Star of Bravery – Episode 11: The Battle

Pierre Tête-de-bois, as he was fondly known to his friends, considered himself a clever fellow. After being drafted into the French Army, he had not only managed to weasel himself into the supply service, but even got promoted to Sergeant because of his ability to read and write. However, at the moment, he felt his cleverness had abandoned him. He had followed his orders to the letter, but now his wagon was standing at the top of a hill. Squinting into the distance, he could see what looked like soldiers. Lots of them. In white uniforms. And they were approaching. 

This was not a place where a supply wagon was supposed to be and, in Pierre’s opinion, this was most definitely not a place where Pierre Tête-de-bois was supposed to be. He rummaged through his pockets, finally fishing out a crumpled piece of paper. Re-reading his orders, he made a double take. “Pierre mon ami,” he said, because he was one of those people who think that addressing themselves in the third person gives them an air of witty sophistication, “those orders are not addressed to you, but to a Capitaine Camille Cruchon. But if you are here, then where is Cruchon?”

“Where are we, Cruchon?” Dr. Pincecourt asked. “Are you sure this is the right way?” Massaging his temples, Capitaine Cruchon of the 24e Légère looked at the tree-lined cart track. “I’ve got my orders, Pincecourt. Here, look,” he said and handed Pincecourt a folded piece of paper. The doctor opened it and studied it. Then he startled: “You…! Look at the address! It says Sgt. Pierre Dubois. He’s from the supply train. Those aren’t your orders, Cruchon!” “What!” Cruchon snatched the paper out of Pincecourt’s hands and read the adress. “That fool Profiterole! He must have mixed up the orders!” Cruchon closed his eyes and pinched his nose. The Austrian wine he had treated himself to yesterday evening had given him a splitting headache. Then he turned towards the men and ordered the column to counter-march, which resulted in subdued grumbling. “You might want to go a bit easier on the wine,” Pincecourt murmured, but Cruchon was already spurring his horse to get ahead of his men. In the distance, the rumble of artillery fire could be heard.

Sgt. Nonnette had led his skirmishers around the right of the village and positioned them in the bushes along the bank of a small creek. He could hear artillery and small arms firing all along the line. The long awaited battle had finally started. “Keep steady, men,” he said, “here they come.”

And indeed, a column of Grenzer was approaching the bridge he was supposed to guard. His orders were to watch the French right flank and prevent any Austrians from slipping around. When his men opened fire, the Grenzer skirmishers immediately shot back, covering their infantry line, which was moving into the orchard. “We won’t be able to hold forever,” he thought, “Where is Cruchon?”

Capitaine Charles Bénes of the 2e Ligne, Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, watched the Austrian line approach. It sure was an impressive spectacle, seeing them advance steadily and in splendid order, like on the parade ground. The driver of the supply wagon – how did he end up here? – looked nervous, but Bénes had forbidden him from leaving, as they might need some extra ammunition before the day was over.

He had positioning his men behind the crest of the hill, something he had seen the British do when he had fought them in Portugal the year before. “What’s on your mind?”, he asked Lieutenant Bonhomme, who seemed distracted. “Isn’t the light infantry supposed to take the village?” Bonhomme asked. There had been some delay with the orders and, ten minutes after they were finally delivered by Lt. Profiterole, another ADC – this time from Division – gallopped up and brought a new set. According to those, Bénes and Cruchon were tasked to take and hold the village at all costs. Bénes had suggested that he secure the left flank and, if possible, overwhelm the Austrians there while the light infantry would storm the village and fortify themselves in the church. However, following Bonhomme’s gaze, he could see no sign of the 24e Légère. He shook his head: “Where is Cruchon?”

Lieutenant Jean-Jacques Fougasse of the 24e Légère was getting nervous. From the sound of it, it seemed the Austrians were advancing rapidly and the French far left flank was slowly being pushed back. He could see the men of Bénes’ 2e Ligne behind the hill, making themselves ready to confront a huge Austrian line. But there was no sign of his Capitaine. “We can’t wait any longer,” he said to his men, “we are going in. Remember, we are Frenchmen and we fight for the Emperor!” With that, he led his small column over the bridge and formed line. He could see a group of Austrian Jaeger darting through the street and gave the order to fire.

When the smoke cleared, he watched the Jaeger scramble for cover. “So far, so good,” he thought, “but where is Cruchon?”

“This wasn’t here before!” Cruchon cursed as the column halted at a stream of languid brown water. “Looks like an arm of the Danube,” Pincecourt thoughtfully added. “You sure it ain’t an arm of the Seine, Doctor Obvious?” Cruchon snapped back. “We must have missed a turning.” The order to turn around again was greeted by more grumbling from the men. Cruchon wiped the sweat from his brow and turned to Pincecourt: “Doctor, I know you have…” “No chance, Cruchon,” came the firm answer, “the brandy is for medical purposes only.”

“Forward march!” Bénes coolly gave the order and his line crested the hill. The Austrians seemed surprised to be suddenly confronted with a long line of blue-frocked soldiers and halted. Bénes made the most of their momentary confusion and ordered a controlled volley.

The musket balls tore into the Austrian ranks, causing casualties and confusion. Before they could even react, the French delivered another volley. Bénes knew that it was vital to stop the Austrian advance in his sector. The French battle line to his left had fallen back, and from the looks of it, the village was still not under French control. Through gritted teeth, he muttered: “Where is Cruchon?”

Fougasse had driven the Austrian skirmishers out of the village street and used the short respite to send one group of his men into the church, telling them to barricade themselves as well as possible.

He knew that, with his few men, he could not hold against a determined Austrian counter-attack. “Damn it!” he shouted, throwing his hands into the air, “Where is Cruchon?”

Nonnette nodded at Sous-Lieutenant Picrate, who had just arrived with his skirmishers and taken position to the left of his own men. “Good to see you, Sous-Lieutenant. The situation is getting a bit dicey, as you can see.” He waved his hand in the direction of the orchard, where a line of Grenzer was keeping up a continous fire at the French skirmishers.

Another Grenzer line was forming behind the church. When they also opened fire, the French casualties started to mount. “We can’t hold any longer,” Picrate nervously said. “We can’t abandon our position,” Nonnette indignantly replied, “we have to hold the flank so Cruchon can secure the village.” Picrate, who looked almost panicky, answered in a high-pitched whine: “But where is Cruchon?”

Cruchon took a large sip of brandy while Pincecourt bandaged his right leg. “Stupid skittish horse,” he spat, “Why did I have to fall off now?” The doctor looked as if he had an opinion on that, but was unwilling to share it, which made Cruchon even angrier. He took another sip, just out of spite. Then he handed the bottle back and said: “Help me mount the horse, doctor, and let’s hurry up before this bloody battle is over.”

Capt. Bénes saw the Austrian line waver under the volume of French fire. He had also taken casualties, but nothing compared to the Austrian, who looked close to breaking.

“Beat the pas de charge,” he calmly ordered. Then, with a shout of “Vive la France!” he spurred his horse. The shout was taken up all along the line as the Frenchmen rushed upon the hapless Austrians. Already shaken and disordered, many threw down their weapons and surrendered themselves.

However, to his right, Bénes could see the Austrian commander rallying a couple of men around his flag, aided by a priest waving a cross. This handful of Austrians rushed forward and overwhelmed a group of French soldiers, who took to their heels. The small groups of fighting men, the smoke and the noise rendered the situation chaotic. In the distance, Bénes could see a group of Austrian hussars approaching. He knew that the moment of crisis had come. “Follow me!” he shouted and rushed towards the Austrian flag. Suddenly, out of the smoke, an Austrian officer on a large brown horse appeared. “Frenchman!” he shouted, “You remember Major von Eynhuf? Today, I will avenge the death of my dear second cousin’s spouse!” Raising his new sword in a gesture of mocking greeting, Bénes retorted: “Eynhuf was a soundrel, and so are you! Let’s end this here and now!” Then he made his horse rear and charged forward.

Time seemed to stand still and all eyes were on them as the two officers started to duel. The Austrian, Bénes quickly realised, was no beginner and fought with skill and determination. For a time, the duel went back and forth, with both combatants drawing blood and taking slashes. But then, Bénes’ superiour technique and his impressive sword combined to drive the Austrian to the defensive. “I’ll never surrender,” he cried. “So be it,” Bénes replied and drove his sword into the Austrian’s chest. Grabbing the flag with his left, he turned towards his men: “Victory is ours!” “And look,” Bonhomme suddenly shouted, “there is Cruchon!”

At the head of his men, Cruchon charged into the village. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw the back of the Grenzer line which had almost overwhelmed the French right flank. “Charge!, “he cried, “Vive l’Empereur!”

The Grenzer, hearing a column of Frenchmen charging them from behind, fell back rapidly. When their commander heard that Hauptmann von Ankenreutter was dead and the Austrians on his left flank retreating, he recalled his men and abandoned the position at the village, which was finally in French hands.

When the sun set, the battle slowly subsided. It was, Cruchon heard from a passing ADC, a close-run thing. The French had been driven back to the Danube on the left flank, but because the 2e Ligne and the 24e Légère managed to hold the village, the Austrians could not break the army’s line. However, the position had become untenable and, during the night, Napoleon ordered the withdrawal of the French troops. Columns of dejected men, horses, artillery and wagons crossed the pontoon bridge back to the southern side of the Danube. In the midst of all this commotion, Cruchon wearily rode up to Bénes. Reaching out his hand, he said: “Capitaine, my congratulations. You saved the army! I am inconsolable that I could not contribute more.” “Mon cher ami,” Bénes answered, grasping Cruchon’s hand, “do not despair. The battle is over, but the war will go on. There is still work to be done and glory to be won.” Looking at the disheveld figure before him, he added: “But for now, we shall rest.”

I have played many games of Sharp Practice, but I don’t think I ever had one as crazy as this. It started with two chapter ends before we were even properly deployed and continued with the utter refusal of Cruchon’s card to come up. It came up early, but for reasons that made sense at the time I didn’t want to deploy him then. And that was it, turn after turn no Leader 4 card. In between, we even checked the deck to make sure the card was acutally inside, because we couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even get 3 command cards!

Despite the absent Cruchon, it was a cracking game. It was the largest game of Sharp Practice I have ever played, with about 200 figures on the table (well, at least when Cruchon was finally deployed). Sigur and I played together against K., who kindly took the role of the Austrians – a difficult taks, as she had to manage twice as many units and leaders as each of us.

I had also added some battle-specific random events, which caused the supply wagon to turn up right at the beginning and, near the end, an Austrian hussar group, which boosted K.’s morale but was too late to contribute to the fight. The random events also caused new orders to arrive for our side, changing our objective from reducing the enemy’s force morale to taking the church, which we managed without problems. Achieving an objective did not necessarily end the game, but provide us with “battle fortune”. Each side tracked their battle fortune, something the players did not have much influence on (apart from getting points for archieving the objective). The idea behind all this was to give the players the impression that they were part of a larger struggle beyond their control.

Bénes’ duel against the Austrian commander (the replacement for Major von Eynhuf, who was killed in Episode 8) was a fitting high point of the game and a great finale for the campaign.

The campaign is now at an end. Bénes has established himself as the clear winner and hero of the story, with a net total of 60 honour points, membership in the Legion of Honour, a new impressive sword and a sweetheart. Cruchon, on the other hand, has a meagre 27 honour points, was betrayed by the woman he was smitten with and lost his best friend to an Austrian prison camp – no wonder he has acquired a bit of an alcohol problem.

But who knows? As Bénes said, the war is going on. Perhaps, one day, we will play a season 2. For now, I want to thank Sigur for playing the campaign with me, K. for joining us for the finale and all of my readers for staying with us and especially for the numerous comments – I was humbled by your kind words!

And as always, don’t forget to read Sigur’s account of the game: https://www.tabletopstories.net/language/en/2021/09/sharp-practice-campaign-finale/

Star of Bravery Ep. 10 – The Gun

“There you are, Capitaine!” Dr Pincecourt sauntered over to where Cruchon sat under a tree, a book in his hands. “What are you reading?”

“Goethe. The Sorrows of Young Werther. One of the Emperor’s favourite books,” Cruchon answered. Pincecourt looked sceptical. “Why aren’t you over in camp? There’s another horse race. I just patched up Bouffard, because of course he wants to compete. Broken nose!” Pincecourt shook his head.

“Rammer,” Cruchon said without looking up.

“What?” Pincecourt stared at Cruchon.

“I presumed you ask yourself: How did Bouffard get a broken nose? The answer is: He was hit with a rammer. It’s an implement artillerists use to…”

“I know what a damned rammer is, Cruchon. But how did Bouffard get one in the face?” Pinceourt looked incredously at Cruchon. The Capitaine sighed and carefully closed his book. Then he looked at Pincecourt: “It happened like this:

As you know, the Austrians are pulling their forces together on the Northern side of the Danube, and the Emperor is assembling our army on the Southern side. The river here is a labyrinth of small arms and island, some of which are occupied by Austrian outposts. I was tasked to drive in one of those posts, manned by some Grenzer and a six-pounder. I had my own men, as well as a detachment of the 13th Chasseurs à Cheval, under the command of guess who?”

Pincecourt chuckled while Cruchon continued: “So we marched to the East of Kaiser-Ebersdorf to the so-called Mühlhaufen, where the Austrians were supposed to be. And indeed, there they were, already poised to march off – seems they had boats waiting to take them across the river. Well, I thought that capturing an Austrian gun might be a fine thing to do, so I decided to press the issue. However, I wanted to do it by the book, no unnecessary risks. I deployed my men in an attack column, with a skirmisher screen ahead and some skirmishers on my left flank. The plan was to force the Austrians to deploy to meet my attack and, when they were starting to fall back, have the Chasseurs charge in.”

Pincecourt chuckled again. Cruchon nodded: “Exactly. We had barely started to advance under heavy canister fire, when we heard shouts and galloping horses to our right. That fool Bouffard seems to have thought that I might take away some glory… So off he went like the branquignol he is, right at the gun.”

“Now the gun was, at the moment, firing at us. However, not even the Austrians are stupid enough to deploy a gun without infantry support. So imagine dear Bouffard’s surprise when suddenly a line of Grenzer appeared out of nowhere and delivered a volley right at our dashing heroes!” Cruchon shook his head.

“Being the mindless idiots they are, they just kept on charging and hit the gun. However, instead of tangling with a couple of artillerists, they now also had to grapple with Grenzer.”

“And this..,” Cruchon started, but Pincecourt finished the sentence laughing: “…was when Bouffard got a rammer into his face!”

“Indeed. Seeing their glorious leader wounded, the Chasseurs broke and galloped pell-mell back. Meanwhile, my men had been riddled with canister and, despite all our efforts, could not be persuaded to advance any further. I rode over to the Chasseurs, trying to rally them for one last effort, but to no avail. Bouffard was howling with rage and shame, blood on his face. Big disgrace!” Cruchon laughed.

“Well, that was that. I called the retreat and the Austrians, having no interest to pursue us, limbered their gun and went to their boats. Another glorious day for the French cavalry,” Cruchon added with a sour expression.

“And now, doctor, if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish a book.”

When preparing the scenario, I wanted one featuring a gun, as I had just finished painting an Austrian 6-pdr with limber. I remembered two scenarios by Michael Leck in Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy issue 86 which revolve around a fighting withdrawl with artillery. I took the second scenario right as it was, just exchanging the figures for French and Austrians (keeping our stats, however). I was unlucky when rolling for my deployment point, as I ended up directly facing the gun. Deploying the cavalry that early was a big risk, but I thought I might end the game with a coup de main before my infantry was shot to pieces. However, I was overeager and should have waited for all Austrian units to deploy. But the melee was actually close and I could have suceeded (even if Cruchon does not appreciate such reckless actions). However, the infantry didn’t do much better – the attack column was under constant canister fire, which is extremely brutal, especially when fired controlled, as Sigur did. Incidentally, we changed the rule concerning the attack column, removing the +1 bonus to hit it, as otherwise I can’t imagine a situation where one would want to use it.

And now we are almost at the end of our campaign – the next game will be the big finale!

As always, don’t forget to read Sigur’s version of the story at https://www.tabletopstories.net/language/en/2021/09/sharp-practice-campaign-game-10/! He has some very interesting observations on how Sharp Practice (and other Lardie games) can get us to do things in a certain way…

Star of Bravery Ep. 8 – Love’s Labour’s Lost

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.

Star of Bravery Ep. 7 – Sour Grapes

“Boys!” Hauptmann Franz Schrammel looked at the eager faces of his Viennese Volunteers. “I don’t know about you, but I’m thirsty. I’ve heard there is a fine wine cellar at Gut Rebleithn, two hours marching from here. Let’s celebrate our victory, what do you say?” Enthusiastic cheers of “Vivat Schrammel!” were the answer.

Schrammel grinned. His men had done well, ambushing the coach, driving away the French and taking that strange Bavarian woman into custody. Boy, was he glad to have her out of his hands! “Rotund,” she had called him. Well, let Lieutenant Schenk deal with her. As Major von Eynhuf wanted to have a word with the lady, Schrammel had ordered Schenk to guard her at a farmhouse while he and his men went for a well-deserved drink.

When the column drew near the estate, Schrammel stopped short. Something was off. Silencing his chatting men, he looked for Lieutenant Gigerl. The Jaeger commander was already running towards him. “Seems we are not the only ones to enjoy good wine. The damn French are also here, and they are busy emptying the cellar!”

“Gigerl, quick, secure the manor house while I form line. We have to get that wine!”

The Jaeger rushed forward and were already at the doorstep of the house when a volley from the first floor windows tore into their ranks. 

While the surprised Jaeger collected themselves, French jeers could be heard from the top floor. “Lieutenant Papuča, send some skirmisher around our left flank and draw the frogs’ attention. I have an idea,” Schrammel told the Grenzer commander. Then he turned to his men: “Boys, there’s wine behind that fence. Form line, keep steady and don’t mind the French and their fancy uniforms. Forward march!”

As the Landwehr advanced briskly towards the estate, Schrammel could see a French line deploying and manoeuvring to meet them. He spotted the French officer talk to the kitchen maid, but laughed when he heard the brave girl shout “Leave me alone, you Ungustl!” while walking away.

While the French were still manoeuvering their line, Schrammel decided that it would be good for morale to get the first volley in and ordered his men to fire. The volley hit the French hard and his enthusiastic men continued to load and fire. Schrammel knew that it would be difficult to get them back under control. Fortunately, he saw a small column of Frenchmen move towards his left flank. “Excellent, this means that the Grenzer sharpshooters are in position. Papuča, your move!”

Lt. Papuča deployed his men in column and marched them towards the Austrian right flank. He hoped that, while the Landwehr pinned the French main force and the skirmishers lured the others over to the left, his men could nimbly slip around at the right flank and block the foragers’ escape.

While a fierce and brutal exchange of musketry took place in the center at almost point-blank range, the Grenzer hurried to the right. Schrammel knew that his men couldn’t stand indefinitely against the French regulars, but he was quite content with their performance – they sure gave as good as they got. Unfortunately, this could not be said of the Jaeger, who started to fall back under the fire of the French skirmishers in the mansion. When Gigerl was hit and fell, his men completely lost their nerves and broke.

Lt. Papuča and his men were crossing the paddock when two disordered groups of Frenchmen charged them in the flank. “Getting desperate, aren’t we?,” thought Schrammel. “Ha, look at the brave Grenzer chasing them away!”.

And indeed, the Grenzer brushed the French away with ease and continued their march. However, Schrammel could also see that the foragers’ wagon was fully loaded and ready to go. “Hurry up, Papuča!”, he shouted. “Victory is almost ours!”

But then another volley hit his line and suddenly his men started to waver. “No!”, he cried, “Stand firm, you Fetznschedln! Can’t you see that Papuča has them outflanked!” But the volunteers had had enough. They started to fall back and, after another volley, they finally broke and ran.

With the main line broken, the Grenzer were in an untenable position and retreated in good order. The fight was over and the wine was gone.

Ten minutes later from a safe position, Schrammel and Papuča watched the French march away from the estate fully laden and in good spirits. “Fixlaudon!”, Schrammel cursed. “What do we do now?,” asked a weary Papuča. “Now,” Schrammel sighed, “now we go looking for my men.”

Wow, this was a very dramatic game full of suspense until the last moments. I was quite happy with my performance – Sigur took my bait and deployed his troops to secure his right flank (and probably capture my primary deployment point), where I had positioned a group of skirmishers. When I launched my Grenzer column to slip around his left flank, he had to reshuffle his troops, which got pinned by the fire of my main line. The firefight between the main lines was brutal – we had one turn when both delivered a crashing volley. From that moment on, it was a race for time. A very close game with dramatic as well as fun moments, such as Bénes’ failed attempt to sweet-talk the kitchen maid.

As always, Sigur’s report, which tells the story from Bénes’ perspective and has more information on the scenario and what happened afterwards, is available here: https://www.tabletopstories.net/language/en/2021/08/sharp-practice-campaign-game-7/