Sunday, 29 September 2013

Sharp Practice - Un moment de friction

Last weekend I had the pleasure of playing Sharp Practice with my old friend Mike of Trouble at T'Mill over in Peterborough. He has already published an AAR which you can find here. Here is the French side of the encounter, through the eyes of Capitaine Le Gros. Each side had six groups of infantry plus one light cannon and was led by four big men, including Captain Fondler and Capitaine Le Gros.

The table including some very fine hedges & woods
There was also a hill just off-camera to the left
Messieurs, I have to report a small but significant victoire over les Anglais near the village of Gemappes. Our troops encountered a mixed force of line and rifles with one cannon in support led, it turns out, by the infamous Captain Fondleur. Our scouts in the village spotted some British line on the opposite side of the river. I detached Caporal Epinace and a cannon to open fire on them while my force, a mix of fusiliers et grenadiers, advanced smartly towards woods in the centre.

Corporal Coventry and the British line
There was an initial exchange of fire as the British targeted our fusiliers while our cannon opened up on them; our fire, it must be said, could have been more accurate. Perhaps Epinace needs glasses. Further to my left Lt Petain showed some hesitance in advancing on the British position, which was secured behind a hedge (as was he himself) while on the flank Lt Legume led his voltigeurs towards the hills on the extreme left hoping to out-flank the enemie.

French gunners target the riflemen (and vice versa)
Before long the British line had been driven back to shelter behind the woods, but a new threat emerged on our right; British rifles approaching the village and threatening to outflank us as we had only a few scouts there (a dummy blind). The riflemen were able to get the better of our cannon, with their dreaded 'Sharp Practice' and for a while things were looking less than than rosie. In the centre Lt Petain had decided to take his men further over to the left and had deployed them en ligne; I cannot understand why he did not use la colonne.

Capt Le Gros & Corp Coventry meet in the woods
Before all was lost j'ai graspé le moment and led mes braves into the woods and then on to shoot at the British cowering behind ze 'edge. Then just as the second group of British line came into the forêt, I rallied my men and we charged. This was the moment on which the battle turned. The grenadiers were in their element and the British were made to run. Meanwhile on the left Legume's voltigeurs had succeeded in enfilading the British cannon and their line, delivering a crashing volley which caused chaos in the British ranks.

Ltn Petain finally gets his men moving
It was now looking as though victoire was ours. Lt Petain had finally moved somewhere useful and came over to the right to counter the threat of the rifles. They did not give in though and the rifles skillfully withdrew to threaten my men, and cover their retreat. Sadly Fondleur escaped to fight another day. Next time, I will catch him. For the moment though les Ros-Beoufs will think twice before tangling with us again. Vive L'Empereur!

At game end - French skirmishers overlooking the retreating British
In truth the encounter was rather closer than Capitaine LeGros admits. The fact that he got the initiative, having a chance to first play a Standfast card to rally his troops in the wood and then a Pas de Charge to charge the British was decisive. If it had been the other way round and the British had the initiative, and a chance to use their Thin Red Line card, it could have gone very differently.

Sunday, 22 September 2013


Ahoy there, m' heartries.

I should have posted something on this a couple of days ago for 'Talk like a pirate' day, but better late than never.

Recently I have played a couple of games of GMT's Blackbeard - The Golden Age of Piracy game, which I picked up in a sale a few months ago. This is a redesign published in 2008 of the original Avalon Hill Blackbeard game from the 1980's - I've never played the original but I understand it was a lot more fiddly and probably less fun.

It's a card-driven game which is supposed to play in 2-3 hours; once through the deck and the game is over. You control up to 3 pirates who generally make hay looting merchant ships and attacking ports before returning to a port where you can convert your loot to personal wealth. And then you are subject to 'Debauchery & Revellry' missing a turn or two. There are warships to avoid but the real foe are the 'King's Commisioners' who appear once your pirates acquire enough notoriety. The trick is get your pirate to retire safely before he is caught by a KC (unless you have a letter of Marque up your sleeve). In many ways it feels like a board game version of the Sid Meier Pirates computer game.

The Board at the end of a Game

Overall I have enjoyed playing. It's got a pretty high luck factor; if you don't see the funny side when your pirate is displaced by a mutiny or by someone else's pirate who turns out to have been in your crew & beats you in a duel taking all the loot you've 'earned' then this isn't the game for you. In truth there are a few places where I would like to iron out the wilder effects of the dice rolls and I would possibly try to change a thing or two to get a bit more action into the game. 

and the active pirates at the end of the same game

One of the things I do really like is that the rules include as background mini-biographies of all 23 pirates in the game. These are all historical figures such as John Rackham, Bartholomew Roberts (the 'Dread Pirate Roberts') and of course Edward Teach himself.

A biography from the rule book

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Flodden 500 (or What I did on my holidays)

September 9th will be the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden, the biggest defeat of the Scots by the English, at least terms of men killed. Rather by coincidence I went on holiday this year to the Scottish Borders and had the opportunity to find out more about this battle. I thought would put down something about the places we visited.

The battle actually took place rather closer to Branxton in Northumberland than Flodden (and it is sometimes called the Battle of Branxton). As well as the battlefield itself, there is an excellent exhibition at Etal Castle which is just a few miles away and is one of the castles which was captured by the Scots during their campaign; there is no visitor centre at the battlefield so a visit to Etal is well worthwhile. We also visited a small exhibition at the 'Old Guard' in Berwick-upon-Tweed

In the battle many of the Scots were armed with pikes, and had been trained by the French. The English, in contrast, had an army similar to that of the Wars of the Roses with many billmen as well as longbows.

Etal - display of English bills
and Scottish pikes

The two sides drew up on opposing hills; the English to the north of the Scots. The Scots led by James IV and the English by the  Earl of Surrey who had flank marched his men around the Scottish army. It was dull, damp and muddy having rained for most of the day.

The battle field from the English side -
in the middle distance you can see the dip in the land
Between the two armies was a dip. When the Scots got there they discovered it had turned into a marsh. Their pikemen lost all cohesion and instead of having the advantage over the shorter bills the pikes became unwieldy and were cut aside by the English.

The killing ground
The dip is still quite boggy even today now that the land has been drained

Looking up from the dip towards the English side
James IV led his men bravely in a desperate attempt to win victory, but he was cut down close to the Earl. He was the last British monarch to be killed in a battle.

"The Kynge of Scottes cam with a grete puyssaunce
upon my Lorde of Surrey, having on his lyfte hande
my Lorde Darcy son, which 2 bare alle the brounte
of the bataillle, and there the Kynge of Scottes was
slayne within a spere lengthe from the said Erle of 
Surrey, and many noble men of the Scottes slayne moo [more]"
     From the Articules of the bataillle bitwix the Kynge of 
Scottes and the Erle of Surrey', written shortly after the
battle by Thomas Howard, the Lord Admiral

In all, it is said that more than 10,000 Scots and 4,000 English died.

The memorial to the dead of both sides- erected 1910

Etal - prominent Scottish nobles who were killed
Including James IV, the Archbishop of St Andrews and the Bishop of the Isles 
Branxton church, nearby, was used as a mortuary after the battle

A few weeks before we were there, there was apparently a re-enactment event near Etal. Although I missed that I did get to an English Heritage living history event at Framlingham Castle a couple of weeks ago which was themed around Flodden:

A demonstration of the reach advantage of pike over bill
note how straight the pike isn't
Two 'knights' battle it out

Finally I could not resist putting in one toy soldier photo in this post:

Your author taking photoes of a small figure display at Etal
This is of course a gross oversimplification of the Battle of Flodden, but it will gives you a flavour from what I saw on my holidays.You can find out more for example at or