Monday 5 March 2018

Congo: The Crocodile River


McCoy expedition at the far side, Glover expedition in the foreground, objectives in the centre

Deep in the jungle of central Africa in the latter part of the 19th century, 2 groups are trying to extend their spheres of influence.  This time it isn't one native tribe against another, or even colonial powers trying to subdue a native village.  Rather, this game is set between two "white men expeditions" to see who can control more territory.  Or maybe there was a disagreement over which group got the last bottle of gin in the closest trader's store, or someone cheated at cards.

Whatever the reason, the "Glover" expedition (led by a rather unscrupulous retired army officer) and the "McCoy" expedition (a much more genteel affair, led by a formidable lady scientist) clashed on the banks of the Lomami river.  This is their story...

The Scenario

This is a fairly simple scenario:
  • There are 3 objectives (territory markers?) in the river that runs along the middle of the table.
  • Points are scored for carrying these objectives off the far side of the board, or at least for having them in enemy territory.
  • The river is deep, muddy and infested with crocodiles!

The Forces

Major Glover's Ruffians

Major Glover's own group of Ruga Ruga are exhausted: they lose a man and panic before the game has even begun!
  • Several (3?) bands of Ruga Ruga: fearsome mercenaries, though rather prone to superstitious terrors.
  • Some ascaris, led by a flag bearer
  • A group of native warriors
  • A group of native archers
  • Several bearers.

Mrs McCoy's Column

  • Several groups (3?) of trained ascaris.
  • 4 rifle-armed, well-trained soldiers
  • A band of native warriors
  • 3 white adventurers (we wondered if this was the 19th century's equivalent of a "gap year" for the aspiring young gentleman).  One of these was lost to exhaustion before the game started.  I wonder if it was malaria, dysentery or a hostile witch doctor who put paid to this chap?  Or maybe syphilis?
  • Several bearers.
  • A journalist.

The Game

Normally, I would advance the action in a game fairly equally along all the points of interest.  However, in this game the forces were distributed between the three objectives and the thick jungle (and limited command & control) meant that there was little interaction between each group.  It will be more instructive to handle each sector in turn from start to finish.

The Left Flank

Blue Ruga Ruga entered the river on the right flank and seized that objective, long before any of the red forces were close.

They were chased out of the river by a crocodile and then charged by the red ascaris, but the Ruga Ruga held their nerve and savaged their attackers.  So far, this was all going swimmingly (if you'll pardon the very bad pun!) and there didn't seem to be much to prevent the blue unit from carrying its trophy off the far edge of the map.

Then, sporadic rifle shots rang out.  With almost every shot, one of the Ruga Ruga fell; the blue group just couldn't figure out what was happening.  Finally it was revealed: the two red adventurers had opened fire from a nearby patch of jungle.  Even though the Ruga Ruga were under cover, the white men shot like champions and almost every bullet was a hit.

Between the murderous rifle fire and frequent terror attacks (playing on the Ruga Ruga's superstitions), the blue unit was severely reduced.  Eventually, the last two men fled back across the river; only one made it to the other bank.  [Technically, this loss was due to a flee action after the unit took too much stress, rather than a crocodile attack.  It is possible that the second man did survive - but decided that he had pressing business elsewhere].

By the end of the game, the blue unit was in a very bad way; it was reduced to a single, highly stressed individual.  However, he did have possession of an objective marker.

Points scored for the left flank

  • Red (McCoy expedition): 0 points.  No enemy units destroyed, no loot discovered, no objective in or taken off the board through enemy territory.
  • Blue (Glover expedition): 0 points.  No enemy units destroyed, no loot discovered, no objective in or taken off the board through enemy territory.

The Centre

The McCoy Expedition's soldiers reached the river first.  They tried to cross, but disturbed a waiting crocodile.  These hardy warriors kept their heads though; the crocodile was driven off without loss.

Blue ascaris (with the blue expedition's flag bearer) took cover behind vegetation along the edge of the river.  However, they weren't in time to prevent Mrs McCoy's ascaris from seizing the objective.  Shots were exchanged between the groups; the blue ascaris all missed, but the better-trained red ascaris hit several of their opponents.

The red soldiers crossed the river to try to enfilade the beleaguered blue ascaris.  However, a thunderous charge by Major Glover's recovered Ruga Ruga threw them back across, leaving several of their dead behind.

In any case, the remaining blue ascaris survived by rallying to the flag and keeping their heads down.  Eventually Mrs McCoy's red ascaris retreated out of the chest-high water when a crocodile took one of their number.

The crocodiles were really active now - or at least, fear of crocodiles was running rampant.  The retreating soldiers panicked...

...and the pursuing blue native auxiliaries (who had finally reached the river right at the end of the game) were also inconvenienced by things real or imaginary moving below the surface.

At the end of the game, neither side had anyone on the enemy's side of the river.  Red did have possession of an objective, but since this was still in their own half, it didn't score anything.

Points scored for the centre

  • Red (McCoy expedition): 0 points.  No enemy units destroyed, no loot discovered, no objective in or taken off the board through enemy territory.
  • Blue (Glover expedition): 0 points.  No enemy units destroyed, no loot discovered, no objective in or taken off the board through enemy territory.
So, could either side do any better on the right flank?  Read on...

The Right Flank

Blue's native archers tried to take an early shortcut through a patch of thick jungle...

...but were severely stressed by some local wildlife.  They did eventually recover their composure and carry on, but it took most of the game before they were anywhere useful.

Maybe the archers wouldn't be needed anyway?  Blue's right-flank Ruga Ruga easily beat the opposition to the river and claimed the objective.  They topped this by firing a murderous volley which stopped the advancing red ascaris dead in their tracks.

Not wanting to risk a crocodile attack, the blue Ruga Ruga climbed the far bank of the river.  A red warrior unit attacked them and was driven off, but the Ruga Ruga were building up quite a lot of stress.

The defeated warriors (encouraged by their attached journalist, no doubt) started to throw assegais instead.  This proved to be much more effective and two blue Ruga Ruga fell.

[Note: in this confrontation I didn't record whether the remnants of the red ascari unit fired as well as - or instead of - the warriors.  It doesn't really matter either way; the result was still the same].

As the end of the game drew near, the blue Ruga Ruga took cover behind some bushes.  Blue archers were approaching, but were too late to offer any assistance beyond the dubious morale benefit of their support.

Points scored for the right flank

  • Red (McCoy expedition): 0 points.  No enemy units destroyed, no loot discovered, no objective in or taken off the board through enemy territory.
  • Blue (Glover expedition): 5 points!  No enemy units destroyed, no loot discovered - but one objective taken into enemy territory (just).


This game was pretty much inconclusive.  Neither side encroached much on the other's territory.  There weren't even that many casualties; not a single unit was wiped out!  Even though the (blue) Glover expedition scored 5 points to the (red) McCoy expedition's 0, that is peanuts compared to what might have been achieved if either side had run off with one or more of the objectives.  At best it's a very marginal victory, though I think it more fair to describe it as a close-fought draw.

From the preceding paragraph, you might think that it was a dull game.  Nothing could be further from the truth: it was an enormously fun morning!  Both sides had chances, but found themselves limited by superstitious terrors, bad aim or hostile fauna.  Red very nearly prevailed on the left, but were possibly a little too slow.  Red also had a good chance in the centre; the blue flag proved invaluable in rallying the faltering defenders.  On the right, blue's early rush paid off: the outnumbered Ruga Ruga managed to hunker down and survive.

Possibly red's scientist could have gone looking for discoveries - and this might have given their journalist something to write about - but there's no certainty that such a plan would have reaped any rewards.

Finally, the crocodiles in the river only cause one (directly attributable) casualty.  Their main effect was to cause a lot of stress, both in game terms (stress counters) and in tension to the players.  There's nothing quite as nerve-wracking as losing a melee on the bank of the river and being forced back into the crocodile-infested waters!  


  1. Another excellent game of Congo, with challenges and interest maintained until the final turn.

    Our previous games had proved the system provides a close and thrilling encounter between gun and spear. This game showed that the rules are as good in a gun against gun encounter. The dispersed skirmishing with occasional close encounters reflected the challenges of a firefight in dense terrain.

    Credit to blue for marshalling his less-disciplined force with a cunning combination of natural cover, going to ground and harnessing the near magical influence that his flag exercised for his native troops.

    It is tricky to identify the real heroes in such a confused firefight.
    Red's pair of student adventurers deserve commendation. Their marksmanship turned back a powerful enemy thrust on the left flank.
    In the centre blue's ascaris defended the river-band and their beloved flag against twice their number of superior armed enemy.

    Well done to both sets of chaps.

    1. I agree completely, Steve. Our game was very much a confused skirmish in thick terrain, with occasional flurries of noise and terror. Just as I imagine the real thing might have been...

    2. I imagine an accidental engagement, started by a nervous trigger finger and eery shadows across the river.
      Soon every gun was firing, most without a distinct target.

      It took a while for the commanders to realise their mistake and longer to stop their men from firing.

      At least the crocs were fed.

  2. Another fun game! Looks like the two forces were well matched. It's an interesting scenario for units armed with ranged weapons, since they must be activated to move to capture the flag and get across the river. At the risk of being shot to pieces by their opponents of course!

    1. It hadn't occurred to me before the game that we would be so evenly balanced as to prevent progress. The red force had fewer, but better armed & trained, troops. However, this didn't seem to matter; neither side had enough of an advantage (in numbers or equipment) to force a significant victory.

    2. Yet Blue came close to breaking through on either flank, and Red had opportunities in the centre.
      Timely interventions from apparently weak (but fresh) units managed to slam the door in each case.

  3. It all sounds like a very frustrating, tense and exciting game despite the lack of a satisfactory conclusion. It does make me wonder if the scenario is worth a replay - I think it does but maybe with the river angled across the terrain ?

    1. I think if I replayed this then my tactic would be to put together a much stronger thrust at one (maybe two) of the objectives and try to fight an effective holding action at the others. Of course, the opposition might try to do exactly the same thing...

  4. Congo is one of those games I really think I should give a try. It is tempting when I real a report like yours. BUT I MUST resist.

    1. I shouldn't place temptation in your way, but a fellow on BoardGame Geek is using Congo to play out land actions form the golden age of piracy. He has replaced the White Man / Zanzibar / African Kingdom and Forest Tribe contingents by directly mapping them to Governor's regulars / Pirates / Settlers and Natives / Forest Indians.

      Congo is a great set of rules with one of the best activation systems I've had the pleasure to play.

    2. I enjoy Congo enormously, but then many of my formative years were spent reading fiction by H. Rider Haggard and real-life accounts from Burton, Speke, Baker and the like. For me it's completely obvious that I want to play this game; it helps that the rules are well-written and presented :-) .

  5. Thanks for another brilliant rumble in the jungle AAR C6, and good thinking to 'split' the AAR into the separate sections - you probably saved a lot of wear and tear on the scroll wheel as we tried to follow action 'across the board' ;-)
    I'm still trying to put my finger on why I find this genre so appealing, at the moment I'm accepting that "it just IS" and enjoying the write ups until I figure out the X factor! :-)

    1. Thanks! It's "Boys Own" adventure stuff, hovering between the traditional wargame and the role-playing genre. Same reason that I enjoy SAGA, All Things Zombie, Frostgrave and similarly-scaled skirmish games

  6. Very tight game with no ground being given on either side until the very end. Nice batrep Hugh. Table and figures are looking marvellous.

    1. Thanks, Simon. I'm always looking for ways to improve my presentation, even so :-) .

  7. Great battle report. I love the table and the figures. The river and jungle pieces are especially nice. The rules look really interesting. I thought the blue team was going to win at one stage. I love this period. Ohh now you've got me interested in pulling out my stuff and having another look at it.

    1. Thanks! Both teams thought they might win at some point, but it was pretty much a draw in the end :-) . Congo is well worth playing if you have any interest in the period (even better if you already have the figures, of course :-) ).

    2. Yeah I do have quite a few figures for that period already painted and good to go. Got a bit of terrain but probably need a bit more. You've given me a few ideas.