Wall’s Bridge Revisited

Almost two years ago, I played a Sharp Practice scenario from Grierson’s raid. While a fun game, the scenario suffered from several issues. The publication of a new book on the raid by Timothy Smith prompted me to revisit the scenario.

My staunch Sharp Practice opponent Sigur took the Confederate defenders (and he also took the pictures), while I played the Union attackers. Last time, one of the problems was balance: the Union is equipped with breech-loading carbines, which offer a severe advantage in firefights. I wanted to keep the technical superiority of the Union, while also taking into account the state of their troops: at that moment, they had been in the saddle for almost two weeks, moving hundreds of miles through enemy territory. They were exhausted, but had to act quick and decisively, as large numbers of Confederate troops were hot on their heels.

Therefore, I introduced two special rules:

specialrules

The idea behind the Exhausted special rule was to skew the distribution of random events a bit in the direction of the Union, thereby modeling their exhaustion and proneness to making mistakes. The turn clock should put the Union player under pressure and force him to make quick decisions, even if not all of his troops were immediately available.

Similar to last game, the scenario started with the Union “butternut guerrillas” (scouts) leaderless on the far side of Tickfaw River, as they had run into a Confederate ambush.

 

I decided to keep them there and exchange shots with the Confederate skirmishers while I moved my first two groups of cavalry to my left flank. There, they dismounted and waded through the river, taking up position on the far side. Unfortunately, their Leader had some difficulties keeping up and ended up on the other side – a mistake that would cost him dearly…

earlygame repeaters line up

Sigur meanwhile hurried his infantry to counter my troopers. He soon came under fire from the breech-loading carbines, which hurt him pretty badly. However, he managed to form line and gave back in kind – a controlled volley from close distance thinned the ranks of my troopers.

midgame lineup shootout

To make matters worse, Sigur had advanced the rest of his men down the road. Some took position on the bridge and peppered my dismounted cavalry from behind. Not content with such impunity, he crossed the river and sneaked up on my boys from behind. Before he knew what had happened, my cavalry Leader was taken prisoner!

lategame capture

This did not bode well. The cavalry on the river banks were now in a very bad position. I managed to get in the reinforcements, one group of which I sent to the river to relief the pinned troopers while the other galloped helter-skelter along the road to take the Confederate deployment point and threaten his line from behind.

endgame cav take deployment point

Alas, too late! My Force Morale plummeted and I conceded when it was at 2 (against Sigur’s 7).

endgame overview

Congratulations to the plucky defenders, which held their ground against the odds!

This was a fun game, with Sigur acting bold and outmaneuvering me completely. The scenario tweaks also worked ok. I think the turn clock contained too many steps – I would skip the reduction of Command Cards, but would reduce the number it takes to end the game to 46. Turn clocks are always a difficult thing in Sharp Practice, as the turn lengths are so variable, but it did achieve the effect of conveying a sense of pressure.

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First Game of Over Malvern Hill

You will remember that I backed the Kickstarter for Over Malvern Hill, the new ACW rules from Stand to Games. The rules arrived and I liked what I saw, so I roped Sigur in for a test game. Unfortunately, he had to cancel, so I decided to run a solo game. This was probably a good idea for a first game, as I had to look a lot of stuff up…

I used the Battle of Big Bethel as a scenario. It’s a good scenario for solo gaming, as the Confederates have a rather static defense position. However, it’s a bit difficult to balance, as the Union had a huge advantage in numbers and should, by all accounts, have won – which they didn’t due to the difficult terrain and severe command problems. So, while the Union player has a lot more forces, it should still be quite difficult for him or her to win the game.

To spice it up a bit, I introduced a deck of friction cards (I got the initial idea from John Drewienkiewicz’ Wargaming in History Vol. 10: The Shenandoah Valley 1862, a most splendid book full of great ideas). At the start of each turn, a card is drawn from a deck. There are several blank cards in the deck, but there are also random event cards (for this scenario, one for the Confederates and three for the Union) and a ‘coffee’ card. When a random event card is drawn, the players whose random event it is rolls on a table and applies the result. The coffee cards signifies a lull in the action. Units in close range to each other withdraw a bit (unless, of course, they hold a scenario-specific objective), commanders may rally their troops etc.

My table set up followed the maps in Battle of Big Bethel: Crucial Clash in Early Civil War Virginia, a very good overview of the battle as well as the political background, which is in fact more interesting than the rather small affair.

setup

Like in history, my (i.e. the Union) forces arrived piecemeal and my main commander – who unfortunately was with the first column – was rather underwhelming, to put it mildly. I advanced my first two regiments, trying to keep them out of the fire from the main Confederate battery while still threatening the forward redoubt.

2

One of the regiments was sent on a flank march, which meant however that the other regiment was out of command and could only stand there. Fortunately, my main force arrived soon after.

3

My artillery had managed to silence the small Confederate cannon deployed in the forward redoubt, but neglected to drive it away for good – something that would haunt me later. Still, spirits were high and the regiments charged forward in field column. 

4

Which, as I quickly learned, was not a good idea, especially against artillery. The attack got stuck, while, on my right flank, the regiment attacking across the creek was also driven back.

6

I withdrew what was left of my attack column and waited for my last column to arrive.

7

I deployed those two regiments on my left flank with the intent to at least take the forward redoubt. A first frontal attack got stuck – fortifications are really hard to storm (as it should be). Fortunately, the coffee card came up, which allowed me to sort out my troops and redeploy them for a final push.

Alas, bad dice rolling contributed to an utter defeat in close combat, destroying my attacking regiment.

8

There was nothing left to do – the game was over. At least I had achieved a historical result!

I really enjoyed the game. At first, I had to look up a lot – it seems I didn’t read the rules as carefully as I had thought. I also changed the QRS after the first turn: Initially, I wanted to use half distances, as is advised in the rule book for 15mm. I quickly found that this looked daft on my table, as the relation between ground scale, figure scale and terrain scale felt wrong. So I used distances reduced by 1/3, which looked good and worked fine.

After the first couple of turns, the game started to flow very nicely. I still kept forgetting things and later discovered that I missed a couple of minor details. However, the game was fun and felt historical plausible. It also produced a great narrative (helped by the friction deck). Over Malvern Hill for me feels like the right balance between period-specific details and playability. I’ll certainly keep playing – hopefully, I can get Sigur to have a game some other time!

On the Painting Table

CRISIS really gave me a motivational boost – I’ve been quite busy painting since coming back from Antwerp. One big bunch I could finish was the ACW artillery. I’m still working on bringing my ACW forces up to regimental level, so I needed a couple of guns.

This is what I have so far. The crews are mostly from Peter Pig, while the guns are from QRF/Freikorp15. I’ve ordered some more, so in the end I’ll have at least six guns for each side as well as a couple of limbers.

I’ve also touched up the river I bought from Products for Wargamers. I still have to put grass and lichen on the banks. I also knocked up a small bridge and a modular ford to go with the river.

Finally, the painting tray:

tray

In the back, you can see Union ‘enthusiastic soldiers’ from Old Glory – those are the ones I got at CRISIS. In the front rows we have Confederate soldiers at ease from Essex. Additionally, there are two ‘out of ammunition’ markers from Peter Pig.

Scratch Building Wagons in 15mm

Wagons are cool: They can be used as scenario objectives, but they also look nice as pieces of scenery. Unfortunately, wagons are also among the most expensive models a wargamer can own (at least, for those of us who play periods before the 20th century).

So I decided to scratch build my own. I found some examples of scratch-built wagons in 28mm on the internet, but I couldn’t find any in 15mm. Fortunately, 15mm is a very forgiving scale and you can get away with a lot, which is a good thing for a sloppy person like me.

I didn’t use a lot of materials: For the chassis, I used balsa wood, match sticks and polystyrene. The wheels come from Langely Models, who offer a good selection of sizes. Several miniatures producers offer spare horses, e.g. Alternative Armies or QRF/Freikorp15. Drivers are a bit more difficult to find and I’m not really happy with what I got, but it will work.

forge1

The first thing I made was a simple hay wagon. The hay was made out of dried tea leaves, which were covered with several layers of thinned down PVA glue.

I then proceeded to build carriages for the artillery train. First up was a mobile field forge. I’ve modeled it in the working position:

The second model is a battery wagon:

Last, I made an ambulance wagon. This is modeled after the two-wheeled Coolidge ambulance wagon. The Perrys offer such a wagon in 28mm, which has been masterfully painted by my mate Sigur, from whom I got the idea to make my own. The roof was made out of green stuff.

Making wagons is fun and the results are, while not perfect, good enough for me. The next thing I want to make is a pontoon train – I have an idea for a scenario dealing with the river crossing at Fredericksburg…