In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Troop Ratings for the Frontier

I was pondering last weekend's game while mowing the weeds this morning.

With all the Victorian Romanticism informing our views it's all too easy to boost the plucky British and not give Johnny Pathan his dues. The tribes on the frontier did keep the Raj busy for a hundred years, and ironically they provided some of the best recruits for the Indian Army!

Now obviously Gurkhas and the Corps of Guides are elites. Both had the pick of the best and most intelligent officers and were made up of carefully selected men. Competition to get in to both corps was quite strong. I also tend to rate Gurkhas as 'aggressive' giving them an extra 2 dice in fisticuffs. I think the Guides should get a +1 to spot maybe, or an extra spotting roll on top of their regular actions?

I think for any other British or Indian unit it really depends on how long they've been on the Frontier. A British battalion fresh off the trooper from England or having spent most of it's tour doing garrison work in the interior isn't going to be as effective as a battalion of Bengal Native Infantry who have been stationed on the Frontier seeing regular active service for many years. By the late 19th century distinctions between different regiments, such as the Rifle Brigade had largely disappeared. All Imperial troops were now effectively 'rifles' so they can all skirmish. The Brigade of Guards never went to India so trying to decide how much their innate sense of superiority would overcome inexperience is a problem that can be left alone. Consequently experienced British or Indian units are "Good" and all of the others are "Regular".

Highlanders pose some issues though. Queen Victoria and the novels of Sir Walter Scott had combined to almost fetishize anything Scottish and so the Highland regiments felt a little better about themselves. They have also become rather iconic of the Victorian Army. But did it make them any better really? Perhaps giving Highlland units the 'aggressive' bonus in fisticuffs without any 'extra' morale boost is the way to go.

This has however, generated an idea for a new card! One per Bonus Deck and only if there are Highland units in play AND there is a piper figure on table.

The Piper- Playing this card removes 1d6 of shock from all Highland groups and they all charge into fisticuffs with the closest group of tribesmen.

This is inspired by Piper Findlater, who although shot through both feet, propped himself against a rock and kept playing to encourage the Gordon Highlanders as they stormed the Dargai Heights in 1897, thus earning himself the Victoria Cross.

Getting the tribesmen 'right' is giving me some problems. Last game to try and reflect the steady skirmishing fire I let the tribesmen fire half the figures in a group and not have to use an action to reload or they could fire everybody and need an action to reload. Now I am thinking giving them more, but smaller, groups (6 figures per group to the Imperial 10 or 12) and let them fire without a reload action. By the 1880s and 90s they had all mostly re-equipped with stolen breech loaders anyway. I rate them as 'regular' instead of 'good'. Although this has given me some pause I'm going to stick with it for now to reflect the lower command and control capabilities of the Pathan leadership.

Ghazis naturally get the 'aggressive' bonus in fisticuffs. I also think they should be classed as 'elites'. However there can only be one or two groups maximum.


  1. It is difficult finding a balance between Imperial and Native forces. Too much to benefit one side or the other can lead to a walkover and unsatisfying game. I would certainly rate the Ghurkas as Aggressive. The Guides I'd give the +1 to spot rather than an extra dice, due to their inherent ability in the field. Their roll to spot might be low in the course of the game anyway, which reflects the fog of war.

    I agree with your rating British regiments as Regular if straight off the trooper, and Good for those long in-country. For campaign purposes I increase or decrease the rating depending on the results of the games. Three successful actions in a row enables the regiment to increase status, with three successive defeats - or one massacre - resulting in demotion.

    Funnily enough only this morning I was thinking of getting some Highlander figures. They do have style, after all. I like your bonus card idea. With Piper Findlater playing the regiment in to The Cock O' the North, I'd certainly rate the Jocks as Aggressive!

    Natives... I find they're deadly in hand to hand combat, especially Aggressive coves en-masse with a point of Fervour behind them. Rating Ghazis as Elite would really put the wind up any player on the receiving end of their charge, so yes, one or two units so rated at most would preserve balance.

    Natives are not so hot in skirmish firing. Having half the figures firing at any one time is a good way to reflect "shoot and scoot" harassing fire. I'll try it out in my next game.

    Anyways, apologies for the long post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    1. Ghazis should put the wind up the Imperial player! Frontier hands argued against adopting the .303 round, saying it wasn't big enough to stop a Ghazi charge!

  2. We've not yet really got started on our late 19th Century/ 1920s North West Frontier games, so this is terrific background. Thanks very much for sharing!

    In our Great War and Second World War games, we've treated a Highland piper as offering a rally for one unit within earshot when his card is drawn. We've stayed clear of Pipers being Big Men in themselves, although we have allowed them to come dramatically "Up from the Ranks" if all other NCOs are killed or badly wounded.

    I think your thoughts on Pathans and Afghans look very interested. One additional idea would be to give them some bonus for shooting on the British and Indian troops from a height advantage - such as a re-roll for "1"s.

    Sterling stuff, James. I shall be following with interest!

    1. Well they'd almost always have a height advantage wouldn't they?
      I'm no marksman but I recall reading somewhere that shooting down at a target causes some optical/aiming/ranging distortion.

    2. I've read the same - in relation to Majuba hill in particular. Apparently the tendency is to aim high when firing downslope. The fall of shot is then not readily visible so it's difficult to correct. Firing uphill, on the other hand, you will tend to fire short but the fall of shot will be more visible as it is between you and the target, and so is easier to adjust. Of course wily johny Pathan has grown up with this exercise in practical gravitational physics, and will have learned to adjust as, I suspect, will other frontier troops such as guides and piffers.

  3. Ive been going through exactly the same thing when considering more esoteric VSF Redcoats on Mars gaming. Johnny Martian from the hill tribes is going to be a master of terrain and be aggressively defending his home, so I was using the Pathans as a template.

    I love the Piper bonus card!