Putting a Tiger in Your Tank – Frank Sultana takes us to Indostan
Frank, many thanks for joining us on Lard Island. We have been hugely impressed over the past weeks and months with your reports of Sharp Practice games from Indostan, they have certainly had people talking and personally my jealousy knows no bounds when I see your superb collection of toys. So, tell our readers all about Indostan, the games we’ve seen on your blog look like a load of fun, what is the backdrop to the whole setting? How has this evolved and over what period of time.
Indostan is a fictitious land bearing remarkable similarities to 18th century India, during the period of the Seven Years War, when such legendary figures as Clive, Dupleix and Siraj-Ud-Daulah trod the earth. Why a fictitious setting over a historical one I hear you ask? Because of one simple reason. My uncontrollable hatred of button counters. Those twisted individuals who delight in pointing out that those particular figures have no place in this setting because of the cut of their lapels, well at least not in July of 1757 anyway, but on the other hand they could possibly be fielded in late September. Hence a need to create our own history and a land for our games to be played in, even if the real world encroaches heavily upon it. Button counters be damned! But I digress.
Indostan is a land teetering on the brink of war. While the remnants of the Great Gurkani Empire tosses in its death throes, a myriad of warring princely states and their private armies vie for the Imperial throne. Both Britain and France, served by the Honorable East Indostan Company and La Compagnie des Indostes, respectively, have harboured invested interests in Indostan for decades, conducting relatively peaceful and lucrative enterprise with the blessings of the last of the Gurkani Emperors. But with a war in Europe brewing and the volatile state of affairs in Indostan, each has been forced to back a royal claimant and join the war. The question is will our heroes (and Britain) prevail?
We had been initially planning a Legends of the High Seas campaign out of Tangiers, where pirates, Barbary corsairs and the British Navy plied the seas, but we struggled with the Warhammer rules. And even though Adam had just had an army of cut throats painted, the game just wasn’t much fun. Besides Dave wanted to volley fire (oh how he has made up for it since) and charge with the bayonet, a little hard to do with 5 models. So slowly an alternate campaign developed.
Indostan was born from playing too much Empire: Total War on pc, and drooling over all the outlandish Maratha forces. I had just finished Sharpe’s Fortress as well and it had left a mark on me. We wanted an exotic feel to the campaign, with redcoats set against a colourful and unconventional enemy. Plus the ability to field lots of different troop types was very appealing as well.
The games on our blog have all to this date been trial games, simply to get the feel for a number of different rule sets. It was Sharp Practice that produced the only games that were really worthy reporting on and putting up on the blog.
Is this a club project, a group of mates or something you run solo?
Our group consists of three old mates from school, Dave, Adam, and of course me. We have known each other for 20+ years and have been gaming in one form or another for just as long. We started out playing role-playing games like D&D, but as we grew older it became increasingly difficult to come together and find the time for such frivolous activities. Enter war gaming.
Although each of us has provided some of the miniatures, I pretty much supply and construct everything else. I also act as umpire, organising and arranging the games, as well as playing the Indostani and eventually the French, who are certainly the villains in our game. I see my role as really telling the story of the other player’s characters (Big Men), while having damn fun doing it. Dave will play a major role in writing the after action reports, and does a fine job I must add.
What do you mean preferred figures? I love and want them ALL!
Seriously though, I have three top ranges that in my opinion are hard to beat: – Wargames Foundry, Front Rank Miniatures and Perry Miniatures.
Wargames Foundry has always produced the most beautiful looking figures in my opinion. Nearly all our Indostan forces are from Foundry, with a little Old Glory thrown in for good measure. They come from their India ranges, go figure, including Pathan hillmen and mounted Sikhs. The worst thing about Foundry is the cost and they are only really feasible by buying their miniatures in BULK. Lately their package arrangement has been dreadful as well. Their prices are so exuberant; it almost seems like they don’t want anyone to buy their stuff anymore. But most folks still will…
Front Rank Miniatures was discovered by accident really while sourcing miniatures for Dave’s Royal Navy crew for LOTHS. They are great looking miniatures and fairly priced, although postage to Australia is always murder. Although what you would call line troops, they have varying poses and faces. Dave’s entire British force consists of Front Rank miniatures, particularly from their Government Jacobite Rebellion range, while some officers are from their SYW and even WSS ranges. The despicable French will also eventually come from Front Rank’s SYW range. I think you’ll agree that seeing them massed in rank is pretty impressive. Just got to love those Grenadiers! They make some lovely 18th century civilians as well that are really useful for many applications.
The Perry brothers produce some of my most personal favourite figures, even though I don’t own a single Perry figure. They have some interesting stuff in their Muslim Crusades range that could be suitable for our game, but I just haven’t gotten around to ordering some. One day I hope to take Indostan into the late 1800’s, something like the NWF, and it will be Perry Sudan British who’ll lead the way. Button counters be damned!
How well do these fit in with each other.
The Front Rank figures are on the larger 28mm size and a little “chunky”, while the Foundry India range are proportioned a little slimmer. I don’t think it is very noticeable and looks good enough on the table for us. Regardless, anyone standing next to a Grenadier in his pointy hat looks a little inadequate anyway. When we put a Front Rank European cavalryman next to a Foundry Indian cavalryman, there is a noticeable difference. Front Rank horses are large chargers compared to the iddy-biddy Indian ponies, but I guess that is probably close to reality. The few Old Glory miniatures we use seem to mix in seamlessly as well.
Talk us through your terrain. It looks absolutely great in the photos, how is it constructed?
The terrain that we use is all scratchbuilt by me. I have to admit to being a total noob at all this stuff and have just blundered my way through. The internet is such a great source of inspiration with so much knowledge out there and available to anyone who wants it. Sites like the Lead Adventure Forum have collections of the most amazing terrain builders on the planet, making my paltry efforts scamper away and assume the foetal position in comparison.
The terrain I have made so far is mostly based on CDs, an endeavour I undertook to help reduce my carbon footprint (not). The CDs make a thin, yet strong basing material, plus I have stacks of them lying around. I use them shiny side up, scratching them up first and then it’s a simply matter of just adding whatever is required with hot gluing or PVA. I use real sandstone pieces on mine for large formations and a sand, tea leaf and kitty litter mix for the ground.
We use aquarium plants for bushes and reeds, bought in large “breeder mats”. These can be quite expensive if bought from aquariums and usually cheaper, inferior stuff can be found in dollar/pound shops. The palms we use are model railway trees and are bought as seen. They are relatively cheap and beat the painstaking task of making your own. Of course a liberal sprinkling of reindeer lichen completes the flora. Name a respectable wargamer who hasn’t used that!
I’m still not 100% happy with the gaming mats we use, but will have to put up with them for now. I did want to make terrain boards, but the issues of storage and lack of versatility has so far deterred me.
I have found very few commercial buildings unique to an Indian style campaign, although many of the Middle Eastern style adobe structures fit in well enough. This style of building is relatively easy to make with foamboard and I have chosen to build rather than buy them because buildings can be rather expensive. Most of my scratchbuilds are simple huts at the moment, but I do intend to make some grander buildings including a palace, star fort and city walls. I learnt most of what I needed to build adobe buildings from this site http://zeitcom.com/majgen/39howst.html, where a wealth of information lies on the subject. Inspiration for buildings with a more Indian flavour can be found readily on the internet, with old street scene paintings particularly helpful.
Have you used Sharp Practice from the outset for the Indostan games?
We did go through a few sets of rules before deciding on using Sharp Practice. We started with Warhammer Historical “Legends of the High Seas”, with a companion book to their Old West books “The Alamo “. This allowed us to field more men the standard skirmish level of say 15-20 figures, but I found myself rewriting the entire rulebook to suite our means.
Another rule set we tried was “Triumph and Tragedy”, a book produced by some fellows on the Lead Adventure Forum. It was a really nice set of skirmish rules, but unfortunately it really catered for the inter-war period and required some hefty reworking again.
What made you settle on Sharp Practice for your games?
We pretty much loved Sharp Practice from the outset. Even before we played it we had a good laugh about the innuendos and some of the Big Men quirks. We got ‘a try this game we said.
During our first play test everything just fell together. It was light enough not to be bogged down by horrible rules we could argue over and yet tactical enough to make us think a little. The biggest plus was the lack of any real need to rewrite or invent, most of it was all there. The combat is quite simple once you gain a little experience, especially Fisticuffs (where a lot of other games can bog down) and the game flows along nicely.
And the Big Men – they are my most favourite part. Being role-players originally the need to be personally represented on the table is a must for us, and the Big Men in Sharp Practice serve this purpose well. They allow us to inject a little role-playing into the games when we want and this adds to our games a lot. Especially having their own list of merits and flaws, they really take on a life of their own. All in all, Sharp Practice is pretty much perfect for our gaming needs.
One of the things we like to do on Lard Island is bolt on bits to the main rules to suit specific periods and conflicts. What changes or additions have you made for your Indostan games?
We have seen no real need to change any of the basic mechanics of the game which is a nice change. We have made some very minor tweaks though, for example adjusting the penalties for firing on a Group in cover. We found it a little too harsh and lessened it, making it a similar penalty to those presented in the Terrible Sharp Sword supplement.
The Random Event table is the most fun to tweak and we’ve included things like Tiger! and Dysentery events because they suite the exotic locale.
I have been toying with some rules for elephants and think I may run them individually as small units, with multiple “wounds”. They will have gain a bonus against tightly packed troops in square and column (I wonder would an elephant charge a square?), disrupting any formation they attack, plus they’ll receive some help from the soldiers in their howdahs. If they lose their bottle they may rampage, charging in a random direction. Sounds very fun!
I’ve included the “Tiger!” random event below for anyone interested:
Tiger! – The tiger model appears on the table 1D3+3 inches away from the Group, within or as close to cover whenever possible. It remains on the table and no Group may approach within 6” of it. If fired on by a Group that inflicts at least 1 shock point, the tiger will run off, remove it from the table (2 hits will kill it outright and earn them a nice trophy).
When a tiger is present, roll 1D6 on the Tiffin card. On a roll of 5-6 the tiger slinks back into the brush and is removed from the table. A roll of 3-4 means the tiger remains. On a roll of 1-2 the tiger charges at the nearest figure, preferably a pack animal or man on horseback, and drags him/it screaming into the brush, removing both the tiger and victim. If the nearest man is a Big Man, have him make a Derring-Do roll with an even chance. Failure indicates the Big Man is dragged into the scrub and devoured. A roll of a 4-6 means he has fought off the tiger (roll 1D6 for injury on the Fall table), with a 6 indicating he has managed to dispatch the beast in the process.
I would love some rules for handling character development. I understand that in Sharp Practice a Big Man may gain Status and improve his lot, but I’d like to see it developed a little further.
Also I’d like to see a Colonial supplement for Sharp Practice, which wouldn’t be a far stretch for the rules I believe. Zulus anyone?
Thanks very much for taking time away from your adventures in Indostan to chat with us today. I am sure that what you have achieved will serve as inspiration to many others. It certainly shows how versatile Sharp Practice can be, they are not just another Napoleonic skirmish set.
To read more of Frank’s adventures form ranks and advance towards his blog at