During the Wars of the Roses, men called ‘harbingers’ were responsible for organising billeting for the troops. Harbingers would move ahead of the army and secure places to camp as well as accommodation for the Lords, who understandably prefered to sleep under a roof and in a soft bed if possible. Sometimes, harbingers from different armies would bump into each other, resulting in a skirmish. Our scenario revolved around such a situation: Two harbingers are a trying to occupy a rectory for their commanders. When they realise enemy presence, they call for support from a nearby patrol. (As always, you can find a scenario outline in the resources section).
We decided that the harbingers with their escort (one group of archers and one of billmen) would set up in an advanced position, while the rest of the forces entered from the table edges. The Yorkists put their leader Sir Percival with a group of archers behind the harbingers, while the handgonners were covering the right flank and a group of Welsh skirmishers the left flank. The Lancastarians had most of their troops in the middle, with some Scottish pikes to cover their left flank. It was clear that the graveyard in the center was the most important terrain feature from a tactical standpoint, as it provided cover while allowing to secure the village center, which was the objective of the game.
The initial archery duel saw some devastating shooting from the Yorkists, which almost destroyed one of the Lancastarian groups of archers. However, the Lancastarians managed to advance their handgonners to occupy the graveyard.
Meanwhile, Sir Percival hatched a cunning plan: He sent the skirmishers around behind the church to attack the Lancastarian handgonners in the back, while his own handgonners swiftly advanced on the right, taking cover behind a dry-stone wall and preparing to fire into the enemy infantry.
The second Yorkist group of archers was also brought forward and its commanders pushed the men into formation, creating a line that hopefully would finish off what was left of the Lancastarian advance.
Up until this moment, the Yorkist commander was very pleased with his actions. Everything was set to give the Lancastarians a good going-over. Oh cruel fate, that thou shalt intervene in the form of that lowly creature, the common cow! But I am getting ahead of the story.
First, the handgonners were attacked by the pikemen before they had an opportunity to fire. They were pushed back but finally managed to get off a salvo. The following turns saw some fierce fighting between the two groups which, in the end, wore down the Scottish lads.
At the same time, the skirmishers threw themselves into the back of the Lancastarian handgonners. However, despite the bonus of attacking in the rear they did not very well and were thrown back by the stout chaps holding the graveyard. They managed to attack again and went under to a man, taking some of their enemies with them but not succeeding in prying lose the handgonners.
The Lancastarians meanwhile had their billmen hidden behind the rectory to escape from the fire of the line of archers, which finally managed to put the handgonners to flight. However, things then started to take some interesting turns.
You may have noticed in the fourth picture that some moron had left open the gate of the cow pasture. Well, why do they always say to keep them closed? Because animals might escape and disrupt a carefully laid out line of archers! Really, that happens. I drew the Stampede! card from the bonus card deck and, when dicing for distance and direction in which the nearest animal would move (which incidentally was the cow standing by the gate), the stupid animal ended up in my line, disrupting it and necessitating my commander to spend an action to get it back into formation. Guess what happened next? The cow turned around and ploughed once again through my line. Life as a medieval commander is not easy, I can tell you. Swearing and shoving, Sir Percival tried to get the men back into formation.
Now you should also know that some villagers were hidden in the church with the firm intention of waiting out the rich men’s bickering. However, when they saw what was done to one of their cows, they got angry and decided to take sides! Yes, K. drew the Master Gisborne bonus card, which means that a group of villagers joined her side.
Recklessly, the villagers attacked my disrupted line of archers and even managed to throw one group back. However, when Sir Percival gathered his other group and personally led a charge against the recalcitrant churls, they routed as far as their feet would carry them. Unfortunately, this feat of chivalry was as best as it got. We had reached the turn limit and K. had advanced her hidden billmen while I was occupied with the perils of country life. She held the rectory and was declared winner!
This was one of the funniest but also one of the most exciting games we have ever played with Sharp Practice. The action was fast-moving, with lots of thing happening all over the place. The narrative got increasingly funnier until it felt like something out of The Marx Brothers at War. There were some other minor incidents, like the Lancastarian Big Man Master Barnaby who twice tried to rally troops with the Once more unto the breach! bonus card and each time failed abysmally. We could picture him standing there, stuttering something like: “Once more… ahem… if you wouldn’t mind… ahem… after you of course…”.
However, as crazy as all those events may sound, the game was lost by poor tactics. In principal, my flank attacks were a fine idea, but they led to a separation of my forces and weakened my center, where I would have needed more troops to dislodge the Lancastarians from the graveyard. Perhaps I should also have moved in and charged them earlier, as light cover offers better advantage against shooting than in melee. The cow and the villagers were a nuisance, but they were not the sole reason for my defeat, even if Sir Percival will never admit that when he explains to his superior why he has to sleep on the ground tonight…