Monday, 9 April 2012

Civil Blood Makes For Sharp Practice

Having bought TFL's Sharp Practice rules a few weeks ago and having enjoyed my initial read-through, I really wanted to test them out. Therefore, in a fit of total sanity, I bought a few packs of Navwar's 1700s British Infantry and '45 Jacobites to run a sort of home-based 1700s COIN campaign. But painting takes time, and my queue is already huge – so I'm going to try out the rules using my 20mm Napoleonic figures. Of course, I only have British...

Two duties, both alike in dignity,
In fair England where we set our scene,
From old injustice break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
Duty and fair-feeling, both reviled,
Do come with shot and powder to a dusty field,
And over bodies shall their victory claim...
Iambic nonsense intro over now.

The Nore Mutiny has spread to the landsmen! Several companies' worth of infantry have risen up in arms against their mistreatment by the army, and are marching on the Home Counties to exact their vengeance on the estates of those generals and MPs who have ignored their suffering.
Standing against them are only a few men of the experimental Rifle Brigade, who will now have their first baptism by fire against their fellow countrymen, in the first battle between Englishmen on English soil in 150 years.

N.B. The Nore Mutiny was in 1797 and the Rifles formed in 1800. I am aware of this, as is my time machine.

The forces:
8 Elite Light Infantry, led by IV Big Man Captain Gideon Frost
3x 8 Regular Infantry, led by III Big Man Sergeant Hawker and II Big Man Sergeant Crow.

The cards:
Big Man cards for all three Big Men
Sharp Practice
Grasp The Nettle I-IV, Prenez le saucisson I-III (for propaganda purposes, mutineers are basically Frenchmen)

With this many bonus cards for so few Big Men, it should be a fast-moving game.

The Objectives
Frost and his men need to delay the mutineers long enough for the staff of the estates beyond to flee and the yeomanry to take their place. If no mutineers cross the Rifle board edge before the end of Turn 10, it is a Major Victory.
Hawker and his mutineers are determined to get what's theirs before the yeomanry turn up and ruin everything! If he can get half his starting troops off the Rifle board edge by the end of Turn 10, he gets a Major Victory.

The Game
Hawker's card comes up first, and gesturing his men on with his stolen sword, he moves two groups onto the table, though their motivation could not be more different (snake-eyes and boxcars for movement). 
Some of these troops are not like the others.

Two Rifle initiative cards later, Crow's card comes up, and more mutineers arrive.
Quick lads! To the mansions! And... and whatever mansions have!

By the time Frost's card appears, he has three initiative points available above and beyond his Big Man IV status. It's a bit of a waste this early in the game, but hey ho. SHOOTING!

There are eight riflemen, so we start with 8 dice. They are elite, so we move to 10, adding +2d6 for their first volley. Twelve dice, hitting on 4s, since they are skirmishers with Baker rifles. 12 dice, 6 hits, 5 points of shock. Scary, yes. Lethal... not so much. One Tap-Reload later, and the Rifles end their turn. Frost has 6 spare initiative points left. Tiffin!
Sharp Practice is the second card out of the deck, and Frost's riflemen unload at the nearest mutineers. They only get 10 dice hitting on 5s this time, but do two more points of shock.

Crow moves the closest two groups, but still can't get the middlemen to crack on. As they linger, Frost's men tap and fire again, doing a point of shock and finally killing two men. Overwhelmed by the volume of fire received, the mutineers lose their bottle just as the Tiffin card comes up (and with 2 extra initiative points for the sluggish Sergeant Hawker). They retire.

Crow again takes the lead, encouraging the centre group forwards with tender epithets and curses before surging onwards with his prize section.

Deciding to rely on fate, Frost orders his men to reload properly – and the Tiffin card strikes again. Hawker's group fire a desultory volley, but with only 4 dice hitting on 6s, they do... well, nothing.
Sharp Practice opens the new turn, and Frost's boys, all loaded up, open fire on Crow's lads. Here is where I realised that the Rifles had been missing out on 4 dice a turn thanks to Frost's Status. 15 dice of hell rained down on the adventurous mutineers, causing a casualty and six shock points.

Hawker finally got a look in on the game, and used all his status to remove shock from his battered group. Smirking, Crow took a point of shock from his group and egged them on further. As they did, Frost got his lads to quickly reload and fire at the approaching enemy, causing another 4 points of shock and causing even these most enterprising of brigands to lose their bottle too.

Frost got the first initiative of the new turn and decided to test out the combat mechanics. One charge and 15 dice later, the Rifles had slain two of Crow's lads and laid an extra 3 shock points on them. Despite only having 4 dice to respond with, the mutineers killed a rifleman and gave a point of shock before retiring post-haste. Luckily for Frost (having realised that there was no consolidation mechanic), the Tiffin card reared its beautifully timed head, causing Crow's men to retire still further, covered by the central mutineers who inflicted two more points of shock on the valiant riflemen.
Yarr, stabbing!
Yarr... we be exposed, cap'n.

As turn 6 started, Frost had to consider his mission objectives. With five effective turns of play left, any mutineer group would need straight 8+s for movement every turn. And his men were exposed in their current position... It was time to become children of the corn once more and take cover in the fields. As it happened, Tiffin occurred before any of the characters on the field of battle could do a thing. Mutineers reloaded and turn 7 began.

Using an initiative card, Crow cursed shock off his men, but they still refused to move forwards. Hawker's men, on the other hand, surged onwards. Luckily for Frost, all his Grasp the Nettle cards came up before his action card did. With three free initiatives, he banished his crew's shock before retiring with them towards the cornfield.

Turn 8 began with Hawker leapfrogging his men forwards, right into the teeth of Frost's Riflemen. 
Hawker may have forgotten that a double activation wasn't possible.

Smirking at his boss' ineptness, Crow harangued his men into a semblance of order, ready for the next turn. Sharp Practice and Tiffin one after another proved his point, as the Rifles inflicted 6 points of shock in a single volley.
Get off our land!

A series of initiative cards and Tiffin were all that was turn 9, leaving the table in no doubt that the Rifles had won. But how dearly would that victory be bought?
Crow went first, lurching his survivors forwards. Then Frost got his turn, with all four Nettle cards at his disposal. They were wasted. His men retired d6 into the corn, and opened fully rifled fire on the group containing Hawker. A man died, Hawker took a flesh wound and the group lost their bottle again.
In a murderous last gasp, Hawker abandoned his spineless cronies and led the fragile centre group in a charge on the Rifles. 
This is an exact model of 1/72th of a murderous last gasp.

Defending the cornfield as they were, the Rifles got a staggering 21 dice against 
the Hawker's 10. They killed three, but lost four. Being elite, they carried on, and in the second round they defeated Hawker's men, Frost hacking down Hawker himself. As the the hoofbeats of the approaching yeomanry echoed, Frost looked at the losses his men had taken and took comfort in the knowledge that they had proved themselves as soldiers – and that Hawker would taste the King's justice.
Every time you see the Queen's face, a man dies. That's why she stays indoors.

The Aftermath
This game is really fun! I was a little suspicious of card-based activation, but it works really well for showing the friction of it all. I will however be adding a second Tiffin card when I play with my friends, who aren't quite as enamoured of battlefield randomness as I am.

Man of the Match goes to Frost for triumphing against 3:1 odds, and keeping his detachment essentially intact until Hawker's Turn Ten rampage, which absolutely decimated the brave band.

I think one of the best things about this game is that I really started identifying with the characters – the cool and detached Captain Frost, the irascible, cursing Sergeant Crow and the hapless but vindictive Hawker. I will definitely be adding this to my permanent stable! Also, the whole ten turn game took only 50 minutes. Amazing stuff.