The Empire Club

Raid on the Zamboni

The Empire Club's first battle took place last week, using the "Captains and Kings" rules jointly whipped up by Rick Wynn and myself. They're simple to the point of cinematic logic, (which is very simple indeed) but worked out for our purposes. And anyway, the scenario and forces involved are supposed to command much more attention than the rules, aren't they?

So say we all. This month's battle was "Raid on the Zamboni River", in which the British attempted to suppress the slave trade in Independence, a colony established by Confederate irredentists on the mythical continent of Micomica. The Confederates bought their slaves from Zanzibari Arab pirates, who had a sailing ship and a couple of dhows, while the British had a significant force of Zirk mercenaries and four armed, armored steam gunboats. British objective was destruction of the docks and ships; Confederate objectives were preservation of their property, both slaves and houses; and the pirates, well, they wanted to get away with all their loot intact.

The British decided to drop off their Zirk infantry and a few cavalry patrols well downstream of the Confederate camp. This was fortuitous in the first instance, because the Confederates deployed infantry all along the riverbank, who commenced a withering fire on the gunboats as soon as they hove into view. The Zamboni as we constructed it is not a wide river, so the gunboats had precious little room to maneuver. They took casualties on all four boats, but their answering fire with Gatling guns cleared the bank of Rebs within one turn. Confederate cannon on a nearby hill also fired on the boats, hitting a Gatling and several crewmen.

Unfortunately, the pirate ship came out to fight, to the surprise of the British, and began firing its cannon at long range. A lucky hit blew up one boat's engine and knocked the cannon out of the bows of another before it fired a shot. British gunnery hit the pirate boat a few times, but harassed by very brave Rebs who kept running to the shore before being cut down, the British guns didn't manage to knock out the pirate ship before it loaded up all its valuables and sailed away. Caught between two fires, and unable to suppress either one decisively, the British sent their last intact Gatling-armed boat upriver to rake the pirate ship, but the gun jammed after one murderous volley.

Meanwhile, on land, the Zirks (desert nomads in the pay of the British) struggled through the jungle for several turns before colliding with the Confederate cavalry and Tennesseeans screening the hill on which the Confederate guns stood. The Zirks destroyed the cavalry in hand-to-hand combat (!!) but then Confederate rifle fire scattered the British cavalry and slowed the Zirk charge down.

However, there were a LOT of Zirks. They rushed the Confederate line, rolling it back and demolishing every parcel of reinforcements the Confederates threw at them. Finally a lone Zirk warrior hacked down the last Confederate gunner and captured the guns, although by then, the British naval flotilla was mostly beached and burning.

As each boat ran aground, its crew was attacked by Confederate troops, forming several British pockets along the riverbank. One by one, the Confederates reduced these pockets, although some, consisting of several officers and no troops, held out for a commendably long time.

Meanwhile, the officer commanding the scattered British cavalry saw his chance and ran alone into the Confederate camp, and although shot in the back by a sniper, managed to kill the overseer and free the slaves, who fled into the jungle. Thus, the British force was destroyed, but managed to cause significant damage to the Confederate settlement's economy. They didn't do much damage to the slave trade (and indeed, running off the slaves probably created a demand for more slaves) but it wasn't a complete loss, either.

I'm blowing a little smoke, because I played the Zirks; the fact is, we got beaten. In hindsight, the British might have done well to land ALL their troops downriver and walk, using the boats purely as gun platforms; as it was, half our troops were stuck on the boats, taking shellfire and not doing much in return, till they ran aground willy-nilly. If we'd been stronger on land, I bet we'd have taken those guns, especially if we used the gunboats to support the land battle.

But we reached too far, and paid the price. A good time was had by all.