The Back of Beyond, Setting the East Ablaze, 28mm
By popular consent we returned to The Back of Beyond again. Actually, that’s not quite accurate – while we used our Back of Beyond toys, for once the game wasn’t set in Central Asia, but rather in the Ukraine. Essentially it was an excuse for Bart to field his Polish army in its entirety, and for Peter to do the same with his Red Army. The game was loosely set in the Russo-Polish War (1919-20), during the Polish drive on Kiev in early 1920. In our game, the Poles had to break through a strong Russian rearguard force near Malyn, about 60 miles north-east of Kiev. Actually, it was rather too strong, but that’s down to the brief – both players got to put “all their toys on the table”. As you probably know, that’s usually a recipe for disaster – or a turkey shoot! So, in this game both sides had three “brigades” – two infantry-based ones and a mobile one. For the Poles, this meant two groups of 4×10 infantry, although one had three and a unit of 10 ulhans. The mobile column consisted of two funky armoured cars and a couple of FT17 tanks. Bart and I took charge of the Poles. The Russians, played by Peter and Bill, had two commands of 4×10 infantry, although one in each command was of poor quality. their mobile column was made up of 2×10 cavalry, and a pair of armoured cars. What the Reds excelled in though, was support weapons – two field guns, two machine guns and two tchankas. All the Poles got to counter that was one solitary machine gun. Just to spice things up a bit, and because this would be the first outing for my Red Air Force Spad VII, both sides got to field a plane. The game was played out on an 8×6 foot table, with a railway and rather ugly rubber road running up its centre, and the largely open terrain interspersed with small woods, a few low hills, and a couple of villages. The Reds got to deploy halfway (4″) up the table (we were fighting up the long sides of the table), while the Poles deployed one foot in, on their side. The only exception was the Red mobile column, and units entered from their friendly table edge when their appropriately-coloured dice were drawn. Let me explain…The way we activate units differs from the rules. We’ve tried a lot of systems over the years, but the latest one steals an idea from Bolt Action, and another from Too Fat Lardy rules. Each brigade-sized command gets its own colour of dice, corresponding to the number of units it has. Another dice for each plane goes into the bag, and when drawn the players can save their air support for when they want it. Finally, we throw in two “vodka break” cards. the first one is just a warning. When the second appears, the turn ends, and all the dice go back in the bag, ready for the next turn. We find it a tad quicker than the official system, and you have that added uncertainty of not knowing when the turn is going to end. The game began with some long-range artillery and machine gun fire from the Red Army. This was only marginally effective, and by the end of Turn 1 the Poles had started their advance, with my command heading left towards a wood and small hill, while Bart’s guys moved into the nearest village. In reply the Reds brought on their armoured cars, leading the way with their Garford-Putilov – a ridiculously over-burdened affair with a field gun in a turret on its back. The game soon livened up though. First, a charge by Bart’s ulhans came to an abrupt end when they were shot from their saddles by the Garford-Putilov. The Polish armour made a fairly slow advance thanks to half the kit bogging down – but eventually they passed the village and began dueling with their Red counterparts. The trouble was, the Polish AFVs lacked the firepower of their opponents, and soon an armoured car was knocked out, and a tank “suppressed” and forced to retire. Things weren’t going much better for the Polish infantry. One of my units was machine gunned repeatedly at long range, and only saved from oblivion by the Red field guns turning on the Polish armoured units. I managed to get into action though, wiping out half a unit of Red infantry in fur hats, holding the Red’s right flank. that though, was my high water mark. By that time both Peter and Bart had brought on their planes, although both declined to fight a duel – instead they went for the enemy infantry below them.Peter’s plane (my new Spad) made a successful strafing run, and then went on tow drop a couple of light bombs, which missed spectacularly. Over on the far side of the railway Bart’s Polish plane did pretty much the same, even though his pilot was rated highly, being an “ace” after a previous string of Back of Beyond “kills”. Anti-aircraft fire consisted of rather ineffective LMG and rifle fire , and nobody hit either plane before they buzzed off the table. Actually, they never did leave – we kept them flying around ’cause they looked pretty…!By then though, it was clear that the Polish advance had stalled. Every time Bart’s infantry tried to leave the village it was met by a storm of fire from the Red armoured cars, machine guns and field guns. The same happened with me – a tchanka pretty much stalled my advance, after wiping out half a Polish unit. So, the game fizzled out as the Poles gradually began to retire. With hindsight we should have let Peter take off a lot of his support weapons, and give both sides no “get off the far table edge to win” objectives. Still, despite being a bit one-sided the game was great fun to play, and it was nice to see Bart and Peter’s armies in their entirety.