State of The Raft

Now that the Star of Bravery campaign is over, I feel like it is time to take a breath and reflect not only on what was going on, but also on what I want to do next. The campaign was a huge motivator and drove my painting for the last three months or so. Taking stock, it has resulted in a quite nice collection of 15mm (or rather 18mm) napoleonic figures for the War of the Fifth Coalition.

However, the campaign wasn’t my only gaming-related activity. During the summer, we also had a semi-regular board gaming meet-up, mainly playing The King’s Dilemma.

We have also continued with the remote role-playing and have just now started playing Shadowrun. Although I’ve played a lot of Cyberpunk RPGs back in the day (mainly using GURPS and Cyberpunk 2020), I’ve never played Shadowrun, so I’m really happy to have a chance to try this very influential RPG. And finally, we have re-started with another RPG, namely Les Milles Marches. A friend of mine had offered to DM a while ago, but we stopped because of the pandemic. I’m very glad we continue now, as Les Milles Marches is a very interesting RPG.

It’s a French product, set in Brussels in the near future and we have just discovered that there is some kind of parallel world, or probably a multitude of worlds. I really enjoy the background, it’s something different from the usual fare and I like the idea that the characters are activists participating in a project to create a new European community based on cooperation. It’s multicultural and pretty leftist, so if you enjoy such things, give it a try! Unfortunately, it’s only available in French.

So while I’m pretty well supplied on the boardgaming and RPG front, I’m starting to think on how I shall re-focus my miniature gaming. At the moment, I’m pondering several options: First, designing and researching historical scenarios from the 1809 campaign. I did this for the ACW and had a lot of fun, although I tend to become a bit obsessed by finding even more details and can find it hard to stop the research process. However, I always find it very rewarding and the 1809 project has the big advantage that I can visit at least some of the battlefields, which is very tempting. It would mean building a couple of special buildings and terrain features and painting some missing units (although I’d have to think about using proxies, at least in a modest way, because the variety of napoleonic uniforms would mean that I would have to paint a complete new force for almost every scenario).

Image from the Wien Museum.

Second, I have the idea of playing cavalry-only scenarios with Sharp Practice. Again, this is something I did for the ACW and it worked very well, so I’d really be interested in trying it for the napoleonic period. It would also be fascinating to compare tactics, as a lot of ACW cavalry fighting actually ends up as a fight between dismounted troopers, while napoleonic cavalry combat is much more a succession of charges and counter-charges. Hobby-wise, this would mean reading a bit on napoleonic cavalry, but most of all painting two cavalry forces, at least five groups per side. The upside is I don’t have to make additional dismounted figures for each unit, as I did for the ACW. And funnily enough, I kind of fancy painting horses at the moment, though that may be a temporary mental aberration caused by the excitement of the campaign ending…

Both of these project could, of course, result in a campaign. For the first one, something like the pint-sized campaigns produced by TooFatLardies for Chain of Command would probably be the most appropriate. For the second, a Dawns & Departures campaign could be an interesting option.

Talking to K. about it, she suggested starting with the historical scenarios, as it will take me a while to paint enough figures for cavalry games. But then I had an additional idea: What about a quick Dawns & Departures campaign using the stuff I already have? I asked Julian and Sigur and they both agreed to participate. I will be the umpire, and as Julian lives in Germany, we will play the games remotely. I don’t think there will be that many actual battles, so it should be a quick and fun affair.

I already drew up a map!

Of course I will keep you posted on all those activities. Oh, and I want to continue the terrain series with at least one more article, this time on religious architecture. So, stay tuned!

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:

Star of Bravery Special – Behind the Scenes

Before we head to the big finale, I wanted to give you a quick overview on how Star of Bravery actually works as a campaign system. I guess the two most important things are: First, it’s not a map campaign but a purely narrative one, focussing on the careers of the players’ characters. And second, both players (i.e. Sigur and me) are on the same side.

We started with each of us creating a character who would be the main leader of our force. For this, we used the character creation rules from the Sharp Practice rulebook. The only difference was the new background table I made to account for the peculiarities of imperial France. Sigur ended up with Capt. Bénes and I got Cpt. Cruchon.

Each campaign turn features one game for each of us, with the other player commanding the Austrians. There are several ways to determine which scenario to play: a random scenario table, a table for special assignements and of course the requirements of the progressing narrative, such as was the case with Cruchon’s rescue attempt in episode 8.

During the game, each character has a chance to acquire honour points by performing heroic deeds, such as delivering a crashing volley at close range or leading a charge and winning the resulting melee. After the game, the points are added up and a player can roll if his character is accepted into the Legion of Honour – which, to our mutual surprise, happened after the first game to Capt. Bénes!

When the game is finished, a player also draws a card which gives him a campaign event to resolve. Each event demands that the player makes a decision – for example, when meeting a doctor asking for help, the players has to decide whether to detach some of his men to help, impress locals to help the doctor or march on without stopping. After the decision is made, the player rolls a dice, which determines the outcome of the event. For example, when Cruchon detached men to help the doctor, one of his groups was delayed for the next game. However, he also acquired a new friend, namely Dr. Pincecourt.

Players can also be challenged to a duel or even duel each other – something we never did because the duels we were forced to fight went rather badly and Bénes and Cruchon actually seemed to get along well. Finally, characters can meet a lady, either through a random event (as Bénes did while on garrison duty) or during a mission (like when Cruchon met Cäcilia von Pfünz), who can be wooed according to the rules outlined in Sharp Practice.

The campaign system worked very well and has been great fun. It’s been very entertaining to watch the story develop and the characters take on a life of their own.

By now, we have acquired quite a cast:

I also have to say that I had a blast narrating the events here on the blog. Writing down the game became an integral part of the campaign experience for me. Another great thing is that Sigur also wrote reports of each game on his blog, providing a different perspective and adding to the narrative. I’m very grateful that he went into more detail regarding the scenarios and the players’ tactics and decisions. And I was always looking forward to the dialogue between the two soldiers!

There is one last game to play, the season finale. This will be a big game where Sigur and I will play together against K., who has kindly agreed to take the role of the Austrians.

Looking back, I’m a bit sad that the campaign is now coming to an end. Excluding the finale, we have played 9 games in less than four months (it could have been 10, but Capt. Bénes decided to go on garrison duty and skipped one game – I’m sure Sigur will describe what happened to him on his blog) – a great way to spend the summer! However, I think that it is actually important to have a stop condition for a campaign, as otherwise there is a danger of it just petering out from lack of enthusiasm. Better to celebrate with a big finale! Also, it’s always possible to play single scenarios with the characters or even start season 2…

I have also been thinking about publishing the campaign so that other players can try their hand at collecting honour and glory. But I’m not sure if I should keep the focus on the 1809 campaign or if I should make a generic campaign system out of it. Perhaps I should gauge interest first… so if you are interested at all, please let me know!

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! He has some very interesting observations on how Sharp Practice (and other Lardie games) can get us to do things in a certain way…