What better way to start the new year than to fulfil a long-cherished goal: to play through the Throne of Thunder ("Mungo Mah Lobeh") campaign for one of my favourite miniatures games: Congo?! Steve came round to visit yesterday, so we launched into the first game.
We decided that I would take the White Man Expedition, headed by the late Victorian adventuress Mary Kingsley. In the brief pre-game sequence (2 dice rolls), I achieved the following:
- A slightly disreputable medical man ("Herr Doctor Heineken") agreed to join the party. Despite his name, I suspect that his problem was schnapps rather than beer and that it would suit him very well to disappear into the interior of Africa for a while.
- A group of enthusiastic ascaris decided to come along for just the first mission. Sadly, this second bunch (the expedition already had one band of ascaris hired for the entire campaign) proved to be absolutely useless in the game and Mary might as well not have bothered with them!
Steve would be in command of Ujuwa, the xenophobic witch doctor. As well as his band of acolytes, the pre-game rolls gained him the following benefits:
- A village elder offered Ujuwa a charm. He was unable to give anything more direct ("You know how it is, Ujuwa - we're so busy at this time of year; no-one can be spared. I won't get a day off work for at least a couple of months. And it's my daughter's birthday next week - I can't miss that or I'd never be forgiven. Here, take this lucky hyena's foot instead...").
- Komboso, an elderly soothsayer, did decide to join the witch doctor's column. Given how completely useless his predictions were during our first game, I'm inclined to believe that Komboso is either too deep a thinker to be practical for Ujuwa's crusade, or else he's simply senile. Either way, perhaps his relatives encouraged him to join up and were secretly delighted to be relieved of the burden of care?
Starting from opposite corners of the board, both forces would visit the village of Maskouii, where they would attempt to make money by trading with the natives for carved, wooden masks. There were also a number of areas of dangerous terrain (the mealie plantation, the wooded hill, the cattle enclosure, the large trees, the rocky circle) where discoveries might possibly be made. Of course, it might be easier to achieve some of these objectives by eliminating the opposition first...
Right from the start of the game, the witch doctor's followers scouted all the dangerous terrain areas they could reach, looking for useful discoveries. In the field of mealies, they came across a government official who needed assistance. Rather than just assegai-ing him on the spot, they helped the man to his feet and escorted him to safety (thus earning 2 easy-to-come-by victory points!).
Seeing that the forest tribesmen were concentrating on the outlying areas, Mary and her escort ran for the village. If they could reach the huts first, maybe she could buy up all the masks? Perhaps this was a bit optimistic, but it seemed worth a try.
In parallel, her kirangozi (local guide) led the expedition's full-time ascaris through the cattle enclosure. They didn't find anything useful there, but couldn't help feeling that there was something creepy about the place...
In the dash for the masks, Mary and her group reached the furthest hut before any of the tribesmen. They seemed somewhat isolated, though - in his haste to join them, the kirangozi used his special ability to extend the move of the ascaris, but one of them sprained an ankle and brought the group to a halt (in other words, they drew a stress token for the extra distance - and the counter was movement stress. This group suddenly went from being the fastest bunch in the game to the slowest, much to my chagrin).
Now that Mary had obtained her first mask from the seller at the hut, her soldiers fired a warning volley at the approaching warriors. At least, Mary ordered her men to fire over the heads of the natives; it seems that the soldiers had other ideas! Despite throwing themselves to the ground in a last minute attempt to avoid the bullets, three of the tribesmen were killed.
This seemed to annoy Ujuwa and his followers intensely. Firstly, the witch doctor and his bodyguard charged into the back of the soldiers, screaming war cries and insults. When the soldiers retreated in disarray from this assault, another group of warriors attacked them. Despite Mary using every trick she had (pacifism and barter) 2 soldiers fell and the remainder were chased out of the village. Worse (for the white lady), Ujuwa now had the mask as well as handfuls of trade goods...
No help for Mary was forthcoming from the kirangozi and his ascaris. As well as the twisted ankle, these stalwarts decided that this would be a good time to quake with terror and wail at the vagaries of fate (a successful terror attack by the forest tribe saw them draw a red 'panic' stress token).
Mary was determined not to leave the village empty-handed. One of the villagers decided that it was too hot to sell masks today (I'm sure that the aggro on his doorstep had nothing to do with this decision!), but the third vendor was still there. Mary and her last 2 soldiers ran past his front door, threw some trinkets at the seller, grabbed the mask and hightailed it out of town.
Ujuwa was happy enough to leave as well. After all, he had one of the available masks (taken from Mary at spearpoint) as well as a goodly lot of trade goods - and his followers had showed the white imperialist and her lackeys that they weren't to be taken for granted. The warriors covered his withdrawal, but there was no more fighting anyway and this turned out not to be strictly necessary. Shortly after this, Ujuwa met up with the European mask collector and sold the trophy to him.
Just then, a lion appeared in the cattle enclosure. No wonder that Mary's ascaris had felt unsettled when crossing there earlier!
Since they were otherwise unoccupied, half of the white men column formed a firing line around the livestock pen. However, despite the intense fusilade, not a single bullet hit the lion.
The animal, tired of the noise and irritated by the heat of the day, finally decided to charge. The white hunder/adventurer types were struck with terror when the beast bounded at them, but it backed off without maiming anyone. It then charged into the Ruga Ruga, but these fellows were stout of heart - they slew the lion easily with their knives.
We called the game at this point. There was no realistic prospect of either side catching and defeating their opponent's (single) mask-bearing group in order to claim a second mask. Additionally, all the discoveries had been claimed or found out to be dummy markers and no units were engaged with hostiles or even close to any enemies. In short, there was no reason to fight any more.
Final victory point total were as follows:
Most of Mary's forces never even made it near the village. In particular, her hired young warriors never moved at all and her 2nd group of ascaris barely did so. Doctor Heineken didn't have anything much to do and the kirangozi proved to be a poor guide.
- 2VP for the carved mask.
- 3VP for the loot (it was a very fine lionskin)
Like Mary, many of the tribesmen barely moved during the game. Those that did were sufficient to take the first mask from Mary at spearpoint, though. Ujuwa's attempts at witch doctor magic mostly failed miserably and his soothsayer provided much cryptic, useless advice from the sidelines. His big man/chieftain (and he was a very big, fat man) seems to have decided that the day was too hot to walk, let alone fight.
- 3VP for the blessed mask
- 4VP for selling the mask to the collector
- 4VP for a discovery
- 2VP for loot (the trade goods scattered by Mary in an attempt to save her soldiers)
- 2VP for rescuing the wounded government official
So, it looks as if Mary's column was thoroughly whipped. It was a significant victory for Ujuwa and his native followers. No doubt word of his deeds will spread like wildfire across the region and ferment more unrest!
Two things strike me as noteworthy about this game:
- There was very little in the way of fighting. This scenario was much more a race to make discoveries and/or buy masks - and the two players had to decide how best to priorities these two different activities. Reading the scenario setup made me wonder whether some of the further objectives were even theoretically achievable in the timescale allotted (especially the 3rd mask, which would almost certainly become unavailable before anyone was in a position to acquire it).
- I wonder if there's a touch of hypocrisy about Ujuwa? For all his claimed hatred of foreigners, he was happy enough to sell his mask to a European collector and for his followers to assist a waylaid government official. Hmm, perhaps his principles aren't allowed to get in the way of pragmatism?