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Martians against the Mahdi

“You’re a pore benighted ‘eathen but a first-class fightin’ man;”

To give you a scale from the map, from Dongola to Khartoum/ Omdurman is 531km.  

The aim of this scenario is to give you a scenario and another opponent for your Mahdists. Bored of the British? Then give the Martians a twirl. The rules, ‘The Incredible Events of the Century and the Attack of the Inner Planets,’ rather assume 6mm or smaller figures, but I do suggest a few tweaks for larger scale figures.

The situation is thus.

It is 1886 and a Martian cylinder has crashed north of Dongola.

Abdallahi ibn Muhammad, ruler of the Sudan.

You have received a missive from the British. The bearer claimed that everywhere seems to be in uproar, monstrosities in huge three legged machines are causing chaos and the world seems to be degenerating into terror. Still he had some solid information for you, bullets do little to them but can have an effect, artillery can damage them, and attacking the legs, especially with explosives, does work. But these machines fire beams of intense heat which can incinerate a man in a moment, and can produce a black smoke which kills everything it touches. The monsters kill and eat men for food.

The Martians.

You have one cylinder and seem to have landed further south than intended. Still you remember your briefings. If you head south, across a terrain that looks comfortingly like Mars, you will arrive at an area where there are vast numbers of undeveloped humans for you to herd. Your inadvertent diversion might well have been to your long term advantage.

Aims and objectives.

The Martians have to take Omdurman, their gateway to the rest of Africa. Abdallahi ibn Muhammad has to stop them.


The campaign starts on Day 1 when the Martians crash.

Day 3 they can open the cylinder and start work.

Day 5 the first fighting machine is ready and word has arrived in Omdurman to let the humans know the trouble they’re in.

Terrain and movement

Looking at the maps, or at the illustrations, you can see the terrain is ‘interesting.’

I would suggest you create a map as the Martians advance using playing cards.

  • Spades are impassable to Tripods. Humans know the ways through
  • Clubs are difficult to Tripods, maximum speed 10cm (which is approximately 100m per minute under the rules). There is probably no limit to the humans who could be hidden in this terrain.
  • Diamonds are risky. A lot of broken ground, wadis, loose rock. You can pick a way through easily enough but the maximum safe speed is 20cm. Again, humans can doubtless hide all over the place without being easily seen.
  • Hearts. Good going, move at full speed if you want. Humans could hide here but they would have to arrive a couple of days before and prepare the ground. There would be a 50% chance of spotting them.

Deal five cards, face up. This is the front the Martians see as they advance south. Each card is about two kilometres across and four kilometres deep. If the Martians decide that they don’t like what they see (for example, you’ve dealt five spades) then they can move east or west and you deal another five cards. Each time you do this, another day goes by.

Once the Martians are ‘happy’ with the five cards, the Mahdist player deals another four rows of five cards behind them. They are dealt face down, but the Mahdist player can look at them at any time. The Martian player can only look at one when he moves (or attempts to move) a tripod onto it. The Martians can move ‘forward or back’ or ‘sideways’ but cannot move diagonally between cards. They can also move sideways onto a 6th card to get round an obstacle. There’s plenty of room, they’re unlikely to hit the ‘edge of the world’.

It takes a Martian tripod a full day to cross an unknown card, and it takes a full day for them to check out the next card to see how difficult it is. (But if they can cross it, at the end of the day they will.) If you have three tripods on a card, there is nothing to stop you sending one each into the three adjacent cards to check them out simultaneously. Should the Martians decide to retreat, going back across cards they have already crossed, they can move more quickly, doing six cards a day.

Now the map is 12 rows of cards deep, once through these it’s ‘the green fields beyond’ or at least open ground to Omdurman and a final climactic battle.
Note that you’ll need two packs of cards, as the map could end up ‘wider’ than the original five.

The Mahdist response

Abdallahi ibn Muhammad, the Mahdist player sits with all 12 rows of cards in front of them. I suggest you just give them a grid on a piece of A4. At the start of the game only the five rows nearest to the Martian player are known, but this isn’t a disadvantage. Your men move 12km per day (or three cards lengthways or six if you’re going across) whilst artillery moves at 2 cards or 4.

Each day more troops arrive in Omdurman. You start off with one thousand cavalry, five thousand infantry and four light guns. We’ll divide the infantry up into five ‘regiments’ each of ten ‘companies’. The cavalry you can keep together or split them up in 100 man companies to support the infantry. You can send men north, just by noting what card they end up in. You can have them dig in. In this case the idea is not a firing position but somewhere where they’re hidden. If troops have a full day to prepare, the Martians have a 10% chance of spotting them.

You can do the same with guns.

Each day 2d10 companies of infantry arrive in Omdurman. You can organise them and send them north. On a roll of 6 on a d6, another light gun arrives. Toss a coin, on a heads, another company of cavalry arrive.

You have a maximum of 60,000 infantry. Once they’ve all arrived, that’s it.

How are your men armed?
It really depends on the figures you have to be honest, as the effect of rifle fire on a Martian tripod is limited, the best you can hope for is that it irritates it enough to pull back out of range.
On the other hand, you might be able to give some of your men explosive charges or similar which will give them an edge in close combat. I would assume you start off with enough explosives to provide charges for ten companies, and each day your armoury makes d6 more.


Remember, in the nicest possible way, your men are irregulars. Given their effectiveness with firearms, under the rules I would count them as Green with only 1d6 if firing. But for morale their determination to press on warrants them rolling a d6 as veterans. In close combat, I would allow those units of Hadendoa without rifles an extra +1d6 to account for their verve and enthusiasm.

Troops with explosive charges get +2d6 but this isn’t added to the +1d6 for being Hadendoa. Hadendoa only get an extra +1 for explosive charges.

The Martian quandary.

You are powerful but not that powerful. Your first fighting machine is ready on day 5. You then get another fighting machine on days 7,9,11, and 13.

At this point the Martian working the handling machine which is assembling them pre-packed tripods has to make a decision. It can assemble a 6th fighting machine and just abandon the cylinder and everything in it.
Or it can sling the handling machine from its tripod and carry it with it. After all with a handling machine you can repair tripods and hopefully, at some point, when you start reproducing, produce new ones. But a tripod with a handling machine dangling from it is handicapped in combat and the handling machine would be very easily damaged. The tripod would have to stay out of combat, or stash the handling machine somewhere safe.

With regard to distances, from Dongola to where you meet the first playing card of the map is 186km. A tripod could do it in a day. You could send one ahead, have it start exploring and send the others along afterwards. Or you could wait and go in mob handed. Or you could try any combination of the alternatives.

With regard to supplies, the rules contain supply rules, and if you’re in close combat with humans you will get plenty to eat, but once you leave Dongola, there’s poor hunting. On a day you decide to hunt, you’d end up doing d10x10km. Once you enter the playing card map, the only food will be your enemies you meet in battle. But you can always leave the map to hunt.

Black smoke

You have one cylinder of black smoke per fighting machine. When it’s gone, it’s gone.
Unless of course you have a handling machine. After working for three days, (So it cannot move) it can refill any cylinders you have managed to recover. Once it’s got the ‘manufacturing plant’ set up, it can produce another 4 cylinders a day full of black smoke. But these cylinders are local materials, cannot be reused, and malfunction on a roll of 1 on a d6 when you fire them. Toss a coin if they malfunction. Tails you get black smoke all over you, heads, the cylinder just lies there inert and nothing happens.

Fighting the battles

Slowly but inexorably more and more human infantry will be dug into the hills ready to attack the Martians.

From the Martian point of view the faster they get through the hill country on the map the better, as things are only going to get worse.
From the Human point of view, whilst it needs men in the hills to stop the Martians, at some point you’ll need men preparing to defend Omdurman. In the open plain, hidden positions and similar for men to hide in could be essential if you’re not just going to be burned down before you can get close enough to fight.

Another thing the Mahdist player ought to consider is holding the artillery back. It outranges the Martians. Whilst it is unlikely to destroy them (as you don’t have much) it could force them to move forward to within heat ray range. Ideally that means your infantry are hidden well forward of your artillery so that they can fall on the tripods as they advance.

Playing solo

Here I think it’s technically easiest to play the Mahdists. Martians are unemotional and can be relied upon to do the sensible thing.

Make your policy decisions for Martians are the start of the game. So decide whether you’re going to feed your Tripod fighting machines in in penny packets or en-masse. Also what is your policy about stopping to make more black smoke?

Then as the Mahdist player, I suggest you keep all the cards face down until the Martians turn them over. This puts you are a slight disadvantage in that you don’t know what the terrain is where you’re putting your men, but if you leave them there for a couple of days before the Martians hit, you should be dug in and hidden.

Martians will always fall back to repair damaged machines, (provided you’ve fetched the handling machine) and see no reason to bang their heads against impenetrable defences. They will happily fall back or sidestep your positions if they don’t get through them.

If you want to play the Martians, then the easy way is to let the card you turn over tell you how many Mahdists there are. The value of the card tells you how many d10 you roll for the number of companies present. (So a 9 means you roll 9d10). A jack means there is one artillery piece, a queen means there are two, and a king, three. On black cards and diamonds, everybody will be hidden. On hearts they will be hidden on odd numbered cards, not on even numbered cards.

For finding hidden troops, metaphorically divide your table into 10cm squares. When a tripod steps into a square, roll a d6.

On a roll of 1 or 2, d10 bases of Mahdists are in ambush and attack you when you arrive.

On the Mahdist move, roll a d6 for squares next to tripods (that a tripod hasn’t previously passed through). On a 1 or 2, d10 bases of Mahdists charge out of that square to attack the tripod.

Add +2 to the d6 roll if the tripod is already in close combat.

When a force of Mahdists attack, roll a d6, on a roll of 1, they have explosive charges.


Well for tripods, I confess to a fondness for the one produced by Iliada Game Studio

For Mahdists, I’ve always liked Baccus and Irregular, both of whom produce figures in 6mm



The choice is entirely yours.


If you don’t know the rules, ‘The Incredible Events of the Century and the Attack of the Inner Planets,’ are available from Iliada Game Studio for £4 in pdf format

Or from Wargame Vault, also £4 in pdf format

Or from Amazon, £4 on Kindle, or £9.50 in paperback.

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