Rescuing Annabelle – Sharp Practice AAR

After our first test game of Sharp Practice, we wanted to do a proper scenario, so I chose Scenario Six: Rescue Mission from the rulebook. The backstory went like this: A Confederate spy, Annabelle, was apprehended in a farmhouse by a small force of Union soldiers. The Confederates have mounted a rescue mission while the Unionists quickly assembled a detachment to pick up the prisoner and escort her to headquarters.

At the start of the game, Annabelle and her guard were in the farmhouse. The guard counted as NPCs and would do nothing more than defend themselves from an attack. K., who played the rebels, had a secondary Deployment Point near the farmhouse and her main one on the road at the Eastern exit of the board. I could chose to place my Deployment Point at the Northern or Southern exit of the table and took the latter.

pic1

I deployed two groups of line infantry at the fence, as I wanted to capture the main Confederate Deployment Point – K.’s objective was to exit Annabelle via that road. K. immediately deployed her first group of skirmishers at the house, where they got ready to surprise the unsuspecting Union guards inside.

preparingassault
The skirmishers get ready to storm the house.

We ruled that the guards were distracted by Annabelle’s charm and wit and therefore surprised, so they got a couple of negative modifiers. However, it seems that they didn’t fall completely for Annabelle’s charade, as they managed to chase away the rebels knocking at the door. This bought me some badly needed time.

I now deployed my main force of three groups of line infantry and decided to march them through the woods to block K.’s way. Unfortunately, they immediately got stuck in the underbrush and moved at a snail’s pace for several turns. What a stupid idea to move a line through woods! (And it didn’t help that I rolled abysmally and forgot the Step Out! ability). At least my skirmishers managed to work their way forward.

pic2

K. meanwhile deployed her main force of three groups of line in the field opposite of my two groups. Steadily, her men marched on while mine waited until they were near enough. Then, they unleashed a devastating volley, combining First Volley, Controlled Volley and Shattering Volley. K. still tried to push forward, but to no avail – one or two volleys later and her line broke and the groups fell back.

pic3
Across a deadly field.

pic4

While I held K.’s main force at my right flank, her second group of skirmishers had finally entered the house, subdued the guards and introduced themselves to Annabelle. When they rushed out, they encountered some fire from my skirmishers, but this couldn’t really slow them down. I decided it was time for some decisive action and urged my main force onwards through the woods. K. had meanwhile positioned a line of two groups to meet them, and their first volley caused some shock. Still, I managed to rush forward and enter fisticuffs.

What now followed was even more shocking than the scene on the field: After two rounds of melee (the first was a draw), my line was broken, all the groups had fled and my Force Morale was at -2!

pic6
My line is gone…

The game was over for the Union and K. could safely escort Annabelle back to the Confederate camp.

pic5

We both love narrative scenarios and it was good to see that Sharp Practice still shines at those kinds of games. From the first turn on we had an exciting and dramatic story. We also learned some important lessons. One of them was that marching through the open against a determined foe is a very dangerous thing to do – we still have to learn how to properly conduct an attack. I guess having a skirmisher screen would help. The second was that fisticuffs can be a game changer. My Force Morale fell from something like 7 to -2 in one melee! With two Leaders wounded, the Formation broken, all three groups broken and their Leaders routing from the table I just kept on rolling on the Bad Things Happen table until nothing was left. Ok, having to fight fisticuffs twice due to the first round being a draw didn’t help, but this was one hell of a fight. K. was also pretty battered by the struggle, but she managed to hold on. Also, I realised that I still play much too static and I probably should have entered via the Northern side of the table, as this would have given me more room to manoeuvre.

Anyway, a great time was had and we are looking forward to playing another scenario!

On the Painting Table

I’ve recently realised that it’s almost a year since I started painting 15mm ACW figures – and I’m still going! If anything, playing Sharp Practice 2 has motivated me even more to add to my forces. Fortunately, there’s enough in the lead pile to keep me occupied for a while.

pic1

On the painting table (or better, in the painting tray, as I’ve got no permanent working space) you can see a group of six dismounted Union cavalrymen by Peter Pig which are still waiting to be primed. There is also a wagon I got from QRF/Freikorps15s – those are a mixed bunch quality wise, their ACW range is quite good and very extensive, while other figures are rather mediocre, such as the mules that came with the wagon. Anyway, I’ve got two of those and they will make nice ammunitions wagons or objectives for Sharp Practice.

In the foreground, you may be surprised to spot three bases of Dwarves. Some time back, Virago and Sigur persuaded me to start a small fantasy project, as they wanted to play a campaign using the old GW classic Mighty Empires. Despite me nagging for 15mm, they insisted on 10mm, as they both had armies in that size. So I ordered a bunch of Pendraken dwarves and started painting them.

However, I soon realised that I didn’t enjoy this at all. For some reason, those sculpts didn’t go with my painting style, as they have a lot of undercut and nooks where I find it difficult to get paint in. So I put them into a box and would have forgotten about them, were it not for the occasional nagging by Sigur and Virago.

pic2

Last week, I spontaneously decided to give them another try, as I don’t like to have unfinished projects lying around (yeah, right…). It hadn’t become easier, but I decided to stuff it – better a quick and dirty paintjob than none at all.

Well, nine bases are now finished and I’ll paint another three or four (command, mages and some fun special stuff like yetis and the inevitable gyrocopter) and then we’ll hopefully have a go at the campaign. The guys suggested Hordes of the Things as rules, which sounds fine to me.

First Game of Sharp Practice 2

Last weekend, we had our first game of Sharp Practice 2. Eagerly awaited, the new version of my favourite set of rules had arrived as a bundle containing the printed book and a set of cards. Even though I’ve followed the blog posts and youtube videos, I was still surprised by the amount of changes.

To get used to the new stuff, we set up a small encounter battle between some Confederate and Union infantry. I tried to keep the forces balanced (points are another new thing), but didn’t ponder too much on this.

K. got the Union troops with five groups of infantry, one of skirmishers and two deployment points, while I took the Confederates with four groups of infantry, one of skirmishers and one deployment point.

pic1

I deployed most of my infantry on the field, while my skirmishers cockily pressed forward in direction of the hill. K. had her skirmishers in the woods, one line of three groups behind the hill and two other groups behind the tollhouse.

pic2

I messed up deployment, as I inadvertently blocked the way of my line with the spare group. Additionally, during the first turns I had two movement random events with my main Leader, each one causing him to be ‘accidentally’ barged down by his men – it seems that he was not a popular guy at all! The result, however, was that I couldn’t really manoeuvre.

pic3

On her right flank, K. meanwhile advanced her groups from behind the tollhouse and swiftly formed a line. My line now came under fire from those guys as well as from the skirmishers in the woods.

pic4

My skirmishers on my right flank saw the blue line advancing over the hill and skedaddled behind the fence. The Union fire caused lots of kills and shock on my spare infantry group, which was still standing around in the field. As things were going pretty pear-shaped on my left flank, I decided to withdraw my skirmishers and move them over.

pic5

This was probably my biggest mistake and K. later said that she was very happy about it, as she could now safely advance and wheel her line on the hill to fully hit my guys standing in the field.

pic6

And this was exactly what happened: Taking fire from three sides, my line dissolved rapidly and my Force Morale started to plummet.

pic7

When it was at 4 while K.’s was still at 11, I conceded defeat. A great victory for the Union!

Now what do we think about the new Sharp Practice? K. said that she felt it was really different from the old version, especially the Command Card mechanism. This gives you a lot of options and it will take us some time to remember them all, not to speak of using them well. Incidentally, I had the impression that there are more things to remember, as there are more subtleties. Most of them I really like: For example, ‘Uncontrolled Fire’ is something that really adds to the historical soundness of the rules. Some on the other hand feel a bit too detailed, like the Cavalry Pulling Up test. However, we have used the old Sharp Practice as a tool kit and we will do the same with the new one, so we might just leave out stuff if we feel it detracts from our game.

Having said that, Sharp Practice 2 is a brilliant game and a great improvement on the old one. K.’s pincer manoeuvre would have been really difficult to pull off in the old version, as when having two separate commands you always ran the risk that one of them wouldn’t activate at all for several turns. With the possibility of using Command Cards after the turn ends, it now is possible to make coordinated manoeuvres. Also, formations are much more encouraged in the new game and they are easier to control. The support options also sound great fun and are very inspiring for painting and conversion projects. Next time, we’ll use some of those in a proper scenario.

Sharp Practice definitely holds its place as my favourite set of rules and we are both looking forward to playing more of it!

Cooperative X-Wing

Cooperative games are all the rage nowadays. This is understandable as it can be great fun to work as a team against the mechanics of a game. Board games such as Pandemic have shown that cooperative games can be challenging and provide a dramatic narrative. But while a new generation of wargames has adopted several principles of Eurogames – especially when it comes to resource management – it seems that it hasn’t yet taken the plunge into full-fledged cooperative mode.

Cover-Full

It was with great interest therefore that I went to Virago’s place for a game of Heroes of the Arturi Cluster. Strictly speaking, this is not a game but a campaign engine for the X-Wing Miniatures Game. Even more, it offers rules for playing X-Wing fully cooperative.

Despite being a fan-made product, it has extremely high production values and looks just like an official FFG release. The campaign pack can be downloaded for free and offers all the information you need to play.

Virago and Sigur had already played a couple of games, but we decided to repeat the introductory mission so I could familiarise myself with the rules. Basically, each of the players gets his or her own Rebel fighter, while a clever AI moves the Imperial ships. A D6 is rolled for each ship and cross-referenced with a table. According to the position, direction and distance of the nearest Rebel ships, the fighter will take a certain manoeuver. This is much easier and quicker than it sounds and works astonishingly well.

Having survived the first mission, we proceeded to the second. Our job was to rescue and escort a damaged HWK-290 while waves of TIE-Fighters were closing in. Virago (callsign ‘Mr X’) had already earned the position of squadron leader with his X-Wing, while Sigur (callsign ‘Goose’) flew as his wingman in an Y-Wing. As the rookie, my Mon Calamari pilot (callsign ‘Snackbar’) also took an X-Wing.

pic1

We decided on a rather aggressive strategy and headed right towards the TIEs. Those in turn darted for the poor lonely HWK. We could have protected this guy by escorting it, but we thought that killing off TIEs might be more efficient – and also give us experience points, which can be spent to upgrade the ships.

pic2

Unfortunately, our shooting was atrocious! Despite blasting away at the Imperial scoundrels, we didn’t hit a thing. To crown it all, an Interceptor TIE entered and stuck to my heels.

pic3

However, despite taking a couple of hits, the HWK survived the ordeal and reached the other end of the table. Job done, we immediately hit the hyperspace lever. Mission accomplished!

This was a fun game and it breathed new life into X-Wing. The people behind Heroes of the Arturi Cluster did a tremendous job. This is a very well thought-out and balanced game. The AI works great and the enemy ships’ behaviour is plausible and challenging. It also shows that cooperative wargaming has great potential – let’s hope we’ll see other experiments along this line.