“Try again, there must be a response” Captain Sylas Rhodes was worried. If the lines were down between Middletown and Strasburg that could, surely, mean that Yankee cavalry were abroad. The telegraph operator tapped out his message again, but still no response came. Where were those damned cavalry? The Confederate Intelligence officer, Colonel Delfont Strange, had told him they were preparing to take Miss Delight up the pass, but there was no sign of them. He truly hoped he hadn’t misheard.
“Take your men up into those trees Nate” Captain Abner Spiderwebb pointed towards a small copse that stood atop the ridge “from up there you should get a good view down into Meadow Mills. Nothing much of a place, so you should see plainly enough if the Rebs are there”.
Nate Bouldermeir scrambled up the slope, sixteen men following him up. The young Lieutenant squatted down amid the tangle of tree roots that were exposed where the rich soil had been washed away by the spring thaw. Through his field glasses he could see the grubby white of the tents that were dotted all around the small village. A sentry was over by the large barn, but other than that there was no sign of life on this chilly morning.
Heading back down the hill the Lieutenant reported his findings to his commander. Lieutenant Robin Reliant had now come up from the rear of the column and the three Union officers discussed there plan.
It was a single shot and a cry of alarm that told Captain Rhodes that his suppositions were right, the Yankees were indeed much too close for comfort. “Keep trying!” He called to the telegraph operator as he ran for the door, closely followed by Lieutenants Zacharia Hogg and Bart Enders. As he left the building the Captain looks up the Valley road to see men in blue seemingly pouring across the small rise and running towards the Confederate encampment. “Get your boys up, gentlemen, we have some tough fighting ahead of us I suspect. And whatever happens, keep an eye out for the lady”. As he ran he could see Sergeant Shanklin emerge from the house where Miss Angel Delight was ensconced.
“Just checkin’ on the lady’s safety sir” the Sergeant cried as he ran down the road towards the small orchard where his men were camped, straightening his atire as he ran.
“On boys, on” Captain Spiderwebb waved his sword before him as he ran on. He could see knots of rebels emerging from their encampment now, attempting to form a firing line. Here and there a few shots were being fired, but it seemed that nothing could stop the tide of Blue. From the hill Nate Bouldermeir defied orders to join in the rush, abandonging the cover of the trees for the slopes covered in spring flowers.
The first rebel volley had been an uneven affair, fired by startled men who emerged from their tents. Now their officers were with them, reassuring them, imploring them to aim low, and the second attempt was much improved. Here and there groups of Union troops halted to return fire, a sure sign that the attack was losing much of its impetus at fifty yards out. It was fortunate for the rebel commanders that their encampments were placed largely on the north side of the village, and now six out of seven Groups of infantry were able to bring their fire to bear from cover onto just six Groups of Union troops.
Lieutenant Reliant looked down from the western end of the ridge. He could see that the Captain’s initial rush was meeting stiffer opposition than expected, but he could also see that the Rebel defenders were all concentrated to the north of the village. The open fields to the west would be their Achilles heel. Pausing for a moment he spoke with Sergeant Kapp, then the pair marched forwards with their men.
Lieutenant Bart Enders moved through the farmyard, keeping up the fire on the men in blue who were now falling back into the copse on the ridge to the north. Enders had beaten off the attack, but his men had taken some hard knocks. The appearance of a formed line on his flank, and the crashing volley that they delivered saw his westernmost Group of men flee back towards the centre of the village. Next to them another Group of men were stood firing, but the flight of their neighbours saw them caught up in the retreat.
To the south side of the village Sergeant Shanklin could see two Groups of Union troops moving around the flank. As he engaged the yankees on the ridge fire tore through his men from the flank. Briefly he attempted to turn to face the new threat, but a second volley saw his men fall back towards the village. A third volley saw them break and run into a street already croweded with Lieutenant Ender’s men. The retreat became a rout.
“Sir, sir. I have got through to Strasburg. I have a message for you from a Colonel Delfont Strange”. The telegraph operator handed Captain Rhodes a message. He swore as he read it then ran across to Lieutenant Hogg and his men in the garden of the house where Miss Delight was packing her valise.
“We’re to get out of here now. Apparently a party of cavalry have been depsatched to Middletown to escort Miss Delight up the valley.”
“Middletown?!” Zacharia Hogg looked momentarily confused “that that means breaking through them yankees and heading north!”
“Sure does.” Sylas Rhodes surveyed the scene as his men sent another volley northwards to clear a party of yankees who had the temerity to cross the ridge “Look, you take your men and the young lady. They Yankees to the north have been hurt pretty bad. Their troops over to the west of the village will have to fight their way past me before they can trouble you. I reckon you have the best chance to get through the cornfield and slip away past the yankees before they can get themselves organised”.
Captain Spiderwebb was attempting to rally his men by promises, threats or actual violence, whatever could get his troops back into a state where they could resume their attack. General Bouldermeir had promised promotion if he could bring back Miss Delight, and the United States Intelligence Services had a rope waiting for the beautiful young spy. His men had suffered in their initial attack, but it was morale that had failed them, and he knew that the force could be rallied once again. Slowly but surely the men were falling into the ranks.
Captain Rhodes felt the shock of another Union volley wash over his men. The fire from the enemy line was now supplement by fire from the copse on the ridge and around him men were falling back. Sergeant Shanklin rushed past, shouting a warning that the Yankees were behind them in the village. For a moment Rhodes paused his men along the garden fence, sending another few rounds towards the advancing men in blue. Briefly he looked northwards to the cornfield and prayed, then he was gone, running through fields towards the valley pike. He’d head for Strasburg, and in the meantime he could but trust that Zacharia Hogg could get Miss Delight through to Strasburg.
“Them danged fool blue boys seem to be doing drill on the road. The Corporal had edged forward to where the cornfield met the road. There he had seen a Union Captain forming his men up ready for a fresh advance on Meadow Mills. It was all the information Lieutenant Hogg needed.
“If you’ll beg my pardon miss, we are about to run like the very Devil is after us. If you would be sure to keep up I would be much obliged.”
For a brief few seconds the running rebels were exposed on the road, and then were lost in the woods that would hide them all the way to the very edge of Middletown. The rebel bird had flown.
So, what happened?
Well, it was a really fun game. So much so that I missed out on getting a photo of Robin Reliant coming round the flank. The terrain in the village and the enforced Rebel deployment (within 6” of the buildings) meant that their force was potentially broken up and crtainly wouldn’t be able to cover all avenues of approach. As it happened the rebels put six out of seven Groups on the northen edge of the village, and that served them very well initially. The lethal cross-fire that came from those units really knocked holes in the initial Union advance. However, when the Union then responded by sending four Groups round the flank, on Blinds initially, the rebels simply fell apart on that flank. Three groups were, quite literally, route from the table, leaving four coherent groups left to try to get Miss Angel Delight off the table.
Captain Rhodes sacrificed his two Groups of men to buy time to allow Zacharia Hogg to make a run for it. A truly amazing run of cards saw Hogg sprint through the cornfield and slip away before Captain Spiderwebb could do anything about it. It was really one of those games when you know that an IGO-UGO system simply could not have achieved the same result, and certainly not the same amount of fun.
But what about the rules? Several people have asked how they work from a technical point of view, so I thought I’d run through some of the core mechanisms that we use within Terrible Sharp Sword. In order to do this I have marked up some of the photos this week is to try to highlight some of the aspects of the rules. You can see in the second picture that I have marked boxes around the Union infantry Groups, each of eight men. These eight man Groups are the basic building block of our forces in Terrible Sharp Sword. They can operate as small Groups as they are, or they can be formed up into Formations by their commanders.
In the same picture, and some of the others, you will see men with circles around them, these are the battlefield commanders. In the parlance of the rules these are termed “Big Men”, in other words they are the larger than life characters that one reads about in all first hand accounts of war, the men who stand out from the crowd and lead. And that is exactly what they do in the rules.
Sharp Practice and Terrible Sharp Sword are card driven games. By that we mean that the turn sequence is determined by which cards are dealt from a single Game Deck. Each turn the deck is shuffled and the cards are dealt one by one. Each Big Man has a card in the Game Deck, and when his card is dealt he can take his go.
Basically a Big Man has a certain number of Command Points, Initiative in the parlance of the rules. This dictates how many things he can do. So, let’s take Lieutenant Zacharia Hogg as an example. He’s a Status Two Big Man, so he gets two Initiatives when his card is dealt. That allows him to do two things. For one point he can get a Group to fire, he can rally a Group, he can form Groups up into formations, he can try to spot an enemy, and a few other bits and pieces (I’m sticking to basics here to hopefully make things clear). In our game here we saw an interesting situation where Lieutenant Enders was commanding two Groups. Every turn he used his two points to get both Groups to fire. What he didn’t do was spend any points rallying his Groups, so when they were fired on by frehs Union troops their morale broke and off they ran.
So, how did that happen? Why did Enders allow his mens’ morale to fall so low?
Well, basically, a Group that is firing rolls the number of dice it has men. Eight men roll eight dice. When they are commanded to fire by a Big Man they also add one dice for each Status level he has. So with Lieutenant Enders that would be two extra dice. And when the Yankees have fallen on you like wolves on the fold it is entirely understandable that Enders would choose to put all of his energies there.
How did his mens’ morale break? When firing takes place in Sharp Practice the firer rolls his dice. Let’s assume that it is an eight man group that is firing with Lieutenant Enders’ +2 dice. So ten dice. However before we roll these we need to check that the enemy aren’t in cover. If they are then the dice is reduced depending on what cover there is. In this situation the target was in the open so all ten dice are rolled. Now, at that range the men hit of 5 or 6. If the target was in a close order line Formation, or the firer was in a close order line Formation that would become 4, 5 or 6. And if both were in Close Order line formation it would be 3,4,5 or 6. However here both the firer and the target are single eight man groups in loose formation. So 5 and 6 it is. For every hit the player controlling the target unit rolls a D6 to see what the damage is. He is hoping for lots of 1’s and 2’s as these represent a near miss, so nothing happens. He certainly doesn’t want 6’s as these kill a man. In between we have Shock, one point of which is caused on a roll of 3,4 or 5. And it is Shock which determines morale in the rules.
Shock works like this. Imagine you have a Group of eight men. I shoot at them and get six hits. You roll your six dice to see what the effect is. You roll 1, 2,3,4,5 and 6. That means that your eight man Group loses one man dead and gains three points of Shock. The next time you want to move thta Group towards me you lose three inches off your movement. Your men are not as keen to advance as they were as their morale is less than perfect. When you fire you lose one firing dice for every two points of Shock you have, so your men are not aiming as well due to the stress of combat.
Now, imagine that our firefight continues for a couple of turns. Now you are left with your Group reduced to five men with seven points of Shock. Not only will this reduce your forward movement by 7 inches, but more importantly the amount of Shock you have excedes the number of men in the Group. That means that your morale is at breaking point. For each point that Shock exceded the number of men you must retire a number of inches depending on your morale class. Your men are pretty average, so they retire 6”, 3” for each excess point of Shock. You can see from that how men can really end up beginning to edge backwards, then as they take more fire the excess Shock builds up to the point where they are streaming off the battlefield.
Now clearly you don’t want this to happen, and one of the functions of a Big Man is to rally his troops. If Lieutenant Enders hadn’t directed his troops’ fire they would have fired later in the turn anyway. They wouldn’t have had his +2 dice per Group, but he could instead have used his two Initiatives to reduce Shock on his Groups by two points. What is more, if he manages to reduce the Shock on his Groups to zero he can then form them up into a Formation and really increase their firepower.
One thing worth point out here is to look at our game above and see what happened to Captain spiderwebb’s force. Caught in the crossfire they were badly bruised, however they were not wiped out. What happened was that their morale broke when their Shock levels became too high, and they ran back over the ridge to the dead ground behind it. The Captain initially, and then Sergeant Chisholm, were able to work to rally these men, removing Shock each time their card was dealt, until they could form them up again and send them back into the fray.
The system of command and control that I have described above is at the very heart of Sharp Practice and now Terrible Sharp Sword. The whole game centres around the battlefield leaders and the command decisions that they must make. The system of Shock replaces any more checks, thereby keeping the game free of “litter”. I like games where the players are not confronted with a succession of tests or activation rolls as I believe that these encourage the players to think too much about the rules at the expense of real tactical decisions. When your card is dealt I want you to think about whether you need to rally your men, to direct their fire, or to lead them forward in a charge. And that is what the rules are designed to do in a streamlined and fun fashion.
Please do feel free to ask questions on the blog, I will certainly answer them in full, or maybe even write a seperate piece on the issue to be discussed. Or why not join the TooFatLardies Yahoo Group (voted the hobby’s most popular group on TMP only this week) where you’ll find a warm welcome and have lots of opportunity to chat about any aspects of the rules you want.