Last week, we had a kind of board game frenzy. It all started with my mates Sigur and Virago coming over to try out Zombicide, which I bought as a second-hand copy some time ago. Sigur brought his impressive collection of survivors and zombies, a mix of figures from different manufacturers, painted as always with the hand of a master.
We first played the training mission, which was a bit boring and didn’t convince me. We then proceeded to the first proper scenario. The objective was to find foodstuff and escape. Our survivors fought heroically and we didn’t do too badly, but Zombie numbers started to add up and in the end, we succumbed to the undead horde. This time, I really enjoyed the game. The rules are quite simple, but there are lots of decision points. Zombicide is a cooperative game and you really have to work together to achieve your goals. One interesting mechanic is that the more experience points you have, the more Zombies appear each turn. The level of danger is dependent on the character with the most experience, so if one player just wants to max out his guy, all are in deep trouble. Each character has unique features and you can collect and swap equipment. It all makes for a very cinematic game!
The next day, my nephew was over, so we had another go at Zombicide. We played another mission and, proceeding carefully and methodically, managed to win the scenario. The kid was very pleased and voiced his enthusiasm by declaring it to be “the best game ever!”. He even proposed that we should paint up the figures together…
On Saturday, I met the kid’s dad and one of his friends and we had another game. This time, it was a close call and my and the nephew’s characters died, but the other players managed to win the scenario in the end. It again shows how close you have to collaborate: We split up the group early on and me and the kid got isolated and eaten by the Zombies. However, I like to think that our sacrifice provided enough distraction so the others could complete their mission…
Zombicide is a great game and highly recommended if you look for an action-oriented cooperative experience.
To get a change and top off the weekend, K. and I played our first game of Battle Cry. We played the first scenario, the Battle of Bull Run. I’m very pleased with how the 2mm figures look on the board as they convey the feeling of playing a big battle very well. Despite initial scepticism, K. liked the game, especially the card activation mechanics. While my Confederate cavalry swept away K.’s flank, her center advanced steadily and drove off the Rebels. There was a moment when it looked as if I might turn the tables, but in the end the Union won the close fought action. A great game which gave me enough motivation to finish the rest of the figures so we can play other scenarios.
This scenario is based on a historical skirmish which took place on May 1 1863 during Grierson’s raid through Mississippi.
The historical situation
Since April 17, Union cavalry under Col. Benjamin Grierson had been moving through Tennessee and Mississippi, destroying railroads, burning Confederate stores and freeing slaves. The Confederates had dispatched several detachments to hunt down the raiders. Around noon on May 1, the Ninth Louisiana Partisan Rangers (Major J. de Baun), while on their way to intercept Grierson’s men, halted at Wall’s Bridge. As always, Grierson had sent his scouts ahead, which were nicknamed ‘Butternut Guerillas’ because they wore Confederate uniform. When some of the scouts confronted a Confederate officer, carelessness led to a shot being fired. This alarmed the Rangers, who took position to ambush the Union troopers.
Seeing his scouts bring in Confederate prisoners, Lt.-Col. Blackburn, who was in charge of the Butternut Guerillas, galloped towards the bridge, shouting to his men to come along. When they reached the bridge, a volley was fired. Blackburn and Sgt. Surby were hit while their men scrambled for cover. Pinned in the underbrush of the river embankment, they hoped that reinforcements would arrive soon.
The scenario started with a leaderless group of Butternut Guerillas (Union cavalry) positioned in cover at the river bank. A group of Confederate skirmishers were in the woods opposite the road. For the first two turns, only Leader 2 (with two units of cavalry) and two blue flag cards were in the deck for the Union side. The rest of the Union cards would be added at the beginning of the third turn.
K., wo played the Confederates, immediately deployed her infantry to block the road while her cavalry moved around the woods on her left flank, evidently trying to outflank me. I deployed two groups of cavalry on foot and had them take position at the river bank to the right of the bridge. The skirmishers sniped at my pinned scouts, but all the shooting caused a pall of smoke to hang before them (firing random event). I reckoned that this was my chance to get the Butternut Guerillas out of their predicament and rushed them back towards the other side of the river. Despite being shot at by a group of Rebel infantry marching along the road, they made it safely into cover.
Meanwhile, the Rebel cavalry had advanced to the river and was preparing to ford it. They were quite a spectacular sight and for a moment caused some unease in the Union ranks. However, when they came under fire from my dismounted troopers, a lucky bullet hit the Confederate leader, killing him instantly. Milling about leaderless at the embankment, the riders were no immediate danger for my right flank.
So, when the rest of my cavalry finally arrived, I decided to send them on a charge across the bridge. K. had deployed her infantry in single groups, so I hoped to drive them back without taking too many losses.
Regrettably, it didn’t work out as planned. The Rebs stood up against the charge and gave my horsemen a good licking. Broken, they retreated in panic. Fortunately, my Leader was able to rally them and prevent them from fleeing off the field.
Evidently, a more methodical approach would be advisable, so I dismounted my other group and had them take position to the left of the bridge. K. had meanwhile formed a line and for a while, Confederate and Union troops exchanged fire.
On my right flank, the withering fire from my repeating rifles had driven back one group of Confederate cavalry. The other group had dismounted and managed to wade through the river, intent on falling upon me with pistols and shotguns blazing.
They were, however, driven off by the concentrated fire of my dismounted troopers.
The situation was looking bad for the Confederates and it got even worse when I finally deployed my Woodruff gun.
After two shots from this light piece of artillery, the Rebel commander decided he’d had enough and retreated – with her Force Morale at 3 against mine at 7, K. conceded.
This was a bit of a mixed affair. We both hadn’t played Sharp Practice for a while and felt a bit rusty rules-wise, which interrupted the flow. Also, K. was really unlucky: her shooting was dismal and losing her cavalry leader early in the game completely stalled her counter-attack and allowed me to make my foolhardy charge without any real negative consequences. There was also a slight balance issue, as I’ve underestimated the Union cavalry’s repeating rifles – being able to deliver the double volume of fire makes them formidable enemies!
Historically, what happened was that the first group of Union reinforcements to arrive also rashly charged across the bridge, only to be repulsed by Confederate volleys. When Grierson finally arrived at the scene, he had his men dismount and advance on both sides of the bridge. They formed a skirmish line along the river bank while Cpt. Smith brought forward the Woodruff guns. When the skirmishers and the guns opened fire, the Rebel shooting started to wane. Grierson now advanced his mounted troopers, two groups fording the river on the flanks and one charging across the bridge. The Confederates broke and retreated.
In the afternoon of the same day, Grierson’s men had another close brush at Williams’ Bridge before they could cross into Union territory. They had covered over 600 miles in less than sixteen days, capturing and paroling over 500 prisoners, destroying around 50 miles of railroad and telegraphs as well as immense amounts of army stores and capturing 1000 horses and mules. Most importantly, they had created a diversion which enabled General Grant to safely land his troops below Vicksburg, leading to his taking of the city.
I might already have mentioned that I bought a copy of the American Civil War variant of the C&C series of board games, BattleCry. However, I pretty soon decided that I did not like the figures that come with the game. They are rather large – namely 1/72 – for the level of action depicted in the game. While there is no fixed scale, as far as I understand it a unit represents something between a regiment and a brigade (depending on the scenario). And, to quote an old adage, four guys taking a flag for a walk don’t look like a regiment to me.
I toyed with the idea of making my own wooden blocks but then thought of something that has interested me for some time: Irregular Miniature’s 2mm range. I recently came across pictures where these figures looked really good: Sidney Roundwood did a very interesting Thirty Years’ War game and the current issue of Wargames, Soldiers & Strategyhas an intriguing article about a siege game done in 2mm.
I ordered enough figures to substitute all the plastic miniatures of BattleCry. Or so I thought – I actually made a stupid calculation error and had to place another order. Fortunately, the service of Irregular is top-notch! Those are not single figures, but they come in blocks, infantry being in 20 figure blocks with a flag, perfect to represent a regiment. For 30p, you get three of those blocks – a very good price, even if you need the large amount I did.
Now of course those are not detailed models of individuals, but the blocks give a good impression of a mass of men. You can make out the muskets, but all the other detail has to be painted in. An impressionistic approach to painting is really the only option: Dots with flesh colour for the faces, thin lines for the muskets, another series of dots with a steel colour for the bayonets. It’s easy and quick, but it does get rather tedious after a while. I’ve now painted 64 infantry blocks and feel like I need a break. Fortunately, as soon as I’ve finished some cavalry and artillery, this should be enough for a first scenario from the BattleCry rulebook.
2mm is an interesting scale. I kind of like small stuff and the figure blocks give a reasonable well impression of a large mass of men. They open up the possibility of playing really huge battles with very little expense. And now that the Perrys’ Travel Battleis all the rage, I already thought about making my own travel set – with 2mm, it would be possible to make a set for those who travel without a car and don’t want to shell out £50.
Last time, I looked at the composition of the Naval Landing Party for Sharp Practice. Today, I want to show you what it looks like on my gaming table.
As always, I used 15mm figures. There are some dedicated American Civil War Marines available in 15mm, but they wear dress uniform with shako which was never worn in battle. For my three groups of Marines, I made do with Peter Pig infantry figures. I especially like the reloading poses, as they show how much time and effort it took to load a musket.
The drummer, the NCO and the officer are from QRF/Freikorp15. I painted the officer in the white summer dress to add some variety.
For the three groups of sailors, I used figures by QRF and Minifigs. I like the Minifigs miniatures a bit better as they are nicer sculpts and have a variety of poses. I painted some of them in a darker skin colour, as up to one fifth of US seamen were African-Americans. The leader figures with the whistles are from QRF, while the guy with the cutlass is a converted Peter Pig naval artilleryman.
I built the Dahlgren boat howitzer completely from scratch, as there is no model available. The gun crew is from Peter Pig. Those are very nice and versatile figures which can easily be converted.
I’ve also used them for a crew of my 90-day-gunboat which will provide the heavy support for the landing party. The officers are from Peter Pig’s naval ship crew, to be found in their Colonial range. Their uniforms are not a perfect match, but they are close enough.
Finally I made two vignettes for deployment points. The main deployment point was inspired by a period photograph and represents a signalling party. The sailors are again from the Peter Pig naval artillery crew with flags added, while the NCO with the field glasses is from the Union gun crew pack.
The secondary deployment point shows two sailors foraging. Again Peter Pig naval artillerymen were used, one of which got a chicken from Museum Miniatures (I think).
I had a lot of fun modelling the Naval Landing Party, as it provided a bit of diversion from the usual ACW painting. We’ve already used them in two games (see here and here for AARs) and they worked quite well. However, my main objective is a large scenario featuring the ship – hopefully, I’ll find an opportunity to stage it sometime during summer.