Sharp Practice: Campaign Finale

Over the past weeks we’ve been playing the Star of Bravery campaign, following the adventures of the Capitaines Camille Cruchon and Charles Benés during the War of the fifth coalition in 1809, starting with the Austrian attack against Napoleon’s German allies. Now the enemy has been pushed back to their very doorstep and Napoleon and Archduke Charles battle it out at Vienna.

Our two heroes are present for the last big battle to end this horrible war. Their brigade is part of the left flank of Napoleon’s battle line, right at the brigade’s centre we got Cruchon’s and Benés’ companies. They are deployed at a small village named Strebersdorf. The Capitaines await their orders.

 

The Scenario

Since the game features both our characters (and forces) we were very happy to have the fabled K, who features in many of Cpt.Shandy’s battle reports, take on the role of the Austrian commander for this grand game.

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(Napoleon at Wagram, Horace Vernet)

This game takes place as part of a larger battle, and Cpt.Shandy put a lot of effort into working out special rules to reflect this. Apart from Force Morale, which determines the situation locally, he added Schlachtenglück (meaning in whose favour the battle goes) to depict the overall situation of the battle. Each random event and certain points in the game will trigger battle events take place to reflect the greater mayhem that rages on outside the boundaries of the gaming table.

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He also added orders by our superior, Générale de Brigade Delabréjaude, handed out to us before the game, meaning they were drawn at random. Then we got a pre-game phase reminiscent of Chain of Command’s patrol phase, but with a Napoleonic twist and units pre-determined to only deploy at certain deployment points.

Another important rule was that command cards were to be shared between players, but we are not allowed to talk to each other (in regards to planning moves or anything tactical) unless our leaders were physically next to each other on the table. We were allowed to send runners with short, hand-written notes.

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The Forces

French (Force Morale 13)

Initial Orders: ‘Hold and stand by for further orders.’

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Cpt.Shandy’s Force:

5 x Line Infantry, led by Capt. Camille Cruchon (Status III) and his second in command, Sergeant Fougasse (Merlot’s stand-in, Status II). Notes: He’s got Pinecourt with him

1x Voltigeur Skirmishers, led by a Sergeant (Status I) Notes: They got the Sharp Practice special rule.

1x Voltigeur Skirmishers, led by a Caporal (Status I) Notes: They got the Sharp Practice special rule.

 

My force:

5 x Line Infantry, led by Capt. Benés (Status III) and his friend Sergeant Bonhomme (Status II). Notes: He’s got a flag bearer with him.

1x Skirmishers, led by Sergeant Quellet, “Le Frelon” (Status II)

1x Skirmishers, led by Caporal Dodeux (Status I)

 

Support: Vivandiere (to be deployed when required)

 

Austrians (Force Morale 13)

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K’s force:

6x Line Infantry, led by a Status III Leader, and his second in command (Status II). Notes: They got the Stubborn special rule. They got a drummer and a flag bearer with them.

1x 3rd rank skirmishers, led by a Status I Leader. Notes: They got the Lack of Initiative special rule.

1x Wiener Freiwilligen Scharfschützen, led by a Status I Leader. Notes: They got the Sharp Practice special rule. They are equipped with rifles.

2x Grenzer infantry, led by a Status III Leader

2x Grenzer infantry, led by a Status II Leader

1x Grenzer sharpshooters, led by a Status I Leader. Notes: They got the Sharp Practice special rule. They are equipped with rifles.

1x Grenzer sharpshooters, led by a Status I Leader. Notes: They got the Sharp Practice special rule. They are equipped with rifles.

Support: Priest (to be deployed when required)

 

The Game

 

Preliminary Phase

Each side gets three Deployment Points, one of them is declared the Primary Deployment Point in secret and for each of them a simple order for where to move is written down. Then the players take alternating moves with their deployment points, as soon as they get to 55cm within enemy Deployment Points both are ‘locked down’. With our orders of “hurry up and wait” we aim to gain as much ground as possible and keep our options open for any further developments.

I’m to take the left flank with the Primary Deployment Point. The order for the Deployment Point is to move up and sit down behind the hill. Cpt.Shandy’s light infantry are more keen on moving into Strebersdorf and around the right flank with the river and the swamps and all the things light infantry feel at home in.

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That’s the flank where K puts her Primary Deployment Point. All her points start at the road in the top and advance down the road. Unfortunately for her, the dice don’t roll that well and the deployment points don’t get very far.

 

The Action

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Very true to Austrian form, the Deployment Points are slow to get going, but once they’re in place and the field officers get some free rein, suddenly the whole table is swarming with Austrian formations. At our left flank (my flank!), K deploys two lines of three infantry groups each. At the other flank, the Grenzers take possession of Strebersdorf.

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They aim to secure the bridge over the river, and run into some French skirmishers. A prolonged firefight across the river ensues.

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Then weird things start to happen. Or rather, nothing happens. We get TWO Chapter Ends.

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And I refuse to deploy anything. The Austrians on the other hand advance into an orchard (see above) and towards my deployment point on the left flank.

Due to a random event, a supply wagon shows up at our primary deployment point. Not that I got any troops there, but now the enemy knows where we got our primary deployment point.

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The Austrian infantry advance, forming up in a neat (and very large) line. They call in skirmishers for flank guard. These chaps kinda concern me, because if they took my deployment point we may prematurely more or less lose the game.

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Meanwhile more and more Grenzers climb into the orchard.

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Capt. Cruchon and Capt. Benés still aren’t on the table. They probably stand by for orders before they make a move. And finally an Aide de Camp shows up with the order to Attack the enemy and reduce their Force Morale to 2 or less whilst keeping ours as intact as possible.

No wonder we get the order for an all-out attack. The battle isn’t going well, as indicated by the Schlachtenglück value:

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To keep those Austrian skirmishers from snatching my deployment Point away I deploy Quellet’s skirmishers behind the hill, just so they can open fire at the enemy skirmishers. This leads to another prolonged firefight between skirmishers.

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In Strebersdorf, Grenzer sharpshooters just cross the main road as Sergeant Fougasse deploys with two groups of light infantry.

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They open fire…

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…and not only decimate the Grenzer sharpshooters, but also startle a small family of pigs (and a dog). The beasts break out and start running down the road.

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Change of plans! Another Aide de Camp arrives with new orders. Now we are to take and hold Strebersdorf by capturing the church!

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Now that we finally have our correct orders (or so I hope), I choose to deploy my line infantry. The enemy has gotten dangerously close to the deployment point, time to reveal their position behind the slope. Capt. Benés has his men present and fire at the Austrians at short range, the effect is adequately impressive.

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The slightly startled Austrians return fire, but the activation cards favour the French this time. They seem to have the upper hand.

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Meanwhile Sergeant Fougasse cleared the road. The Austrian Grenzer sirmishers fled back over the fence, while the poor lifestock were done away with when the men wouldn’t stop firing down the road, out of fear that more Austrians might show up. Remembering the objective, Sergeant Fougasse sends one of his groups to secure the church while him and the other group stand guard outside.

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The Frenchmen immediately throw out the priest and start looting the church. The very upset clergyman runs over to the Austrian commander to bring forth a formal complaint.

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The presence of a catholic priest of course bolsters the men’s resolve. At least a bit.

Most unexpectedly, a group of Austrian hussars show up! Maybe they were on scouting duty, heard the commotion and decided to partake in the action, maybe they are just late to the battle. Who knows. What we know though is that they’re here now and that they may be a major pain.

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Meanwhile the Grenzers are having a hard time navigating the orchard. They would love to deploy in line to send some salvos across the river and rid themselvs of these pesky skirmishers over there, but it’s just not that easy.

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Finally they get two groups behind the church, and the other two groups have shrunken down enough to deploy into an effective line:

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In Strebersdorf itself the Volunteer Jägers pop up out of seemingly nowhere to challenge Fougasse’s men. Unfortunately the salvo isn’t very effective and the Jägers retreat again.

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An Austrian supply wagon deploys, revealing their primary deployment point.

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Much more importantly though, the Austrian line starts faltering under French salvos.

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Capt. Benés sees that the moment has arrived. “At them, soldiers of France! For the Repu- ….tation of the emperor Napoleon I.! Pas de Charge!”. Full of élan, the whole line charges at the enemy. They are so shaken that most of them surrender instantly.

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The Austrian commander refuses to admit defeat yet though. He rallies his group for one more counter-attack.

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They charge Benés’ line’s far-most group; drum-beating, flag-waving, blue-murder-screaming (that’s the priest) and sword-swinging (the Austrian officer). And they soundly beat the French group who break and flee.

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The damage has been done though – Austrian Force Morale is down to 5. French Force Morale sits at 9. The battle starts swinging around a bit as well, the score being 11 to 9 now that the light infantry seized the church.

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At the other flank the Grenzer infantry finally gets into position neatly. They are unaware of the goings-on at the other flank, and rejoice as they start doing serious damage to the French skirmishers across the river.

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And then – seemingly out of nowhere – HE finally appears! No, not that one, but it’s Capitaine Cruchon! Nobody knows what kept him so long, but now he appears at the head of a column of light infantry.

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Capt.Benés doesn’t notice the arrival of his comrade. His eyes are firmly on the prize, and the prize is that Austrian flag. Many months ago he failed to capture one, and this has been torturing him ever since. Today Benés would get his flag!

As the French overpower the flag party, Benés goes for the flag itself. The Austrian officer, who proved his fighing spirit with the counter-charge, is determined not to have the Frenchman steal his colours. A duel ensues. The few weeks of training in garrison at Linz still can’t make up for the years of fencing the Austrian officer got under his belt. Once more Benés is outclassed by the nobleman, but this time the Frenchman brought an equalizer in the shape of his heavy Pallasch. Benés throws all caution in the wind and goes for big swings at his opponent. The Austrian evades the blows and gets some hits on Benés, but our hero is more determined than ever. He knows that all it takes is one good hit. After several rounds of back and forth he manages to land that hit and from that point on the Austrian is on the defensive. He barely blocks the heavy blows, but eventually he’s beaten.

Benés captures his flag.

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The drummer boy and the priest flee the scene.

This does it for the Austrian Force Morale. It’s down to -2, the French Force Morale is at 8.

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The battle on the whole is a bloody stalemate, but within the scope of our own little part of the world here on the left flank of the battle it’s a French Victory.

 

Debriefing

What a game! Also: what a strange game. It took quite a while to get going, but things were rather exciting right from the get-go.

The French deployment points got much further in than the Austrian ones, but then the activation cards counter-acted that by favouring the Austrians early on, and they took the opportunity to deploy and swiftly get themselves some space. One of the points of note in these early phases has got to be K putting on a showcase in maneuvering the Austrian infantry lines, turning them into one on the march.

My only chance in trying to resist that was to wait until the very last moment with deploying my infantry and then hit them before they could hit me. Fortunately that worked really well, and my guys got two salvos in before the Austrians were able to counter-fire. On the whole I was rather pleased with getting the left flank, where I had ample space to deploy and do my unsubtle workings.

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An overview of the situation at the end of the battle.

The right flank for the most part was held by a single group of light infantry skirmishers, which the Austrian Grenzers just weren’t able to dispose of. This was in part due to getting tangled up in the orchards. These were a very promising position, but getting any sort of line going within the confines of the fences proved to be problematic. In the beginning I was rather concerned about the Grenzers just storming across the bridge to shoo our skirmishers away with cold steel, but they opted to take the orchard and try to deploy formations. It’s the more proper way of doing it, but it proved to be time consuming. Also: The Grenzers were cursed with some really bad dice luck. Once the Grenzers were in position though our skirmishers were in deep doodoo. One more phase and they probably would have been gone.

There was relatively little fighting within Strebersdorf itself, as fighting across built-up areas usually is messy, random and unfavourable.

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The road in the right breaking in such a horrifying fashion is testament to the excitement during the heat of the battle.

Those hussars came as a bit of a surprise, but in the end they were too late to really have an impact on the game.  Luckily so, because they would have been a major problem.

Last, but not least, it was a shame that Capt.Cruchon only got into the game at the very end. His men played a pivotal role in holding the right flank for so long and took the Strebersdorf church, so we’ll assume that he pulled strings from the back.

Big thanks to K, who had a huge task at her hands, not only fighting two opponents (which always is an iffy spot to be in), but also for having to juggle two forces at once. Defying these odds, she put up a hell of a fight, despite the dice letting her down in the latter half of the game.

 

Campaign Phase

As usual, we stated by rolling for Honour points gained. Capt. Benés did all sorts of things, leading two successful bayonet charges, capturing enemy colours and killing an enemy officer. Both him and Capt.Cruchon gained honour points for winning a battle.

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No random events this time, no further battles. The war is over, but the yoke of monarchism still lies heavy on peoples throughout the civilized world.

We rolled for promotions, but both the capitaines (despite their great efforts) are overlooked.

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“Comrade! So you made it too. That really was the big one, eh?” – “No doubt. We beat the Austrians again, the emperor dines in Vienna.” – “The war is finally over. What are we going to do now?” – “Well, I hear the British are trying something in Spain.” – “We beat their mercenary armies before.” – “The Russian Tsar- ” – “…is our dearest ally. And if he tries something we march right up to Moscow and give him a kicking. A land war in Asia is the most favourable situation for the emperor’s army!” – “If you say so.” (Artist: Dionisio Alvarez Cueto)

And thus ends our Star of Bravery campaign. The very first campaign I actually saw the end of so far. Many thanks to Cpt.Shandy for working the whole thing out and putting endless hours and immeasurable enthusiasm into it. A good time was had.

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I hope that you enjoyed the battle reports. I’m sure this isn’t the last we hear of Camille Cruchon and Charles Benés, so stay tuned for further adventures!

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