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Thursday, 1 December 2016

Wellington in India: Argaum (1803)

Dr Mark Smith continued to educate us with this, the latest in his series of BBB scenarios for battles in India. Arthur Wellesley, better known as the Duke of Wellington, made his name as the "sepoy general" serving in India during the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War and the Second Anglo-Maratha War. During the latter he attained his last Indian victory at Argaum.

My own scenarios usually have fairly dense terrain. This is partly down to the nature of the European or American geography where my games are usually set, but also partly perhaps to an occasional tendency on my part to include excessive detail. By contrast, Mark's Indian battles have a purity and simplicity to them. The terrain is usually much more uniform (a function of the battles' smaller scale as well as India's relative under-development, not to mention less detail being available from fewer contemporary accounts and poorer maps!). And in his scenario design, Mark is good at applying an appropriate degree of abstraction and elision, boiling them down to what actually matters.

As a result, Mark's games offer very cleanly framed tactical problems. Argaum is a fine example. The terrain could not be much simpler. Millet fields hinder movement and limit visibility across the whole table, save for a more open central nullah leading from the British camp directly towards the Maratha line and the village of Argaum.

The challenge for the British is to close with and break the Maratha line, in the teeth of the numerous Maratha artillery, while fending off swarms of Maratha cavalry on both flanks.

The Marathas' task is to harass, disrupt and delay the British advance so that the British cannot mount strong enough concerted attacks to take the Maratha positions.

The game generated just the perfect mix of decisions: the grand tactical ones of how to deploy, where to place the best infantry, which formations to attack with and where; and the local tactical ones as individual units got to grips with each other.

When we fought the battle last week, the British cavalry forged straight up the middle in the open terrain of the nullah valley and got badly shelled, while their infantry spent too much time floundering through the millet or being distracted by Maratha cavalry. Despite this, they were still in with a chance of winning on the last turn if they could capture Argaum itself and carry some Maratha guns. Fortunately for us Indian players, the dice were kind to us, the British repelled, justice done, and the Marathas victorious.

Mark is gradually compiling his scenarios into a really fine set which should eventually be published as a fascinating "Wars in India" BBB scenario book. Join the BBB Yahoo group (or just follow this blog) to make sure you stay informed of its progress.