After a chastening defeat at the hands of French native allies, Lieut. Launderville, commanding Bland’s company of the Virginia Regiment has managed to get his surviving men to the settlement of Perdition, just in time to see the fort fall to a force of French Milice under the intrepid Capitaine Terieur. Launderville determines to stand and fight on the edge of Perdition. The captured Ensign Bumgardner has been replaced by his brother, a gentleman volunteer in the regiment now temporarily promoted ‘in room of’ his brother.
While his Indian allies skulk deep in the woods, the intrepid Terieur and his band strike out towards the Widow Marrow’s house. The Virginians begin to move forward to the edge of the fields.
As Terieur’s men begin to close, first blood goes to the Virginians. A scattered volley of shots from the skirmishers sees a Canadian brought down.
Some of the Virginian skirmishers move up to the fence, to be startled by shots from the woods overlooking the farmland.
Terieur comes up to add more musket fire against the skirmishers on the fence line, who fall back badly shaken leaving one of their number behind dead. A heavy pall of smoke lingers, shrouding the Canadians in the woods.
Lieutenant Launderville arrives to the west of the Widow West’s two-storey cabin. He leads his tight packed column down to Paddle Creek; his intent is to turn the Canadian flank. His arrival sees young Bumgardner take his men over the fence.
The unspeakable Garennajenhaga, lurking in the woods on the appropriately named Shooter’s Hill, has his warriors begin to shoot at the advancing Virginian line but to little immediate effect.
Is history repeating itself? Young Bungardner, thirsting to avenge his brother has urged his men to press on fast. Launderville has once again been slowed more than he expected while crossing a creek and Nutter’s skirmishers are getting the worst of their musket duel.
While Launderville exhorts his men to wade faster, Bumgardner turns his men out of line and closes them up, preparing to sweep the woods clear of the Canadians. His men are thrown into some disorder by Huron fire from Shooter’s Hill, but Bumgardner brings them back into line with a precision that would do credit to regular troops. Their volley creates some confusion amongst the Canadians holding Woody Hill (an imaginative lot, the folk of Perdition), but no real harm.
The Canadian shooting drops more of Nutter’s skirmishers and wounding that officer whose men are becoming ineffective, a situation not helped by the incapacitation of Sergeant Fear. When Nutter is hit a second time, only the newly promoted Sergeant Knott is holding the skirmishers together.
Launderville is across the creek now and forging on towards the Huron on Shooter’s hill, whose fire is proving thus far a mere irritation to his men who he brings into line just as smartly as Bumgardner.
Seeing his men begin to falter under fire from the Canadians to the front and Huron to their rear on Shooter’s Hill, Bumgardner asks for three cheers for good King George, God bless him. His men respond lustily, and their next volley is shatteringly effective, killing five of the dozen or so Canadians with Terieur and Enseigne Laroux on Woody Hill. Laroux draws his men deeper into the woods, away from the galling fire.
But Bumgardner’s men are unwilling to press on; the fire from Shooter’s Hill is still unsettling them and they fall into confusion. Neither Bumgardner nor the stalwart Sergeant O’Rear can restore order. Terieur takes advantage of their irresolution to send his own men forwards to administer the coup de grace to Nutter’s rapidly fading skirmish line. Only the faithful Sergeant Fear stands his ground over the badly wounded Nutter’s prostrate form, everyone else dead or fled except Sergeant Knott who is retiring with his two remaining men.
Once again, Launderville has been defeated by inferior numbers and Perdition will be plundered and burnt by the French and their native allies.
Bland’s Company of the Virginia Regiment, newly arrived in the Devil’s Kitchen, have been ordered to escort Meneer Sterkgange, a representative of the Dutch West Indies Company, to Fort Perdition. At least Lieutenant Launderville presumed that his colonel’s utterance, ‘God be pleased but that damn’d Frog and his foul pipe be taken swiftly to Perdition!’ constituted orders to take the gentleman to the fort of that name (the reader will recollect that until the late 1700s it was Dutchmen who were known to the English as ‘frogs’) .
Launderville intends to skirt the right bank of Sulphur Creek with the bulk of his force, half under his own command and half under Ensign Bumgardner, who is entrusted with the care of ‘Frog’ Sterkgange. Meanwhile Lieutenant Nutter and Sergeant Fear are skirmishing across the stream to flush out any potential ambush and Sergeant Forcam leads more skirmishers into the small wood atop Horny Hill to cover the open right flank.
Sergeant Fear’s bold foray towards the woods has upset the cunning plans of the unspeakable Khionontatehronons whose fiendish aim is to seize the strong tobacco of Sterkgange for his own, letting his warriors content themselves with scalps, clothing, weapons, etc. With a cry of fury, he opens the fight. A dozen of his braves fire from the woods upon the hapless Forcam and his men, who, finding Horney Hill clear of foes, have descended to Sulphur Creek. Private Branch will live no more to carry on his family’s tree and Forcam himself is hit in the left buttock, a fact made known to all in the vicinity in no uncertain terms by the man himself, with an ample selection from his extraordinary repertoire of oaths.
Forcam, hopping switly and cursing all the while, leads his men smartly back into the wood atop Horney Hill.
The twin colums of Virginian line advance and Khionontatehronons decides to risk advancing some of his men from the woods to fire on Bumgardner’s men while Khionontatehronons himself leads more warriors against Sergeant Fear. The natives must have been swindled in their latest trade for powder as all their shots result in nothing but noise and smoke. Fear falls back to align himself with the advancing Nutter who has gained the woods atop the little ridge that overlooks Neck Woods.
Garennajenhaga, Khionontatehronons’ right-hand man strikes out across Sulphur Creek to try to take the provincials in the flank. Nutter and Fear get their men fighting in Indian style, dropping back through the trees to reload after firing.
The main body of provincials press on. Launderville takes his column down to ford the creek, which they begin in splendid, splashing style, while Bumgardner presses on.
Khionontatehronons is becoming annoyed by Nutter’s skirmishers and when two of his warriors are killed by the hitherto ineffectual sniping from the ridge, he launches a charge with a whoop. Half the men he has ordered forward are too preoccupied with shooting at Bumgardner to react quickly enough and so Khionontatehronons is outnumbered by Nutter’s little band. The fight is short but furious. Both Nutter and the unspeakable Khionontatehronons are wounded and the unquenchable vigour of the natives sends Nutter and the two of his men who retain their scalps reeling for the shelter of the far bank of Sulphur Creek. They have given a good account of themselves though as three more braves lie stark amongst the trees.
Sergeant Fear’s men take their first casualty and begin to shrink from the fire of the warriors facing them. Fear shepherd’s them back across the creek, the mocking calls of the natives ringing in their ears.
Bumgardner has advanced quite rapidly, despite harassing fire and now shakes his men out into line. The young ensign has widely separated groups of warriors to his front, and another over the creek to his left flank but he is counting on Lieutenant Launderville to deal with the latter.
Some rapid if none too accurate firing from Khionontatehronons and the young warrior accompanying him is too much for the already shattered nerves of Lieutenant Nutter’s men. Despite the officer’s exhortations the pair take to their heels, Nutter chasing after them damning them for vile dogs (because as every British officer knows, vilifying an already frightened man is the best way to restore his self-esteem and get him back in the fight).
Sergeant Fear isn’t doing much better but he’s falling back slowly with his men just about in hand and getting off some shots in the general direction of the enemy.
It is a sad fact that while Ensign Bumgardner brought his men into line beautifully, their now have no targets, the pesky foes having slipped off to the flanks. The injured Sergeant Forcam can do little more than curse his sore buttock, though his men have at least managed to account for one of Garennajenhaga’s warriors.
Where is Launderville? His men have encountered muddy ground on the far side of the creek and are slithering about in their sodden shoes. Progress is slow and Launderville has dithered too long dressing his ranks. Young Bumgardner is perilously exposed and the men’s morale begins to crack. They give ground nervously, eyeing the warriors to flanks and front.
The fire is becoming deadly accurate and feeling themselves isolated and with ever-thinning ranks, the retreat seems inexorable.
Lieutenant Launderville realises that if he can drive the Huron from the woods in front of him, and kill the unspeakable Khionontatehronons into the bargain, the day may yet be saved. He leads his men forward, but their charge is rendered farcical by the men’s continued slithering and Launderville’s attempts to keep them in ranks.
Meanwhile, Garennajenhaga sees his opportunity to prove himself as mighty, perhaps mightier than the unspeakable Khionontatehronons. He leads his small band of brave hearts against the flank of Bumgardner’s line.
It is a massacre. A third of Bumgardner’s men are cut down before they can react or are tomahawked while begging for mercy. Only the ensign himself and Menheer Sterkgange are taken captive. A handful of men have stuck with Sergeant O’Rear, who helps himself to a stiff nip of gin from his water bottle and ushers his little group back to what might be safety.
But can Launderville still salvage some honour from the wreck?
Alas, Launderville proves too slow. With provincial morale shattered, who can save the day?
But wait! From the woods atop Horney Hill comes a foul oath! Down hops sergeant Forcam, cursing vilely, trailing blood from his injured buttock. Down with him come his small band of stout hearts to fall upon Garennajenhaga’s savages while they are at their gruesome scalpings.
Alas again. A man may hop of his left foot only so fast, and Forcam’s oaths alerted Garennajenhaga whose warriors fire and charge. It is a bitter end. Brave Forcam joins the list of captives and only one of his men manages to escape the scalping knives and run.
From the Milice du district de Trois-Rivières. The Canadian militia supplied a good deal of the relatively small amount of men available to the French in America.
The company is led by the intrepid Capitaine de Milice, Alain Terieur, a man of vast wilderness experience. Not always the steadiest, and unsuited to going toe to toe with regular troops, if fighting in their preferred style, which mimicked that of the natives, they could be formidable opponents.
Terieur is assisted by Lieutenant Felix Lechat, a whiskery fellow with cat-like reflexes, and the remarkably clean-shaven Enseigne Daniel Laroux, whose vanity of appearance is matched only by his modesty concerning his toilet arrangements.
The dour Sergent Grincheaux is the last of the company’s official complement of leaders.
Three young scions of the nobility from the Compagnie Franches de la Marine are along to prove their mettle, the agile De Grenouille, d’Inse (who is often slow on the uptake) and Bonnet (easily identified by his red hat).
The rifle-armed Boniface Tournage is widely regarded as the best shot in the Trois-Rivières.
The men are all Canadian born and first-class woodsmen.
In Sharp Practice terms the force comprises 94 points:
Leader Status III (Capitaine Terieur)
Leader Status II (Lieutenant Lechat)
Leader Status II (Enseigne Laroux)
Leader Status II (Élève Officier de Grenouille)
Leader Status I (Élève Officier d’Inse)
Leader Status I (Élève Officier Bonnet)
Leader Status I (Sergent Grincheaux)
Marksman Boniface Tournage
Seven Groups of 6 Milice Canadienne
It is unlikely that the entire company will be fielded at once. Terieur’s men often act as scouts and skirmishers for other French forces, or fight alongside the natives.
‘ the generallity of those who are to be Enlisted, are of those loose, Idle Persons that are quite destitute of House, and Home, and I may truely say many of them of Cloaths’
– George Washington describes his regiment.
The Virginia Regiment was one of several British regiments raised in the colonies.
This company is led, in the absence of the sadly anaemic Captain Bland, by Lieutenant Launderville, rumoured to be the bastard offspring of the late Justice of Westmorland County Court. Like his better-known, higher ranking and legitimate half-brother, he has a scarcely justifiable reputation for integrity and has invested heavily in the Ohio Company.
Launderville has two officers beneath him, the rather intemperate Lieutenant Nutter and, at the very bottom of regimental seniority, young Ensign Bumgardner. Nutter and Bumgardner are from the lower reaches of polite Virginian society, but are gentlemen nonetheless.
The company has four sergeants. Fear is well known to all the soldiers in the regiment and his old red coat proves his long service in the ranks. Forcam is foul-mouthed but much liked. The Irishman, O’Rear delights in proclaiming he is the man who put the gin in Virginia. Sergeant Toombs is a grave fellow.
Drummer Akin can beat the Retreat as well as any man in the army, as Colonel Washington delights in recounting.
While about half the men have smart new blue jackets and white-laced hats, some of the rest are still clad in their worn out old red coats and a substantial number have scarcely an item of military dress to mark them out as soldiers. While things are not quite as bad as in 1754, when Washington wrote ‘they are now Naked, and cannot get credit even for Hatts’, overall they have an unprepossessing appearance. Desertions and sickness have reduced the ranks well below their theoretical number.
In Sharp Practice terms the force comprises 73 points:
Leader Status II (Lieutenant Launderville)
Leader Status II (Lieutenant Nutter)
Leader Status II (Ensign Bumgardner)
Leader Status I (Sergeant Fear)
Leader Status I (Sergeant Forcam)
Leader Status I (Sergeant O’Rear)
Leader Status I (Sergeant Toombs)
A Musician (Drummer Akin)
Six Groups of 8 Provincial Regiment of Foot Line
Three Groups of 6 Provincial Regiment of Foot Skirmishers
The second edition of Sharp Practice gets the whole ‘revised edition’ thing right. I don’t want to dwell on the deficiencies of the first edition, which in fairness contained a lot of extremely good ideas, so I’ll just say that the second edition gives much more streamlined and more enjoyable play. The things that needed to be changed and improved have been, and there has been no tinkering for its own sake; some real thought has gone into the transformation process. I intend to be critical in this review so I will emphasise that this is the best set of musket-era skirmish wargames rules ever published and gives hugely enjoyable games.
The bite-sized version of this review is:
‘If you like wargaming in the musket era, buy these rules now.’
Stone Me! An Index!
The book is available in both A4 softback and pdf (which is just bloody sense in this day and age) with a nice large typeface (important in the printed version, there is little worse than settling down in bed with a rule book only to find one’s aged eyes cannot read a small font on coloured paper), decent diagrams where they are required, and lots of nice pictures of miniatures, which obviously aren’t necessary but do add a lot to the aesthetics. And yes, mirabile dictu, there is an index.
There’s just over 60 pages of rules, which given the font size makes them pretty concise, plus ten pages to cover the six included scenarios, and around three dozen pages with basic army lists for the French and Indian Wars, the Peninsular War, the American War of Ingratitude, the Indian Mutiny and the American Civil War. These lists cover the periods that are of most interest to most wargamers of the musket era. As you’d expect from the TooFATLardies, free pdfs are becoming available to flesh out the Napoleonic era and to explore other conflicts. There’s also a free tool that lets you design your own unit entries, either because you want to tweak a rulebook list entry, some of which are in want of a wee tweak to be honest, or to create a completely fresh unit either for a new period or to fill a gap.
The sheer volume of free game support already available is impressive. Just as impressive are the paid for supplements, which are only available in pdf (frankly just bloody sensible in this day and age), but are dirt cheap. The supplements that were produced for the first edition are still useful, they will just need a little work (very little work, really) to get them to fit with the new rules.
The game’s ground scale has 1” representing about four yards, giving muskets a long range of a hundred yards, and an ‘effective’ range of fifty yards, which is about right. That works for 28mm and 15mm miniatures. Freaks who like using models too small to see without the aid of powerful electron microscopes (10mm and smaller) will use centimetres in place of inches with no problems beyond actually locating their troops in the first place. You’ll want a 6’ by 4’ table as a minimum size if using 28mm or 15mm troops. I often use 6’ by 5’ with the extra space allowing a little more room for manoeuvre with 28mm figures. There are some differences between playing with 15mm and 28mm figures because the unit base sizes are smaller for the former, making the play-area relatively larger, which isn’t necessarily a problem per se, but is something to be aware of as it’s easier to create and manoeuvre bigger formations in 15mm than in 28mm.
Play requires, in addition to the chips mentioned earlier, buckets of six-sided dice – about three dozen per player should be enough although you can get by with about a dozen between you if Yorkshire tendencies limit the amount you are willing to spend on plastic cubes. You also need markers for ‘shock’ and to note certain things units are doing or suffering from like firing controlled volleys or being thirsty. A very important final thing is cotton wool to represent units which have fired and are unloaded. Cotton wool adds a lot to the aesthetic. You can buy plastic tokens and mdf chips (or get cards, if you must) from the Sharp Practice section of the TooFATLardies online shop, or you can get rather nice mdf markers from Charlie Foxtrot Models. I like to use custom-made Shock markers from Historique, who will put any image you care to give him on his nifty little dial-markers. Obviously, if you’re of the Yorkshire persuasion, you’ll likely be making your own markers, etc.
Realistically, the number of models required per side will be around 50-60, though actual numbers will vary. You could, for instance, run a pure Napoleonic British Rifles force of less than 30 men but need over 80 Frenchmen to face them. But about 120 models in total will be enough to get two forces on the table unless you’re fielding absolutely masses of militia or rabble. You do need to make sure you have enough officer and NCO figures but 7 of these per side is easily enough.
So if using 28mm figures and starting absolutely from scratch (but excluding terrain costs), you’ll spend £40 on rules and tokens (get this bundle), about £75 on figures (if using metals) and maybe a few more quid on cotton wool, etc. Say £125. If you go full-Yorkshire then you could get away with just the pdf rules and a couple of boxes of plastic figures, which you’ll likely get cheap from Ebay. Local sheep would provide free wool in place of cotton. Less than £50 would likely see you right. All joking apart, the rules and necessary impedimenta are very good value and the forces required small enough that most wargamers will be able to field a decent force as fast as their painting speed allows for less cash than required by many similar games.
I base 28mm figures on one pence pieces (naturally taking great care to disfigure the queen’s head). It’s cheap and most penny pieces are magnetic, which helps with storage. I use sabot bases from Supreme Littleness Designs.
Leadership and Character
The focus of the game is on two things: command and control (which you expect from the TooFATLardies) and ‘characters’. The former is central to the actual gameplay, the latter is what lifts the game beyond merely ‘very good indeed’.
Command and control is driven by a chip draw (or a card draw if you like, but drawing tokens from a bag is much more exciting than turning cards from a deck. And Saddle-Goose Designs will do you a lovely bag to draw your chips from for a pittance. You could, I suppose, draw cards from such a bag, but cards are for sharps and chips for Sharp Practice in my view.
Every leader gets a token, each side gets four (usually) ‘command’ tokens and there’s an ‘end of turn’ (tiffin) token too. Lots of games now use this kind of mechanic and for the good reason that it’s great at producing uncertainty. The leader chips let you activate leaders, who can then activate units, the command chips let you trigger unit abilities, enhance leadership or activate units. The Sharp Practice implementation of this chip-draw system is probably the best random activation mechanic there’s been, combining the uncertainty necessary to generate tension and good gameplay challenges, and avoiding the bad kind of frustration that a less well conceived random system can sometimes create.
The crux of the game is trying to master the use of command chips – how and when to use them to best advantage. Although one will tend to get better with practise, there will always be times when the random draw undoes your plans. This is not a game for those who wish absolute control, it’s a game for those who want to cope with ‘friction’, or ‘fog of war’ or whatever you want to call it. Although the game styles itself as a ‘heroic representation’, it pays more than lip service to practical issues of 18th and 19th century command.
Your leaders are the other driving force in the game and they, and the occasional other character who may be encountered, give the game its . . . well . . . character. Seven pages of the rules are devoted to characters, which is fair amount when you consider melee gets five pages, morale three, shooting gets ten, and movement eight. Now what’s interesting to me is that the actual ‘character generation system’ is pretty trite and frankly a bit crap and over-random. It’s the sort of thing you’d have found in a rather poor 1980s roleplaying game or tucked somewhere at the back of a Tony Bath ancients wargaming hardback. The idea is great, it’s presented well and is designed to get some humour into the game in a fitting way. But the supplied format doesn’t work for me at all. So I ignore it and let my officers and NCOs form their characters through the way the games unfold. What’s great though is that the mechanics of the game actually seem to somehow promote that developing of character so the player will tend to begin to make decisions for his commanders ‘in character’, which is what this section of the rules is really all about. Sharp Practice 2 is partly a roleplaying game in disguise, and one which succeeds because of its wargaming mechanics rather than its roleplaying ones. There are some good ideas in this section and lots of inspiration but almost anyone with much roleplaying experience will want to change how this section works. As I say, despite the manifest shortcomings of the ‘character generation system’, the game is lifted very much by the way leaders are presumed to have their own personalities and desires.
Gentlemen, the Regiment!
The basic unit in the game is the Group. There are three sorts of infantry Groups: Line Troops, Skirmish Troops and Mass Troops and each is further divided by Quality. Overall force morale benefits or is penalised if you have a preponderance of better or worse troops. Units get a ‘roster’ of characteristics and abilities that define how they may operate and how command cards might be used to enhance their capabilities.
You can see from the photograph below that a unit roster will tell you its type, size, points cost, armament and abilities. The numbers for Crashing Volley, Step Out and Drill tell you how many command chips must be played to trigger that ability. Characteristics, like Sharp Practice, sometimes need command cards to trigger them but are often automatic.
Line Troops come as Elite, Regulars, Conscripts & Volunteers and Militia. They are in groups of 8 figures, except for no really solid-seeming reason Militia who come in 10s. Personally I field Militia in groups of 8 too as 10s can make them feel rather too resilient. Some die-hard Lardy fans think 10s for Militia are absolutely fine, I think they are wrong. Decide for yourself. Line Troops are designed to stand in line and fire or to get together in columns and charge.
Skirmish Troops come in 6s. There are three types: Light Infantry, Skirmishers and Irregular Skirmishers. One unfortunate consequence of having Skirmishers as a category of Skirmish Troops is that new players sometimes get confused by the two terms. The Lardies, in fairness, are scrupulous in their use of each term throughout the rules, but it is worth being aware that the potential for confusion exists. Skirmish Troops snipe and harass the enemy, tend to move quickly and are generally useful.
Mass Troops come in 12s. Again, there are three types: Clan, Tribe and Wallahs. These represent rather undisciplined or uncivilised types eager to get to close quarters. An unfortunate consequence of their size is that quite often they’re rather better at shooting than you might expect. It’s worth keeping an eye on their effectiveness and perhaps giving them a rule like Mixed Weapons that halves the numbers of models who may fire.
The odd quirk apart this system works really well and rewards the player for using troops in a historical way – exactly what you want from a historical game.
Some Groups can form Formations. Formations are more resilient and more dangerous to one’s opponent than individual Groups. They provide a certain ease of control but that comes at the expense of manoeuvrability. It’s a nice trade-off.
Cavalry come in 8s and there are several different types including Scouting Cavalry, Impact Cavalry and Dragoons (these last can dismount as Skirmish Troops). Cavalry have restrictions on their movement depending on their speed. New players seem to find cavalry not as effective as they might expect. Some of this is just down to misuse or not having enough but it is slightly unsettling how often Skirmish Troops charged by cavalry can hold their own. This isn’t the end of the world (especially for me as I don’t bother with cavalry in the French and Indian War) but it is an area that might be worth revisiting at some point.
Artillery is the last sort of unit covered by the rules. Like cavalry, their rules generally seem to work fairly well but it jars to me how effective roundshot seems against Skirmish Troops. Again, not a huge issue but something I would like to see reconsidered going forwards (however, again, I don’t really use guns more than once in a blue moon in my French and Indian War games).
Getting to grips with the differences between how Groups and Formations work is important. While the rules are clear, they’re also necessarily quite intricate and it’s well worth putting models down on the table to really help visualise how hits from a formation firing might be distributed amongst enemy Groups and so forth.
In addition to the above Groups, your force can choose Supports, which include things like musicians, marksmen, pioneers, fortifications, supply carts and so on. Some of these are generally useful, others are mission-specific and so you’ll only take them when they’ll be useful in the scenario you’re playing.
Advance, Fire and Charge!
Deployment is done from Deployment Points. Seldom do your Units begin on the table, they tend to deploy with a leader within a specified distance of your Deployment Point(s). Slow troops don’t get to deploy very far on, fast troops can deploy a hell of a way up the table. It’s a great system to avoid the tedious use of ‘blinds’ and yet still allow units to spring surprises on the enemy by emerging from an unexpected quarter. It’s clever, and knowing where and when (especially when) best to deploy will require cleverness. The other great thing with Deployment Points is they can provide an extra aesthetic to the game.
Movement is random. Lots of people hate this concept but it works very well. You are allowed to pre-measure any distance (which is just bloody sense) so having random moving reintroduces the uncertainty that pre-measuring removed. There are various ways to enhance the movement of units (usually by use of command cards) and although almost everyone seems to initially think that a basic d6 move is rubbish, it’s quite surprising how quickly troops can end up moving across the table with proper leadership and control.
Firing is fairly straightforward and involves the standard ‘roll to hit’, ‘roll to damage’ mechanic. Successful damage may either see a man removed as a casualty or Shock being accumulated by the Unit. A quirk is that cover reduces not the chance to hit but the chance to damage. This seems strange but it’s sensible when you remember that a hit is just a ball somewhere in the near vicinity of the target. The system works well and is easy to remember after a couple of games. The hardest things to get to grips with is really the differences between how Formations and Groups may fire and how hits are allocated when they may be split between several Groups. Again, a few games will see this becoming second nature.
Fisticuffs (melee) is pretty lethal, on the whole. It’s worth being aware that in general having an advantage sees you inflict more casualties on your enemy, not receiving fewer yourself. It is unwise to charge a target that has not first been discomfited by fire, which is very historic. However a consequence is that you will probably take more casualties as part of a successful assault than you might have expected without experience of the system. It is another area of the rules that might be worth a mild tweak at some point. Perhaps.
The Horror! The Horror!
Shock is part of the morale system and tends to accumulate quite quickly when you’re fired upon and reduces your movement, firepower and melee proficiency. Great mechanic that works really well and knowing when and how to manage Shock is something that you’ll want to pick up fairly quickly. Shock and casualties degrade the performance of your Units. When Shock starts creeping up towards equaling the total men remaining in a Group, you’re in trouble. When it exceeds the number you’re in very bad trouble and Bad Things will Happen
Bad Things Happen is the other part of the morale system. Groups that recoil or rout or are eliminated, leaders who rout or are killed or wounded may well cost you one or more points from your overall force morale (usually beginning around 10 points or so). Once your force morale falls to 4 and below, your force is in bad shape and you begin to lose Command chips from your supply, which will hamper you a lot. Force morale falling to zero is the signal for close of play, humiliation and disgrace. Simple and works well.
What Are We Doing Here?
The six scenarios that come in the rules are well thought out, straightforward to get your head round and fun to play. It’s easy to make minor adjustments to provide a bit of variety and once you know the thinking behind them, easy enough to create your own. The Missions (where you have to do something specific) are more interesting than the Battles (where you just need to beat the enemy) but the three Battles do give solid games.
Because of the character-driven nature of the game, campaigns are going to give an even more satisfying experience than stand-alone games (which can nonetheless be magnificent entertainment). The Lardies have already produced Dawns and Departures, a supplement to aid campaign play, which I will review shortly (‘it’s worth it, buy it’ is the short version . . .)
End It Now!
Sharp Practice 2 is a game that’s going to be a wee bit harder to pick up and play than a lot of the other games that use a similar number of figures. I don’t agree that they are necessarily ‘intuitive’ as the introduction to the rules claims. However it’s mechanics are such that after a few games, most will become ‘automatic’. Initially the various interactions of Groups and Formations seems confusing, but once understood they are quick and easy. This seems generally true throughout the rules – after you’ve looked something up during play a few times you never need to again. There are few areas that are so ambiguous that they cannot be resolved by using common sense as applied to the rest of the rules and the period in question. This is refreshingly different from many other rules, which can have ambiguities that are much harder to reconcile sensibly.
I really like the fact that courtesy and making sure that your opponent’s experience of the game is a pleasant one is emphasised.
After two rather sordid nights spent in the damp forests and swamps of Sodom Vale, Capitaine de Givenchy is determined to escape the Devil’s Kitchen. Having been forced to retire on the morning of his first day, he has decided to seek battle on ground best suited to his regular troops by Sodom village. Though the way is certain to be blocked by the skirted devils of the 42nd Foot, de Givenchy and his men are spoiling for a fight.
The Milice Canadienne forge well ahead on the right flank, to be supported by Cardin’s grenadiers whilst de Givenchy and the balance of his force advance through the woods past the Widow Fuchs’ cabin towards the open ground in front of the Widow Cocklinck’s house.
Murray has sent his Mohawk allies to contest the advance of the Milice.
Meanwhile, de Givenchy urges his fusiliers onward through the trees.
The Widow Cocklinck’s Cabin is garrisoned by the veteran of Flanders, Lieutenant Mill, Sergeant M’Andrews and sixteen doughty highlanders.
There is a fold of ground by the Cabin in which Murray has had the balance of his force lie down. De Givenchy advances to the boundary fence and fires at the house, with surprising success. Nearly half a dozen of Mill’s small garrison are killed or wounded. As one, Murray’s men rise from the grass and fire a crashing volley which sends de Givenchy’s line into much disarray. The return fire from the French is almost completely ineffectual.
De Givenchy orders his men to fall back into the forest to regroup. Meanwhile, Mohawk and Milice have been fighting it out, with the natives getting by far the best of the exchange. Four Milice from Laroux’s small band have been shot for no loss, and Cutlass has embarked on a skilful fighting withdrawal, seeking to lead the remaining French out into the open.
De Givenchy falls back, pausing from time to time to fire on the advancing highlanders.
Mill leads his men from the cabin and fires on Lechat and Laroux’s men. Cardin’s grenadiers advance behind the Milice, their moustaches bristling.
Cutlass’ braves shoot down another couple of the Milice but lose two of their number to the return fire. Enraged, Cutlass launches a blood-curdling charge while Laroux and Lechat are reorganising, hurling their tomahawks and whooping on the way in. The fight is bloody and one-sided.
Two more Mohawk are slain but the French are scalped to a man.
The Mohawk are now too few to hope to hold up Cardin’s grenadiers.
But de Givenchy’s line is beginning to crumple in the face of relentless fire. Their losses are mounting.
Murray presses on across the Widow Cocklinck’s fields with little loss.
Cardin pushes on towards the Treacle Stream – a tributary of the Brimstone. Mill gets his men into line.
Cutlass and his remaining braves are about to swim the Treacle, hoping to get out of range of the advancing grenadiers.
Mill hopes some long range volleys might irritate Cardin enough to turn and face him. Cardin shrugs off the flanking fire with disdain, forges across the Treacle Stream and his men’s volley kills the last of Cutlass’ companions. The brave Mohawk can do nothing but hurl insults, and the odd rock, as the grenadiers make good their escape.
For De Givenchy though, things are looking bleak. Now faced by more than twice his number of remaining muskets and with his men’s morale teetering on the brink, he orders an honourable surrender, ‘Pour éviter l’effusion inutile de sang.’
Another defeat for the French. But at least Cardin’s grenadiers managed to escape the trap. De Givenchy must hope for suitable exchange. Perhaps the Huron might be persuaded to give up Lieutenant Quintin Kennedy, if that gentleman has not already been burned alive.
The Sodom Vale was, as the reader will doubtless recall, rather coarsely described by General Braddock as ‘the arse end of Saindoux’. In fact it is a pretty enough bottom to have attracted a number of bolder settlers to the region, that lies within the wider tract of land known as The Devil’s Kitchen. Following his reverse at the hands of the 42nd Foot, Capitaine de Givenchy of the Régiment de Languedoc attempts to force his way to safety through Sodom Rising, a piece of land noted for fast-flowing streams, rather salty marshes and, naturally, many trees. De Givenchy has been reinforced by men of the Milice du Trois Rivieres, having been abandoned by his fickle and possibly treacherous native allies. It is these natural born sons of New France who he trusts to guide him out of danger. Will de Givenchy force a passage, or will his fancy French tactics unravel again? Read on . . .
Monsieurs Daniel Leroux and Felix Lechat lead the small group of Milice Canadienne who are guiding de Givenchy. They have, however, badly misjudged just how slow the regular troops are across rough-country and de Givenchy’s column has become badly scrunched up on their approach to more open ground across the Brimstone Stream.
The men stumble through the dark forest, urged on by the increasingly worried Lechat and Laroux.
As dawn draws nearer, the French look for good crossing spots.
The Widow Bumgardener’s cabin is the sole building on Sodom Rising. As her sons have joined the Virginia Regiment, she has wisely decamped to the relative safety of Canaan, where she hopes to find an able-bodied protector.
With the white-coated regulars still crashing through the woods, the Milice Canadienne scout ahead.
Will the French luck hold?
Captain Murray brings forward his men with amazing speed, the highlanders proving as nimble through the trees as across their native heather. Dawn breaks just as Murray reaches the borders of the woods looking out onto the Widow Bumgardener’s land.
Suddenly, Lechat feels rather exposed.
Fortunately for Lechat, Murray’s men are not immediately concerned with his small band.
Meanwhile de Givency urges his men forward through the woods.
Laroux has identified the best crossing point for de Givenchy’s men. The Widow Bumgardener’s cabin will shelter men from the enemy while they regroup after fording the stream.
Captain Cutlass, Murray’s chief Mohawk scout exchanges fire with Lechat’s milice.
Lechat loses a man and decides to fall back.
Laroux gets his boys across the Brimstone and finally de Givenchy has his men on the banks.
Lechat gets back behind the Widow Bumgardener’s fence, which provides at least the illusion of protection, without further loss. The whoops of the Mohawk ring in French ears.
The first of the Regulars cross the Brimstone.
Murray leads his men over the boundary Fence. His line now covers the route the French must take to safety.
Faced with running a gauntlet of fire, and with little prospect of being able to form a decent firing line himself without his men being severely mauled in the process, de Givenchy orders his men to retire. An almost bloodless battle with very little powder expended. But as Maurice de Saxe was fond of telling the young de Givenchy, ‘La discrétion est parfois la meilleure partie de la valeur.’