handicaps the stressed unit in certain ways. Units can build up quite a bit of stress, and successful tactics may revolve around targeting units for stress before unleashing a decisive attack.

    This first game provided two interesting features that I've rarely witnessed in gaming.
    The first was the fighting retreat of the Explorers.
    The other was the lull in combat when the bested tribesmen broke off and attempted to change form furious rushes to a cordon of ambushes.

    Conclusion: An excellent game, with all required components (Rules, tokens, scenarios (in newspaper form)) included with the rule book.

    The command by cards is innovative, quick and permits each player plenty of control restricted mainly by the opponent's responses.

    Games at this scale often suffer form two weaknesses.
    The "Scrum in the middle" where optimal game tactics result in a massed brawl - the scenarios appear to offer victory conditions that may avoid this.
    Limited replay value - a white men Vs tribal scenario will inevitably contrast the tribal charge against the white man's firepower. More games will show whether games resemble carbon copies, or provide a range of tactical options.

    What I've seen suggests that Congo can avoid these pitfalls.
    Further games will show how well it does so.
    I am looking forward to returning - with more tribesmen.

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    1. I'm painting up a whole load more ascaris right now. If I'm going to be stuck with the Expedition forces then I want to have overwhelming firepower :-) .

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    2. That sounds ominous.

      Firepower was quite overwhelming when the dice permitted.
      Other times it could be something of a damp squib.
      There was certainly enough variation in results to keep me guessing.

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  5. The aar report certainly had the feel of a desperate struggle of White's versus Natives in the jungle and the table set-up and photos certainly added to the atmosphere.

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    1. It did look pretty desperate for a turn or two, but the natives didn't quite manage to make enough contact. I think my extensive use of rifles in the Expedition (as opposed to muskets) may have helped against the all-melee native force.

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  6. Only the RED stress tokens are removed at the end of each turn. ;-)

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    1. Ah, thanks Laurent! I had read that paragraph wrongly.

      It's not unusual for me to make a mistake in the first game of anything new. I then re-read the rules, taking that initial experience into account, to see if I've missed anything.

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    2. That would change things significantly.
      A lot more call for rallying (We spent most of our turns on movement and shooting).

      It will be interesting to see whether the fighting burns out more quickly, or whether weakened units lack the resolve to finish off their enemy.

      That could work either way, but if units remain stressed, there's more incentive to maintain a fresh reserve.

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  7. I do like the sound of this game and setting. Your report interests me no end. I will read it once or maybe twice more as I search out all the information.

    The bad news is that I already have SOOOOOO many started and stalled projects I am reluctant to head in anther new direction.

    But what a very interesting report and game setting.

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    1. I've been interested in this genre for many decades, although it probably hasn't shown much in my blog until very recently. Now that I have a good set of rules and some figures, I'm looking forward to plenty more games.

      As for your own ideas in this direction: Beware the Shiney :-) !

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  8. Great report - as usual! Very glad you enjoyed the game. I've played this scenario twice now (once as attacker and once as defender) and really enjoyed it. I've even managed to paint most of my White men and African Kingdom columns.

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    1. Thanks, Lee. We did enjoy the game, even though we made some mistakes with the rules. Next time will be better, I'm sure!

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