Wednesday 12 September 2018

Congo: the Priest and the Slavers


After playing Pulp Alley on my new, modular terrain in the morning (see here for a description), Steve and I decided to continue our day of gaming with a return to Congo.  The tiles were re-arranged a bit and set up as an African tribal village.

On the day of the scenario, this particular settlement was hosting a French missionary called "Father Marcellin".  Most of the tribesmen were away hunting when a force of Arab slavers descended on the village.  It appears that they disapproved most strongly of this particular European giving the natives ideas...

The Scenario

This is number 3 of the standard scenarios from the base Congo rules: "A Survivor's Account".  The priest starts the game hidden in one of the huts; the defenders know where he is but the attackers do not.
  • The attackers are split into 2 groups; one enters from each end of the table on the first turn.  Note that we chose to use my dhow model to mark one of these entry points, but the vessel has no game function besides being decorative.  Attackers score points for capturing the missionary and taking him off the table, or for burning and looting the villager's huts.
  • Only a few of the defenders start in the village; the rest arrive piecemeal at random points and times.  The tribe scores points for hustling the priest off the table and for each enemy group destroyed.

The Game

The brigands advanced; Ruga Ruga ran between the deserted huts whilst their tribal auxiliaries were a bit slower.  Zanzibaris and ascaris leaped off the dhow and marched up the beach.

Feeling horribly outnumbered, the villagers scattered.  Experienced hunters ran for cover in a nearby cluster of bushes, while the chieftain and his warriors tried to hide in the lee of the hut nearest to the river.  This hut was where Father Marcellin was staying and so the tribesmen beckoned for him to join them.

The first of the tribal reinforcements arrived in the very far corner of the table; a group of warriors paddled their canoe to shore as fast as they could (again, the canoe is really just for decoration, rather than being a playable, functional model).  They seemed a long way from the action...

The chieftain's group (with the missionary) was harassed by rifle fire from the Zanzibaris.  It looked as if they were about to be outflanked as well, when another bunch of tribal warriors arrived back from their hunting.  These splashed across the shallow stream and charged up the hill.  Even though the opposing auxiliaries were led by a great brute of a man, this initial melee went in favour of the villagers and the attackers' advance was halted.

The attackers' second band of young warriors was struggling.  They didn't like this place, there were strange noises coming from the village, it was bad luck to attack a European and they generally didn't feel nearly as brave as they had done when they agreed to join this expedition [young warriors are especially susceptible to psychological attacks; the villagers made considerable use of such terrors, especially when they didn't have many units to move instead].

Eventually, these bravos built up a total of 4 stress tokens [ie. they were totally freaking out!].  Then, a lion appeared in the nearest patch of scrub...

Never underestimate native firepower!  The Zanzibaris had been ignoring the tribal hunters, but a flurry of arrows dropped several of the Arabs on the beach.

This heralded a veritable storm of activity!
  • Running with the speed of the giraffe, warriors tore across the beach in pursuit of the remaining Zanzibaris.  Indeed, the latter only escaped annihilation because their trader managed to keep retreating, one step ahead of their pursuers.
  • Simultaneously, the chieftain's warriors charged the ascaris and drove them back to the beach, leaving two of their number behind as corpses.
  • Not everything went the way of the villagers, though: the Ruga Ruga fired a volley of muskets at the tribesmen.  They managed just one hit - but it was the chieftain himself who took the bullet and fell!  This unseen attack from afar panicked his bodyguard, if only momentarily.

Finally, the lion woke up and smelled blood.  It charged from cover into the back of the depleted unit of native auxiliaries, killing one of them and sending the other screaming away in terror.

It was about this point that the other unit of young warriors decided to run away; their terror was simply too much for them [this may just be the first time I've seen a unit destroyed entirely by terror attacks!  In this case, they didn't even encounter any enemy or make more than one move onto the board before they fled].

Back at the beach, the furious warriors chased the Zanzibaris right across the sands to the edge of the river, killing as they went.  The Arabs' trader could only do so much to avoid contact; eventually the unit was caught and slaughtered to a man.

The ex-chieftain's battered bodyguard decided that it would be more valuable for them to escort the missionary away from the village than it would be to stay and continue fighting.  Of course, the nearest exit point from the table was the dhow, so they boarded it and cast off from the jetty.  Let's hope that someone in that group knows how to sail!

So far, the victory points had been going entirely to the villagers; they had accumulated an impressive total [16 VP: 10 VP for saving Father Marcelin and 6 VP for eliminating two enemy units, even if one of these had simply run away in terror].

The slavers still had forces in the village, though - they decided that this would be a good time to do some old-fashioned pillaging and burning.  Two huts caught fire immediately, but the third must have been damp or something as it stubbornly refused to catch light.

The Ruga Ruga then poured a terrifying volley from their muskets into the only warriors left in the village.  Although none of them were hurt, the smoke and noise blinded and petrified them.

Maybe the lion sensed their fear, or maybe he was simply confused and angry with all the shouting and banging, smoke and flame?  Whatever the reason, he chose this moment to attack the panicking tribesmen from behind, slaying two of their number and causing the rest to flee.

The beast didn't stop there, either.  He turned on the ascaris (who had completely failed to set fire to the last village hut).  When they fled from the enraged lion, they were intercepted and annihilated by warriors returning from the beach.

It didn't stop there, either!  The predator charged into the victorious warriors, killed one and sent the rest splashing across the river to escape its bloody jaws.  Truly this was a very angry lion!

Even though the game's official time limit hadn't been reached, we called the game at this point.  The remaining slavers escaped with their loot; there was no-one left who could stop them from doing so.  One last tribal reinforcement arrived (a group of hunters and their healer), to find the village burning and bodies littering the streets ... and a lion on the loose.


Well, that was a wonderful game to play!  It had a very different feel to many other scenarios; in particular it seemed difficult to coordinate the various units (especially when they arrived at random points and times).  Having said that, some actions were highly effective, such as the hunters/warriors chasing down and wiping out the Zanzibaris on the beach, or the Ruga Ruga & lion putting paid to a different group of warriors in the village.  And I'm not going to forget the power of multiple terror attacks in driving off the attacking, weak-of-heart young warriors.

Victory points were as follows:
  • Villagers: 19VP: 10VP for saving the missionary, 9VP for eliminating three enemy units.
  • Slavers: 12VP: 6VP for burning two huts and 6VP (?) for the loot they carried away.
From the scores above, it looks as if the defenders pulled off a handsome win.  Consider this, though: the village is in ruins and inhabited by a man-eating lion.  The priest is adrift on a stolen dhow and the river water has so much blood in it that it won't be fit to drink for quite some time.

On the other hand, the Ruga Ruga mercenaries escaped without losing a man and with a considerable amount of plunder.  They'll probably be quite happy with that!


  1. Quite a fight! I think although the Zanzibaris escaped with some loot they took such a battering they'll not be back for a long time.

    1. Thanks, A J. Yes, the Zanzibaris took quite a hammering - this was a complete surprise to me; even now I cannot quite work out *why* they suffered so much :-) .

    2. I suspect over-confidence, perhaps some poor recruiting decisions, and a much tougher than expected home team.

      At one point it looked as though the 2 units of village elders would see off the raiders unaided.
      Of course the young bloods returning form their foraging wanted a share of the glory.
      And then the Lion appeared.

      Join the slavers they said..
      Fun and prophet (geddit!) they said.
      Nobody mentioned the native spears and the lion.

  2. Great game and I'm sure the missionary is relieved! We have also played this adventure and found it to be a fun scenario. Hoping to start playing the Throne of Thunder campaign soon...

    1. The missionary had a very narrow escape indeed! Quite apart from being close to capture, at one point it was 50:50 whether he or the chief took a bullet. The die spoke: the chief died and the priest lived :-) .

      Yes, the Throne of Thunder seems like an excellent campaign; it's on my "would like to try" list :-( ...

  3. A veritable romp across the Congo - excellent

    1. Again, thanks! It was a close-run fight, or so it seemed at the time.

  4. Great game by your account and full of twists and turns right up until when the game was called.
    Excellent looking set-up - the new boards look great too btw.

    1. Thanks, Joe. It was a good game, but then Pulp Alley always is :-) .

      I'm not totally happy with the new terrain tiles, but I'm still working on it...

  5. I have to admit that reading your Congo game reports does not only make the system come alive, but also has raised my interest in this system. It looks like a fun game.

    1. Well, I've had an interest in adventures in Darkest Africa for many years (decades, even). It's nice to be able to scratch that itch nowadays :-) .

  6. I've said it before: Congo is an excellent game!! I've lost count, but would guess we have enjoyed between 8 and 10 games. Not a single dud among them, most had us on edge until the final turn, and even those which finished decisively kept us thinking and guessing until the end.

    Congo simply has no equivalent to the "My turn to shuffle my forces forward a march and do little else". Every turn involves decisions, and sees action - sometimes brutal decisive action.

    As the games have gone on, we have become more adept at rallying our frightened troops, withdrawing damaged units, and finding ways to continue the mission.

    This game was perhaps unique since the Slavers (Boo hiss) didn't find much luck during the first 2 turns; missing most of their shots, losing their melees and getting beaten to the objectives by the locals. Perhaps the game was irretrievable by that point as more young bloods returned from their foraging.

    The survivors (One undamaged unit, and a single survivor form another unit - all mercenaries) made a brave show with their pyrotechnics, but had the good sense to retreat rather than fight to the death.

    To add insult, the pesky natives stole their boat, and that preacher man seems quite adept at the art of navigation.
    It will be a long trek through hazardous country before (if) the survivors reach home.

    They will think twice before joining any further slave expeditions.

    1. It was a very unlucky, poor start for the slavers, I agree! Statistically, they had a (slim, but real) chance of pulling off a victory: if all three huts had been plundered and burnt and three of the slaver units had survived (rather than two) then I think that would have done it. But it wasn't to be...

  7. Congo is such a great set of rules. Like you, I don't think we've ever had a dull game, and there are plenty of interesting player decisions all the time.

    1. Thanks, Unknown. Yes, I agree completely with that assessment; Congo is one of my current favourites :-) .