Sharp Practice – The Return of the Black Widow

A few days ago the post-Napoleonic imaginations forces came out of their boxes again for another game of Sharp Practice. The plot followed loosely on from a previous game (link) where one of Fleurie’s spies (a very attractive and devious lady operating under the codename of ‘The Black Widow’) was extricated from a tricky position (ooh er!) by a scratch force sent to look for her. Now word had reached Medetian military intelligence of an intended rendezvous, at which they might just catch the evil woman and put an end to her troublesome meddling.

My friend Jase duly took on command of the Medetian spy-hunting force, and I prepared a few Fleurians to defend the rendezvous location (a remote farm), plus a larger relief force to come on later.

The Medetians had been able to send some men on ahead to surround the farm and pin down the men there. Of the spy there was no sign.

The game provided a lot of good moments, with both of us bringing on reinforcements in formation, and there was often tension waiting for the next card to be turned up.

Some key moments…

The Medetian marines charged in (on the 2nd attempt) to clear off the pesky Voltigeurs, but somewhat surprisingly received a right drubbing.

The Fleurian commander, Captain Mauzac, confidently led his men onto the field in a large formation, with cavalry on the right and skirmishers on the left, he’d soon see off those annoying Bersaglieri in the wood. Instead of fleeing, Jase decided on a final volley from the Bersaglieri before they were overrun. The result: one hit, one dead officer!

The cavalry arriving a tad late for poor old Mauzac:

It offered Sergeant Luberon his moment of glory, which he duly grasped by stepping forward to lead the now leaderless line. He did well but was later usurped when a proper officer arrived.

The Medetian hordes advanced:

The main forces angled towards each other for a musketry duel.

The Black Widow decides it’s time to depart, and leaves her hiding place in the stables. She follows a retreating unit of Voltigeurs away from the Medetian attack.

The dashing Hussar, Lieutenant Gillette, was aiming for the flank of the Medetian line, but instead met a wall of Grenadiers who’d been hurried into place by the Medetian commander, his most crucial move of the day. It was bloody for both sides, but the Hussars were forced to withdraw, their injured officer following slowly behind.

The main firefight blazed for several turns and casualties (and shock) piled up on both sides. Eventually the Medetians’ morale dropped and the game was up. Their commander called off the attack and his troops withdrew.

Unseen by the enemy, the Black Widow had not run straight for the safety of the Fleurian table edge, but had made a dash for the lake, where she had a boat hidden. Escorted by the well-meaning, hopelessly lovelorn (but romantic no-hoper) Lieutenant Aramon, she had other plans to fulfil and was soon away from danger and heading off to who-knows-where…

We had a lot of fun with this, and the rules are providing consistently challenging, event-laden and exciting games. The beer was good too.

 

 

 

 

St. Valentio Skewered by El Kebab!

I’ve been making steady progress with my plans for playing colonial imagi-nation games. These will be set in Medetia’s exotic 19th century colonies, using the Sharp Practice 2 rules.

Although I haven’t finished my jungle bases, or added any buildings yet, I felt that with lots of figures now painted a game could still be possible. So, I decided that the soon-t0-be rebellious sepoys and natives would start out with an away match – and become the fierce corsairs of the notorious El Kebab, terror of the southern sea. The sleepy, and lightly garrisoned, Medetian island outpost of St. Valentio was their target, with its trade goods and wealthy merchants. General vandalism would also be on the cards of course. My good mate Jase was up some corsairing, and duly loaded his vessels with a horde of ne’er do wells and set sail..

El Kebab’s small fleet, led by his own ship, the Scimitar, approached the main harbour out of the dawn shadows and made straight for the jetties. The alarm was sounded by the lookout in the fort, and the Medetians were roused from their slumbers. A party of sailors in the harbour were the first to see action, as the approaching corsairs let loose with grape from their guns.

The damage inflicted on the sailors was returned with interest by artillery and rifle fire from the shore, which swept away the Scimitar’s gun crew. El Kebab, may his name be forever showered with glory, may have cowered in the stern a bit when this happened.

Acting the part of El Kebab in full, Jase had decided to drive his two larger ships right into the harbour to offload their landing parties, while the (somewhat slower and more inconsistent) rowed boats followed behind.

With their mighty leader heroically directing things from aboard his ship, his trusty sub-commander, Munjit Dhal and ex-Sepoy Sergeant Badbhaji, led their men ashore to start the mayhem.

The Medetian garrison, though somewhat scattered and having to rally from various points of the compass, were reacting however. Their commander, Major Nebbiolo, wasn’t on top form – perhaps due to too much vino rosso the night before! His officers and NCOs were showing clearer heads though, and Sergeant Rigato of the Bersaglieri and Brevet-Lieutenant Lambrusco were taking the fight to the raiders. The main square was the scene of some running firefights and vicious melees, and casualties mounted on both sides as the advantage swung to and fro.

After seeing off one enemy group, young Lambrusco, hero of several previous games, somehow survived his own unit being wiped out by a second horde of corsairs. His bravery must surely see his promotion to Lieutenant now.

By now, despite Major Nebbiolo coming down from the fort to take charge, the raiders were getting stuck into the looting and burning. The church turned out to be more stiffly defended than was expected, but the frenzied clergy and their gamekeeper were sent packing with a howling charge.

Finally, El Kebab himself made his presence felt as he ushered ashore his most feared mob – the savage Big Choppers of Kamul ‘the Blade’.

Outside the harbour, the wily Imlik Bling and his sharpshooters kept a returning patrol of Bersaglieri at arm’s length as both sides traded shots from their boats.

Finally, enough was enough for the defenders who were forced to pull back to the fort and leave the corsairs free to ransack several houses, capture some residents for ransom, and retire at their leisure from a successful raid.

After this vicious assault, the Medetians would be keen to exact their revenge against El Kebab, and would be sure to leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of him and his band of cutthroats…

It was a great game, played in an excellent spirit, and it provided a lot of laughs throughout. The rules, as always, generated a lot of challenges for us, and delivered a believable and entertaining narrative. More soon hopefully!

Sharp Practice 2 – The Raid – Part 2

In December my friend and I played the first of a 2-part scenario – see the write-up here

A week or so ago we played the remaining part, which saw the Medetian rearguard holding the bridge that the village raiding force would need to use in order to return to the ship. The bridge defence force had been determined by Jase at the start of the first game and contained a bit of a mix of army and naval types.

Jase deployed with a perimeter of 2 groups of line infantry on one side of the river, and a group of Bersaglieri plus the gun (in a central position, on a rise giving a good view in most directions) on the other. He kept a reserve of 2 groups of sailors – at the pub, naturally. He had supporting assets in the form of a Holy Man and a handy additional Level 1 leader.

As dawn broke my Fleurian patrols converged on the bridge. I would be rolling for their arrival points, and had decided to split my force into a cavalry command (2 groups) and an infantry one (1 group of Grenadiers, 2 of Line infantry and 1 of skirmishers). As it happened these 2 commands came on from opposite sides of the table, but due to some freakish card drawing (early Tiffin cards after 3 re-shuffles) no-one actually appeared until the 4th turn. I should have ruled that the sailors would by now be too pissed to fight, but it didn’t occur to me at the time!

My cavalry came on at a canter and presented the defenders with quite a shock. I should probably have held back and kept the horsemen as a threat but, being a typical wargamer, I decided to seize the moment and move to charge the infantry guarding the bridge. Unfortunately one group was seen off completely by a volley from their intended target, aided by accurate rifle fire from the Bersaglieri hidden in the trees on the other side of the river. Scratch one flank then (although I did get the other group to charge late in the game, to their doom!)

On the other side of the table, my pretty 2-group formation was hammered on its approach by canister from the gun, despite my other groups trying to pin down the artillerymen with musketry. By the time I got the line close enough to do some damage it was being hit from all angles, as the nearest sailors joined in the fun from the pub garden. I did see off the gun crew in the end, but losses and shock meant the game was up for the Fleurians and they skulked away, leaving the Medetian raiders free to return via the bridge and make a successful withdrawal back to their ship – and home for tea and medals. Well done Jase, 2 out of 2!

 

 

This was another good fun game of Sharp Practice, and we are becoming more confident we’re playing the rules properly (at least most of the time). Hopefully we’ll return to the fray in a few weeks.

More Sharp Practice 2 – A Raid Scenario

Varesi, the Medetian Lieutenant of Engineers, never had liked the bad-tempered nag that pulled his equipment cart. It was ironic then, when it fell on him and the two of them died together on the outskirts of Auterlin. Such are the fickle outcomes that games of Sharp Practice can produce, and a good laugh they provide too.

Last weekend Jase and I returned to the post-Napoleonic conflict between Medetia and Fleurie and played a game of Sharp Practice 2. I devised the plot for a 2-part scenario, and we played through the first game. The second will hopefully take place early in the new year.

The Medetians have landed an assault party on the Fleurian coast with orders to march inland, cross (and hold) a bridge – which will be the scene of game 2 – and destroy part of the enemy’s siege train which is temporarily holed up at the village of Auterlin.

Selecting 5 groups of infantry (a mix of grenadiers, line and bersaglieri) and an engineer team from his overall force, Jase took command of the Medetians and set off on his mission. As the Fleurian commander I had 4 infantry groups and a light gun with which to defend the important heavy guns, ammunition and powder.

The scene of the impending action, as dawn approaches:

The siege guns outside the church, which was being used to store the powder and shot:

 

On the first 2 turns the Tiffin card came up before any significant forces had deployed onto the table. I managed to get the Fleurian light gun crew woken up and assembled in the village square, which was to be very helpful in the early stages of the game.

Before long, though, the Medetians had arrived, formed up in a couple of formations, with skirmishers moving among the trees and Lieutenant Varesi bringing up the rear with his engineers and cart (and its horse).

A bonus move (4 command flag cards being played at once) allowed the commander, Major Corvina, to get everyone dashing towards the village at the double. Goaded into action, the horse shouldered Varesi out of the way and left the Lieutenant sprawled face down in the dirt and being left behind…

With few Fleurians as yet on the table and the Medetians coming on fast, the light gun opened up with canister and did some damage to the lead formation. This slowed things down and gave the rest of the Fleurian force time to make an appearance.

Fortunately for me, my main force then arrived and took up positions to prevent the enemy from reaching the church. The first Medetian controlled volley, however, hammered the Grenadiers and sent them reeling back from the lane, to try to rally behind the cottage.

The shooting seemed more deadly than in previous games we’ve played, with lots of 6s coming up and plenty of casualty removal. This was pretty evenly divided between both sides, so things remained in the balance for some time as various groups took up positions and continued to fire away at each other.

A Fleurian patrol came on from the table edge and started to make its presence felt, distracting the enemy’s Bersaglieri for a few turns.

Things got more interesting when a group of armed locals, led by a monk, decided to intervene when the Medetians finally entered the village. Their timing was good, as they plugged a gap left by a shot-up and routing group of infantry.

Varesi’s big (and last) moment came when the engineers responded to an order to advance and dashed forward at an unexpected pace, leaving them squarely in the sights of both Fleurian infantry and a fully loaded gun! Engineers went down like nine-pins and the Lieutenant was wounded. Almost inevitably the next card out of the re-shuffled pack led to another volley. The horse took the brunt, falling dead and crushing the hapless officer. Thus, their uneasy relationship was brought to a grim end.

As time wore on and Force Morale levels started to drop, the Medetians moved in to decide the issue at close quarters.

With bayonets fixed, Major Corvina bravely follows his men in a charge intended to put the villagers firmly back in their place..

 

Heroically they slaughtered the lot with no loss to themselves. Interestingly, the Fleurian Voltigeurs (top right of the picture below) subsequently charged the Medetians, and not one of the figures in this picture survived the game, including the Major who was killed with the rest of his men. Fisticuffs sounds a bit like ‘handbags’ but it’s VERY bloody in SP2!

Below – pretty much the end of the game, with the last Fleurians about to relinquish the village and the siege train to the victorious attackers. Both sides’ Force Morale took a tumble with the losses from fisticuffs, but the Fleurians hit zero first and that was that. We agreed that it was probably a good thing that the remaining engineers didn’t have to actually attempt to blow the church in-game, as with the way their luck/competence had been so far, it would have inevitably ended in catastrophe!

So, a posthumously successful mission for the Major, and now they’d have to get back to their ship via the bridge that their colleagues were hopefully still holding. This will be the focus of game 2, when Fleurian patrols try to cut off the invaders from the coast.

The game was great fun, played in the best of company.

Warbases Engineers’ Wagon

Another nice model kit from Warbases, this wagon was quick to put together (once I’d worked out the assembly order). Everything fitted neatly and the engineers’ equipment load can remain loose for removal when not required.

Great value and perfect for Sharp Practice, either as a general wagon, engineer option, or just as a piece of scenery.

 

Sharp Practice 2 – Game 2: Spy Hunt

So, on to the second game of the weekend. We did some mild shuffling of the terrain and scenery and came up with a simple plot for the game.

Word has reached the respective HQs of both armies that a brave/notorious (depending on your point of view) female spy has been exposed (ooh-er) nearby, and both sides have dispatched a small force to bring her in before the enemy can get to her. Despite their recent exertions, the two forces from the first game are the closest troops to hand, and they are duly ordered into action once more.

On the run, the spy has gone into hiding in one of the cottages (placed in secret by a neutral assistant we drafted in for the purpose) in the small border hamlet of Frinchy. We’d have to enter and search (defined in the rules as a Task) these buildings in order to discover her, and naturally there’d be some violent competition to get there first.

The table for ‘Spy Hunt’, with initial troop positions after their turn 1 arrival via their deployment points:

Jase’s Fleurian skirmishers and line infantry move rapidly towards Frinchy.

My Medetians were busy doing likewise at the other end of the table. Somewhat freakishly, both players managed to collect 4 command cards before the end of the first turn and both used them to activate their force commander a second time, granting them useful extra movement for their troops.

A unit of Fleurian Voltigeurs made quick progress to the nearest cottage and looked poised to enter and start searching. However, they hadn’t counted on Brevet-Lieutenant Lambrusco leading his Bersaglieri rifles at speed to cross a fence and deliver a crushing volley which downed several men including Ensign Jacquere (who only came-to at the end of the battle to find that while he’d been out of action, his small group had been reduced to a single man!)

In the following turns Lambrusco left his men to cover the door while he dashed inside to check the premises for the elusive spy. Despite a quick, thorough search, he came up empty-handed.

Meanwhile, in the middle of the village things were hotting up. The Fleurians managed to take up some useful positions, hurting the Medetians with effective fire and knocking out their force commander, Captain Gattinara.

 

This left the Medetians with a command and control problem at a crucial time and they continued to come off worse in the on-going exchange of volleys. The leading column was halted, with casualties and shock building up. Another group under veteran Sergeant Fiorentina did manage to enter one of the other cottages to search it, but were badly shot up as they made their way inside.

Again they found nothing (albeit this was unknown to the Fleurian player) and clearly this meant that the spy was in the building that was currently surrounded by Fleurians. Damn!

By this time the Fleurian leader, Captain Corbieres, had established a strong central position and used a couple more flurries of command cards to very good effect. He was able to detach a group under Sergeant Luberon (whose derriere seemed to have recovered since the last game), who redeemed himself by duly locating the spy and escorting her at great speed through the trees and away from the fighting.

The Medetians tried to press forward to harry the enemy’s withdrawal but struggled to make headway. Captain Gattinara rose groggily back to his feet but could do little to get a pursuit underway quickly enough. The Fleurians had won the race to find the spy and the firing petered out as they fell back the way they’d come.

Post-Action Round-up

After the game we drew a card to see which side the lady in question had been spying for, to ascertain her likely fate now she had been discovered. As (her) luck would have it, she turned out to be working for the Fleurians and therefore the outcome was a successful rescue of their own heroine! The men on the ground wouldn’t have been privy to this information when they received their orders, they just had to carry out their mission as best they could.

So, glory for Corbieres and little for the Medetians this time, but there’d be another chance to win some honour soon enough. I’m keeping a bit of a tally on the leaders (Big Men) that are involved in my Sharp Practice games. There are chances to win promotion or receive awards for valour, and one or two are getting close to qualifying. Whether they can do so before making the ultimate sacrifice remains to be seen!

Similarly, the ‘Black Widow’, as I’ve decided to (code)name our spy, might return to be the subject of a future game…

One post-game note: neither my musician nor Jase’s Holy Man had any impact in either game, circumstances just didn’t give us a chance to call on their potentially beneficial effects. Next time perhaps!

Sharp Practice 2 – first games

In between drinking the occasional beer this weekend, my friend Jase and I gave SP2 a couple of goes using my 28mm post-Napoleonic imagi-nations collection. As expected, the rules gave a very satisfying gaming experience and, once we’d got the gist of things, we really got into the command challenges they present to players. I can certainly see why so many people are playing this revision of the rules.

After a small test session with a couple of groups a side to get some familiarity with the core mechanisms, we mixed and matched a bit with scenarios for the 2 games we played. For the first game we drew from Neil Thomas’s One Hour Wargames book, which a lot of people seem to use as a go-to place for clearly defined, interesting scenarios. We chose no.4 Take the High Ground as it offered a focus for a fight and would get us into action pretty directly.

The table for game 1, with the hill objective clearly visible next to the road:

The forces were drawn from my Medetians and their perpetual enemy, Fleurie. I haven’t  looked at the force/army lists for SP2 in any great detail yet, but clearly there’s plenty of scope to tailor troop characteristics and capabilities to get to where you want. For simplicity, we went with the Medetians using Peninsular Portuguese unit types and the Fleurians using Peninsular French.

We rolled for sides, and at 60 points each, we had;

Medetians
Leaders of levels III, II and I
5 groups of Line infantry
1 group of Skirmishers with rifles (Cacadores)

Fleurians
Leaders of levels III, II, I and I
2 groups of Grenadiers
2 groups of Line infantry
2 groups of Skirmishers with muskets (Voltigeurs)

For the first game we rolled for support and this generated us each 4 points worth to choose from the list.

As the Medetian commander I selected a further Level I leader to increase my command options a bit, and a musician to extend the command range of my leader.

Jase’s Fleurians gained a Level I leader too, and a Holy Man for a bit of shock-removing inspiration when it would be needed.

No blow-by-blow account, but here’s some of the action from Take the High Ground, SP-style..

The Medetians deployed 2 groups on the hill in a Formation. None shall pass…

.. well, except possibly that lot!

The Fleurians arrive en-mass, with skirmishers out in front and 2 assault columns following behind.

The first of the Medetian main force make a timely arrival in the form of a group of riflemen under Brevet-Lieutenant Lambrusco (who did sterling service as an Ensign in SP1 games, surviving several wounds)

Fleurian Voltigeurs move to the flanks to start harassing fire on the Medetian line, creating space for the columns to move through in the centre.

Men in blue start to fall and they’re forced to loose off their initial volley to hit back at the pesky skirmishers.

But the columns are getting menacingly closer. The Fleurian Grenadier column decided to open up on the formation on the hill too, and did some damage – not least to their unfortunate leader Sergeant Luberon who was shot in the backside by his own men! C’est la Guerre 🙂

Despite this amusing set-back, a well-coordinated Fleurian attack sees Voltigeur fire cause further Medetian casualties and a lot of shock, which is followed up in the same turn by both columns hitting home. Although the defenders did some damage in the ensuing melees, they’re almost wiped out and the survivors flee. Can the Fleurians get re-organised into line on top of the hill before the Medetians can launch a counter attack?

Although doughty Captain Gattinara has led the main Medetian body (3 groups of line infantry in a formation) forward in a fairly leisurely fashion, he suddenly gets a hurry on and the line surges forward a maximum roll of 12″, arriving on the crest of the hill at the perfect moment.

Lambrusco’s rifles have been pouring accurate fire into the flank of the nearest column, causing 3 casualties plus 10 shock in 2 rounds of shooting, and causing the Fleurians to recoil a little from the top of the hill. At that point 24 Medetians present their muskets and deliver a devastating first fire volley, clearing away both enemy columns and securing the hill, and victory.

Final positions. Although their plan was a good one, and they enjoyed initial success, the Fleurians are in too poor a shape to rally and try again. They concede the hill to the Medetians and withdraw. Losses were fairly even, as was the remaining force morale for both sides.

 

This was an excellent introduction game for us, we really enjoyed the command and control challenge generated by the randomness of the leader activations and the options presented by the command (flag) cards. There were always choices to be made, which you felt you could focus on without getting bogged down by the moving, shooting and fighting mechanisms, which were mostly committed to memory after the first few turns.

We then re-set the table for a second game, which will be the subject of the next post.

Loose Ends

Before getting back to my 6mm FPW stuff, I painted a few 28mm figures on returning from the Ayton weekend. Normally I’d be burnt out after hitting the big deadline, but apparently not this year!

Nothing special, just a few more bits and pieces ahead of further Sharp Practice games I want to play this summer. They were painted in 1s and 2s and weren’t too onerous. I’ll probably pick off a few more lead-pile stragglers over time just to keep my interest levels up while I concentrate on other projects.

The Medetian marines finally get their Big Men – 2 officers, from the Gringos Maximilian-Mexican range (great beard on the senior guy!):

 

Then there were a couple more Fleurian line infantry that I didn’t need for Ayton but who will round out my 3rd group of 10 for Sharp Practice, plus some further Fleurian light troops. These include a couple of big men (an officer and a sergeant) and a couple of extra soldiers to go with the mountain gun to make the crew up to the normal group of 5.

 

Fleurian Standard Bearer

If I hadn’t creased the flag so thoroughly it would be possible to read the wording that says this is the flag of the 1st Line Regiment. It’s in there somewhere!

As with other flags I’ve done recently this is a clip-art based print-out that I’ve painted and highlighted up. This guy will join the rest of the regiment in time to go into action at the weekend. He’ll probably be leading the retreat!

 

 

Naval Battalion Finished

The Marines are now done, so here’s the entire Naval Battalion mustered and ready for action on distant shores.

This unit will be deploying to the deserts of Phetraea at the Ayton weekend in May, and after that (should there be any survivors!) will be used in Sharp Practice games involving coastal landing parties and river actions. I have a couple of Big Men to add later; a Marine officer and an NCO.