Scenario and Forces
Our first Sharp Practice battle showed that the game is fundamentally fun, so we were eager to play it some more. The first chance was between Jonas, again marshalling his proud French, against Zach who would try his first game as commander of the just as proud Russian forces.
Scenarios are a big part of what keeps a game fresh after you've played a few straight up fights. We decided to play the rules more or less straight off from the book, without any of the house rules we've started to think up, including rolling for scenarios. We didn't use the point cost for armies and special support etc., though. Since the French side won the previous game, we decided to just play with the very same forces, but with one French unit less. The dismounted Dragoons got a well deserved rest by the coffee brewer.
4 units of line infantry
3 units of grenadiers
2 units of jäger skirmishers
4 units of line infantry Fusiliers
3 units of line infantry skirmishers
1 unit of mounted Dragoons
The Russians got some additional NCOs, while the French got fewer NCOs but a lvl 4 officer to lead their force compared to the lvl 3 Russian officer.
First we set up the terrain. We imagined two scouting forces approaching an important crossroads, overlooked by a rather well built house that would be a perfect night shelter for weary soldiers:
Well, the rulebook thought otherwise! Rolling for scenario, we came up with the Escort Mission. The French force was tasked with making sure that an escorted model (maybe an Aide de camp who got their horse felled?) got from one short edge of the table to the other, in this case the upper walled-off left square on the picture. Once the scenario had started the Russians would roll for where they'd enter, and then try to capture the French VIP.
Deployment and initial moves
The French were allowed to deploy all their troops first, and then make half a D6 moves, which was 1. But since the table was pleasantly sans-Russes, the French units could deploy quite far from the deployment point (as there were no enemies within line of sight). The French deployed wide with a big four-unit formation of Fusiliers on the left, supported by a single unit of skirmishers, a formation of two skirmishers on their right flank, and a single unit of Dragoons on the left flank. Still lacking a Dragoon officer, they were led by a mounted infantry officer! The Horror!
The Russians rolled for entry point, which would be by the curved stone wall next to the fork in the road. After that, turn 1 begun, with both generals kept in check by a stern yet fair impartial judge who helped supervise the Chip drawing.
The Russians got the initiative, and moved a single unit of Grenadiers onto the table to intercept the French. Then disaster struck! Three command flags were rolled, which causes a random event, that affects the leader or unit that acted most recently. The Grenadier NCO had stumbled in the sand bunker, so eager to gain the first glory, and had strained his ankle. -1 to all movement distances for him!
Otherwise the first turn proceeded unusually efficiently. With all French forces deployed, they used their activations to march forward, closing in on the first (of several) fences to climb over on their way to freedom. Meanwhile, the Russians started to deploy into a deadly firing line by the fork in the road.
We thought we were supposed to play with 5 command flags per side, but this turn showed that four was plenty enough for the size of our forces. So we cut them down to four after this initial turn, which was definitely enough.
The Russians formed up next to the house, with the line infantry and skirmishers drawing a bead on the approaching French. The Grenadiers form up and started to climb over the ungainly stone wall. The French answer by diverting the larger formation of skirmishers for a shooting duel with the Russians, and the Dragoons hide behind the woods, ready to pounce if any Russian troops would advance too close. Meanwhile, the French line infantry gets clear order to leg it towards the table edge, as soon as their Gallic legs can manage.
The French gamble on the ability of three lone units to hold off the Russian force long enough to slip through the net on the other side of the house. The vanguard of Voltigeur skirmishers open up on the Russian skirmishers behind a fence, but with little to show for. A series of volleys leave the Russians with two fallen troopers, but no impact on morale.
The Russian reply is quick and deadly. With a loud roar the grenadiers rush through the woods covering the Dragoons, and crash into them. The surprised cavalrymen barely have a chance to turn around before they are cut down to a man. For the exchange of a single fallen grenadier, the entire French unit is wiped out.
To make matters worse, the hard pressed voltigeurs are clearly outmatched by the Russian skirmishers today. Their losses are few, but they rack up a lot of shock, caught in the open while the Russians hide behind a fence. After exchanging a few volleys it's too much for the French skirmishers, who are forced to retire. Their sole solace is that the Russians are carried away with their uncontrolled fire. Failed rolls to control them means that they stay behind their fence firing fruitlessly at the rapidly retreating Frenchmen instead of pursuing the remaining Fusiliers.
But clearly somebody is still in good spirits, despite the rapidly crumbling flank. The French side is boosted by a series of fortunate events. First, under the oversight of the impartial judge, I swear to mon dieu, we draw a single French command flag followed by the Tiffin, that ends the turn. So the Fusiliers graciously decide to sod those other guys who are busy dying to protect them, and run towards the building, climbing over more fences. Then, after activating at the start of the next turn, we draw another random event! The Fusiliers, obviously happy to be out of Russian sight, gets to move again as they loudly sing La victoire est a nous. Now it's all down to a chase for the table edge!
With his Skirmishers shooting at the back of running Frenchmen, and the Grenadiers on the other side of the field (possibly looting Dragoon pockets), it was up to the Russian line infantry to turn heel and put up a chase. What followed was a nerve-wrecking series of turns. The Frenchmen, clearly singing too much, got thirsty due to a random event, which made them walk slower! But then, just as the Russians saw their chance, the dust kicked up on the dry roads caused them to become just as thirsty. In the end, the Russians were marching within a few yards from the French, harried by the last French skirmish unit who tried to put shock markers on the Russians to slow them down.
The French had the choice to either continue for the table edge, with exposed flanks, or file up for a melée. The fate of the VIP hung on a single outhouse, dividing the two forces. Who would get to move next? Would the thirst be enough to stop either side from achieving their goal? Would the French go for a fight or press on?
With the drummers almost falling over each other, the Chit drawn is French! They need to roll high, but take the chance and it's enough! The harried column manages to slip away from the furious Russian captain at the very end. Another French victory, and yet again, by the skin of their teeth. Hourrah!
Thoughts and summary
Well, it was a fun game. Again, it felt like the addition of the NCOs mostly slowed down the game, as they rarely has anything to do when you draw them. That can probably be slimmed down pretty easily.
The Scenario was interesting, but in the end it was more about drawing Chips than fighting, which might also have because of the terrain. It was clear quite early on that the French could not have fought their way through the Russians, so it was bound to become a chase, where the French sacrificed their other troops to try to rush through.
It was also yet again obvious that shooting is dangerous, but not deadly, but close combat is brutal and will destroy units.
Overall, it gave us more ideas about what to tinker with. But more importantly, it made us want to give it another go! And I hear there are more Napoleonic miniatures on the painting tables at the club now, so who knows what's next...
"Glory is fleeting,