After persuading club members to collect an army for a future club campaign set in the Back of Beyond, I have finally lived up to my promises and started the campaign. For those that do not know much about the Back of Beyond it is set on the peripheral of the Russian Civil war in a huge geographical area from Black Sea in the West across to Mongolia and China in the East. It encompasses a huge variety of cultures and terrain from the Russian steppe to the Gobi Desert.
The more I read about this period the more I want to explore it as some of the characters and plots are more outlandish than any novel. I can recommend several books on the period. Setting the East Ablaze by Peter Hopkirk gives a great overview of the period and setting. The Bloody White Baron by James Palmer explores one of the period’s infamous characters and a Mission to Tashkent by F M Baileys tells of his exploits a British Spy during this time.
I have written a set of table-top rules that unashamedly steals many ideas from various rules sets such as O group (Order system), Two Fat Lardies (Cards), Contemptible Little Armies and from Setting the East Ablaze. We have used my house rules on numerous occasions where I have fine turned them each time - if you can fine turn a tractor…. They are far from perfect, but I feel they work well enough.
I then set about writing the campaign rules and was ably assisted by Phil and Noel form our club who quite rightly kept telling me to simplify them as my original proposals were far too complicated and according to Noel "playing it would be like getting too much like homework!" Phil was going to help me umpire the campaign too so was a great help in resetting the rules. After about 12 months of working this up I produced a set up basic umpire rules and a cut down version for the players.
I created 11 playing positions / factions based on people’s collections and my & Phil’s collections for club members to use without having to collect an army. With hindsight that was probably too many.!! These factions were 3 Bolsheviks (Philip, Kamall & Theo) 3 Whites (Pete, Juan & Jonathan) , 2 Chinese Warlords (Richard & Doug), 1 Turkish player (Mark), 1 Polish (Piotr) and 1 British (Pat). In addition, I have got 3 other players to act as an Arms dealer (Noel), a ‘Wagner’ style Mercenary outfit with guns and spies for hire (Neil) and finally someone (Greg) to help with 2 umpires-controlled factions the Georgians and Emirate of Bukhara.
This has also spurred me to get an additional armoured train made and painted for the Whites. The Bolsheviks will be using my other armoured train – don’t ask why I ended up 2 armoured trains…. I have also been painting various tanks for Noel to sell (French St Chamond, German A7V and a mythical Beast Tank (India Jones movie special) and upgrading my Bolshevik and White Russian collections to add in AA teams for hire, AT rifles and Flamethrowers (still on the painting table)…. why did I put these on the equipment lists.
Each Faction has 5 goals to achieve to win the campaign some involve capturing certain places and others involve more subtle tactics. They all started with a sum of money to buy an initial army in a set-up phase, and this was deployed in their starting positions or population centres they controlled at the start. This helped all players get familiar with the rules and how to work a turn. It also led to 4 pages of rule clarifications and at times answering 30 emails a day! Each turn will represent a month in the campaign and will also be played every month in real time. The Set-up phase was set in November 1918 and Turn 1 was December 1918.
I also produced a campaign newsletter which gives hints for some players about some of their subtle objectives, false news, and an excuse to pull a few legs. Players have also contributed to this too and so far, the feedback has been pretty positive, even though it is little unPC!
For turn 1, the players had a smaller sum of money (a core comes from their sponsor such as Moscow for the Bolsheviks) and some money from other sources such as population centres or mineral resources (Baku Oil Wells). They hired some more troops and set about moving them.
I have created an A1 map from various maps I own to cover a huge geographical area to use as the campaign map. Some players have a full version – others have a cut down version showing only part. In Turn 1 the players submitted orders to me and Phil ordering their armies and spies to undertake various tasks. They get from us a report on what has happened in response to their orders, an Intelligence report from the spies and summary of next months money and what resources they have.
Smaller engagements were covered off by the umpires. Larger engagements are to be fought on the table-top and we are just about to have our first battle on the table-top – a clash between the Bolsheviks (Philip) & The Whites (Pete) for the city of Astrakhan!
Player engagement has been fantastic so far and, in all fairness, it has been more work than I anticipated but I am enjoying it too. I just hope we can keep the enthusiasm up for the initial 12 moves we have planned to do.