Commander Aden Subatai stood before the Admiral’s door, hands clenched behind his back. To either side, marines dressed in half battle-armour stood sentinel, their mirrored faceplates revealing nothing. A light blinked from red to green and the door slid open with a soft, metallic rasp. Glancing at the marines, Aden stepped inside.
The Admiral sat behind a polished ebony desk that dominated the small stateroom. He gestured to an empty seat.
‘Commander Subatai, it is rare that any of my ship captains request a physical meeting. I trust that everything is well with your command?’
Aden met the Admiral’s gaze as he took his seat.
‘Yes, sir. The Falcata has weathered the journey well, and crew morale is high.’
‘Good. Then what brings you across?’
‘It’s Helos, sir,’ replied Aden.
‘Helos,’ repeated the Admiral with a frown. He tapped lightly on the top of his desk, and a holographic image of a planet sprang to life between the two men. The image rotated slowly, showing a grey-green world, key data displayed around it.
‘A dead world,’ said the Admiral. ‘Overrun with bugs. Scheduled for atmospheric burn-off in three months.’
‘With respect, sir, before the invasion, Helos had a population of nearly 7 billion. Our data estimates that even in a worst case scenario, there could be as many as 7,000 people still alive…’
‘Commander. How many planets have we lost in this war?’ This time, Aden said nothing. ‘In three months, the casualty rate will be 100%. I can’t divert this fleet in order to save a few lives that mean nothing to the war effort.’
‘Of course not, sir. But one ship. A fast ship, like the Falcata, could divert to Helos, pick up as many survivors as could be found, and then rendezvous with the fleet before it has completed its refit.’
The Admiral sat back slightly in his chair and looked up at the planet. ‘Commander, there are nearly 30 billion bugs down there. I cannot order men to go into battle against those kind of odds.’
‘Sir, the people still on Helos must be living in a nightmare. Desperate. Under siege. Likely starving. They know that no help is coming. They know they have been abandoned.’
The Admiral winced at Aden’s choice of words. ‘Let me give them one last hope, sir.’
The Admiral tapped his desk again, and the image of Helos disappeared. He looked directly into the eyes of his commander.
‘Volunteers only. One hundred men, if you can find them. I’ll send a fast transport with you to carry any survivors you find. And you will be back with the fleet at the end of three months.’
‘You’ve got a lot of work to do, Commander. Dismissed.’
Aden stood and saluted.
By the end of the day, Commander Subatai had received more than 3,000 requests from soldiers and marines to join the mission that was already being called Operation Last Train.
What is Operation Last Train?
Operation Last Train is a game, an excuse, and a chance to translate wargaming into some real-world good. Let’s start with the excuse.
I love science-fiction soldier miniatures and need only the slightest excuse to buy them. I’m not one for painting armies, however. It just seems like such a shame, with the huge variety of science-fiction soldiers available, including numerous conversion bits, to paint up a hundred or more soldiers all essentially wearing the same uniform. I would rather collect my soldiers individually and feel free to customize and equip them in any manner I choose. Unfortunately, this doesn’t fit well with most missions that science-fiction troopers would be assigned. So, I came up with Operation Last Train, a mission carried out solely by volunteers drawn from numerous different regiments, each with its own uniform, equipment, and traditions. This is my excuse to make and collect all the soldiers I want, and not worry about why they are all thrown together for one mission.
Of course, if I’m going to play with these figures, I need a game. For that reason, I have designed a very simple set of rules, in which you build up your roster of volunteers, select a small handful for each drop, and then play out the mission on the tabletop. Because usually only six men are needed for each drop, I can thankfully start playing as I am assembling my forces, and don’t have to wait until I’ve painted all 100 volunteers! I have designed the game so that it can be played either solo or cooperatively with two people, but it wouldn’t be hard to expand the number of players if desired.
This is going to be an ‘iron man’-style miniatures game. Once a figure is killed during a drop, it is out and cannot be used again. It will be immortalized in my hall of heroes (and can, of course, be used in other games), but this is a desperate mission and the casualties hurt.
Wargaming is a strange hobby. We have fun recreating on the tabletop something that in reality is horrific, terrible, and tragic. I honestly don’t think there is anything wrong with this – in fact, I believe that my studies into military history that have gone along with my wargaming have made me more conscious of the true cost and horror of war. On occasion, however, I am made to feel a bit guilty about the hobby and its connection to death and cruelty. So, I decided that I would use my hobby to support the people that are doing their best to end, or at least mitigate, those horrors. For that reason, I am asking everyone who downloads, reads, and enjoys these rules to please donate £3 / $5 (the cost of a nice cup of coffee) to Save the Children via my JustGiving page here. You can download these rules in an easy-to-read PDF document here. And get a copy of the Roster Sheet here. Information of the work by Save the Children can be found here.
Furthermore, whenever I play a game of Operation Last Train, I plan to donate 10 cents for each civilian my band of heroes saves from the doomed planet. That way, my little toy heroes are really helping to do some good. I admit that it is a bit silly to connect the actions of toy soldiers on a table to helping to save and improve the lives of children in the real world, but, as living in Britain has taught me, doing silly things in aid of a good cause is a noble endeavour.
Operation Last Train is a personal project, and I plan to have fun and donate a little money whatever happens, but if anyone wants to join me, I wouldn’t mind the company. Just remember, this mission is for volunteers only. (I have also set up a FaceBook page where anyone who wants can join in, show off some figures, talk drops, and see if we can raise a little money).
So, go ahead and download the rules if you want. At the moment, it only contains one scenario, but I will be posting more here on the blog as and when I write them!