Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Nathan's ACW "Sharp Practice" Stag

The Stags - Left to Right, JJ, Steve M, Chas, Colin, Nathan, Panjo, Vince, Jason and Andy
This weekend a few of us gathered to surprise a good friend of mine who is getting married and we needed to get together for a surprise stag party,

Jason was organiser and Gamemeister for the day and young Nathan was under the impression that he was off to Prickly Ball Farm, run by his sister, for a family breakfast only to find all the chaps in attendance for a big game of Sharp Practice. Total surprise achieved and one of the first objectives ticked off the list.

The table set up ready for the off Union forces on the right
Stag Parties, when you reach a certain age, take on a whole different meaning to the more commonly accepted description of the event and not many of our motley crew, including the prospective groom, would have been up for or would have had the constitution to take on a beer imbibing trip to Budapest. Thus I, and I suspect a few others, were very happy to help bring together the party plan of putting on a big American Civil War Sharp Practice game instead.

As you can see we had quite a large game set up with symmetrical forces from the American Civil War with each side, Union and Confederate having two infantry and two cavalry formations each with two leaders and three units, which were randomly divided up between the eight players.

The table seen from the Union right flank
The information about the units and the leaders were all prepared in separate envelopes and included an individualised mission that if achieved would contribute to a sides objective, namely to achieve more missions than the enemy.

The opposing forces start to move on to table
So the example for my Union command read:
You are Lieutenant R.Guy, a junior officer in the 3rd Indiana Cavalry. A former ranker, your prowess and natural leadership saw you rise rapidly trough the ranks until you were recently commissioned. You are no looker but have a pleasant manner and try to behave with honour befitting an officer.

You have direct command of three units of eight cavalrymen, aided by Sergeant Case. One unit has been given the new breech loading carbines, the others have older muzzle loading carbines.

Your mission is to find and retrieve a cannon that was left behind yesterday. It is somewhere in this area but has been hidden in the barn on the small farm to try to stop the Confederates finding it. You have a limber and rider to retrieve the gun when you find it.

Your cavalry may dismount, becoming six man skirmish units armed with carbines if they do so. Please bear in mind that these are not shock cavalry.

My Union cavalry together with limber team move on to table
Initially attempting to enter the table at the most appropriate point in relation to where you needed to get to became mission critical as time and space were limited and getting where you needed to be by the most direct route was the first priority.

Chas' Reb infantry together with explosives wagon move into the line
Unfortunately, that table entry point was on the the throw of a d6. The good news was that my die result of two put me on the road directly towards the farm and its very important barn.

A solid line of Union infantry form up on my right flank over the river
The Union forces came on in what looked like an organised set up with both cavalry forces out on the left and left-centre and the infantry over the other side of the river on the right. The Confederate deployment was much more of a mixed bag with cavalry and infantry alternating across their front.

This meant that the two Union cavalry forces were faced off by Confederate infantry and cavalry.

Reb cavalry units were spread out along their whole line
Of course given the nature of these individual mission encounter games, you couldn't assume that the forces opposite you would stay like that and sure enough the Reb cavalry in front of my units peeled off to their left and ran the gauntlet of my carbines from six of my chaps as they used a nearby bridge to cross the river to my right.

My skirmish line near the river was to cover my approach on the barn but if I could lend a hand to my fellow infantry commanders next door then why not if it didn't interfere with my primary mission.

The fight starts to develop around Prickly Ball House
The battle quickly developed as the Union infantry came out from the home edge tree line and formed a formidable looking line on top of a ridge over looking the Reb lines as they attempted to close in.

The Union infantry moved up to get a position on the hills
On the Union left my fellow cavalry commander swung out and fast on the extreme flank in an attempt to come in behind the Reb infantry closing on my farm and its barn.

I made it to the barn first and while searching it from top to bottom ordered my breech loading squad to lay it on thick and heavy towards that same Reb infantry.

Union cavalry dismount to contest the Union left flank. The farm and its barn are held by my cavalry
With nothing found in the barn I decided to send a squad forward to the farm house and add yet more fire power on to the Reb line. They say fortune favours the brave and as Sergeant Case accompanied the squad to the house he rather fortuitously tripped over a rather large cannon en route.

Reb cavalry cross the bridge to put pressure on the Union infantry over the river
That was where my fortune ended as the first round of firing from my forward squad heralded a special event check that saw my squad get carried away with their enthusiasm to take it to the enemy and leaving the nice cover of the farm I had ordered them into, promptly charged the Reb line opposite.

Needless to say the result was not pretty and my boys ended up legging it back down the road with half the number that went up it.

Some of my cavalry get carried away and rashly attack Reb infantry
Just then a pause in our game was heralded by the overflight of some unidentified warbird attending the weekend Torbay air-show. The day previously I had photographed the Spitfire and Hurricane flying back from the show over my house.

The noise attracted our attention and so grabbing the camera I headed outside to find out what was overhead and managed to grab the picture below of a lovely Catalina flying boat.

It was an aircraft like this that spotted the Bismark in mid Atlantic in May 1941 following the sinking of HMS Hood. The subsequent sighting report enabled HMS Ark Royal to vector in her Swordfish torpedo bombers that caused the fatal damage to the great German battleship's rudder. The damage sealed the fate of the raider causing her loss of speed to enable pursuing Royal Navy surface ships to close in and sink her a few days later.

A nice surprise overhead during the Torbay air-show - Catalina  Flying Boat
Back to the table and suddenly it was looking like a bad day at the Union Office as Confederate infantry swept forward on to the Union ridge and around Prickly Ball House, supported by their cavalry that had managed to cross the river using a bridge that needed to be blown up by the Confederate infantry getting their support.

Steve and Chas fighting hard for the rebs against Nathan and Vince's Union Infantry on the ridge at Prickly Ball House
Meanwhile my fellow Union cavalry commander was taking severe casualties and shock as he closed in on the Reb left flank and my forward squad was running back having rashly attacked the Confederate infantry opposite the farm.

On the plus side, my breech-loader squad were shredding the Reb infantry near the farm and my limber team were moving up to secure the gun before the enemy got any closer.

A pause on the Union left flank as the action proceeds on their right
As the gun was hitched up, the Union cavalry lines skirmished with the Reb infantry as they closed in on the farm. It was getting a little tense as each side hoped to get that activation necessary to thwart the foe directly opposite them.

The fighting around Prickly Ball House became a confused mass of  close up musketry
Meanwhile the fight on the Union right became fast and furious as squads fought desperately to gain the upper hand and with Confederate commanders getting shot, wounded and charged over as the fighting gradually turned in favour of the blue-bellies.

The Reb cavalry took a lot of casualties around the house
As my command sought to cover the limber team as it started to prepare the withdrawal of the gun I detached Sergeant Case to recover my squad close to the river and assemble them by the road as I made preparations to pull out.

The explosives wagon couldn't get on to the bridge to do their work
The high water mark of the Confederate attack had been reached on both flanks and the Union troops were starting to recover lost ground or bring the enemy forward momentum to a halt as casualties and shock started to take effect.

My cavalry escort the recovered gun hitched up to my supporting limber team
The day was drawing to a close and both sides were well and truly battered but with a slight advantage resting with the Union, confirmed by the two objectives achieved to just one by the Confederates.

The Rebs fought hard and pushed in the Union line severely in several places 
We all had a great day playing in an excellent venue, with great hosts and maintained on plenty of hot drinks and food that sustained us during the hard table top fighting during the day.

The Union counter-attack on the right flank stabilises the line
Not only that, but we got a taste of that cake with a well deserved mug of tea to wash it down with.

A fine looking cake to help celebrate the day
Congratulations to Lin and Nathan for their wedding next month and thanks to the chaps who helped make a great day celebrating it in the best way wargamers can with great fun, banter and plenty of toys on the table.

Next up Talavera Previews, Mr Steve goes all Roman in Silchester and JJ has fun in deepest darkest North Devon.


  1. First time I have seen a wargame as the center of attention at a stag party! Great! The shako cake is a marvelous addition and the game looks terrific.

    You guys know how to party!

  2. A great day! Nathan's face was a picture!

  3. A very enjoyable game, with an airshow thrown in.

    It was worth it just to see Nathan's face when he walked in. Surprise didn't really cover it !


  4. Great looking game and very cool cake!

  5. Looks like a fun day, and that cake! Amazing.

  6. What a great idea! Kudos for pulling it off so well.

    And of course, many congratulations to the bride and groom!