Introducing new people to gaming is something I really enjoy. Last Sunday, I had the chance to help organising an event at a Viennese art gallery called ADA. A friend and member of our roleplaying group, writer Barbi Markovic, had the idea to host a gaming salon there. Another of our roleplayers joined in and we decided to stage two games: One roleplaying game and a miniatures game.
The roleplaying game was organised and prepared by our pal Alex. He used Dungeonslayers, as this is a quick and accessible system. It’s easy to explain and learn and it’s available for free, so if someone wants to try this at home, they don’t have to shell out the money for rule books.
Although I enjoy RPGs, I wanted to make the case for miniature games and decided to run a game of X-Wing. X-Wing is a perfect gateway drug: It’s easy to learn, combines fast action with clever mechanics and most people can relate to the back story (although I met someone who hasn’t seen a Star Wars movie!).
I’m happy to say that the event was a success: We had a number of enthusiatic people who wanted to try out the games. As Alex had to leave earlier, I took over the RPG and K. ran the X-Wing table.
When we first had the idea, I was a bit uncertain if this format would work. I was afraid that people would only watch, too shy to get involved. I also feared that the whole gaming thing might be way too nerdy for the audience. However, when talking to people, I was surprised about how many had played RPGs or even Warhammer in their youth and were happy to give it another go. Others were new to the games but got into the mood quickly. Especially the X-Wing table was buzzing with excitment!
A huge thanks to the gallery people who were friendly and helpful from the start! A huge thanks also to the visitors, whose enthusiasm and willingness to get involved made the evening a pleasure. People kept asking if this was going to be a regular things, so let’s see – maybe this was just the start of a series of ongoing Gaming Salons.
I’ve finally finished painting the Union Naval Landing Force for Sharp Practice. More on the force composition in another post – this game was supposed to be a playtest of what I’ve come up with until now. There is still some more research and playtesting to be done…
The scenario featured Union sailors and marines of the USS Katahdin landing to raid a Confederate ammunition depot. The depot was guarded by a motley crew of Guerillas, while Rebel regulars who had spotted the ship’s approach were on their way. The Union’s objective was to get to the barn, plant a fuse and skedaddle before everything exploded. Planting the fuse would be a task of 11.
The Union had two deployment points on the beach and had to deploy their troops immediately adjacent to their deployment points (this was because my beach mat is a bit small…). The Confederates had one deployment point on the road in the North-Western corner of the table and a group of 6 Guerillas positioned at the barn.
I played the Union tars and had a simple plan: Use the sailors to threaten K.’s deployment while the marines rushed to the barn and set the fuse. The boat howitzer was to support the marines.
The sailors made good progress across the beach; the marines, however, dawdled and got stuck. K. meanwhile rushed her skirmishers forward and marched the regulars along the road towards the barn.
She placed her smaller formation in the farmyard and took my sailors under fire. The first group of tars soon had enough and retreated, the second group got stuck in the killing zone but managed to stand its ground.
The other Confederate formation smartly formed line and covered the beach. However, the marines had managed to get moving and got out of the line’s field of fire, advancing towards the barn in individual groups.
The boat howitzer had shelled the Guerillas, causing a bit of shock to the rascals. Knowing they were in a tight spot, they advanced towards the marines. When one of the Union groups charged them, however, they evaded into the woods. Such is the cunning of Rebel irregulars! Confidently, the marines followed them, whereupon the Rebels suddenly let loose a volley and charged the Union boys! This was another instance when a random event created a perfect narrative: the Confederates rolled “Charge them to Hell!” on the Firing Random Events and the groups went into Fisticuffs. This turned out bad for both, but worse for the cocky Guerillas which broke and again were off into the woods.
Master’s Mate Cadwallader Bumpus had meanwhile rallied his plucky band of Union tars. They climbed over the fence and rushed towards the Confederate deployment point, which they “boarded on the run in a seaman-like way”, as Admiral Porter once put it. Another blow to the Rebel Force Morale!
However, the Union had also taken quite a lot of casualties and some officers had been wounded, so their Force Morale was not much better. Everything was down to the marines now: would they manage to set the fuse in time?
They got into position and then… Chapter End!
Again a random event produced incredible narrative tension. We both knew that the deciding moment of the battle was about to happen and could imagine how everyone prepared for the final push: Muskets were reloaded, ammunition was distributed to the Rebel group which was low on powder, everyone who was not prepared to fight it out scampered away and knocked out officers recovered to rally their men one last time. And then, with three Huzzahs, the group of sailors I had kept in reserve charged and pandemonium ensued.
Alas, the sailors were soundly trounced by K.’s regulars. When another of the Rebel groups went into melee with the marines and made them run, the game was over. The Union’s Force Morale had broken, the landing party was in full retreat and the ammunition depot was safe.
I know I’m repeating myself, but after each game of Sharp Practice I have to say: This was one of the best games I’ve ever played! A very exciting and incredibly close fought game that could have gone either way right until the end. The random events were fun, made sense and brought the story forward. My plan was basically sound and the sailors performed well. The marines could have done better and the gun was nice but I used it rather statically – perhaps I should have moved it more (but then it would have fired even less often).
Balance wise I think the Landing Party worked well – it’s a fun force to play, very agile but a bit brittle, which is just as it should be. The light gun is powerful, but it takes two actions to reload, so it won’t fire too often. Next time, we’ll switch sides as K. is keen on trying out the tars. I’m already looking forward to seeing what a more aggressive player will do with them!
The holidays offered opportunity to finally get the observation balloon I’ve built a couple of weeks ago on the table! Historically, there never was any real fighting for a balloon during the American Civil War. There were, however, some pretty close calls. Confederates regularly tried to shoot down Union observation balloons and one time, a Rebel scouting party stumbled upon the balloon train but retreated because they thought it would be guarded by a large force (which it wasn’t). In July 1861, Union balloonist Thaddeus Lowe by accident landed in Confederate territory. Volunteers from the 31st New York scouted to find out where he was. Lowe’s wife Leontine then disguised herself as a farm woman and took a horse and wagon deep into enemy territory, where she collected the balloonist and his crashed vessel. Such is, of course, the stuff Sharp Practice scenarios are made off!
To make the game more unpredictable, I divided the playing field into 20 sectors. On the second Tiffin Card, the balloon would enter in a randomly determined sector at the Eastern table edge where the Union troops were encamped. The balloon’s movement was determined by rolling a dice on the Tiffin Card and moving it from sector to sector. The middle sectors were the crash zone – when the balloon got there, it would land.
I also prepared a table to determine the effect of the crash on the balloonist:
The Union’s objective was to get the balloonist to their camp, the Confederate objective was to get him to their primary deployment point.
In our game, I took the Union while K. commanded the Rebels. While the balloon drifted slowly over the Federal camp, the Union soldiers lingered around and paid a visit to the sutler – it seems no one had looked up and noticed the balloonist’s peril!
The Confederates were quicker on the uptake and deployed a group of skirmishers into the grave yard.
Finally, the Union commander managed to rouse his men and deployed them into line. It became a bit crowded amidst the tents and stuff!
Unfortunately, this chaos seems to have had a detrimental effect on the Union commander, as he started to make mistakes. At first, I had the idea of sending my skirmishers and my cavalry off on my left flank to get in position to stop the Confederates should they grab the balloonist. However, I changed my plan and shuffled the skirmishers over to my right flank soon after – another turn wasted while K. unerringly threw her guys forward towards the balloonist, who had landed in the pond.
They were met by a volley from the Union boys which had taken position behind the fence. This, of course, was just what K. wanted – me waiting passively for her to march forward. Her smaller formation did take quite a beating but in the end, this was not important because her skirmishers managed to snatch the balloonist and carry him back.
My cavalry came to be known as ‘the headless horsemen’ because they darted around without a plan until I finally decided to send them on a flanking journey and try to attack K.’s primary deployment point. This was the only action that could have been dangerous for the Confederates, and had I done it earlier, I might have had a chance. However, the galloping gawks were too late – the Rebel skirmishers managed to get the balloonist back to their commander, who would debrief him properly. Another Confederate victory!
This was a fun scenario, although performance-wise it was probably my low point of 2016. To K.’s amusement, I never even made a serious effort to get the balloonist! Instead I settled behind the fence in the naive hope of stopping the Confederates achieving the objective. How I imagined this was going to work is beyond me…
Still, the balloon looked good and maybe I’ll get my revenge this year!
I’ve made good progress with the Union cavalry and have now painted 24 mounted troopers and about 20 dismounted. However, I recently got distracted by something else: I read a fascinating book about small-scale amphibious operations by the Union navy which inspired me to make a Naval Landing Force for Sharp Practice.
A Dog Before a Soldierwas written by Chuck Veit, president of the U.S. Naval Landing Party, a living history group depicting Union Sailors and naval officers during the Civil War. The book, which is very well written and meticulously researched, describes a couple of obscure operations of the Union navy, among them such jewels as the ‘Great Naval Cattle Drive’. This is not only entertaining, it also sheds light on the important day-to-day contribution of the navy to the Union war effort. Furthermore, it offers plenty of inspiration for Sharp Practice scenarios. Of course I now need a landing party, a boat and a herd of cattle!
The boat will be a Unadilla-Class gunboat, also called 90-day-gunboat as they were rapidly produced at the beginning of the war. I went for a laminated hull, made up of several layers of balsa wood. The scale is slightly reduced to about 1/160.
The landing force will consist of sailors and marines. I’ve already painted a couple of sailors and two groups of marines some time ago, so they just needed reinforcements. My first batch was from Freikorp15, while those are from Minifigs. I actually prefer the Minifigs figures, they are nicer sculpts and the poses are a bit more varied. The marines are just normal Union infantry painted with white trousers and crossbelts. Unfortunately, Peter Pig doesn’t offer armed sailors, but they make a very nice naval artillery crew.
Union landing parties often had the support of a Dahlgren light boat howitzer, a very versatile gun which had a special carriage so it could be manhandled up a beach. As no one offers such a gun in 15mm (or 28mm for that matter), I decided to build one from scratch using spare wheels, a paper clip, parts from a plastic model kit and a broken knitting needle. I’m quite chuffed with the result, if I do say so myself.
Finally, the boat needs a crew. I’ll use the Peter Pig naval artillery crew for this, supplemented by a couple of figures from the Colonial range, where they offer a nice ship’s crew. The uniforms are not perfect matches, but they’ll be close enough.
As I didn’t like the look of my normal ‘earth’ bases on the boat’s planks, I decided to make my own bases using wood veneer. I glued strips of veneer to a piece of papers and then glued washers on the paper. As the veneer is very thin, the washers can easily be cut out with scissors. I’ve already cut the figures from their original bases with the hobby knife, so the next step will be to glue them unto their new bases.
This is a fun little project and I’m already thinking about how to design the landing force for Sharp Practice.
The Raft will make a short break and will be back on 7 January. I wish all of you happy holidays!