Last weekend, we finally played our first game of Terrible Sharp Sword, the American Civil War variant of Sharp Practice. We settled for a small scenario, the object of which was to occupy and hold the pigsty in the middle of the table.
The Union got four groups of well-trained and motivated infantry equipped with rifled muskets, while the Confederates had three groups of infantry and one group of cavalry. To balance the cavalry, I made the Rebel troops average and gave two of them smoothbore muskets instead of rifled muskets – something that proved to be a rather hefty advantage instead of a handicap.
I put my C Company (the ones with the rifled muskets) on my left flank, intending to use them as my fire element while the centre advanced in extended order. K. had formed a column of two groups marching on the roads, which was flanked by two more groups advancing to either side.
C Company climbed over the snake rail fence and opened the ball (as they said at the time) by getting off a volley at the blue column advancing along the road. This caused some casualties but made the Federals angry, and soon one of their flanking groups was returning the compliments. C Company took some shock and retreated behind the barn, where it stood for a while, the men catching their breath and gathering up their courage.
Meanwhile, the main Confederate line had reached the snake rail fence and was climbing over it. Unable to uphold the formation, Cpt. Trenholm split them into two groups: One was to rush towards the pigsty, the other was to take cover in the vegetable garden.
The Federals hadn’t been idle and had deployed one of their groups in the field across the road, while the others were converging on the pigsty.
Suddenly, the Rebel cavalry arrived from the east and charged along the road, heading directly towards the Federals.
However, dashing Lt. Julius Zoble realised too late that his troopers were headed directly towards the barrels of three groups of Union soldiers, which let lose a devastating volley. The horses reared and the whole group became disordered. A second volley from all three groups sent them scampering back. One shock point away from routing, they stopped in cover behind the woods.
Well, the Union had successfully beaten off the Rebel cavalry. However, the whole affair gave the Confederate commander time to send one of his groups to occupy the pigsty. Now a bitter struggle for this stinkin’ spot of ground began. Union commander Cpt. Thomson took a group and charged the Rebels, which were temporarily driven off. However, Cpt. Trenholm joined his flinching lads and, with an ear-splitting Rebel Yell (Bonus Card), they once more charged into the pigsty, this time driving away the Federals.
Meanwhile, the other Confederate group had positioned itself in the vegetable garden and provided covering fire, while C Company had also rallied and was advancing on the far left flank. When their rifled muskets joined in, the Union troops were under a withering fire. Cpt. Thomson tried to rally his troops and put them into formation, but the hail of bullets was too much and they receded behind the fence.
At this moment, K. conceded defeat and we decided to end the game. She had one group in a good position to fall into the rear of my pigsty-defending lads, but only if she could activate her Big Man first. My cavalry had almost rallied enough to limp back into the fray and my other two groups were still fresh, so it was pretty sure that the Confederates would prevail in the end.
This was an excellent game, full of drama, tactically interesting situations and fun side stories (such as K. rolling twice the ‘The Heat!’ random event and having two parched groups desperate to reach the trough). The ACW version of Sharp Practice worked great and it was interesting to see how the small modifications made for a different playing experience. We both felt that the smoothbore muskets were a bit overpowered at close range. From what I’ve read, smoothbores were more effective at short range only if loaded with buck and ball, and I think I’d prefer to model this with a Bonus Card.
Also, groups of eight figures are rather tough, especially with the new rule which states that they don’t retreat on the Tiffin Card. Given that K. had only one group routing at the end and I had none (though the cavalry was on the brink), it was all the more astonishing that the game was quite decisive.
We are both looking forward to playing more games of Terrible Sharp Sword – I’ve got loads of ideas for scenarios and I’ll be painting up some more units and terrain.