Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Deepest Darkest Africa with Donnybrook

Whenever I plan to go up to North Devon for our annual post Xmas pre New Year game at Chez Chas I am never really sure quite what to expect.

Last year we were battling in the American Civil War and recreating events surrounding Stoneman's Raid  at the Danbury Iron Foundry in 1865. This year would prove to be quite something different.

ACW Skirmish Stoneman's Raid 1865

This year our game was set in late 19th century Colonial Africa, deep in the Congo jungle at a tributary of the River Uele.

At this crossroads of narrow trails crossing one of the many small rivers that wind their way through the thick jungle foliage an unholy alliance of Arab Slave Traders, River Pirates and a tribal group from the native Azande people that had been disturbing the peace in their own way had been driven by military columns sent into the forest from the various Colonial Powers that had been subjected to the depredations of these three groups in recent months.

The rules we were using for the day were the recently new set of skirmish rules by Barry Hilton and Clarence Hamilton "Donnybrook" which was my first play through, so I was keen to see how they worked.

The set up below with my annotations should help you picture the scene. The scenario simply had the three alliance players in the centre each with three units of different size and abilities, based on groups of four (excellent), eight (bulk standard regular) and twelve (cannon fodder) figures supported by two to three characters such as principle leaders and in my case as the River Pirate leader, a witch doctor and second warrior leader as well.

The basic idea is that combat from shooting and melee will cause hits on a 6 or more with the better quality, but fewer figured units rolling D10's per figure to hit, the regulars getting D8's and the cannon fodder on straight D6's. Saving throws are similarly structured and the leaders were generally fighting with a D12.

To make things interesting, we had some boxes of contraband and booty in the camp, next to the tent in the centre of the table which we all would have been happy to keep with fewer people to share with, thus an alliance of convenience rather than one of goodwill.

The four roads leading into our camp area were the approach routes of the separate but cooperating Colonial troop columns similarly structured with differing ability units but with much different weaponry, some including heavy machine-gun teams.

In preparation for the arrival of the regular troops we set up some road barricades and positioned some troops outside of the camp perimeter. I chose to put my four man mercenary section on the road barricade to slow the approach of the British-Indian army column, whilst my men manoeuvred for a better position to attack from.

Will making some last minute adjustments to his slave traders set up prior to the arrival of the German column on his road
My four man mercenary team cover the road barricade with the pirate riflemen lining the hedgerow behind
Will's Arab slave trader riflemen together with a light cannon cover the road barricade on the route of the British Naval brigade
Once the perimeter forces were set up the four colonial troop columns edged their way down their respective roads.

The movement and combat is card driven so no Igo-Ugo here and the anticipation and often frustration experienced just willing the right card to come out at the right time just added to the fun of the game.

View of the camp perimeter with the River Pirates nearest camera and their allied band of native club-men centre, by the tent
My best unit and one of the more successful units to still be standing at the game end was my eight man squad of pirate riflemen who regularly fired off five D8's worth of shots at various targets through the game and succeeded in taking out the Indian HMG team and shooting up both British rifle squads as they approached the camp aided by the club-men skulking about in the undergrowth and charging out at the survivors from the shooting, taking out the British commander in one attack.

British -Indian army patrols covered by Vickers HMG placed on the road
German Askaris covered by an HMG team as they approach the camp
All the Colonial Troop columns were badly shot up at game end but the Royal Navy more through luck, I suspect, than planning had managed to keep their Naval squad away from the worst of the carnage. Their card had failed to show up for several moves during which time the two sides had dealt mortal blows to each other.

As the Jack Tars moved  into the camp the Pirate leader could only shout defiance as he leapt over the hedge to join his men as they retreated leaving their ill-gotten gains behind them.

The British Naval brigade column, with Jolly Jack Tars top left
My Pirate Mercenary squad try to ambush the Indian HMG team but whilst getting badly shot up only kill one of the enemy 
Arab slave traders and Azande tribesmen man the perimeter
The River Pirates with their ranks thinned in the fighting pull back observed by Captain "Bunny" Chivers MC, Royal Engineers (centre top), last man standing in the British column and carrying his trusty croquet mallet that he used to dispatch several of my men!
The rules played seamlessly and we were soon able to roll our dice with the basic mechanisms memorised, and I really appreciate rules that work in that way. It is clear that "Donnybrook" have plenty of scope in them to allow you to tailor them as required and I really liked the way they played.

We were using characters like my witch doctor who had the ability to terrorise the enemy on first meeting him thus reducing their to hit potential as they were temporarily memorised by his carrying on.

The Royal Navy in force move into the camp ready to seize the contraband
The German Askari HMG team cover the camp perimeter whilst the British Naval infantry move in to mop up
Personally, I am on the lookout for a turn too skirmish set of rules, mainly for horse and musket eras, and these are now firmly in the frame, possibly alongside Sharp Practice by the Lardies as another option.

Not much left of the Congolese Republic troops as they go through the roll call for the third time
We all had a great day messing about in the Congo jungle with lots of laughs and chat which just made the game play even better. If you haven't played Donnybrook, I would certainly recommend giving them a go.

We played from about 10.30 am to about 15.00 with a stop for lunch with, as you can see, plenty of figures on the table and got a clear result in the time, so these should make a very usable set for smaller games with less time to get a result, very useful for those of us who are often time poor and need a quick game system.

The rulebook is in full colour and like the "Republic to Empire" rules from Barry Hilton that I have are full of "eye candy" alongside a well structured layout.

A deserted camp at the end of the days fighting. The River Pirate Chief is the last man to leave defiantly overseeing his surviving pirates away down the road to regroup and fight another day
The River Pirate Chief shouts defiance (top centre behind the native hut) as the Royal Navy move in from the right
Thanks to our host Chas, and to Nick, Mike, Steve, Vince, and Will for a great day of wargaming.


  1. Just like being there.

    I always had you down as a river pirate JJ.


    1. That was a fun day. Yes I can swash my buckle with the best of them although I will in future be very wary of army types in topee helmets twirling a croquet mallets!