After finishing the beach mat, I couldn’t wait to break it in. Last weekend the time had finally come: We decided to play an amphibious assault scenario with Sharp Practice set during the Haitian Revolution.
To make things more interesting, we decided to use our ‘secret objective’ mechanics. We have used this extensively for games of Flashing Steel, but never for Sharp Practice. Basically, the idea is that there are three cards with different objectives. The attacker draws one card and has to fulfil this objective without the defender knowing what it is. The defender’s aim is simply to stop the attacker achieving the objective. To keep things going there is also a turn limit of 8 turns.
The three objectives were: 1. Hit them hard! The attacker has to rout at least two enemy groups. 2. Break through! The attacker has to get at least two of his units off the opposite table edge. 3. Free the prisoner! The attacker has to free the prisoner kept in the hut.
Having recently finished painting the long boats, I was keen to use them and decided to play the British. K. played the French defenders.
I drew the Free the prisoner! card and knew I had to move fast to get the job done in eight turns. During the set up phase, the boats landed and my troops deployed. Two groups of regulars took position on my right flank, commanded by Captain Rupert Pirbright, the leading Big Man, while one group of Chasseurs and one of sailors positioned themselves on the left flank.
The regulars immediately formed line and wheeled to cover the open ground to the right of the hut. My idea was to advance swiftly, clear the area from enemies and then break up the line and get the prisoner out. As you can see, this was to be a matter of precise timing – always a dangerous plan in a game of Sharp Practice.
However, at first everything worked smoothly. The line advanced while keeping up a smart fire, causing significant distress to the French regulars and militia, which were hurrying towards the front and trying to deploy.
On my right flank, the sailors also charged forward and rushed into K.’s militia without even bothering to shoot. I hit the first snag when my chasseurs threw themselves at the advance guard of K.’s maroons, which had hidden itself in the jungle. The chasseurs were thrown back with some casualties and severe shock from which they never really recovered for the rest of the game. This really spelled trouble for my left flank.
Still, so far I was in good heart, even if the clock was ticking. I finally decided I had to dissolve the line to get one group of regulars to break open the hut and free the prisoner.
Unfortunately, there my plan started to unravel. First, a spark caused by all the shooting set fire to the hut, causing the poor prisoner to cry for help and making it even more important to get him out immediately (this random event caused a lot of laughter). Secondly, my regulars were quite happy blasting away and not to keen to get going, so the first group didn’t even make it to the hut’s door.
Now K. started her counter attack. She remorselessly charged with her regulars and militia, causing considerable shock to the British group that was supposed to cover the prison break. Then she took advantage of my weak left flank and charged the sailors with another group of militia.
It became clear that I made a big tactical mistake: After the abortive assault by the Chasseurs, I just ignored her group of maroons hidden in the jungle. This provided her with a fresh reserve that now rolled up my flank, driving away the chasseurs. In another wild charge, her militia finally broke the British group intended on freeing the prisoner. This brought Captain Pirbright’s group of British regulars into a rather tight spot, as they were now surrounded by the enemy.
Everything was ready for the final blow, and when K. charged her regulars into my last intact group of line infantry, gallant Captain Pribright decided he’d had enough. Seeing his other groups retreating in disorder towards the boat and himself surrounded, he took his sword by the blade and extending it towards his French counterpart, mumbling: “Je suis votre prisonnier.”
Another utterly exciting game! Sometimes, because of the rather tight turn limit, our games can be a bit indecisive. This time however K. managed an outstanding victory one turn before the limit was reached. It was also a very elegant victory: Surrounding the group where my leading Big Man was located and forcing him to surrender (by having 4 times as many dice in melee than my poor shaken group!) made for a dramatic finale to the narrative.
Sharp Practice continues to deliver outstanding games. We also seem to develop tactics appropriate to the period. At least K. commented dryly: “I think I’ve now got the hang of it.” Furthermore, the new gaming mat really made the game come alive – it made a bigger difference than I thought and greatly contributed to our the enjoyment.