ACW Camp Scenes

I’m researching and preparing yet another scenario for Sharp Practice. This one is going to be about the Union cavalry raid on Port Republic during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign in 1862. This was one of the few moments when the Union showed aggression and they almost managed to capture Stonewall Jackson himself.

The Union cavalry surprised the encamped Confederates, so I need some camp scenes for the game. I procured tents from QRF/Freikorp15 and stacked muskets from Irregular Miniatures. Incidentally, Irregular Miniatures have great stuff, but some of it is well hidden – the musket stacks are in the 15mm napoleonic section. Add a couple of crates and spare figures, and I had two camps.

 

As the Confederates were surprised, I wanted to convey frantic activity. In this scene, a drummer is beating the long roll while soldiers hurry to get into formation:

While tents look nice, I’m actually not sure the Confederates camped at Port Republic had them. Maybe they only had bedrolls and slept under the open sky like this guy:

sleeping

So I made another scene where I tried to model sleeping soldiers with green stuff. The results are, I have to say, somewhat mixed. But they look ok is looked at from a distance, like it is usually the case when actually playing a game.

It’s been fun making those scenes and I’m looking forward to testing the scenario.

Oh, also painted up the strange man himself – Stonewall Jackson from Peter Pig’s new range of ACW generals. I painted him in his old blue VMI coat, so this is a portrait from early in the campaign, which is strictly speaking not correct for Port Republic. But at least he is mounted on Little Sorrel!

swj

Advertisements

The Spirit of ’61 – A Big Game of Sharp Practice

On the occasion of my birthday, I invited Sigur, Virago and Stephan to a big game of Sharp Practice. I’ve always wanted to play a game with four players and more units than usual and this was a perfect opportunity to try this.

Our forces’ objective was to confiscate a whiskey distillery. Both had a wagon to transport the destillery as well as an assortment of infantry and one unit of cavalry. Sigur and Virago played the Confederates, while Stephan and I took the Union. I split the commands, Virago and Stephan playing the C-in-Cs and each getting three Leaders (apart from Sigur, who had four). I took the opportunity to field my 5th New York Zouaves, a colourful troop I just finished painting.

Deployment started a bit slow for the Confederates. They were still crossing the bridge while the Union cavalry was rushing forward and Col. Bendix (Stephan) moving his men into line and into the field.

early1

As my cavalry was rather wimpy in close combat, I had them dismount and advance on foot. When Sigur’s cavalry approached, my dismounted troopers opened the ball by firing a ragged volley. Lo and behold! A lucky bullet hit the Rebel leader and threw him out of the saddle.

early2

Meanwhile, Stephan’s line was opening fire, which was immediately answered by a hail of bullets from Virago’s line and skirmishers behind the fence.

early3

Casualties on the Union line started to mount and it did look grim for a while. However, this firefight sucked in a huge chunk of the Confederate forces, which was actually working to our advantage. Slowly, we worked the dismounted cavalry and Zouave skirmishers forward on our left flank, trying to outflank the Rebels. They managed to drive back the cavalry but had not enough firepower to finish the job on their own. 

midgame cav battering

As so often in Sharp Practice, it would be a question of time: Could the hard-pressed Union line hold until the Zouave arrived and put pressure on the Confederate right flank?

Capt. Kilpatrick from the 5th N.Y. had some difficulties getting his unruly men over the bridge. However, when they finally made it, they rushed forward to seize the distillery and take up position to ease the pressure off their comrades to their right.

zouavesarriving

Col. Bendix had started to slowly move his men backward so as to get them out of the firing arc of the Rebel line. After some difficulties, he succeeded, while the Confederates, dazzled by the smoke and noise, continued firing uncontrolled.

Kilpatrick had meanwhile not only brought his men into position, he also had managed to convince the moonshiner to hand the distillery over to the Union. The fellow even joined the Zouave ranks, no doubt beguiled by their colourful uniforms.

lategame_zouaves

And now came the luck of the Irish: Four command cards made it possible to activate Kilpatrick twice, pouring two withering volleys into the Confederates standing to the Zouaves’ front. They never stood a chance  – one group was obliterated and routed, while the other held on but was in a very bad shape.

lategame salvo yikes

This was the climax of the game and it secured the Union victory. With one stroke, the Confederate flank was gone.

Some Rebels, however, could not accept defeat. In what was the game’s most heroic moment, the Confederate cavalry leader, after being woken by the regimental physician and finding himself alone, drew his sabre and single-handedly charged the dismounted Union troopers. He managed to win melee, driving the wimpy troopers away.

endgame charge

This however could not really change the overall situation and the Confederate C-in-C conceded defeat.

A victory of the Union, who no doubt celebrated their triumph by tasting the hard-earned liquor!

Sharp Practice delivered another dramatic game. When Stephan’s hard-pressed line almost started to waver, we both feared for the worst. However, the timely arrival of the Zouaves saved the day for the Union.

It was a novel and fun experience to play Sharp Practice with four people. All in all, we had thirteen leaders and twenty units, with a total of about 160 figures on the table. This is a lot for someone who is accustomed to small skirmish games! Interestingly, changes in the card deck dynamics were perceptible – there were less random events and it was harder to collect command cards.

I’m very grateful to my friends for joining me in this game – thanks guys, this was a great birthday present! And once again thanks to Sigur for letting me use his photos.

The Raft Lookout

What’s recently caught my eye in the wonderful world of tabletop gaming?

critI’ve started watching the second season of Critical Role, the fabulous RPG video series where a bunch of voice actors play D&D. So far, I find it even better than the first season. Critical Role has now started a Kickstarter to finance an animated series based on the first episode. They are known for their loyal fan base, but this exceeded all expectations: so far, they managed to get over $ 7.5 Million! That is a lot of money, especially for a Kickstarter where people don’t get a ton of stuff. In fact, the animated series will be free to watch, regardless if you back the Kickstarter or not. If you want to back it, it’s still running:

mwAs you know, I like magazines. I’ve recently decided to take out a subscription to Miniature Wargames. I’ve had it for a while before but canceled when Henry Hyde was ousted. I was pleasantly surprised by the last issue. What I especially like is the regular feature by Jon Sutherland called Command Decision. It’s a series of scenarios in a similar format to the venerable Table Top Teasers. What’s original about Jon’s scenario design is that he includes a pre-game decision which will shape the scenario to be played. This gives the scenario a bit more context and involves the player into the wider narrative without having to unfurl all the paraphernalia of a campaign. A really clever idea! I already regret having missed the previous scenarios and hope that Jon might be convinced to collect his Command Decisions in a book…

OLTcolor (Small)The ever inventive Joe McCullough has recently started an interesting new wargaming format. Under the title Operation Last Train, he has published sci-fi rules intended to game the evacuation of civilians from alien-held worlds. The interesting thing is that this is a charity project: not only are gamers asked to donate £3/$5 to Save the Children when downloading the rules, but Joe will also play a campaign. For each civilian he will rescue in-game, he will donate 10 cents. This is a fascinating and – as far as I know – novel way of linking gaming and real-world issues. People are invited to join in and there has already sprung up a lively community on Facebook.

D1dAHuJXQAII1zsThere is also news from Bad Squiddo Games! Annie has been very busy: She has acquired the magnificent terrain range from Ristul’s Extraordinary Market, which is now sold under the name of Bad Squiddo Terrain. New models have already been announced – I especially like the angry tree stumps and the scarecrows. She is also continuously expanding her believable female miniatures. Next up are more WW2 models, this time women from the Auxiliary Territorial Service. Annie has posted a preview with interesting insights into the design process on the Lead Adventure Forum. I’m looking forward to seeing more of those figures.

The Wasted Time – An Unusual RPG

Imagine you’re a kid in a city on the brink of war. It’s night and you’ve got a gun. You don’t know how to use it, but a couple of meters away, you glance a figure standing in the rain. He’s a criminal, he’s drunk and he has something you need to save the world. What do you do? Do you try to mug him? Will you shoot him? But watch out – he is armed and if you don’t succeed, he will get very angry…

logo

For a couple of months, me and K. had the pleasure of participating in what was perhaps the most unusual RPG I’ve played. A friend of ours and one of the members of our D&D group, Barbi Markovic, is an accomplished author. She also grew up in Belgrade in the 1990s during what became to be known as the Yugoslav Wars. Recently, Barbi had the idea to write a book about the world of her childhood and youth. The unusual thing is that in order to explore that world, she decided to make an RPG out of it.

We were part of one of the two groups playtesting that RPG. Rules-wise, Barbi used the mechanics of Tales from the Loop as a base. I’ve never played it before, but it worked quite well.

However, at the heart of this enterprise was the story. Barbi gave us a comprehensive introductory text, which delineated the social world we would inhabit as children and youths: the different subcultures and tribes, the ethics, codes and manners, as well as the hopes and fears that shaped the people living in the city during a violent and unstable time. Growing up in Austria in very sheltered circumstances, it kind of shocked me how alien this world felt, with its strange codes and casual violence.

Fortunately, not everything was bleak, as the story soon took a turn into the fantastic – we had to help repair a time machine whose malfunction caused us to be stuck in an unsteady loop, unable to escape the 90s. Barbi is an excellent game-master who managed to give us the impression that we could do whatever we liked without losing the story’s threads. The other players were also enthusiastic, full of ideas and a pleasure to play with. We experienced a roller-coaster ride of emotions, from tense and dramatic moments to banter and laughter.

In fact, the scene described above was one of the best RPG moments I’ve had in all my life. When we stumbled upon the main antagonist in the night, armed with a gun, suddenly everything was possible: We felt like we could end our quest there and then, but we also were afraid that if we failed, the consequences would be severe.

spielsitzung

In my experience, such moments of pure possibility are actually quite rare in RPGs. Sure, there are situations when things can go very well for the characters or they can go pear-shaped, meaning that characters die, but normally, the story is not fundamentally affected by that and everything is soon back on tracks. After all, the GM has spent lots of time preparing and is invested in the story. It takes a very good GM to really go with the dynamics of the situation and to make space for moments when everything is possible.

I’m glad that I had the opportunity to take part in Barbi’s collective memorial work. At the end of her project, she will publish a novel and an RPG book. I’ll let you know as soon as they are out!