Battle of Bean Ridge – Sharp Practice AAR

Having finished my new modular hills, I looked for an excuse to get them on the gaming table. Inspired by a napoleonic scenario I found in an old issue of Wargames Illustrated, I devised the following situation.

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Bean Ridge (at the Western edge of the table) is a strategically important position, as it covers the flank of the Confederate marching column. To secure the location, pickets have been posted on a small wooded hill (at the Northern edge of the table) and in Henderson’s orchard (at the Southern table edge). However, the Union advance guard is already approaching – will the Confederates be able to hold their position long enough for their reinforcements to arrive and to drive back the Yankees?

I played the Confederates and initially had one group of skirmishers each in the orchard and on the hill. My main deployment point would appear at the beginning of turn 5 on the road at the Northwestern corner of the table. K., who played the Union, had two deployment points at the Eastern table edge.

Each of the objectives – the orchard, the small hill and Bean Ridge – was worth 5 points, defeating the enemy was also worth 5 points. Whoever was last in possession of the objective would get the points at the end – so you don’t have to stay there, you just have to make sure the other force doesn’t occupy it after you left.

To give the attacker an edge, I let K. chose between three supports: an additional group of skirmishers, a group of cavalry or one light gun. I would know which she took when she deployed them.

Due to the close distance between my pickets and the Union deployment points, the game started right into the action. When K.’s line of three groups entered, my skirmishers on the hill immediately started firing. A lucky bullet hit the Union’s Sergeant, killing him instantly. An inauspicious start for the boys in blue! My guys in the orchard shot at the other Federals, which didn’t enter in formation but as individual groups. One of them was driven back by the skirmishers’ withering fire.

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However, the Union Leader calmly brought his line into position, made them present arms and then ordered them to concentrate their fire at the skirmishers on the hill. When the smoke had cleared, the poor rebel Sgt. stood alone on the hill – his whole group was wiped out!

Inspired by this success, the second group of Union skirmishers (that’s what K. chose as support) charged towards the orchard. The Confederates decided to fall back – I didn’t want to lose my other group of skirmishers in a bloody and unpredictable melee. However, I was losing heart and hoped that the reinforcements could turn the situation around.

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Union skirmishers driving in the Rebel pickets.

The Confederate Leader marched the majority of his men in column along the road to get into a blocking position. Two groups were sent up the small hill, which had meanwhile been occupied by the Union skirmishers.

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Up and at them, boys!

When confronted with cold steel, the Union skirmishers fell back and the hill was again in Confederate hands. Also, the Confederate Leader had formed his men into a firing line and opened up on the advancing Federals. Things were definitely improving for the Rebels!

My intent was now to pin the Union line with my line and work the groups on the hill around the Union’s right flank. After a first controlled volley, I let them fire at will, hoping that the faster rate of fire could counteract the more precise shooting of the Federals, which were still manoeuvering into position. The exchange of fire between the two lines soon became a stalemate and a contest of attrition. For a while, each line stubbornly stood its ground.

However, after the initial shock of the determined Confederate counterattack K. quickly stepped up her game. First, she sorted out her left flank, which hung in tatters since my skirmishers had forced one of the groups back. She decided that those fellows were beyond help and concentrated on her still intact group, attaching it to her line. This in turn enabled her to detach one group from the right end of her line, which moved into position to block the Rebel groups advancing down the hill.

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Swift and determined action saves the Union flank!

As her skirmishers also formed a screen, my groups now faced two Union groups. I decided to pull them back to the small hill, where they at least had cover from the wooded area – after all, it would be enough to deny the Union this position.

However, the Confederate counterattack was stalled and the momentum changed back to the Union. Suddenly, “inspired by their volley and convinced the enemy is done for” (as it says in the random event that now happened), my line rushed forward. Unfortunately, they never reached the enemy line, getting bogged down in rough ground. This was the Union’s chance: with a crashing volley, they made the Rebels reel back.

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A crashing volley tears into the Confederate line.

This well-timed blow broke the stalemate between the two lines and sealed the Confederates’ fate. The Rebel line fell into disarray. The last remaining Confederate skirmishers were destroyed by another volley, which enabled the Union skirmishers to advance unopposed to the foot of Bean Ridge.

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The end is at hand.

My Force Morale was at 2, while K.’s was still at 7. With both groups of skirmishers lost, my firing line broken and individual groups withdrawing I knew I had no chance and conceded defeat. I still had the hill, so that was 5 points for me, but K. had the orchard, Bean Ridge and she had defeated me, so 15 points and victory for her!

Another dramatic game, which was made even more exciting because we both were in quite good form. For once I made no severe tactical mistakes and for a moment even felt like I had victory in my grasp. However, by coolly reorganising her battle line K. managed to stall my counterattack and with her crashing volley delivered a punch my already battered line couldn’t recover from. A well deserved victory for the Union!

Battle for the Pigsty – Sharp Practice AAR

Last weekend we had another game of Sharp Practice with the Naval Landing Party. I’ve put a pdf of the Force List we used in the Resources folder – feel free to try it out, I’d appreciate any feedback!

To spice things up, we also used a mechanics for secret objectives. We’ve used this system before for other games and it always provides an exciting experience – there’s a lot of second-guessing as it enables the attacker to makes faints and forces the defender to keep a reserve.

For this game, I made up three cards which would thematically fit with the background. The attacker (the Landing Party, which turned out to be K.) drew one of three cards – this would be her objective for the game. I didn’t know which card she drew, of course, so I had to watch every move and be prepared to rush in quickly.

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The cards…
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…and the set up.

The judge was located in the big house on the Northern edge of the table, the livestock were in the pigsty and the telegraph line went along the road on the Western table edge.

The game started with K. deploying her sailors. For the first couple of turns, the Leader commanding the Marines didn’t come up, but in true navy spirit the impetuous sailors rushed forward nevertheless.

One group ran towards the judge’s house, so I deployed one group of skirmishers there. The ball was opened by those groups exchanging some shots.

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However, the bulk of the Union sailors ran towards the small homestead with the pigsty and took position behind the farm-house.

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Could this be the Union’s objective? Better save than sorry, I thought, and deployed a line of my regulars to cover the farm. The others I deployed on the table but kept in reserve in column formation so as to be able to quickly react to any threat.

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K. also deployed her Boat Howitzer on the hill and shot at the skirmishers on my left flank. However, we forgot two important artillery rules (round shot reduces cover and canister gets a +1 to hit), so it didn’t do much damage. Perhaps the powder got wet during the landing…

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On the right flank, my guys at first kept the sailors in check, but then the Marines arrived.

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Here they come!

I still feared some kind of ruse but had no other choice than to commit the rest of my regulars to my right flank. Normally, K. is a pretty cunning player, but this time she went for a rather direct approach, trying to force her way to the pigsty by bludgeoning my troops head-on.

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The Marines positioned themselves behind a fence and began a withering fire. The firepower of a skirmish formation is quite formidable, especially if it is hidden behind an obstacle, which enhances its cover bonus even more. Having spent their first volley, my regulars kept up a ragged fire which didn’t make much of an impression on the Marines.

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There was, however, a fierce struggle for the pigsty, with sailors heading into the muck only to be driven away by charging Confederates.

As always with Sharp Practice, melee is risky for both sides and the best way to drop Force Morale fast. K. also neglected to withdraw her broken sailors, so they came under fire from my skirmishers, which made them rout off the table. This was enough for the Union Commander: despite his Marines still being in good shape, he decided to pull out and call it a day. No pork for the crew of the USS Sasquatch today!

Another great game! The secret missions were fun and contributed to making the game more exciting. Forgetting the artillery rules was an embarrassing mistake – my skirmishers came under artillery fire a couple of times and probably would have been severely mauled if we had played it right. Also, if K. had pulled back her broken group, I couldn’t have dealt her the finishing blow. Her Marines were still strong and might have pulled off a victory by overwhelming me with their firepower had they had more time.

All in all, I think that the Landing Party works well. Our next plan is to play a campaign using the new supplement, Dawns & Departures.

Balloon Rescue – Sharp Practice Scenario

The holidays offered opportunity to finally get the observation balloon I’ve built a couple of weeks ago on the table! Historically, there never was any real fighting for a balloon during the American Civil War. There were, however, some pretty close calls. Confederates regularly tried to shoot down Union observation balloons and one time, a Rebel scouting party stumbled upon the balloon train but retreated because they thought it would be guarded by a large force (which it wasn’t). In July 1861, Union balloonist Thaddeus Lowe by accident landed in Confederate territory. Volunteers from the 31st New York scouted to find out where he was. Lowe’s wife Leontine then disguised herself as a farm woman and took a horse and wagon deep into enemy territory, where she collected the balloonist and his crashed vessel. Such is, of course, the stuff Sharp Practice scenarios are made off!

To make the game more unpredictable, I divided the playing field into 20 sectors. On the second Tiffin Card, the balloon would enter in a randomly determined sector at the Eastern table edge where the Union troops were encamped. The balloon’s movement was determined by rolling a dice on the Tiffin Card and moving it from sector to sector. The middle sectors were the crash zone – when the balloon got there, it would land.

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I also prepared a table to determine the effect of the crash on the balloonist:

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The Union’s objective was to get the balloonist to their camp, the Confederate objective was to get him to their primary deployment point.

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In our game, I took the Union while K. commanded the Rebels. While the balloon drifted slowly over the Federal camp, the Union soldiers lingered around and paid a visit to the sutler – it seems no one had looked up and noticed the balloonist’s peril!

The Confederates were quicker on the uptake and deployed a group of skirmishers into the grave yard.

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Finally, the Union commander managed to rouse his men and deployed them into line. It became a bit crowded amidst the tents and stuff!

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Unfortunately, this chaos seems to have had a detrimental effect on the Union commander, as he started to make mistakes. At first, I had the idea of sending my skirmishers and my cavalry off on my left flank to get in position to stop the Confederates should they grab the balloonist. However, I changed my plan and shuffled the skirmishers over to my right flank soon after – another turn wasted while K. unerringly threw her guys forward towards the balloonist, who had landed in the pond.

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Ouch, I’ve sprained my ankle!

They were met by a volley from the Union boys which had taken position behind the fence. This, of course, was just what K. wanted – me waiting passively for her to march forward. Her smaller formation did take quite a beating but in the end, this was not important because her skirmishers managed to snatch the balloonist and carry him back.

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My cavalry came to be known as ‘the headless horsemen’ because they darted around without a plan until I finally decided to send them on a flanking journey and try to attack K.’s primary deployment point. This was the only action that could have been dangerous for the Confederates, and had I done it earlier, I might have had a chance. However, the galloping gawks were too late – the Rebel skirmishers managed to get the balloonist back to their commander, who would debrief him properly. Another Confederate victory!

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This was a fun scenario, although performance-wise it was probably my low point of 2016. To K.’s amusement, I never even made a serious effort to get the balloonist! Instead I settled behind the fence in the naive hope of stopping the Confederates achieving the objective. How I imagined this was going to work is beyond me…

Still, the balloon looked good and maybe I’ll get my revenge this year!

Defence in Depth – Sharp Practice AAR

A long time ago, we played this scenario with the old version of Sharp Practice and our Wars of the Roses adaptations. This time, we followed the guidelines for scenario three – ‘Defence in Depth’ – from the new Sharp Practice rulebook.

The Union, commanded by me, was to be the attacker, while K. took the Confederate defenders. Her secondary deployment point was in the village of Midsomerville to the South of the table, her primary – which was my objective – she positioned in the middle of the Western table edge.

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We both had two support points, me choosing a physic and a musician, K. a physic and barricades, which she put on the village main street.

I started by deploying my skirmishers in the field and my dismounted cavalry on the road. Both advanced rapidly. My troopers made it into the woods at the river and started shooting at K.’s guys, while my skirmishers got caught in the fire of K.’s skirmishers, which she had swiftly deployed behind the barricades.

The Union lads got pretty roughed up and fell back stunned. However, the Sergeant commanding K.’s skirmishers was hit and wounded, losing one Status. This made commanding those troops rather difficult for K., so I decided to exploit that weak point.

I meanwhile had deployed two groups of regulars on the road in column of march and had them rush along towards the bridge and the village, hoping to overrun the barricades. K. had also deployed her regulars, all of them taking position behind the rail fence and waiting for the Union to come.

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Union column on the march.
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The thin grey line.

Fortunately, my column was fast enough to cross the bridge without taking too much damage by the rebels’ musketry. When they charged the barricades, however, K.’s skirmishers managed to evade. They took up position behind the fence and K. detached a group from her line, which got into position to also shoot at my groups in the village. Those were now in a tight spot, being shot at by skirmishers and regulars and unable to form line and make their numbers count because of the terrain.

Meanwhile, on the right flank, my dismounted cavalry came under fire from K.’s other skirmishers and a line of regulars and broke. What a shame! I had put much hope in their breech loading carbines, but the group proved to be quite brittle. My main column was still milling about the road and advanced at a snail’s pace. When they reached the woods, they met the panicky troopers on their way back. So much for combining efforts!

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As I didn’t want to expose the column to the fire of K.’s line, I decided to dissolve it and have the groups cross the river on their own. This was probably a mistake, as the first group to cross took the brunt of K.’s shooting and was obliged to withdraw, while the rest slowly waded through the ford.

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Things were starting to deteriorate fast for the Union. My Force Morale dropped like the Pound after Brexit, and although I managed to rally my skirmishers, they were shot to pieces by K.’s line (they were actually wiped out, which had never before happened in our games!).

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Rebel musketry spooks the horses!

When one of my groups in the village broke and on their rout passed through the other group, panicking them in turn, my Force Morale dropped to 2 and I conceded defeat.

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This was a very dramatic and exciting game. Due to the difficult terrain, it was also a tactically challenging game, and we all know that the phrases ‘tactically challenging’ and ‘I won’ are seldom to be found in the same sentence. In hindsight, I can see the mistakes I have made. My plan was to quickly advance with my skirmishers and cavalry so as to force K. to deploy and commit her troops. Then I would choose the weaker spot and concentrate my attack there. At first, it looked like it would work, and when the leader of her skirmishers was wounded, I thought I had my weak spot. However, K. actually managed to bring the medic up to the guy and have him healed, while I got stuck on the village main street. I had missed the opportunity to finish off K.’s skirmishers when they evaded, so I had to face fire from two groups. And maybe I should have risked keeping my column intact when crossing the ford – they may have withstood the rebel’s fire better.

K., on the other hand, showed her usual steady performance and managed her troops with great skill. Especially her skirmishers cut a dashing figure, always being in the spot where they annoyed me the most. Her decision to form a massed line of defence just in front of her primary deployment point proved to be sound, especially as she could keep my column contained in the village – those might have posed a severe threat to her flank.

Sharp Practice continues to deliver excellent games. We are getting more confident with the rules, discovering nuances and trying out tactics. I’m already looking forward to our next game!

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Way down in Dixie…