After one of the longest set of intro articles I've ever created for a scenario, we finally played the second game in our Pulp Alley campaign!
For those who don't know what I'm talking about, or who wish to remind themselves of the details, here are the earlier posts:
- Game 1: Tarzan and the Lady
- Tintin & co.
- More pulp characters
- The Avia BH-11 monoplane
- The Beech Model 18 airliner
- Pulp women
- Lumbasa airport
If you're not interested in reading all this background, then here's the short version: we're playing the Perilous Island campaign for the Pulp Alley wargames rules. 4 leagues are involved [Tarzan's jungle alliance, Stahl Helm's Nazi doom squad, Sir Henry's safari and the Snake Cult of Al Masudi].
Game 2 in the campaign is designed for two leagues, so we picked Sir Henry and the Snake Cult [mainly because the players were both available]. When we get around to playing game 3, which is also designed for two leagues, we'll use the other two groups instead.
A quick description of the scenario: Lumbasa airport is mobbed with crowds; there are rumours of a revolution and many people are trying to get on board the last scheduled flight out of the country. Sir Henry is trying to find Lady Elaine, the campaign's central character and help her onto the aircraft ("Old family friends. Knew her cousin at Harrow, don't you know"). On the other hand, the Snake Cult is attempting to prevent her and the plane from leaving altogether.
The scenario description dictates that each league follows a trail of clues, ending with the passenger aircraft. Each clue/plot point will only be placed on the board when the previous one has been achieved. These go as follows:
- Sir Henry: retrieve the tickets and other travel papers from a local "fixer" => locate Lady Elaine in the crowd => board the aeroplane.
- Al Masudi's Snake Cult: search for a smuggled bomb that is hidden in the baggage => find a previously-bribed, corrupt mechanic => sabotage the aircraft.
Normally, a game of Pulp Alley would have a number of perilous areas to make things difficult for the players. In this game, we decided to have the following:
- The area around each of the spinning propellers of the larger plane were extremely perilous. Should be pretty obvious, really...
- A large number of bystanders were set up in groups around the airfield. Most of these were unarmed, but each player was permitted to place 4 neutral models who were wielding guns. Anywhere within 2" of one of these models would be perilous, as the gunman/woman might attempt to interfere with either player's figures. Why? It might be self-defence, an attempted robbery, a tragic mistake or some other reason. Tempers are frayed, everyone is on edge...
Note 1: it's not always easy to spot a gun-armed figure in a crowd. I wonder if either of the players will fail to notice one and run accidentally into some unwanted bother?
Note 2: the perilous bystanders are an entirely different concept from the line of soldiers on either end of the table. The latter are merely decoration, present to mark the edge of the playing area and to remind the players that a hostile act may result in a character being hunted down and arrested.
Sir Henry's Safari
- Sir Henry: Strong, rich, handsome, dashing. A thoroughly decent sort of chap. He's brought along his old school tie, hoping that this symbol will allow him to get on the plane without any questions. If the pilot or steward is an Old Harrovian, it should count for something, right? "Old boys' club" and all that... [In game terms, Sir Henry used some of his wealth to purchase a "gadget X" piece of equipment]
- Alan Quartermain: legendary crack shot, hunter and guide.
- Captain Goode: retired naval officer and best friend, though not especially competent. A bit of a duffer really.
- Lady Constance: Minor character, a young lady. I'm not really sure where she fits in. Perhaps she is Sir Henry's ward, a family friend, a pushy reporter or something else?
- As well as his normal; 3 ascaris, Sir Henry used some local contacts to bring along a couple of extra shooters. With 5 riflemen to back him up, it's obvious he's expecting trouble...
Al Masudi's Snake Cult
- Al Masudi: Crafty, strong-willed, intimidating. Your standard wannabe evil overlord, really.
- Taguerjah, the serpent: An enormous and strong snake. Very dangerous.
- Jasham, Nadeem and Saeed: sidekicks/lieutenants. One specialises in sharpshooting, one in stealth and one in wrestling, though I can never remember who does which.
- As well as the usual crew, the cult leader used his dominion to attract 3 local dacoits/bandits. It looks as if Al Masudi is expecting trouble as well...
The leagues entered the table from opposite corners, so for the initial couple of turns they just stormed forwards without much else happening. The first real excitement happened when Sir Henry approached the fixer who had the tickets:
A dapper gentleman in an evening suit took offence and started to draw a pistol, but he subsided quickly and backed off when Sir Henry stared him down [yup, the Cultist player had placed a perilous bystander right beside the fixer].
"Have you got my documents?" asked the Englishman.
"What documents? What are you talking about?" came the startled reply.
"The travel warrant for the lady and I"
"Listen, buddy: I don't know no ladies and I haven't got anything for you. Get lost, willya?"
The cultist player (and I, as the umpire) laughed a lot as poor Sir Henry drew a "red herring" card - he had questioned the wrong man. The real fixer was 6" away. I suppose that it's an easy mistake to make in a crowd.
Elsewhere, Al Masudi was rummaging through the baggage that lay on the airfield, looking for the dynamite. He was discovered by an armed guard [another perilous bystander] who tried to stop him. However, the cult leader was strong; he managed to overcome his assailant without attracting any more unwanted attention.
The smile was wiped from his face when he discovered that the package over which he had fought so hard didn't contain dynamite after all. Instead, it was a consignment of cosmetics and ladies perfume.
Finally, Sir Henry spotted the correct agent in the crowd. Flanked by many of his squad, he stormed forwards and had no difficulty at all in securing the travel documents for himself and Lady Elaine. Now he just needed to find her and ensure that they were on the aircraft before it left. But where was she?
Not wanting to be left behind, Al Masudi looked around for the explosives. His minions discovered it lying in the middle of the runway, where someone had obviously dropped it carelessly. With a grunt of satisfaction, the cult leader strode over and collected the dynamite.
And here's where it all kicked off! One of Sir Henry's ascaris caught a glimpse of a cultist through a gap in the crowd. Without hesitating, he raised his rifle, drew a bead on the enemy and shot him down. [Note: from this point on, we used the "bullet" markers to indicate that a model had engaged in combat and was therefore wanted by the authorities, as per a special scenario rule].
In response, one of that group of cultists drew his sword and ran forwards, trying to hide behind a group of nearby bystanders. The young man with the orange hair took fright at the stranger who was apparently charging him whilst waving a machete, so he pulled out a pistol and shot the cultist dead. [Oh, dear! Remember those civilians who have weapons? The cultist didn't spot this one and ran straight into a peril].
Both leagues now collected their second plot points without difficulty, though both had to backtrack somewhat to find what they needed. For the cult, Taguerjah (the snake) discovered the crooked mechanic and subdued him with hypnotic eyes and swaying body. Elsewhere, Alan Quartermain spotted Lady Elaine and rushed to her side.
For the followers, it was a very different story. The cult minions scattered and sought cover as the ascaris opened fire at every opportunity. Interestingly, the cult seemed to want to stay on the right side of the law (they didn't shoot back), whilst Sir Henry's followers didn't care a whit and blasted away.
Egged on by their leader, several cultists then made a determined run for the aeroplane, but the enthusiastic ascaris just shot them down. Where were the colonial police?! Why didn't they intervene? [The ascaris were unusually lucky in passing their "wanted" tests and the cultists' health checks were below average in success. Also, by this time Sir Henry's followers outnumbered the remaining cultists by about 2 to 1. Oh, well...].
Eventually, a couple of the ascaris were arrested and hauled off by the authorities. However, there seemed to be plenty more who were willing to join in the brawl!
- Captain Goode ran into the wingtip of the aircraft and knocked himself down.
- Sir Henry spotted the cult leader, Al Masudi himself. Being afraid of no man, he charged at the evil fanatic and delivered a swift upper cut.
- In the background, Alan Quartermain led Lady Elaine towards the plane. It looked as if nothing could stop her from boarding and making her escape!
Quartermain's first attempt to board the plane ended in dismal failure. He evaded the earnest young man with the pistol easily enough, but the gendarme at the door was quite firm: "did he and the young lady have the correct papers?" "Well, no - Sir Henry has the tickets; he's just over there..." . Quartermain attempted to push past the official, but he must have tripped and fallen over the steps; he ended up dazed and lying on the ground. [As might be imagined at this potentially game-winning moment, the cult player used every possibly opportunity to play peril cards].
Meanwhile, Sir Henry continued to pummel Al Masudi. His fists sent the cult leader reeling, unable to respond.
...then the snake approached, with the mesmerised mechanic tagging along behind it. Bravely, Captain Goode stepped up to engage it. Now, in previous games the giant snake has proved to be a match for anyone and the death of many lesser foes. However on this occasion it must have been distracted because Goode fought it to a standstill. Both he and the snake were still just about upright at the end, though both of them were significantly battered and bruised.
In the final turn of the game, Alan Quartermain made another attempt to board the plane with Lady Elaine. This time, the foreign youth knocked him down, claiming that the last 2 seats on the aircraft were reserved for him and his sea captain friend. Aargh - so close, yet falling at the last hurdle...
"Look out - he's got a bomb!" As a last act of defiance, just before he blacked out, Al Masudi threw his dynamite towards Lady Elaine. This didn't have any material effect on the game since all of the Safari had already taken their final turn and couldn't get her onto the plane, but it just felt right...
With that, the pilot took fright, opened the plane's throttles and set off down the runway, leaving the remnants of the squabbling leagues to be picked up by the authorities.
This was a slightly odd scenario for 2 reasons:
- The terrain/crowd setup is really a bit dense for an airfield (most of which are noted for their vast expanses of empty space, after all). I didn't have enough figures for a real crowd, though even if I had, it would have been difficult to find the players' figures amongst them.
I had considered using card "standees", perhaps in strips or rings, instead of models for the crowd, but my early experiments at making such an element were disappointing. Perhaps there's mileage in this idea for all that?
- The "wanted" special rule is in play, whereby any model which shoots or brawls becomes liable to be spirited off for questioning by the authorities. The cult player tried very hard to avoid this, whereas the safari gleefully attacked his enemies on sight. As it turned out, the cult had seriously overestimated the consequences of becoming "wanted"; by the time he started to fight back it was too late.
So, who won? Each side retrieved 2 minor plot points with relative ease, though the double red herring basically set each of them back a turn. Neither managed to achieve the major plot point (the aircraft), although the safari came close. Perhaps if Sir Henry had thrown his old school tie to Alan Quartermain near the end then this might have allowed the latter to get onto the plane more easily? Ah, well - we'll never know...
By the numbers, it's a draw: 2-2!