Capt. Cruchon looked at the walled farm. It certainly was an impressive position. They would have to be fast, as cavalry scouts had reported that Austrian reinforcements were heading towards the area.
“Alors, mes amis.” He turned towards his officers. “Fougasse, thank you for volunteering to lead the forlon hope. You will have a sapper leading your column. I will reinforce you as soon as you breach the gate. Lieutenant Fortin,” he looked at officer of the line troops that were assigned to him for this mission, “you will cover our flank. If necessary, you will also reinforce the attack column. The skirmishers will advance as far as practicable on both flanks and delay any reinforcements the Austrians may have on their way. Let’s move!”
Fougasse assembled his column and rapidly advanced towards the main gate, behind which a line of soldiers – Landwehr, by the looks of it – were positioned. The Landwehr, as well as some Jaeger positioned in the ground floor of the compound’s right wing, did not shoot at the approaching column, however, but at Fortin’s men, who were forming up on the French right. To Fortin’s chagrin, this caused disorder among his ranks. “Stand firm! Let’s not embarrass ourselves in front of the light infantry!” he shouted.
Cruchon saw that the shooting had started a fire at the building’s first floor. “I hope no civilians are in there,” he thought. Then he turned towards his second-in-command: “Fougasse, get your column going!”
Meanwhile, in the farm’s upper room, a bound figure was stirring. It was Lieutenant Merlot, Cruchon’s old comrade, who was kept there by the Austrians to be interrogated by Major von Eynhuf! At the moment, however, Merlot had other problems. The fire was quickly setting the straw roof ablaze and it was getting uncomfortably hot. There was only one way out: down the stairs into the room where the Jaeger were positioned. Stumbling towards the ladder, he slipped and fell down. The last thing he saw before he went unconscious was the ugly face of an Austrian huntsman laughing.
Back outside the building, Fougasse’s column had reached the gate and, with the help of the sapper, the leading group had managed to force open the door.
However, when they tried to enter, a frenzied mob of Viennese Volunteers fell upon them. In panic, the Frenchmen fell back, running so far away that they were effectively out of the action.
Cruchon had held his men in column in a waiting position and now decided to take matters into his own hands. “Follow me! Forward! Vive l’Empereur!” he shouted and ran full tilt at the Austrians. Although he had only a handful of men, they managed to chase away the Landwehr, who retreated into the adjacent rooms.
When his other men finally arrived, the courtyard was empty except for a slender figure who ran right into his arms. “My saviour!” Cäcilia von Pfünz purred, “But you are wounded! You truly are a hero. Risking your life for one poor insignificant woman!” Enraptured, Cruchon listened to Cäcilia’s sweet talk while his men moved into the yard. Shaking his head, Dr. Pincecourt started to dress Cruchon’s wounds.
Fortunately, the French soldiers were not impressed by Cäcilia and began, on their own initiative, to clear the rooms of Austrians.
However, what Cruchon did not know was that, on the French right flank, a crisis developed. A column of Grenzer had marched around the farmhouse and formed line opposite the already shaken French line. After a deliberate volley, the French finally gave way and broke. Furthermore, on the back side of the farm, the Austrian reinforcements under the command of Major von Eynhuf were approaching rapidly.
And finally, the whole right wing of the building was now ablaze. This had the side effect of driving the Jaeger out of their burning room and into the courtyard, where they were swiftly overwhelmed by the French, who also dragged a disheveled and groaning Merlot out of the room. Just in time, because mere minutes later, the whole wing collapsed, blowing up ash and dust and making the situation inside the farm increasingly uncomfortable.
As the dazed Merlot was led into the courtyard, he saw Cruchon in deep conversation with Cäcilia. “That women!” He had to warn Cruchon. “She’s not…” But then a commotion distracted him. The men positioned in the barn at the back were shouting: “Austrians! Their attack column is rapidly approaching!” Before they could barricade the doors, the Austrians were upon them. Merlot grabbed a pitchfork and threw himself into the melee. With one deft thrust, he drove the farm implement into the Austrian commanders chest. Major von Eynhuf’s dead body fell from his horse.
This startled the Austrians and it almost looked as if the handful of Frenchmen would break the whole Austrian column. But then the kaiserlicks renewed the attack and, by sheer force of numbers, overwhelmed the brave defenders of the barn. The survivors surrendered and were led into captivity. Among them was a chastened Merlot.
From the corner of his eyes, Cruchon had seen what happened. “No! Merlot!” he cried, but he knew it was too late. They could hold the farm no longer. The heat of the fire, the dust of the collapsed building and the mass of approaching Austrians had finally made the position untenable.
“Quick, Cäcilia, we have to go!” Cäcilia smiled, but did not move: “I’m not coming with you.” Cruchon looked at her alarmed. Cäcilia’s smile broadend. “Don’t worry, we’ll always have…” and then she sniggered, “Merlot!” Suddenly, she turned around towards the approaching Austrians and cheered: “Vivat Kaiser Franz! Quick, come if you want to capture another French officer!”
Dr. Pinceourt took the flabbergasted Cruchon by the arm and dragged him away. “Hurry up Capitaine, they are already entering the barn!” Cruchon saw Cäcilia run towards the Austrians and finally understood. “That… !” Then he turned towards his men: “Sound the retreat, let’s get out of here.” As his men evacuated the farm in good order, he looked back one last time and shouted: “Voltigeurs are supposed to be short! It’s in the fucking regulations!”
Back at camp, Cruchon was well into his second bottle of wine (courtesy of Capt. Bénes), when Lt. Profiterole arrived at the gallop. “Croquet!” he shouted, “I’ve got a special assignment for you. If you have time, that is. Perhaps you want to chase after your Austrian hussy and that poltroon Merlot for a mènage à trois at some kaiserlick campfire?” Enraged, Cruchon stumbled to his feet and slurred: “You cumberground! You saddle-goose! You klazomanic quisby! I demand satisfaction!”
What followed was, in the eyes of all who witnessed it, an utter disgrace. Cruchon, drunk and livid with rage, fumbled around with his sword while Profiterole easily parried, a sneer on his face. When Cruchon, by luck or sheer force of anger, got a hit in and caused a small wound, Profiterole dropped his sneer and with a flurry of attacks drove his adversary back. When he had made an ugly cut on Cruchon’s cheek, the seconds intervened and ended the duel. Lt. Profiterole rode away, angrily shouting that the special assignment was revoked.
Some time later, Dr. Pincecourt found Cruchon propped up against a tree and staring into nothingness, an empty bottle beside him. Pincecourt sat down at his side and looked at the horizon, where clouds were gathering. “There will be a big battle soon,” he quietly said. Then he looked at Cruchon. “We will have a handful of work, and we will do our jobs, both of us.” Gazing back at the horizon, where the setting sun illuminated the clouds, he added: “And then this campaign will come to an end, one way or another.”
This was a difficult scenario for both sides. Not only were there a number of special rules for fighting inside the farm compound, there were also a clock running (with a dice rolled each time the turn ended) which triggered special events as soon as a certain sum was reached. One was the arrival of Austrian reinforcements, the other was the activation of Cäcilia. We both didn’t know beforehand on which side she would be on, so it was an unpleasant surprise to see that she was an Austrian spy who promptly started to distract Cruchon (she could use an action to try to distract a leader, which, if successful, would temporarily substract one level of initiative).
The physic came in very handy, as Cruchon took two light wounds while leading the second assault. He also got quite a lot of honour points for his performance during the fighting; unfortunately, he lost some when losing the duel (which was fought because of a campaign event card).
My first assault column running away and leaving the table after just one round of melee (beaten by 4!) was bad luck, but so was the delay of Sigur’s reinforcements, as the Leader’s card just didn’t turn up after it was added to the deck.
The building catching fire was an extremely fitting random event. It caused some problems for poor Merlot but forced Sigur to attack with his Jaeger instead of barricading themselves inside the room, which made my job of clearing out the farm easier.
When I devised the scenario, I feared that it would be out of balance and result in a quick and boring victory for one side. But despite my early set-back, when I thought that my fears had come true, it developed into a very dramatic and close game. I barely managed to hold the farm for three turns without enemy troops inside (victory condition one), but did not get Merlot out (victory condition two) – a hard fought draw, so to say.
Make sure to also read Sigur’s report, which provides another perspective on the game: https://www.tabletopstories.net/language/en/2021/09/sharp-practice-campaign-game-8/
As Capt. Bénes is on garrison duty, we will see one more scenario with Cruchon before the big battle. I’ve already got some ideas on how to make the grand finale really epic, so I hope you will stayed tuned in.