I’ve finally finished painting the Union Naval Landing Force for Sharp Practice. More on the force composition in another post – this game was supposed to be a playtest of what I’ve come up with until now. There is still some more research and playtesting to be done…
The scenario featured Union sailors and marines of the USS Katahdin landing to raid a Confederate ammunition depot. The depot was guarded by a motley crew of Guerillas, while Rebel regulars who had spotted the ship’s approach were on their way. The Union’s objective was to get to the barn, plant a fuse and skedaddle before everything exploded. Planting the fuse would be a task of 11.
The Union had two deployment points on the beach and had to deploy their troops immediately adjacent to their deployment points (this was because my beach mat is a bit small…). The Confederates had one deployment point on the road in the North-Western corner of the table and a group of 6 Guerillas positioned at the barn.
I played the Union tars and had a simple plan: Use the sailors to threaten K.’s deployment while the marines rushed to the barn and set the fuse. The boat howitzer was to support the marines.
The sailors made good progress across the beach; the marines, however, dawdled and got stuck. K. meanwhile rushed her skirmishers forward and marched the regulars along the road towards the barn.
She placed her smaller formation in the farmyard and took my sailors under fire. The first group of tars soon had enough and retreated, the second group got stuck in the killing zone but managed to stand its ground.
The other Confederate formation smartly formed line and covered the beach. However, the marines had managed to get moving and got out of the line’s field of fire, advancing towards the barn in individual groups.
The boat howitzer had shelled the Guerillas, causing a bit of shock to the rascals. Knowing they were in a tight spot, they advanced towards the marines. When one of the Union groups charged them, however, they evaded into the woods. Such is the cunning of Rebel irregulars! Confidently, the marines followed them, whereupon the Rebels suddenly let loose a volley and charged the Union boys! This was another instance when a random event created a perfect narrative: the Confederates rolled “Charge them to Hell!” on the Firing Random Events and the groups went into Fisticuffs. This turned out bad for both, but worse for the cocky Guerillas which broke and again were off into the woods.
Master’s Mate Cadwallader Bumpus had meanwhile rallied his plucky band of Union tars. They climbed over the fence and rushed towards the Confederate deployment point, which they “boarded on the run in a seaman-like way”, as Admiral Porter once put it. Another blow to the Rebel Force Morale!
However, the Union had also taken quite a lot of casualties and some officers had been wounded, so their Force Morale was not much better. Everything was down to the marines now: would they manage to set the fuse in time?
They got into position and then… Chapter End!
Again a random event produced incredible narrative tension. We both knew that the deciding moment of the battle was about to happen and could imagine how everyone prepared for the final push: Muskets were reloaded, ammunition was distributed to the Rebel group which was low on powder, everyone who was not prepared to fight it out scampered away and knocked out officers recovered to rally their men one last time. And then, with three Huzzahs, the group of sailors I had kept in reserve charged and pandemonium ensued.
Alas, the sailors were soundly trounced by K.’s regulars. When another of the Rebel groups went into melee with the marines and made them run, the game was over. The Union’s Force Morale had broken, the landing party was in full retreat and the ammunition depot was safe.
I know I’m repeating myself, but after each game of Sharp Practice I have to say: This was one of the best games I’ve ever played! A very exciting and incredibly close fought game that could have gone either way right until the end. The random events were fun, made sense and brought the story forward. My plan was basically sound and the sailors performed well. The marines could have done better and the gun was nice but I used it rather statically – perhaps I should have moved it more (but then it would have fired even less often).
Balance wise I think the Landing Party worked well – it’s a fun force to play, very agile but a bit brittle, which is just as it should be. The light gun is powerful, but it takes two actions to reload, so it won’t fire too often. Next time, we’ll switch sides as K. is keen on trying out the tars. I’m already looking forward to seeing what a more aggressive player will do with them!