Blood on the Tigris (S&T 176)

 

Playings; 2 (Turkish wins), 5 hours.

 

There is something a little odd in the layout of Blood on the Tigris, particularly the counters. Close inspection of the 4 separate sheets shows some units appear in 2 places. 2 of the sheets are partial replacements for the others a clear sign of some late design cock up. Further clues come from a few words in Moves 83 indicating that the developer had to do some heavy cutting to make Blood on the Tigris acceptable. In general the gameplay is pretty clean but there are a few obvious extra bits that do not relate to the rest of the rules.

 

There is a note that the Shatt al Hai becomes a minor river on rain turns, this Shatt is hard to find but links the Tigris and Euphrates unfortunately there is no such terrain type as minor river. Boats could be sailed down the Shatt al Hai so it is a fair guess that it becomes a seasonal river on rain turns. Air units are based from airbases or HQ units, airbases have been removed from the terrain effects chart although it is not to hard to find them on the map. When playing the game airbases are not required because HQs make better positions to start from, any unit far from its HQ is deadmeat anyway. The number of air units available and the rubbish attack ability of Turkish planes makes any use of air units peripheral. The British will always have plenty of air units to support every attack and keep units in reserve to ground the Turk. In the initial advance on Ctesiophon the British had their HQ in advance of the available air units. It makes more sense to search out the airbase logos on the map and allow any number of friendly units to operate from an airbase but only to support hexes within range of a HQ.

 

The map and reinforcement set up have been fixed to keep Blood on the Tigris on historical lines. In places this has stepped over the bounds of good sense. On turn 22 the British have to garrison Nasiriya with the 15th XX units. We are saved from moving the 15th XX miles across the board to Nasiriya because there is no 15th XX (there is a 13th XX which arrives at the right time with the right component Brigades), use any nearby Division. In the same area the original Turkish garrison of Nasiriya may not move until the British come within 5 hexes, by simply never coming near the place these Turks are stiffed. Way off to the Eastern map edge is the isolated town of Ahwaz, the British receive reinforcements on turn 4 that must capture Ahwaz or suffer a supply penalty. A suitable Turkish (Arab and Persian to be exact) attacking force hoves into view coincidentally on turn 4. The British can always take Ahwaz in 1 turn and see the local Turks off so why not have these British troops turn up in Ahwaz on turn 5? Right at the start of the game the British land in Fao but need to secure Basra. The Turks in Basra are out of command and out of supply plus less than a move from Fao making the British 1st turn actions predictable.

 

The strategy available to both players is limited. The British have to advance up the Tigris and take Baghdad. The Turks block the river at suitable points. Towns are handy places because they aid supply and the towns of Kut and Ctesiophon have forts and trenches ready built making them prime defensive sites. Kut also has the bridge which the British built during its' siege drawn on the map at the start of the game. The Turks also built a bridge to the South of Kut early in the war. In the game it is hard to cross navigable rivers except at bridges, both sides threw up bridges as required, these were flimsy affairs of lashed together boats but they did the job and you can't do it in Blood on the Tigris. The British at least were able to swop banks of the Tigris with ease but will require steamers for this in the game and those supplied are too few to spread around and are better used for humping supplies. The Turks are hampered by having no bridge over the Tigris at Baghdad, there clearly was a bridge at the time and gamers are advised to draw one in.

 

There is no temptation to march up the Euphrates because that does not go to Baghdad. It does flow past Babylon which has a track across country to Baghdad. A map printed before 1920 also shows a railway from Baghdad to Babylon. Regardless of its' state of construction you could sail up to Babylon then march on Baghdad neatly by-passing all the Turkish works on the Tigris. This would involve a forced crossing of a major river and the Turks would be digging in like crazy. This tactic is possible in Blood on the Tigris but a supply nightmare. The main action is limited by terrain to the East bank of the Euphrates, any units moving 6 hexes from this axis are pushing supply to the limit. Units of both sides go up and down a narrow strip of the map with the majority of terrain being briefly passed through.

 

Blood on the Tigris is basically a supply game and this is its' strength and weakness. The British can only win by careful use of supplies which makes this a good solitaire puzzle. The Turks have an easier task and are clearly the reactive side. Units are in supply when within 6 hexes of a supply unit. These units have mobile and static sides, the static side can supply nearly double of the mobile side. A supply unit can change its' side once per turn so if it moves will be able to support less units on the following turn. Supply units can move around and supply other units indefinitely but if a unit wishes to attack or defend at full strength and benefit from troop quality, artillery and all sorts of goodies its supply unit must be burnt up. To keep up an offensive a force will need enough supply units for basic supply plus that number again for every turn of attacking. The scarcity of supply units restricts offensive stacks to those that can be supplied by 1 or 2 supply units. Where the odds are favourable it becomes necessary to fight without expending supply units. It is easy to get carried away and attack with a strong force but not get very far, the defender then counter-attacks giving a choice of burning up valuable supply or being certain of defeat. Living off the land is not an option, units which are out of supply at the beginning of every game turn have their combat and movement factors halved. They must also roll under their troop quality rating (always 1 to 3) or suffer a step loss. This sort of loss is likely to account for as many losses as combat. Some units have no troop quality rating so presumably cannot lose steps to attrition. HQs and Ford vans are the common problems here, presumably they move at half speed if out of supply. HQs can also end up having all their commanded units removed by combat or attrition, in such cases they may as well be removed as they serve no useful purpose with no units to aid.

 

Supply points are received according to the game turn track. The British also receive 1 point every even turn for each of 3 towns that they occupy on the Euphrates. This gives some incentive to go up river quickly. The Turks convert 1 supply point to 1 unit in Baghdad, the British spend 2 points to buy 1 unit in Basra. The rules state that units in Basra can draw supply directly from Basra for 1 point only, this does not make sense so will have to be ignored. The rate of supply arrival dictates the pace of the game. The Turks generally have plenty of supply to hold the rivers and counter-attack without problems. The British receive very few supply units and will spend a lot of turns waiting around for units to arrive followed by further turns shipping these units to the front. Both sides will have to leave stockpiles at their bases or reinforcements will turn up instantly out of supply and lose steps before they get into action. Supply units can be spent to rebuild step reduced units and to build forts, generally only the Turk will have this luxury. The British only receive sufficient supply for a serious offensive late in the game when it will take a good 3 turns to get these units into the combat zone if the British are anywhere near Baghdad. The British built light railways to shift supplies from Basra up the Euphrates and Tigris after the fall of Kut and during the subsequent British build up. There is no option to do this in the game although such a step would get the supply units past the most difficult terrain on the map. If the British sit in the Basra area until the supplies start to seriously flow they will have no hope in pushing up to Baghdad before the game ends.

 

Command has as much affect on combat as supply. As in many games units in range of their HQs receive benefits in die modifiers and are not halved for being out of command. It is not hard to organise stacks to optimise command. Historically command structure was none too strict, the British swapped units between Divisions of the Kut relief force and the Turks combined Divisions as they fell to low strength. If command units are supposed to represent all the logistical and support units they are overrated, the Kut relief force was rushed into action with its ambulance structure still on boats coming from Marseilles. Warfare in Mesopotamia in 1916 was described as using 20th century methods with 18th century logistics, the medical set up was compared to that of the Crimean War. The whole command system could be safely reclassified as optional rules.

 

After supply, rivers are the important factor in Blood on the Tigris. Boats can steam up the Tigris and Euphrates and sail from 1 to the other at Basra. Both sides have gunboats and steamers although the Turk steamers are going to get sunk on turn 1. Gunboats can fight other gunboats and aid land combat on adjacent hexes. The British will form 1 or 2 large stacks of gunboats which sidle up to Turkish riverside units, the gunboats will guarantee that the British attack at maximum odds plus gain some benefit against counter-attacks, defenders sitting 1 hex from rivers do not gain these benefits. Turks are best 1 hex from the rivers and British do better right next to them. Gunboats fight each other by rolling 1D6 for each gunboat involved, the low scoria is displaced 1 hexside. A difference of 5 is required to destroy the low scorer. The British have loads of gunboats, the Turks have 1 but this can only be destroyed in combat if it rolls a 1 to a British 6. The British will regularly roll at least 1 6 from their stack of gunboats but it could take months for the Turks to roll a 1 and lose their gunboat. The result here is that a single Turkish gunboat is going to jam up British movement by river for quite a few turns, it may sink several British gunboats before it goes down. The British do not receive any steamers until turn 8. Only steamers can move combat and supply units by river, the lower Tigris and Euphrates are surrounded by swamps so any advances before steamers arrive will be slow. If the Turkish gunboat is still afloat by turn 8 (when the steamers arrive) this will further slow up the British, steamers are too valuable to let them get sunk. When steamers are available supply and combat units can be loaded up and steam to Amara then on by road to the front, the steamers then shuttle back and forth to collect new units. In wet turns the roads are out so the British will either have to steam units further up river and wait longer for the steamers to come back or put up with a longer drive, either way the supplies are slowed up by rain.

 

Gunboats and steamers are not affected by Turkish units although gunboats can aid stacks on the attack and defence. This allows the British to sail gunboats past Turkish units to support attacks upstream and even deliver supply units. The garrison of Kut would have loved this, the British did try to supply Kut by sea (and air) but the boats could not get past Turkish batteries. Gunboats also grounded and 1 British gunboat was captured and used by the Turks until later recaptured by the British. None of this happens in Blood on the Tigris making river operations far too easy.

 

Blood on Tigris clearly fails on certain historical hurdles. In its' favour this is a rare subject for a game and the supply rules are nicely done. It clearly diverges from the S&T historical commentary in several places and wider reading reveals that although supply is well handled many other easy to simulate facets are ignored. The game is a good solitaire exercise in getting supply to the front but will require some bodging. 3W's Lawrence of Arabia is on a similar time and place and is definitely a poorer game. Command have the whole war against the Turk coming out in issue 38, it will be interesting to see how The Great War in Europe is adapted to cover the supply problems in Mesopotamia and Sinai. Blood on the Tigris may prove more useful after the release of Command 38 due to the historical backup and possible data for a mini-scenario to the Command game.

 

Alternative Rules

 

1; River units.

 

All gunboats and steamers must stop when moving adjacent to an enemy artillery unit. Gunboats are sunk on a D6 roll of 3-6, steamers on a 2-6. Any gunboats or steamers which survive may remain to aid combat against that hex or may continue to move. They may not be fired on again by the same artillery unit but may come under fire from artillery units in other hexes. If there is more than 1 artillery unit in the hex moved adjacent to, each unit has a chance to sink the gunboats and steamers.

 

Combat between gunboats. Gunboats fight 1 to 1, pair off attacking and defending gunboats, any uncommitted gunboats remain in reserve but may be used in later rounds. Both sides roll D6, if the scores are equal both sides remain in place and combat is over. If 1 side rolls more but not double the loser retreats the number of hexsides equal to the winner's roll. If the high roller doubles the low roller's score, the loser is destroyed. If combat is not ended by an equal score any gunboats that remain adjacent may fight again, any excess gunboats remain in the reserve for father rounds. Combat continues until no gunboats of opposing sides remain adjacent.

 

Gunboat versus steamer combat is not changed.

 

Refloating gunboats and steamers. Destroyed gunboats and steamer units are collected by the player who has the closest land unit (the player with the same colour unit on a tie). Do not include units which are embarked on steamers. Roll D6 for each unit, on a 5 or 6 the unit is rebuilt by that player in 1D6 turns, on any other result the unit is removed from play. This may result in players having more units than available in the counter-mix. The mess up of units on the sheets does provide some spares otherwise enemy units are used but marked with a piece of counter sprue to denote possession.

 

Any grounded steamer or gunboat may be burnt by either side moving adjacent during a friendly movement phase. Grounded steamers are automatically able to move again in the next movement phase of the owning player.

 

Light Railway.

 

The British will need to create 2 railhead markers which are placed in Basra on turn 18. Each turn during movement the British may move the markers a combined total of D6/2 hexes. If a Turkish unit ever enters the hex of either marker that marker is moved back to Basra but may be moved out from Basra on subsequent turns. All units due to arrive in Basra may instead be placed at a railhead marker.

 

 

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