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Fire & Sword in the Sudan

Wargaming the Mahdist Uprising

By Steve Winter

Fire and Sword in the Sudan is a simple campaign game built around the Mahdist uprising in
the Sudan. It is not meant to be a simulation of those events, but rather to capture the
atmosphere of that campaign. There is no definite time scale; the war lasted 18 years, from the
first bloodshed on Abba Island to the death of the Khalifa less than 50 miles from the island
where the revolt began.
All players in the game assume command of some portion of the Anglo-Egyptian forces. Players
can divvy up the units equally, they can command by committee, or each can assume command
over all Anglo-Egyptian troops in one region. In any case, when battles occur, players whose
forces are not engaged take command of the Mahdists.

The Map
The map divides the Sudan into five regions: Egypt, the Northern (Military) Sudan, Southern
Sudan (Omdurman and Khartoum, the Ghezira, and the banks of the White and Blue Niles),
Western Sudan (Kordofan and Darfur), and Eastern Sudan (the Atbara river, Abyssinian frontier,
and Red Sea Littoral).
Squares on the map are garrison towns. Dots are other villages, wells, or waypoints.

The Anglo-Egyptians have about 40 (depending on how you count the artillery) basic units to
use in the game. The size of a basic unit is determined by the rules youre usingplatoons in

TS&TF, companies in Soldiers Companion, etc. Throughout these rules, the term company is
used to designate a basic unit.
At least 20, but not more than 24, companies must be distributed by the Anglo-Egyptian players
among the garrison towns (those marked with a number in a square). Every garrison town must
have at least one company in it. All of these garrisons must be Egyptian or Sudanese units, or
Every company that is not placed in a garrison town is held off-map (you can put them over in
Arabia, if youre using counters; consider that to be the Alexandria Holding Box).
There is no Dervish set-up.
Anglo-Egyptian Order of Battle
1st Egyptian Regiment: 8 companies infantry
2nd Egyptian Regiment: 8 companies infantry
3rd Egyptian Cavalry Regiment: 2 companies (squadrons) cavalry
4th Egyptian Camel Corps: 1 company camel-mounted infantry
5th Egyptian Artillery: 3 batteries 9-pdr rifled breech-loaders, 2 batteries Nordenfeldts (battery
= 1 gun)
Xth Sudanese Regiment: 8 companies Sudanese infantry
Nile Flotilla: 2 gunboats each armed with a 4-inch long gun and either a 3-pdr Hotchkiss
rotating cannon or a Maxim gun, plus 1 platoon (half-company) of bluejackets apiece
(bluejackets must accompany gunboats)
British Expeditionary Force: 6 companies British infantry, 2 companies British cavalry, 1
company British Camel Corps, 2 batteries 15-pdr rifled breech-loaders, 1 Maxim battery

Revolt Indexes
Each area except Egypt has a revolt index, reflecting how much of the populace has risen
against the government and gone over to the Mahdi. The indexes vary from 0 to 10.
At the start of the game, their values are determined randomly. Roll 1d6+2 for the Southern
Sudan, and roll 1d6 each for the Eastern, Western, and Northern Sudan. Record these values
someplace where you can keep track of themright on the map is a good place.
(For a less random start, use these revolt indexes: Southern Sudan, 6; Eastern Sudan, 4; Western
Sudan, 3; Northern Sudan, 2).
Once it revolts, a region remains in revolt until its revolt index is driven back to 0 or less.

Turn Sequence
1. Dervish revolts and surprise attacks: If any region has not yet revolted, roll to determine
whether it does so.
2. Anglo-Egyptian movement
3. Battle resolution
4. Supply, revolt index, and victory point adjustment; reinforcements

Dervish Revolts
Roll one die for each region. If the result is equal to or less than the regions revolt index, then
revolt has broken out or spread to that region, and that region is officially in revolt.
If no regions revolt on the first turn, roll again for each region. Keep doing this until at least one
region revolts (this shouldnt take long).

Surprise Attacks
On the turn when a region revolts, Dervishes may capture its garrison towns and field forces by
The basic chance for a surprise attack to capture a garrison town equals the regions revolt
index. This is modified as follows:
per company beyond the first stationed in the town
town is Wadi Halfa, Suakin, or El Obeid
town is Khartoum
Roll 1d6 for each garrison town in the revolting region, and 1d6 for each Anglo-Egyptian force
that is not in a garrison town. If the roll is equal to or less than the modified surprise chance, the
town is captured by surprise and its garrison is lost, or the force outside a town is overwhelmed
and destroyed.
Any garrison town that is not captured by surprise comes under siege. Roll 1d6+1 for the
number of turns the town can hold out before supplies are exhausted.

Only Anglo-Egyptian forces actually move on the map. Dervish forces are ubiquitous and appear
Movement is from point to point along the communication routes, which are the Nile and Atbara
rivers, the Desert Railway, and an assortment of desert routes that follow the few lines of wells.
Anglo-Egyptian units can move two spaces per turn if they are following a river and they are not
overstacked. They can move only one space per turn away from the rivers or if they are
overstacked. Units must stop moving for the turn if they are engaged in a battle. All AngloEgyptian units are free to move beginning on turn 1, even if their region is not in revolt.
A force along a river but not in a garrison town can remain in place indefinitely. If the region is in
revolt, roll every second turn to see if the unit is attacked, the same as if it moved into the space.
This battle is handled as a dervish attack against a British camp (roll 1-4 on 1d6) or a surprise
attack (roll 5-6 on 1d6). A surprise attack is identical to a normal attack against a camp except
the dervishes are allowed to sneak up to within 12 inches (or about one move) of the zeriba
before being spotted.
Away from the river, a force cannot remain in place unless it occupies a garrison town. The force
must move every turn until it reaches a river or a garrison town. For example, a flying column
moving from Korti to Metemma cannot rest at Abu Klea. On the turn after it moves to Abu Klea, it
must either advance or retreat; it cannot remain stationary.
The two gunboats must stay along the Nile River. They can move three spaces per turn. They
must roll for Dervish attacks in each space, just like other units. They can also be stopped by
cataracts. When a gunboat tries to pass a cataract in either direction, roll 1d6; on a roll of 5 or 6,
the gunboat cannot pass the cataract and must go back to the previous space.
The Desert Railway
The Desert Railway does not exist at the start of the game. To bring the railway into action, an
Anglo-Egyptian force must ascend the Nile from Wadi Halfa to Abu Hamed and then occupy Abu
Hamed for two turns. Units can move along the railway beginning on the third turn after the
column captures or relieves Abu Hamed.
Up to nine Anglo-Egyptian companies can occupy any garrison town or a space along a river. No
more than four companies can ever occupy a desert space.

When moving along a river, a stack of up to six companies can move normally (two spaces). A
stack containing more than six companies can move only one space.
A gunboat counts as one company, as does any amount of artillery.
When moving across the desert, no more than four companies can move as part of a stack, ever.
Six companies per turn can use the desert railway. They must begin in Wadi Halfa and stop in
Abu Hamed.

Whenever an Anglo-Egyptian force enters an empty space or a besieged space in a region that is

in revolt, roll 1d6. If the roll is less than the regions revolt index, Dervishes meet the force for a
battle. The number of Dervish basic units equals the difference between the die roll and the
regions revolt index. For example, if the revolt index is 6 and the die roll is 2, the Anglo-Egyptian
force encounters four companies of Dervishes.
If the space being entered is a garrison town, subtract 1 from the die roll for every full 5 points
the town is worth.
Once the number of Dervish units is known, roll 1d6 per unit to find its type (subtract one from
the roll if the battle is occurring in the Eastern Sudan):
Fanatics (Fuzzy-wuzzies)
Jehadia riflemen
Standard ansars
Types of Battles
Unless the battle is a sortie to break a siege, roll again to find out what sort of battle will be
Anglo-Egyptian attack on a defended town/zeriba
Dervish attack on an Anglo-Egyptian camp/zeriba
Dervish attack on an Anglo-Egyptian column
Dervish ambush of an Anglo-Egyptian column
Attacking a Dervish town: The town will be along the banks of the river or built around a well
or standing pool. It will have defenses of some sort: rifle pits/trenches, a zeriba, or stone/mud
walls. The Dervishes have one artillery piece per three basic Dervish units. These can be 12-pdr
smoothbores or 9-pdr breech-loaders, at the referees discretion. The Anglo-Egyptians win by
driving the Dervishes out of the town.
Attacking a camp: The Anglo-Egyptian units are hunkered down in their camp, surrounded by a
zeriba, when the Dervishes attack at dawn. The Dervishes have one artillery piece per four basic
Dervish units. These can be 12-pdr smoothbores or 9-pdr breech-loaders, at the referees
discretion. The Anglo-Egyptians win by holding the field.
Attacking a column: The Anglo-Egyptian force enters one edge of the table and moves to the
approximate center, with transport animals. They can be in square or column formation.
Dervishes enter in an L-formation from the opposite edge and one side. Anglo-Egyptians win by
holding the field or by getting at least half their transport off the forward table edge.
Ambushing a column: Anglo-Egyptian set-up is the same as for attacking a column. Dervishes
can enter unseen from any or all sides and are placed within one charge-move of the enemy
column. Victory is the same as for attacking a column.
Sallying to relieve a siege: A sortie is handled as if the units were entering their own space; a
die is rolled, modified by the size of the garrison town (-1 per 5 points), and compared to the
regions revolt index. The difference determines how many units are participating in the siege.

The garrison can call off the sortie after this die roll, but it counts as a lost battle. The Dervishes
will have a fortified camp (zeriba, rifle pits, one cannon per three basic units) to defend. If the
camp is captured, the Dervishes are driven away, but only temporarily. The garrison can gather
1d6 additional turns worth of supplies and settle back into its defenses or it can abandon the
garrison, moving one space immediately (and risking another battle). If the garrison town is
later reoccupied while the region is still in revolt, the siege resumes.
Wounded Anglo-Egyptians can recover, but only if their side held the battlefield or they escaped
somehow, either by limping or being carried.
One-half of a units casualties return to duty after a battle, the rest are removed. (For example, if
using Soldiers Companion rules, assume that all lightly wounded figures and one-half of
seriously wounded figures return to duty. In TS&TF, figures wounded by black cards can return
to duty, those wounded by red cards are dead or incapacitated. If your rules use some other
system, then juggle the numbers accordingly.)
This does not apply to garrisons lost to surprise attacks; they are gone completely, either slain or
absorbed into the ranks of the Mahdists.

Moving units and units outside towns are assumed to carry or forage sufficient supplies. Also, as
the head of a column moves from Wadi Halfa up the Nile, it converts the spaces behind it to
friendly territory. Those spaces are no longer considered to be in revolt and supply can move
freely through them to the head of the column. The same applies to a column advancing from
At the end of each turn, reduce the remaining supply total of each besieged force by one. If
supplies drop to 0, the garrison is forced to surrender and is removed from the game.
Reinforcements can move into a besieged town if they are not defeated in battle (roll normally
for an attack when the force enters the space). Reinforcements can come from a town that is not
under siege or may be units that slipped out of a besieged town. Reinforcements bring 1d6
turns worth of additional supplies with them.

Adjusting Revolt Indexes

Adjust each regions index up or down according to the following list. Only things that happened
this turn are considered.
each garrison town in the region captured by surprise or abandoned by garrison
each battle won in the region by Mahdists
each battle won in the region by Anglo-Egyptians
Khartoum fell this turn (affects all regions)
any adjacent regions index went up because of battles or captured towns
any adjacent regions index went down by two points or more because of battles or
captured towns

The Anglo-Egyptian units that were held off the map during set-up arrive as reinforcements
during the game. The referee rolls 1d6-1 during the reinforcement step of every turn; that many
reinforcing units, of the players choice, arrive at Aswan. If players prefer, one of these units can
be sent to Suakin instead (bringing 1d6 turns of supplies, if needed). Conversely, one unit per
turn can also be evacuated from Suakin back to Alexandria, if the commander desires.

Victory points are tallied at the end of every turn and added to the running total. The Dervishes
receive VPs equal to the value of every garrison town they control, every turn. If the Dervishes
amass 400 or more points, they win.
The game ends when all four regions are out of revolt or after 20 turns, whichever comes first.

Designers Notes
This game is based very closely on a set of campaign rules for Pontiacs Rebellion written by
Greg Novak and published in The Courier, Vol. VIII, No. 5. Although I never played that game I
was fascinated by its structure and decided that it would work well in any situation where the
natives suddenly rise up and throw out the foreign devils, only to have the foreign devils come
back stronger than ever.
I especially like the working of the revolt indexes and the way they make it possible for all
players to be on the same side. Games where its everyone against the system always seem to be
more enjoyable. Players still have plenty of opportunity to kick each other around. And the fact
that no one is concerned about conserving Dervish manpower for later battles encourages
players to throw native units into the fray with gusto. It works beautifully solitaire, too.
While this game and the original are similar in their approach, there are many subtle differences
in the details. Overall, Fire and Sword in the Sudan is a bit more complex than Pontiacs
Rebellion (its always easier to add complexity than it is to take it away). Still, I think the game is
more than simple enough to make it a pleasant experience for everyone, especially the referee,
whose job is often difficult and thankless.
There is nothing magical about the Egyptian OOB. It is far from historical, being based entirely
on the troops that I have available and what makes for an exciting game. Feel free to tinker. Even
though the OB is rather large, you never need to field more than nine Anglo-Egyptian units at
one time. As many as 14 Dervish units can appear at one time, but only in the worst possible
battle at Omdurman. Ten is the more usual maximum. So you dont need all that many figures to
play the campaign.
As in the real war, the river shapes operations. There is no capacity for clever maneuver. Since
one never knows where the Dervishes are, they cant be pinned down, trapped, or screened. Its
all a matter of assembling a relief force quickly enough to aid the trapped garrisons and assuring
that it is strong enough to survive advancing into enemy territory. Its shocking what can happen
to an apparently strong column when subjected to one or two bad set-up rolls at Abu Hamed or
In the end, the Anglo-Egyptians are going to squash the revolt and retake Khartoum, as they
should. But if the players dont balance caution and aggression in the early turns, the Dervishes
can wrack up an insurmountable lead. The map shows a total of 100 points, and 50 of them are
far away in Southern and Western Sudan. In only eight turns, that amounts to 400 points and a
Dervish victory. While assembling your unbeatable force at Abu Hamed, keep an eye on the
At the same time, anything can happen in a game with this sort of random start-up. If the
Khartoum is lost and the Northern Sudan falls to the Dervishes in the first turns, victory for the
Anglo-Egyptians is very difficult. On the other hand, if revolt in the Northern Sudan is quelled
quickly and cheaply, victory is almost assured. I guess that what Im saying is, keep an eye on the
VPs but dont get too caught up in winning; the real goal is to share a few beers and a few laughs
over the table with your friends.
Steve Winter