Field Force List for European Explorer Expeditions

This is the first of some Field Force lists I hope to create for use with “The Men Who Would be Kings” rules. I’m a fan of the rules but I did feel the Darkest Africa field forces, at the back of the book, were a bit pants and lacking in flavour. Mostly I’ll be tailoring my own Field Force lists for use with my interest in British Central Africa but this first one is a variant on one already available in the rule book. The lay out of my lists will be slightly different to one in the books as well. Instead of a set list, of units, mine will give a list of possible units with special rules and points costs and leave the player to work out what to pick to create the 24AP field force. I’ve also tried to give some brief(ish) notes on each unit to help put my ratings and options into context

European Explorer Expeditions

 The second half of the 19th century was the heyday of European exploration of the African continent. While many early expeditions were purely for discovery  as the century wore on the these expeditions frequently became instruments of colonialism as the scramble for Africa reached it’s zenith. Armed conflicts with native peoples were not unusual during these expeditions. During the early years of exploration, expeditions frequently tried to avoid fights, their flintlock muskets were not technological advanced enough to give them a decisive advantage, in battle, especially given their supply of powder and shot was often limited. In later years backed up by breech loading and repeating rifles, and even the occasional machine gun, explorers had far less to fear from native peoples. The outlook of the expeditions leaders could also play a big part in how much conflict an expedition encounter. Some men like Carl Peters or Henry Stanley could seemingly start a battle in an empty room yet others like Joseph Thomson managed to explorer Africa without ever getting into a serious fight. The list below is intended to give you a generic European exploring expedition field force from circa 1850 to 1900.


1) 1+ units of Askari


Every expedition took armed guards called Askari. The Askari where required to protect the expedition from both human foes, and dangerous wildlife, as well as acting as a police force for the expeditions porters. These men were normally hired, on behalf of the expedition, by a native headman. This process became somewhat regulated after 1873 when the British consulate in Zanzibar started keeping a list of reliable headmen.

The quality of the Askari could vary from poor to experienced veterans. The explorer Thomson described his men as not knowing how to use their guns and not having sufficient courage to stand when threatened. On the other hand Stanley’s askari fought numerous, almost daily, battles along the Congo river generally getting the better of various warlike natives.

Armament could also vary. On Stanley’s 1871 Livingstone expedition he had 24 Askari armed with muzzle loading muskets, in his 1876 Congo expedition his men had 29 Snider rifles and 32 percussion rifles finally on his Emin Pasha expedition in 1887 (probably the most lavish expedition in Africa) his askari had 510 Remington breech loaders, 50 Winchester repeater rifles and a maxim machine gun!

Uniforms were a matter of employers choice some Askari wore their own clothes but others where provided with uniforms for example Cameron in 1873 gave his Askari red patrol jackets, red fezzes, whites shirts and cummerbunds.

Irregular infantry – poor shots, antiquated musket, Mzungu’s Fire 

 cost 2pts


Training upgrade shooting to 5+ – cost 1pt

Sharp Shooters shooting 4+ – cost 3pts

Veteran Discipline becomes +1 – cost 1pt

Obsolete Rifles – cost 1pt

Well Armed – cost 2pts

2) Unlimited units of Porters


Porters were vital to any exploring expedition a lack of suitable roads or draft animals meant all supplies had to be carried by humans most places south of the Sudan and north of the  Zambezi river. Porters weren’t generally hired to fight but they did often carry weapons for self defence. In the early days spears and bows where common but as time went on muskets become the standard weapon for porters. In 1860 Speke and Grant issued 50 muzzle loading carbines to their most reliable porters. In 1874 Stanley’s 270 porters are described as “mostly armed with muzzle loaders”.  in 1887 Count Teleki issued his porters with 200 muzzle loading muskets. 

Like the askari the military effectiveness of the porters could vary. Grant, in 1861 was attacked by 200 native spearmen and watched as all but three of his 100 porters fled despite being armed with muskets. In Stanley’s fight, against the Nyaturu, 1875 the second day of fighting saw a number of the musket armed porters volunteer to reinforce the askari who had suffered heavy casualties in the first days fighting. During the retreat from Elbejet Carl Peters armed porters were forced to deploy into line and support his heavily pressed rear guard. Peters also improvised red head gear for his porters, during the retreat to fool the Masai into thinking they weere repeater rifle armed Askari. 

Irregular infantry – poor shots, antiquated musket, Mzungu’s Fire 

 cost 2pts


Unenthusiastic discipline becomes -1 – cost -1 pts

3) Up to 1 unit of Baluchis


A number of explorers where provided, for political reasons, with escorts by the Sultan of Zanzibar. The usual soldiers for this kind of task were Baluchis, who where mercenaries, from around the Indian ocean and Persian gulf regions. Their main armament were obsolete matchlock muskets and swords. The explorer Cameron described his escort in 1873 as “covered with bucklers, pistols, swords, spears and matchlocks”. The explorer Burton (who was himself an acknowledged expert on swordsmanship) describes them as good swordsmen but he also witnessed some Baluchis firing, for an hour, at a target a dozen paces away, and not hit anything. Josesph Thomson in 1878 said of his escort “There seemed to be literally no discipline among them”. Technically the Sultans Baluchis were disbanded 1881 but many of them continued to find employment as soldiers after that date.

Irregular infantry – poor shots, antiquated musket, Swordsmen  cost 3pts


Unenthusiastic discipline becomes -1 – cost -1 pts

4) Up to 1 machine gun


Towards the end of the 19th century, as exploring expeditions became more heavily armed, machine guns started to occasionally appear in the explorer’s inventory. Stanley’s 1887 Emin Pasha relief column was given a proto-type of the maxim gun by its inventor which saw some limited use. The same gun was taken by Lugard on his expedition to Buganda in 1891, under the IBEA flag, though by then the gun had a reputation for unreliability. In 1891 the explorer J.W. Gregory took a private scientific expedition to explore Lake Rudolph with a surprisingly heavily armed expedition that number 250 Sniders and a maxim gun manned by ten Turks.

Poorly Drilled crewed weapon (machine gun) cost 4pts

Up to half your points on allies

Arab allies


Many explorers found that getting around in Africa was made easier by dealing with the local Arabs. Stanley not only allied himself with Arabs of Tabora against the warlord Mirambo but had several friendly dealings with the notorious Arab slaver Tippu Tib. I plan to write and “Arab” field force list at some point in the mean time you could just pick units from the slaver list in the rule book.

Native Allies

On occasion explorers found allies among the native peoples they encountered on their travels. In 1875 Stanley joined the Buganda army in an attack on the Buvuma island in lake Victoria. The German explorer Wissmann found allies among the Bashilange, a Luba people, who accompanied him in large numbers on three different expeditions in 1881, 1884 and 1886 in central Africa. If you want Natives allies I suggest using basic tribal infantry or for gun armed natives (like the above mentioned Bashilange) maybe use the porters entry above.

Special Rules

Mzungu’s Fire 

The number of Europeans (often called Mzunga by the native peoples) in an exploring expedition where always low yet despite this their presence in battle frequently seemed decisive. This can probably be put down to (other than the fact they mostly wrote their own accounts of their adventures) them having the most advanced firearms of the day and, unlike most firearm equipped Africans, a modicum of skill and training to accompany these weapons. Whether it was Paul Du Chaillu dual wielding a pair of Deane and Adams revolvers, Serpa Pinto’s gun bearer discharging his elephant gun at point blank range into a band of charging Bartose warriors or Stanley bringing his trusty Winchester rifle out to play explorers with modern weapons could deal out some serious causalities. To represent this any Askari or porter unit can have a European leader.  There can be a maxim of four of these leaders in any field force. European leaders must lead Askari units, as a first preference, and can only accompany a unit of porters if all Askari units in the field force already have a European leader. Any unit with a European leader can roll one extra dice when shooting or attacking as long as the leader is still alive. This costs no points.


Swords were a popular weapon among Arabs, Swahilis and Baluchis during the 19th century their popularity waning as better quality firearms become available later in the century. There where three main types of Arab sword the largest being the 4ft long “Frankish sword” wielded two hand the other types where smaller and could be paired with a small round shield. Burton describes Swahili’s often being armed with antiquated German cavalry sabres. To represent this earlier reliance on swords, to supplement their ancient matchlocks or trade muskets, any irregular infantry  with the swordsmen special rule becomes firing 6+ and fighting 5+ and their free action becomes attack. In addition swordsmen always count as armed with antiquated muskets. This costs no points.

2 thoughts on “Field Force List for European Explorer Expeditions

  1. Pingback: Arab and Swahili Army (part 2) – Jon's Other Wargames Blog

  2. Pingback: French Explorers – Jon's Other Wargames Blog

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