After a small, and unwanted, post-midnight adventure involving key safes, I managed to get into my lodgings and sleep. Next morning I got up, had an unexpected and rather unwelcome cold shower, wandered into town, ate a decent breakfast and then headed into the sunshine towards B.I.G. I had another small and unwanted adventure, this time smart-phone inspired, on the way, which prolonged the walk by about half an hour. But it was a nice morning and I ended up at the venue in good enough order. On a side note, Bristol is peculiarly American-feeling with lots of social venues like the Bocabar bar (and indeed B.I.G) having taken over units in industrial sites. So this wasn’t as surreal as it might otherwise have been:
The first game of the day was A Walk in the Woods. The British had to escort Mynheer Sterngange to safety, which would mean crossing the length of the table. This was a tall enough order but as they had been badly mauled the day before, the table was set to be very unfavourable for them, though I think that it was not immediately obvious to the players that this was so.
The left hand side of the table (from the British perspective) was unattractive – woods, swamp and a tributary stream to cross from their Deployment Point. The right hand side of the stream, by contrast, offered easier deployment and rapid passage towards the farm.
Ian, commanding the French, played a very cagey game, refusing to deploy anything but a single unit of Milice for many turns, much to the frustration of his co-player, Dee, who was eager to get stuck in. It was fascinating to me that Ian, playing only his third game, had grasped so quickly the sense in making the enemy commit before himself committing. Of course the danger was he might delay too long, but he remained quietly confident behind his beard.
Lieutenant Mill seemed to have got lost in the woods but Murray pressed on with his half of the highlanders and led by the rangers. Captain Cutlass and his Mohawks chose to move across to the other flank, but were first delayed by an unexpectedly deep river, and shortly afterwards, and ironically, by becoming parched by thirst.
The rangers’ shooting temporarily chased the Milice from the hill above the cabin, from which two women emerged, begging piteously to be saved from the lecherous and garlic-reeking French. Sergeant Warner was not immediately inclined to offer succour, but after some discussion, more piteous begging and some shots from the returning Milice, he sent them back to Murray so he could decide what must be done.
The highlanders deploy into line and the Huron appear from the woods to fire into Mill’s men.
Rob and Ben, commanding the British in their first ever games had done pretty well to this point, coming up with probably the best plan available. Now, however, they became painfully aware of how the terrain was going to constrict their options – there simply was not enough room for the highland lines to maintain formation and advance.
Veteran Lardy, Matt Slade of Glenbrook Games, who offers a top-quality painting service (and whose wife, Debs, runs Saddle-Goose Designs, making the world’s best chip/dice bags) had turned up shortly before this. I’d met him at the WorLard Gaming Day earlier this year, and availed myself of his services, getting some rather nice Peninsula riflemen painted by him. He was able to offer some sage advice regarding wheeling of lines.
Mill wheeled to engage the Huron, the rangers drove the Milice from the hill and occupied it, and Murray attempted an advance, but his line foundered trying to cross the fence into the pumpkin field and got seriously bogged down. More Milice arrived to reinforce the French left, but the British were still looking to be doing fairly well.
A devastatingly effective volley from Clouzeau’s Compagnies Franches de la Marine scythes down a swathe of Mill’s highlanders.
With enemies all around, the highlanders hold grimly on until a shot from Capitaine Terieur, who has wiped out the rangers with superior numbers, brings down Mynheer Sterngange. This shot ends the game, rendering a somewhat unlikely British victory impossible.
Ian’s tactic of delaying his deployment until the highlanders were in the worst position, constrained between river and farm, paid off in spades.
The final game of the weekend was Full Frontal, a straightforward meeting engagement, although again down the length of the table, played between Rob (French) and Alex.
Unfortunately this game ran a bit short of time, but it was enjoyable nonetheless as Murray’s highlanders, enraged by Milice sharpshooters picking off not only their piper but the highly regarded Sergeant Watson, launched a classic highland charge with a sharp volley followed by a wild rush into the woods with broadswords swinging, against which the Milice could not stand.
I really enjoyed running these games. Some of my thoughts on the game were confirmed:
New players get the idea quickly and readily buy into the spirit of the game. However certain mechanics are hard to immediately grasp, especially the distinction between a leader activating and having a certain number of Command Initiatives and a unit activating (via CIs or otherwise) and having two Actions (plus possibly a bonus movement). Most players seem to take a full game at least to get the differences straight.
Three and a half hours seems to be a good timespan for an introductory game involving more than one new payer. Three hours is certainly possible but requires briskness and less chatting.
Everyone who plays the game really likes it.
Umpired games are enhanced by introducing special random events and encounters, allowing the players to interact with ‘NPCs’ as if in a role-playing game (at least to a degree).
The game probably begins to ‘break’ with more than 16 leaders in total and more than four command cards per side has some undesirable consequences. 10-14 leaders in total would seem to be ‘optimal’ in terms of promoting player involvement and enjoyment.
There is a huge appetite for this kind of game outside the usual club/event circuit. Open gaming venues are not just about fantasy and science fiction games.
As I said in part one, Bristol Independent Gaming is a fantastic venue and offers a great gaming experience. If you are in the Bristol area, it’s well worth a look, with Peninsular War Sharp Practice now set to be a staple for many of the regulars.
Which it was another French and Indian War Extravaganza, using the most excellent Sharp Practice 2 rules from TooFATLardies, at Bristol Independent Gaming in Bristol. B.I.G. is undoubtedly one of Britain’s best open gaming venues, with several gaming rooms, plenty of available tables and terrain, a nice wee shop and a really friendly and helpful owner. A day’s gaming is very cheap and Jim has a facility which is very reminiscent of the old Firestorm Games in Cardiff – less polished than the current Firestorm, but with perhaps more charm.
Note that there is a boxing ring to help resolve any rules disputes, surely something that every venue should possess.
When I had run A Scalping Party, my first trial at running multi-player games based in my Saindoux Valley campaign, I had taken the precaution of inviting almost exclusively people who were known to me, and had included a few players with a fair amount of experience with the game. This had allowed quite an ambitious day with several games running in parallel, individual victory conditions for each player and other things that I feel add a lot to the day but do need some certainty as to who will turn up and when.
At Bristol, although I had met several of the people who would attend, I only really knew one of them at all well and I knew it was only Dee who would have had any experience of the game. So I decided to run just the one game at a time but to have forces that could be divided easily into three distinct commands, allowing up to six players at any one time.
Also, Unbridled Savagery was to run over both days of the weekend, so I planned for four games. In the end because of chatting, the players being almost totally inexperienced, and the general sociability, we didn’t complete the fourth.
The first game was between Ian and Dee. Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of this game but the British had been charged with rescuing some settlers and the French with capturing the families. In the event, neither was really successful, the French got no captives but only the women and children escaped the burning cabin into British hands.
Next was was I’ll Be A Dutchman. This was fought between Ian and Jim (British) and Dee and Alex (French).
The 42nd Foot, accompanies by some of Gorham’s Rangers and Mohawk allies had to bring Mynheer Sterngange of the Dutch West India Company to a place of safety. Sterngange was standing placidly by the cabin, puffing on his pipe.
The British could enter either by canoes from the Secondary Deployment Point which, unsurprisingly, featured a canoe or marching on from their Primary Deployment Point on the right of the above photo. The French, a mix of Compagnie Franches de la Marine, Milice Canadienne and Huron warriors could deploy from their respective Deployment Points on the top, bottom and left table edges. The British got one complete turn to deploy before the French players could do anything. This helped offset the fact they had to reach Sterngange and then get him back all the way across the river to their Primary Deployment Point.
The British deployed Captain Murray, 42nd Foot with half of his highlanders and Sergeant Ichabod Warner’s rangers. With the possibility of being flanked on both sides, Murray’s plan was to send the fleet-footed rangers to fetch Sterngange while he and Reid used the steady regulars to cover the retreat.
Up to this point, the British were doing reasonably well. Sterngange had agreed to accompany the rangers, despite the language barrier and although the highlanders were suffering somewhat from the incoming fire of the French, they had taken no serious losses. Encouragingly also, Captain Cutlass, that doughy Mohawk chief, had charged across the river and driven Terieur’s men back with some loss. The prelude to this assault caused much amusement. Terieur’s men had been at the top of the small rise, firing into the highlanders. Cutlass charged using three dice for movement. The first was a 6, allowing him to cross the 4″ river and leaving two dice to travel under four inches into contact. Needless to say, the total rolled was 3, leaving the Mohawk just short of their target, their wet moccasins slithering on the slope. However next turn, their chit came up before Terieur’s and they completed the charge into the flank of the skirmishers.
This heralded the most intense series of Fisticuffs I have ever seen in a game of Sharp Practice. A conservative estimate from memory puts the total number of bouts at at more than half a dozen as the rangers were charged twice by the Huron, the Mohawk charged Terieur again and the Huron went on to assault the highlanders several times.
The rangers had fallen back from an initial bout of fisticuffs with the Huron, in which Sterngange was wounded, and had then retreated behind the highlanders. But in an audacious move, the Huron charged through the swamp, catching the rangers in the rear. Sterngange, Sergeant Warner and the sole remaining ranger managed to escape across the river but were pursued by the Huron.
An surprisingly devastating volley from the Compagnies Franches de la Marine killed several highlanders, and it was high time for Mill and his rearguard to retire.
Captain Cutlass pursued his murderous feud with the Canadians, leading his braves forward again and this time sending the two survivors, including the wounded Terieur, fleeing deep into the woods.
Lt. Mill’s men had been savaged by constant firing to their front and flanks and their line broken. Sensing victory, more Huron charged from the woods, catching a group in the flank and sending them flying back across the river. Mill’s command had ceased to be a viable fighting force but their sacrifice had allowed Sterngange to reach Murray (who as an ex-officer of the Saxon Guards could speak fluent German and so could inform the Dutchman of his mission).
At this point, British morale was broken. The French could count a victory but it was not an utter disaster for the British as there was still a fair body of men left under Captain Murray to escort Sterngange from the field, with too few French – a mere half dozen of the Milice, to prevent their quitting the field.
This had been quite a long game, taking us into the early evening, but the Bristol lads are a hospitable bunch so we went to the Bocabar bar for some much needed refreshment and a rather nice pizza (it was so nice I went back the next evening for more). It’s fair to say that the Bocabar is probably not a traditional Lardies type of venue, but I really liked it and despite its hipster appearances, it does nice beer and probably some sort of cooking lager.
Which it was a French and Indian War Extravaganza using the absolutely superb Sharp Practice 2 rules from TooFATLardies at the Sanctuary Gaming Centre in Sutton-in-Ashfield, a great venue with plenty of space and a really laid back, unobtrusive but very helpful owner. A day’s gaming is dirt cheap – even a Yorkshireman could not quibble with the price – and Richard will even open up early if you ask him.
Because this was the first Sharp Practice day of any size that I’d run, I decided to run it as an invitational event rather than throwing the doors open to all and sundry. This had the advantage that I knew everyone attending and they would be forgiving of any dreadful cock-ups, but the downside that only two of them had any substantial experience (i.e. more than three games . . .) of Sharp Practice, and three had never played it at all. However the enthusiasm of a certain Jim from Glasgow for the concept, and the fact he was prepared not only to bring a full force but also livestock, civilians, rabbits (I kid ye not), buildings and an amazing objective/Deployment Point, led me to extend an invite to him upon request. And I was very happy that I did because it provided another experienced player. And this . . .
Clearly anyone prepared to make something like that had to be included.
My original plan was for three games but my experience at the WorLard Gaming Day 2017 and the impromtu Sharp Practice day at Grange-over-Sands (covered by Lardy Rich in this post, which also covers the Durham day) convinced me that two games would allow a more enjoyable day with less pressure on time. I’m glad to say that this decision was more than vindicated. Three and a half hours per game allows a comfortable amount of time to either get a definite result, or so close to one that who’s got the upper hand is obvious, and allows some chat amongst the players.
With nine players, three of whom had never played a game and only three with any real experience of the system, I decided to have the first games as 3 vs 2 and 2 vs 2, then the second games as 2 vs 1. This seemed to work fine, and allowed me to place at least one experienced player in every game. Sharp Practice, being a game that really is narrative-driven, and (at least partly) a character-driven focus also – which very few other wargames do, whatever their pretensions – the social nature of such a game makes 2-3 players per side something that probably enhances the overall experience to an unusual degree. It also allowed me to give players on the same ‘team’ different objectives to accomplish, some of which would not necessarily be for the good of everyone on their side.
My initial player pack underwent fairly significant revision with respect to victory conditions for each player and who would command what. This was my master document from which I compiled a player sheet like this example for each player. That way everyone knew what missions they’d be playing, how to win, and what leaders and units they’d be commanding. Players could say what they liked about their victory conditions but weren’t allowed to let anyone else look at their sheet.
The five games were:
Going Down in the Woods/Little Beaver Hunt – while the British hasten to defend an outlying farm, the Huron search for the missing son of their chief.
Exposing Young Fanny/Grab Fanny – the French attempt to secure a British ammunition convoy, which also contains the lovely daughters of their commander, Colonel Flower.
The Fort at Number Four – The Regiment Languedoc assault the fort. Will relief come in time?
Big Bottom Girls/Raiding Big Bottom – The Virginia Regiment must defend Big Bottom, where the daughters of Colonel Flower have sought refuge, while a mixed force of Compagnie Franches de la Marine and Milice Canadienne look to burn the settlers out.
Sweet Release/Burning Passion – Kennedy of the 44th has been kidnapped. A mixed force of men from the 44th Foot, Dank’s Rangers and Mohawk try to free him from the clutches of the Huron.
I’d an image of each table lurking in my head. I knew the key features and terrain that each needed to have. The fort, provided by Bob Emmerson of Mad Bob Miniatures, proved a little larger than I’d envisaged but fitted just about reasonably into the middle of the table.
The missions were modifications of the ones in the rules and sometimes, like in Game One, the two sides were playing different missions (which in that particular game allowed both to emerge with a Small Victory). In general they seemed to work pretty well, although I made a big mistake in Game Five in not allowing the 44th a Moveable Deployment Point, which left poor Jim very much up against it, and also in Game Four in not delaying British reinforcements for a turn at least.
I had some special random events and also events that had certain triggers – mainly inspired by Lary Rich’s mad potter monk. These included a bear attack, a wandering Huron (who might have grabbed Fanny had be not tripped over a branch), a boy who rescued his horses from a burning barn (but sadly he and his horses met a rather excruciating death impaled on bits of broken fence). I told players on the relevant tables to call me over when they drew a random event, or at Tiffin for the triggered events and then, depending on where the unit that triggered the event was, the special event might be triggered, or a normal random event rolled. Again, this seemed to work pretty well, with players I think unsure whether some thing were inflicted upon them by my malevolence (acting as Fate) or by pre-planned design. I at least found most of them rather amusing.
At Old Man Rivers’ farm, the Huron escaped with significant losses but with a captive and , importantly, having rescued Little Beaver. The British could not save the farm from burning, but at least dowsed the flames before it was utterly destroyed and rescued Old Man River and his fair daughter from the clutches of the Huron.
The French and 40th Foot battered each other in a bloody stalemate. The British failing to get the convoy through but the French failing to secure any of the ammunition (or accompanying females).
In the second games, the Virginia Regiment failed to prevent most of Big Bottom being razed, but inflicted some fairly heavy losses on the attacking Milice and Compagnie Franches. However Fanny and Phemie were saved, as were most of the settlers.
Lieutenant Kennedy, 44th Foot seems doomed to meet a fiery end after his comrades were foiled in their attempted rescue by their savage foe.
The Fort at Number Four did not fall to the French. Sing tow-row-row for the British Grenadiers!
Lots of pictures follow, in no special order, I’m afraid. The better ones are by Jim and Sam.
I had a great day and was really pleased things went as well as they did.
Bob for bringing the fort and driving all the way from Dorset! Dee for making the trip from Bristol and bringing his usual unbridled enthusiasm. James for bringing his grenadier force, which is very nicely done indeed. Jim for making the trip from Glasgow, for bringing terrain and models and, especially, for the Kennedy diorama. Rich for the nice custom markers and providing some much needed experience in the player-base. Richard, ditto on the experience and for basically running Grab Fanny for me whilst also playing. Roger for bringing Huron and affording me the opportunity of the bear attack. Sam for putting me up, providing more Huron and terrain. Stuart for terrain and a nice snow mat and the Regiment Languedoc. Lastly to Rich from the Sanctuary Gaming Centre for providing such a great venue for so little cost.
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 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.