Midsomer Melees

Finally, we got a game of our Wars of the Roses variant of Sharp Practice going. We decided that this would be a practice game to learn the rules and get familiar with the mechanics. Each of us had the same force, consisting of four Big Men (Status IV to I), two groups of archers, two of billmen, one of men-at-arms and one of mercenary handgonners. The aim was to take and hold the small hamlet of Causton.

The set up.
The set up.

The game started with the Lancastarians, which were organised in groups, advancing swiftly to the village while the Yorkists dawdled at their table edge – especially their senior Big Men, the Earl of Warwick, seemed to have decided that he and his men-at-arms were better suited as a reserve force.

Lancastarian billmen advancing swiftly.
Lancastarian billmen advancing swiftly.

Only the Yorkist column of billmen got near the town center where it attacked the Lancastarian handgonners. While it did cause some damage and made them retreat, I soon learned that parking a column in range of enemy archers was not such a good idea. One group of Lancastarian archers, which was in time joined by the rallied handgonners, shot it to pieces until the formation broke and the groups started to retreat.

Lancastarians take the village center.
Lancastarians take the village.

On the Yorkist right flank, things were going better. The archers succeeded in transforming their column to a line and began to shoot at the Lancastarian men-at-arms marching towards the village center, causing some casualties and shock points. When two groups of Lancastarian archers and billmen advanced on their position, they wheeled around and rained arrows on them, delaying their advance for quite a while.

On the Yorkist left flank, the Burgundian handgonners under their leader Master Henry Rackhem had a cunning plan. They went around the church to get a shot at the enemy billmen. However, when they were in perfect range, they realised they had forgotten to pack their powder (I really drew the ‘out of ammunition card’ at this exact moment)! To cover up the embarrassing blunder, they immediately charged the billmen. Anger made up for competence and, despite them being of lower quality and weedy coves, they succeeded in pushing back the billmen and holding the flank for some time.

A cunning plan, not coming to fruition.
A cunning plan, not coming to fruition.

The battle was in a fluctuating state for some time. Things started to take a turn when finally Warwick arrived with his men-at-arms, which he sent towards the village center while he himself took command of one of the groups of billmen from the ill-fated column and rallied them. It turned out that it was actually quite good that this group had retreated, because now it was in a position to ward off a flank attack by the Lancastarian billmen who had finally managed to rout the Burgundians.

The men-at-arms, meanwhile, threw themselves at their Lancastarian counterparts and a series of fierce melees followed. Suddenly, the Duke of Somerset, who was in the middle of the intense fighting, was struck by a poleaxe and hit the dirt, dead as a doornail (what a series of most unfortunate dice rolls!). The remaining Lancastarian man-at-arms decided to turn tail and Causton was in Yorkist hands.

Death of a Duke.
Death of a Duke.

We decided to abandon the game at this moment. There were still situations that were undecided, for example on the Yorkist right flank, were the line of archers was finally starting to get into trouble due to the shock points it had taken while the Lancastarian archers and billmen were closing in. However, in the center, the village was held by Yorkists, and although some Lancastarian Big Men had managed to rally stragglers, they would not arrive for some time and would probably be repulsed by Warwick’s retainers. Also, the Duke of Somerset himself was dead, so his men were probably not in a mood to throw themselves back into the fight.

I said stop, you cowards!
I said stop, you cowards!

After the game, we talked about what we liked about the rules. It turned out to be quite a lot! We both really enjoyed the card driven activation. It created tension and excitement, and none of us was too long in a passive position were he had to wait for the opponent to move all her troops. We played with only one ‘Tiffin’ card and none of us felt that we would need a second one to reduce the friction – in fact, the friction was one of the things we enjoyed most about the game (as well as the narrative aspect of the bonus cards). We liked that we had to adapt our tactics to the situation at hand and that the situation was fluctuating. It really felt like one of the medieval battles I have read about: the archers softening up the enemy, the dynamic and fluctuating battle between the retainers and the men-at-arms getting stuck in and slugging it out in a brutal melee.

There was one thing that surprised us, though: the length of the game. We played for more than six hours before calling it (literally) a day! To be honest, that includes the time it took me to explain the rules and of course we were inexperienced and had to consult the Quick Reference Sheet very often. Nonetheless, compared to the games we are used to, like SAGA and Ganesha Game’s rules, this was one epic battle. That probably means we won’t play it as often as the others, as we won’t always have the time for such a long gaming session. However, there was not one moment when we were bored during the game and we both agreed that we will certainly play it again. Also, we hope to step up the game next time by playing with blinds and a more clearly defined scenario.

Both K. and I really had a great time, and we concurred that Sharp Practice perfectly fits our style of playing. One of the best set of rules I have ever played!

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