Sahara Sandstorm

Colonial Era Combat game: 1879 - 1929

French Foreign Legion, British Colonials, Germans SWA Troops, etc.

Simple, fun wargame rules for backyard, beach or living room.  Fun for all ages

Copyright 1998 - T. Sheil & A. Sheil - All Rights Reserved

The romantic tales of the French Foreign Legion, the drama of the hundred British regulars who held off 4,000 Zulu warriors at Rourke's Drift, the harsh battle of Khartoum - these are the stuff of legend.  Sahara Sands is a fast-action battle game that enables you to replicate those days of tropical heat and adventure.  You bring the toy soldiers, regular dice and kite string while we show you how it's done!

These is a very simple wargame for play on beach or in backyard, with plastic toy soldiers. The focus is on a fast-action game, easy to learn and easy to play. Our game is for small battles, only - with armies of 100 men or less on each side. Here's what you need:

Making tools:

String should be cut in lengths of 4 feet, 3 feet, 2 feet and one foot. Each string is then divided by thirds. You can tie a knot to separate each 1/3

The disk has to be four quarters. Draw a cross over the center to do this.

Click here first - The Basics of the Sandy Hook Battle Games

Troop Types

We're covering a 50-year period and several regions, so expect diversity!  The Colonial Era involved complex geography, confused politics and frustrating military situations!

French Foreign Legion - the heroic unit of the French Army found in deserts and jungles during the Colonial Era.  They are mainly Infantry, with a few occasional cavalrymen and a Gatling gun or two.  French forces may employ the entire gamut of military equipment.

British Colonials - regular British troops in tropical kits, from the bright Red Coats seen in the early African campaigns to khaki and green drab of the turn of the century.  British troops may have the full gamut of military equipment.

German Colonials - German troops stationed in Kamerun and Sudwest Afrika right up until 1918.  They have most military equipment, except tanks.

US Marines - though the US did not have a colonial empire, it did send in the marines on several occasions.  Depending on the era, they may have the full consist of military equipment.

Navy men - on a few occasions, sailors were armed and sent out to fight as Infantry.  

Askaris - African light infantry, serving as auxiliaries with European Colonial forces.

Zoaves - Arabic light infantry, cavalry and camel troops serving as auxiliaries with the French forces.

Bedouins - nomadic Arab tribesmen, usually on horse or camel, who often oppose European forces in the desert.  The Tuaregs are another such tribe who directly confronted the French.

Moors - Arab tribesmen opposing the French.

Dervishes - Sudanese tribes led by the Mahdi against the British.

Zulu - the fearsome South African warriors who challenged British forces.

Hottentots - Southwest African tribe who challenged the Germans.

Boxers - Chinese forces opposed to Western armies in the early 1900s.

Boers - Dutch settlers who defied British rule in South Africa.


Each weapon has a range and a damage factor, both expressed in numbers. Each also has a rate of fire. Note that though some weapons fire more than once per round, they can only fire at one target per round.

Note that the throughout these rules, range is often given as R and a number, thus R2 is a range of 2.


This is how far each type can go per move.  We use the same measure as for range.

Infantry - 1 per move

Camel troops - 1 1/2 per turn

Cavalry - 2 per move

Wagons - 1 per move

Caissons - 2 per move

Pushed cannon - 1/2 per move

Armored car* - 2 per turn

Tank* - 1 per turn

Truck* - 3 per turn


Different aspects of the land affect movement.  Here is how speed is affected:

Hills:  climbing a gently-sloping hill  - 10 degrees to 44 degrees- slows troops, wagons, caissons and wheeled vehicles speed by 1/3.  It does not slow tracked vehicles.  A steep hill - 45 to 80 degrees - slows them 2/3.  (Hills over 80 degrees can only be scaled by climbers with climbing gear.)  Wheeled and tracked vehicles, caissons, wagons and horses cannot climb steep slopes.

Troops can push guns up steep slopes at 1/3 the normal pushed-gun speed.

Going down hill on gentle slopes does not affect movement.  On steep slopes, movement is slowed by a third.

Rivers: on coming to a river, a unit must stop immediately.  If the river is fordable, all movement through the river is slowed by one half.  On climbing the far bank, the unit must stop.  

Bridges, Passes, Tunnels: when a unit comes to cross a bridge or go through a narrow pass or tunnel, choose one piece as the lead figure.  It moves as far as you wish, and everyone else follows behind.  

Lakes: crossing lakes involved using boats or barges.  It takes one move to get on the boat, and one move to get off.  A boat or barge can move R1 per turn.


Flip a coin. The winner decides who moves first. On one side moves, then the other, then both sides shoot. That is the order of battle.

When one group of troops gets within R1 of an enemy, they must stop immediately. Both sides may shoot during the firing phase; they fire range 1

When two groups charge each other after stopping at R1, every man with a pistol gets a free shot. This goes for both sides. Others must fight hand-to-hand.

Weapons for Hand to Hand Fighting

Infantry are considered to have bayonets

Natives have spears, swords or knives; riflemen are considered to have a war club

Cavalry and gunners have swords

Wagoners have bayonets if armed with rifles, swords if armed with pistols

 Officers have swords

Hand to Hand combat:

When troops clash, the men eliminate each other by cancelling each other out until one side outnumbers the other 2 to 1. The smaller side is captured and must be marched back to enemy lines. 1 soldier may march 8 prisoners. If the guard is killed before reaching his lines, the troops escape. If he gets them back, they must remain there until freed by their forces or the game is over. Behind enemy lines, you need only one man per 12 prisoners.

Cavalry count as 2 men each, EXCEPT when clashing with an army unit armed with rifles. If the unit is not already engaged in hand to hand combat with another unit, it makes cavalry fight as one man instead of 2.

Bayonets, swords and spears have more reach than other weapons. Therefore, when a unit armed with these weapons attacks a unit armed with a lesser weapon - knives, tomahawks or clubbed rifles - the unit with longer weapons inflicts extra kills. Each five men armed with longer weapons automatically eliminate one man plus those killed as troops cancel each other out. It is important to organize men with long weapons into units in order to have this bonus.

Hand to hand fighting is done after both sides have done their shooting.  If a unit that charged into a hand to hand fight is reduced by 50% or more during shooting, it is considered to have been repelled and is moved back to where it started the charge.  This reflects the way in which native charges were broken by gunfire.  

Artillery rules

To fire, a gun must be in position.

When moving a gun, it is not in position. Once it stops, it must remain in position one move before firing.

A gun may be pushed or hooked to a caisson in one turn, but it cannot do both.

When cannons are dropped off a caisson, they must wait 1 turn before firing.

When you hook a cannon to a caisson, it can only travel « its normal rate in that turn.

A cannon cannot be hooked and unhooked in the same turn.

Gunners carry pistols and swords. They may fight as infantry to defend guns, but may not attack as infantry. If a gun crew loses its gun, it must be sent to reinforce another gun or artillery unit. Should there be no other guns, it may be dispatched to defend a position. At no time may gunners attack as infantry. When separated from the gun, they are strictly defensive.

Artillery chooses a target and fires. A die is rolled. 5 or 6 means a direct hit. A cup is placed over center of the blast, and everything inside is ruined or killed. If you roll a 3, the hit fell short and lands one cup-width to the front, 4 means to the rear, 5 to the left, 6 to the right. Again, a cup is placed over the center of the cup and everything inside is hit. (Of course, a stone wall will resist the blast. If the blast is outside the wall, everything inside remains untouched), This simulates a gun's tendency to be off target and create casualties also. And it shows why you never fire at a target too close to your troops!

At an attacking unit of troops R1 or closer, artillery fires grapeshot. A Gatling gun fires a burst. Lay the cup on its side, the bottom facing the gun. Everything under the gun is hit as if it were shot by rifles. Grapeshot can hit up to ten targets and it does 2 damage. Those troops and things closest to the gun are destroyed first.

At targets over R1, or at a large target you wish to destroy, Gatling and machine guns single out that target and seek to destroy it. A Gatling or machine gun fired at a wagon or cannon can destroy it. It can also blow the doors off a house. At soldiers, the gun is counted as having fired ten times. It can hit the first soldier and anyone directly behind him who is in range. Run the R3 string its full length, past the target. You have to use up ammo until the target is hit - ten shots per round. Once he is hit, remaining shots are aimed at anyone in the line of fire. Use up any remaining rounds on a second target. If there's a third target and you still haven't fired all ten shots, keep shooting. As long as the target is in line with the intended target, you keep firing until you've used up ten shots.

Mortars fire high angle, and their shells land on top of objects. They cannot fire directly, but must lob shells in an arc. A mortar has the same range as a cannon, but it cannot fire at targets less than R1 from it. Mortars can fire over walls, however. They cannot fire grapeshot.

Range and hitting target

Remember how we divided each range cord into thirds? The third nearest the shooter is Close range, followed by Medium and ended by Long range. When you fire a gun, its range affects how well you hit target.

When you shoot a target, roll two dice. At close range, you need 6 or more to hit. At medium range, you need 8 or more. At long range, 10 or more.

If the enemy you fired at does not move, and you fire again, add 2 to your dice score.

If he is firing from inside a building other than a fort, or behind a wagon, subtract one from your dice score.

If he is fighting from behind a log wall or stone wall or fort, subtract 2 from your dice score. If he is not fighting, you cannot shoot him if he is behind a wall. However, if he fired or intends to fire, or if he is working a gun crew that is firing, he is fighting.

Hand-thrown weapons can only be used with close range on the R1 string. Roll 1 dice, 1.2.3 and 4 misses, 5 and 6 hit. (This includes knives, tomahawks and spears.)

Pistols can only be shot within medium range on the R1 scale.


Different weapons do different amounts of damage.  Likewise, objects can sustain a certain amount of damage before being destroyed.

Walls and bunkers

Different walls and bunkers stop the following kinds of damage:

Guns and Vehicles

Other items resist the following (anything more destroys them):

Troops and Livestock

Different troops also resist a certain amount of damage:

Unarmored soldiers and natives - 1

Armored natives - 2 (Moor and Dervish leaders may wear light armor)

Horse, camel - 2

NOTE : regular ammunition will not destroy a wall. Cannons and Gatling guns can destroy doors and wagons, cannons can also destroy walls.

Officers and Leaders

In this game, we have leaders to keep an army moving forward.  Here's how the leadership breaks down:

Regular troops: Commander. lieutenants, sergeants

Natives: Chief or sheik, sub-chief, leader

There must be one commander / chief / sheik for each side.  There must be one lieutenant / sub-chief for every 25 men, and one sergeant / leader for every ten men.  It pays to have a couple of extra officers in the field.  

If any native or auxiliary unit takes 50% or more losses, it will retreat unless an officer is present.  The retreating until will move toward the nearest friendly unit with an officer.  Any men exceeding the maximum number for the officer will continue to retreat, unless they come within R1 of another unit and / or officer.  

A regular army unit, on losing 50% of its men and its officer, will stand fast.  They will remain in place unless forced to retreat.  They will defend if attacked.

Units within R1 of the commander /chief / sheik will not retreat, even if they lose 50% of their men and their officers.  If a commander is within R1 when one of his units charges into hand-to-hand combat, those men will fight on no matter how many they lose to gunfire.  The 50% rules does not apply.

All retreating troops will defend if attacked.

European and American troops will continue to fight if the commander is killed.

If the native chief or sheik is killed, all native troops within R1 will have to flip a coin.  It doesn't matter if they have an officer or not.  Heads they remain, tails they retreat immediately to the rear (or away from the enemy) for 2 moves.  After 2 moves, they can be brought back into the battle if intercepted by an officer.

Modern Shock

New weapons tend to frighten natives who have never seen them before.  Tanks and armored cars, Gatling guns and machine guns can be startling the first time they appear.  If natives haven't seen them, they must flip a coin when within R1 of the new weapons.  Heads they hold, tails they retreat 1 move.

Tanks and armored cars may only be used if native troops have some kind of light field guns and/or machine guns.  Without the extra firepower, the natives can only lose.  It's no fun when one side is incapable of even a marginal victory.  

Of course, even in 1929 the tank isn't much.  The common tank used in colonies would be a small tankette like the French WW1 Char D'assault, a small 2-man tank armed with a machine gun or light field gun.  It cannot smash down stone walls or topple trees, but it can knock down gates or doors.

European Wars in the Colonies

Throughout history, wars in Europe made their way into the Colonies.  World War 1 saw the  French Foreign Legion and British Colonial armies tangling with German colonial troops.  Think about it: regular troops with tanks and armored cars, together with native auxiliaries, fighting their European foe and his auxiliaries. Of course, the old native enemies are still out there with an axe to grind.  Maybe the native attack is being supported by European advisors and "specialists" handling machine-guns or vehicles.  Ah, yes - politics and bush wars!  Consider this option - it has merit as a battle game scenario!

Battle Types

The usual battle divides the play area into thirds.  Each army gets one end as a starting point.  The area between the two is No Man's Land, where the armies will clash.  

Perhaps you can have defense of a fort or town.  To make it better, have a fort or town under siege waiting for the arrival of a relief column. If the relief column cannot arrive in a certain number of turns, the town or fort falls.  Perhaps the arrival of the relief column automatically spells victory, so attackers have to fight off the relief column while keeping up the siege.

Maybe it's control of an oasis.  Maybe there are three oases out there.  The side that can control all three wins. Hmmmm.

In other words, battles are limited by your imagination.  Read the history books to learn what really happened during the Colonial period.  You will get many good ideas for games and objectives!  The real events offer many examples -far more than we can list here!


French Foreign Legion troops can be gotten, as they used to be quite popular.  So can Arab figures.  Medieval Saracens don;t look at all different from Moors or Dervishes, except that about half the Arab forces in the Colonial era had rifles.

British Colonials and African tribesmen are also available. Check with suppliers who deal in "recasts" of earlier plastic figures. They have plastic soldiers which are unavailable in the local stores.

German colonials are not available as such/  Use confederate infantry in wide-brimmed slouch hats.  If they are not available, Confederates in kepis will do.  Try to get them in the butternut / tan color first.  Gray is acceptable.  Several vendors of recasts have Civil war troops in butternut / tan.

Regular French troops prior to 1915 are a snap - use Union Civil war troops in Kepis.  The Union Troops can also be used as Foreign Legionnaires.  In a pinch, they can also be used as Marines.

US Cavalry figures in wide-brimmed hats can be used as US marines right up until 1910.  If you can find WW1 US troops in campaign (Smokey Bear) hats or Canadian Mounties, they will suffice for the period 1905 - 1929.  You can also use US or British WW1 troops for the period 1916 - 1929.

US Civil War Zoaves can be used as French auxiliary troops.  Khaki-colored british colonials or Turns can be used as Askaris.

These simple rules have been prepared and posted for your enjoyment.  Use, adapt and apply them as you see fit.  Please let us know how you like them.  We'd like to hear your comments, suggestions and observations.

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