Report On Battle On Mars By Tim Moore
Dawn’s light discovered our weary columns trudging, ever onwards, towards the Cephalopods capital. The red dust of Mars rose in choking clouds enveloping man, machine and beast. Our men advanced with rifles tight wrapped against the clogging sand while our gunners maintained a careful watch over the plugs and covers that preserved our guns clean and well oiled for the moment of action.
On the left flank my aide Carson seemed to be making better time, advancing with our Imperial Martian allies. Being quite unencumbered they moved more easily despite encountering rough going and their natural loping gait carried them forward easily.
To our right, and fortunately downwind of our struggling men, Cane was making slow progress with his armoured brigade. The funnels of the steam propelled tanks and walker emitted foul smelling plumes of smoke that rose darkly into the dense red dust cloud thrown up by the mechanical contraptions and jets of steam turned dust into clinging wet mud that coated anything or anyone careless enough to venture too closely. I would rather have commanded our fine regular cavalry brigade that we brought from Earth but our horses had succumbed to some poison in the red weed that they had eagerly sought out as forage. So alas we were saddled with the machines and their minders.
Suddenly we perceived a brilliant reflection, as powerful as a hundred heliographs, golden in colour, yet tainted bloody by the dust of Mars. Our columns fell momentarily out of step, though discipline was instantly reasserted, and they moved on. Was this some new devilish weapon that we had not encountered before being prepared for use? At that moment a young lieutenant appeared before me and delivered his report. The Cephalopod army was upon us, deployed before a great pyramid with a golden capstone. They had many war machines and their infantry were numerous about equal to our own.
With studied calm to reassure the men I issued the orders to deploy our troops in line. As the battalions took up their allotted places further orders were issued to the Martian allies and also to our armoured brigade. The Imperial Martian allies needed little instruction in the Art of War on Mars and they quickly occupied a large area of rocky terrain in skirmish order in a fashion uncannily similar to the tribesmen that we have encountered on the Northwest Frontier on our own, so distant, planet. The massed foot of our noble allies advanced in dense column reminiscent of our experiences in Natal. Unfortunately the mechanised elements of our command were, in contrast, tardy, seeming slow to react and almost unwilling to get into line.
As the dust settled the Cephalopod line of battle became visible, first the dreaded fighting machines, towering above all, that had wreaked such destruction on Earth and caused countless innocent deaths so recent in bitter memory. This was my first glimpse of them, other than one in a museum in London, as I was serving against the Pathans during the invasion emergency and was not posted home until the crisis had passed. The early morning sun sparkled on the golden carapaces and danced on the glass viewing windows. Otherwise they stood impassive and seemed lifeless like monstrous heliographs waiting to send their messages of death. Then appeared crawling machines like huge metal spiders, not as tall as the tripods yet, each far larger than a bull elephant. Then long grim lines of the enemy infantry, and riders on small flying platforms while overhead winged Martians whirled and cavorted. Behind them all the astonishing sight of a great pyramid of size and form to rival that mysterious and ancient structure in Egypt, but this was no weather beaten relic. It stood quite perfect in awesome symmetry topped with a dazzling cap of gold. There was no time to wonder at this astonishing coincidence since the enemy would be upon us momentarily.
The Cephalopods descended upon us eagerly with cavalry riders and flyers in the centre and lines of infantry with black smoke generators on the wings. All along the line fighting machines and collector machines supported the attack wielding the deadly heat rays with awful precision. Men fell in small groups slain by the heat ray yet the range was too great for serious effect. Our own artillery was able to repay the Cephalopods in like coin but happily with interest. On the left our Imperial Martian allies advanced in a mass with admirable spirit but the heat rays and black smoke pitifully thinned their ranks although they manfully fought off an attack by flying lancers that sought to draw advantage from their discomfort. All this left the Imperial foot too weak when they eventually closed the Cephalopod war machines and unit after unit broke and fled.
The Imperial skirmishers hung on fighting a determined holding action from behind rocks in the bad ground on our left flank pinning down the Cephalopod right wing until the war machines shot down the supporting Imperial flyer and directed a withering fire into the rocky fastness of our unhappy allies. Having done more than could be expected of flesh and blood and having seen the wreck of the Imperial massed foot their hearts failed and they fled from the storm of metal and fire.
Our British lads, supported by artillery and machines guns, stood fast and delivered controlled volleys into the enemy as they closed our line. The Cephalopod foot wavered and halted not daring to come any nearer but then the reason became apparent as the fighting machines advanced to the fore and bore down on us. At this moment a unit of giant Martians who seem to have been allied to the Cephalopods rushed upon us and were cut down before they reached our position. How the Cephalopods induced the giants to this suicidal action is unsure, although our scientists have speculated that they may be able to control the minds of weaker species, but the effect was to distract our troops and the war machines advanced closer unchecked.
This was now the crisis of the battle and a chorus of dismay was raised by the army since the war machines seemed invincible. Confidence ebbed as the tripods towered over our line and with the loss of our Martian allies a turning movement was underway on our left that threatened to engulf us and bring about our ruin. I despatched a battalion to refuse our left flank meanwhile Cane’s armoured brigade was inching forward on our right as unstoppable yet almost as slow as a great glacier grinding all in its path. Then suddenly and quite unexpectedly the turning point of the action was reached. A thunderstorm of artillery and hail of bullets broke upon the foremost collector machine destroying it where it stood but a few yards from our line. A spontaneous cry of ‘splashed to the four winds’ rose from our army as the loathsome Cephalopod was rendered into carrion and the icy Martian wind distributed the portions.
The Cephalopods in the centre had seen enough and the remaining units retreated. Their right and left brigades, now weakened, lost heart and unwilling to lose more fighting machines decided to follow the example of their leader and retreat.
As is so often the case, the Battle of the Great Martian Pyramid was over as quickly as it had started and we held the field. The Cephalopods had been beaten but were far from being a defeated force. The greatest losses had been to our Imperial allies who were almost wiped out. To advance further without reinforcements would have been unwise since our own strength was diminishing yet we could expect the Cephalopods to increase in numbers as we draw nearer to their cities. A temporary halt to the campaign was now imposed upon us.
The above account of the Battle of the Great Pyramid of Mars is drawn from a club game at Staines Wargamers on 21st September 2007. The incidents are narrated as they appeared to this reporter.
The game was experimental and used modified POW rules and Black Hat figures. Adjustments to the units and factors are now being discussed in light of discoveries during this play test.
There were 3 players per side each with a POW brigade sized command.