Tuesday 18 December 2018

The Sword and the Flame in the Congo

As promised, something different. I have an extensive (i.e. far more than I remembered having) collection of 'Darkest Africa' figures that haven't even been out of their boxes for maybe 25 years. John the Red fancied a game, originally with Death in a Dark Continent, but back in the day we (Joe Newton, Steve Holden and the lads at the Durham Wargames Group) used The Sword and the Flame all the time in a mega Darkest Africa campaign (I still have my campaign diary) as well as stand alone colonial-type battles. The Sword and the Flame will be 40 years old in January 2019 so it seemed fitting to see if I remembered how they worked, which I did, almost, and as the game progressed most came flooding back.

The Force Publique under Captain Jean Lerouge had landed close to the village of S'Pungabobn where a large consignment of illegally acquired ivory and stolen trade goods were about to be sold to the local Zanzibaris. The Captain commanded four sections of Force Publique Askaris, each commanded by a European. He also had a light machine gun and his headquarters staff (the Adjutant, Sergeant Major, drummer, bugler, standard bearer and valet with the drinks tray). In total, excluding bearers there were 8 Europeans and around 50 Askari. Obviously the natives and the Arabs were not keen on their stuff being impounded and quickly armed themselves to resist the attack. I marked six locations on the map where units might appear so that I chose to activate a unit i wouldn't know where it would start. Also if the Belgians came within 18" of one of the potential hiding places there was a chance that they would force a randomly generated unit into action. John knew nothing of all this which made it interesting. Here are some photos which will hopefully tell the story.

Two Belgian steam launches which I scratch build maybe 30 years ago.

The Force Publique bearers assembling.
The mule train
A section of Belgian Askari parading before the expedition.
The Captain and his staff.
The villagers go about their daily routine.

The native shrine.
The wrong continent but why not have a giant Elephant God statue?
The expedition heads off.

The first ambush is sprung, much to my dismay as the natives were shot to pieces and failed to make contact.
The Captain passes the mule train on his way to the head of the column.

The surviving natives routing off the table.
The column begins to get strung out and overextended as more natives appear all around them.
Another unit of natives, bowmen this time, are shot down by the Askaris.

The Belgians have spread out into a firing line before their final advance on the village.
Despite the almost continuous rifle fire life in the village in uninterrupted. Some Zanzibari riflemen take up a position inside the stockade.
Village life
The chief's house, with the man himself seated beyond it.
The Belgians are now truly assailed on all sides, but are holding the natives off despite some poor marksmanship. 
A mob of native spearmen surged out of the undergrowth and attacked the Captain and his entourage, who happened to be right in front of them. 
A leaderless section of Askari leg it for the jungle, carrying their wounded European commander.
Yet more Arabs appear from the village and take cover in the undergrowth.
More native spearmen running away after their unit was cut down by John's Askari and machine gun.
A furious melee between the surviving spearmen and Captain Lerouge's entourage.
At the end of the melee, the Captain and the Adjutant lay dead, but the natives had been annihilated.
The now leaderless column is in danger of being cut off from the boats as more Zanzibari musketeers  emerge from the village and from the undergrowth at their rear. It was at this point that John conceded defeat as their was little chance he would be able to even reach the village let alone liberate the ivory and trade goods.
The native Shaman thanking the Big Mouthed God for their victory.
An elephant does likewise.
The natives rejoice!

.....and life goes on.

The head of the column seen from the village, clearly in disarray after the heroic death of their brave leader.

So there you have it. I enjoyed the game and hopefully so did John. The rules are a bit dated and the chances of hitting with missile fire seem rather low, with little to differentiate between Belgians with modern breach loading rifles and arabs with muskets. Nevertheless I think I got the hang of them and I certainly like the card driven systems for movement sequence and shooting. Losses were pretty high for the natives and Arabs, with I think over a dozen killed and 30 wounded out of a total force of just under 100 men. Belgian losses were slight, with only 2 Askari killed and 5 wounded out of 50 men, but the greatest loss was the Captain's death and that of 2 other Europeans, with another European wounded. That worked out at 50% losses among the Europeans!

I like the rules and have since found the supplement for playing in Darkest Africa. I would certainly like to try them again now that I understand them a bit better. The randomness of where the natives appeared and how many added to the fun (for me anyway). I will give Death in the Dark Continent a go, and will even take a look at the Man Who Would be King, but at the moment the pure nostalgic element of the rules and my enormous and long forgotten collection getting back on the table has been enough to whet my appetite for another game. When I look at these figures I am amazed at how good they are and how much care has clearly gone into them compared to some of the stuff I churn out now some 25-30 years later. A last thought; I might even resurrect the campaign....

I hope to have a game or two over the holidays and have a couple of dates pencilled in already with John, so, merry Christmas if I don't post again before the Big Day.


  1. Immersive and superb, beautiful figures and terrain!

  2. A great nostalgic trip down memory lane...
    You really should download the recent TSATF errata and ammendments too. - only slight changes

  3. Not a set of rules I remember fondly, but a nice looking game none the less. Happy Christmas!

  4. Looks great as always Colin. Was there an anthropologist with the Belgians - it so they might have had some interesting findings given the statues and the Cheif's house.

  5. lovely looking game, must be great to live in a pineapple, not a ruleset I have used but I have an appointment with ‘congo’ which I picked up ages ago.đŸ™‚

  6. Remember Sword and the Flame and did not like those rules but looks like a cool game setup and glad you two had a good time, that's what our hobby is about.

    Nice paint jobs too!

  7. A really good looking and flavoursome set-up. The problem I have with 'colonial' type war games, is that I am inclined these days to barrack strongly for the natives!

    1. When it comes to the Belgians in the Congo I agree.

  8. Very enjoyable read and glad you enjoyed your revival. I used to have a lot of these same figures and loved them - we tended to use Chris Peers' Darkest Africa and Heart of Africa rules inspired by Wargames Illustrated articles.

  9. Great looking game but seems like it must have been a hard ask for the Belgians, given that they had such minimal casualties but still lost ..obviously needed their European officers!

  10. Good looking game and sounds like a lot of fun.

  11. Very nice to see Foundry Darkest figures in action.