“Always make it difficult for those that follow you” – this epigraph introduces the Table Top Teaser Fighting Rearguard by Charles S. Grant, published in issue 12 of Battlegames. Well, I tried my best and, to my great surprise, I succeeded for a change!
The game started with the Yorkist units hidden under blinds, a mechanism in Sharp Practice that allows you to conceal troops and mislead the enemy – there doesn’t have to be a unit under the blind, and units can also be hidden in terrain features. I decided to hide one unit of handgonners in the big house in the village, while billmen and archers were positioned at the ford. My Welsh skirmishers and Men-at-Arms formed a second line of defence in the back.
The Lancastarians’ aim was to get at least two of their units over the southern table edge. One unit would mean a draw, while none would be a Yorkist victory.
The Lancastarians, who had an advantage in numbers, deployed on both sides of the river. However, already in the first turn their troops west of the river headed towards the bridge, apparently intend on moving through the village. This surprised me somewhat as I had prepared a pretty strong defence at the ford. I tried to shift my troops eastward, but this proved difficult, as the number of Lancastarian Big Man cards in the deck made it improbable that my Blinds card would turn up so I could activate them.
Unperturbed, the Lancastarians crossed the bridge and entered the village which soon became crowded.
At this moment, I decided to uncover my handgonners and let loose with a salvo. Alas! A lot of noise and smoke was followed by – nothing. Not one single hit. My handgonners were delivering their usual performance. The Lancastarians ignored them completely and continued to funnel their troops through the village. After a second volley from the gunners was without effect, I decided to move them out of the house and into melee with their Lancastarian counterparts. Lo and behold! They did quite well in hand to hand combat and managed to push the enemy back.
Meanwhile, with an ease and elegance I could only watch with my mouth open, K. had formed a line with her archers between the bridge and the village. This formation, which was at the right moment at the right time, caused havoc among my troops moving over from their position at the ford. For the rest of the game my archers were stuck in the fields, only feebly shooting towards the Lancastarians while their Big Man was occupied with removing shock points to keep his men from running.
The fighting in the village was getting increasingly dense as some locals joined in the fray. I had drawn the Master Gisbourne card which meant that I got support from a unit of farmers. Those, however, were dealt with by the Scottish pikemen before they could do any damage – I would have loved to use them to attack the line of archers from behind!
Despite the fierce fighting, the first units of Lancastarians had finally managed to break through. Now everything rested on my second line of defence. My Men-at-Arms threw themselves at their enemy counterparts and, with some incredible dice-rolling, managed to rout them after one round of melee!
It has to be said that the Men-at-Arms, under their gallant commander Sir Nicholas Bradwardyne, carried the weight of the fighting and saved the day for me. After finishing the Lancastarian Men-at-Arms, they did away with their billmen and then threw themselves at the Lancastarian commander, who had abandoned his routing troops and stood all alone. He fought heroically and it took me two rounds of melees to subdue him, but in the end he succumed to the greater number of men attacking him.
The game was now in its last turns. Ever more Lancastarians were pouring into the village, where a building had caught fire but my handgonners still held their ground. K. also started to slowly move her line of archers forward through the fields.
However, it was clear that most of her troops were too far behind to make it to the southern side of the board in time. One lone unit of billmen managed to break through my defences and even made it into the woods, but they didn’t cross the table edge. Finally a Yorkist victory!
This was another game that brought out the best in the Sharp Practice rules: a challenging scenario that posed some interesting problems, lots of decisions to be made and some colourful random events that supported the narrative. K. again handled her troops in an admirable fashion – especially her use of the formation of archers (which she normally never uses) was a work of art. I was surprised by her decision to move all of her troops through the village and was glad that I had kept some reserves which could react fast enough to block her way. In the end, I would reckon that commiting everything to one route had cost her victory, but since she disagrees with me, we’ll have to play another game with sides exchanged – let’s see if I fare better as the attacker.