Let’s Play Sharp Practice
There’s been a lot of talk about the impeding second edition of Sharp Practice and the usual wave of questions are being asked about what is to be expected and to what degree the rules are either a revolutionary or evolutionary progression on from the original edition. We thought that the best way to show off what the new system was about was to run through a game in play to allow you to see some of the mechanisms in action.
First, I do think it’s worth answering a few questions directly. Firstly, will the rules look like the first edition in terms of production values? The categoric answer here is “No, definitely not”. The first edition was published a LONG time ago when pretty much all historical wargames were in black and white. This edition will be in full colour with LOTS of illustrations to explain the rules and a fair amount of very high quality photographs of games in play to inspire us all.
Secondly, is it evolution or revolution? Actually, it will be both. Since the original version of the rules were published the hobby as a whole has come a long way in terms of the type of games people want to play. In some respects we will remain very true to enabling the gamer to play a great game in the black powder era without the need for huge armies, but in terms of the rules the changes are revolutionary in that they incorporate all of the lessons we’ve learnt in the last ten years and then some on top.
The new edition of the rules is VERY streamlined when compared with the original (as we will see below when se see a game in play) and is true to the design brief which we used for Chain of Command in that we want the game systems to be simple so that the players can focus on the command decisions to me made. And there are plenty of them thanks to the troops rating system and the Command Card system.
Talking of which, I say Command Cards as though you’ll need a deck of cards to play Sharp Practice. In fact you’ll have a choice. A lot of players seem to prefer to use poker chips to draw them from a bag or mug; as a result we will be offering either cards or chips (or both if you want to be greedy!) alongside the main rules. For today’s game I am going to be using poker chips so you can see how simple they can be to use. Here are the chips we used for today’s game.
The numbered chits are for the force Leaders, so red 1 is the British force commander, and the flags are Command cards which represent what can best be described as “surges” of initiative. It is these surges which can get your troops operating more effectively than average Joes. What we are looking to achieve is what a wise man from Sheffield called “three rounds a bloody minute”.
Anyway, Nick and I wanted to play a moderate sized game so we went for a core force of around 65 points. Here’s his British force selection.
British Force: 67 points for core force.
Line Infantry: 30 points
Three Groups of 8 men
One Leader Status III
Light Infantry: 25 points
Two Groups of 8 men
One Leader Status II
One Leader Status I
Loyalist Rangers: 12 points
One Group of six men, rifle armed
I wanted to maximise my force for the defence in depth scenario we were to play and, to be honest, I wanted to select something very different to his force to allow you to see some contrast between troop types. Here’s my selection.
Rebellious Colonists: 65 points
Continental Line: 33 points
Three Groups of 8 men
One Leader Status III
One Leader Status I
State Militia: 22 points
Four Groups of 10 men
Leader Status II
Militia Skirmishers: 10 points
One Group of six Irregular Skirmishers
Leader, Status I
As you can see, the Militia forma big lump of men, but it would be my Continentals who I expected to be the rock on which his lobster-coloured tide broke.
Anyway, the British were the attackers in this games, so they got 1D6+6 points of support. They rolled 4 allowing them 10 points. However, they have already chosen two points more than the Americans so they now added just 8 points. They chose as follows:
One Leader Status I to add to the Regulars for 3 points
A mule train with one resupply of ammunition and water
A Scout for 1 point
The Scout doesn’t actually appear on the table, but allowed the British to put together a bit of a flank march by deploying a secondary Deployment Point. You can see that in the picture below as a round circle with the old Union Flag on it.
So, let us see out initial set up. Here’s the table. You’ll see that the Colonists get two Deployment Points in this scenarios, one being their main Deployment Point which also represents their route of withdrawal were they to lose, so is very important to protect, the other being secondary and entirely expendable. These are marked in Blue. Obviously, the main one is at the back on the ridge, the secondary one is in the woodland near the centre of the table.
The British main Deployment Point is on the road, bottom right, and their secondary Deployment Point, achieved by selecting a Scout, is in the orchard to the right. As we look at this it seems that the secondary one is not much of an advantage to the British, but this is where the deployment system comes in to play. Let’s see how this works before we begin the game.
At the start of the game no troops are deployed on the table. The order in which troops deploy is governed by the run of the cards or chips, with troops deploying under their commanders when they are activated. So, for a simple example, when the Red 1 chip is drawn, the British overall commander can deploy with the unit he is attached to, in this case the three Groups of British Line. When Red 5 is drawn, the Loyalist Ranger Leader may deploy with his single group of skirmishers. I say “may” as they do not have to deploy onto the table on the first time their card or chip is drawn, they can decide to remain concealed until a subsequent activation. We will see this in the game as I try to keep my second line in reserve until it is needed.
When troops do deploy onto the table, they do so by using the Deployment Points. Normally, Line troops must deploy within 6″ of a DP (let’s call them DP’s to save my typing fingers) , formed Light Infantry can deploy 9″ away and Skirmishers 12″ and Scouting Cavalry 18″. There are some other variants, such as cavalry and artillery, but these will do for our play through here. One key thing to remember is that troops who are defending in a scenario can add 6″ to this distance and that any troops who are deploying into a hidden position can add a further 6″. So, here are some options on our table.
You can see that the British DP o the right would allow Nick’s Rangers to deploy into a firing position on the skirts of the orchard and that the American DPs allow Infantry to deploy 12″ out (as they are defenders they get an additional 6″ distance) onto the fence lines. Indeed, if the Colonists wanted to deploy behind the wood, into a hidden position, that could be stretched to 18″. What we have sought to do with the deployment rules is to speed the action along to the point where first contact is about to be made. This gets us straight into the action and saves a lot of time on club nights and also makes deployment decisions crucial. We will see plenty of this during our game, so let’s get playing.
We start the game with a roll each to establish our Force Morale. My roll is enhanced as the majority of my troops are defending “Hearth & Home” (one of the reason I selected so many militia), but Nick and I both end up starting on 9. Not bad, not great. It ranges between 8 and 11.
For the early moves I will list the chips we draw in order so you can see what’s happening. Later I will move to a more narrative style with only the important points highlighted, or we’ll be here all day (the pub opens in two and a half hours and the wife has gone out for the day!). For ease of typing, I am going to call the Command Point chits “Flags” as that’s the image they have on them.
Red Flag. Nothing can be done with this chip until a Red Leader card is dealt, so it remains in play, placed on the table to be used when the red player wishes.
Red 1. The Red commander deploys his Line units onto the table in column, all within 6″ of the main DP.
Red 5. The Queen’s Rangers Leader deploys his Group of Skirmishers into the orchard, 12″ from secondary DP. If he’d been completely hidden he could have deployed 18″ on, but that would put him in line of sight of the enemy primary DP so that isn’t possible.
Blue Flag. These two are left in play. On their own they are useless. However, if we get a third Blue Flag that would allow a Leader not yet activated to activate and deploy onto the table if the American player wished.
Blue 4. This is the American Skirmish group Leader. I decide (wrongly!) to leave him hidden and don’t deploy. Sometimes I am world class thick. I could see the Rangers from the hill at the rear, but I miss the opportunity.
Red 4. This is the subordinate Leader in the Light Infantry force. As I want to deploy them as a combined Formation (i.e. two groups joined together as a larger body, rather than two groups acting individually), I ignore this card and wait for the Officer commanding the Light Infantry to be dealt.
Red Flag. There are two of these in play now, but I have no use for them yet.
Blue Flag. That’s the third one of these in play and, as hinted at above, I use them to activate my Militia commander and deploy his force on the fence line.
This deployment is somewhat earlier than I would have liked, but the Rangers on my left worry me as they can move pretty quickly and I don’t want them to seize the wood by a coup de main and stop me deploying from my secondary DP.
Red Flag. There are three of these in play so Nick could do just what I have done and deploy a Leader (and his men) who hasn’t yet been activated. However, he decides to keep his powder dry.
Blue 3. That’s my militia Leader. I have already activated him with the three Blue flags, so this card is ignored.
Tiffin. That’s it the Turn ends. There are three Red Flags in play, but the British have missed their chance to play them together in order to activate or deploy a Leader. At the end of the Turn any Flag cards in play allow the player to activate one group or Formation which hasn’t been activated during the Turn. However, this is only troops on the table. In this case Fatty missed his chance.
We now chuck all of the chips into the mug and give them a shake. If we were using cards we would shuffle them before beginning the next turn.
Blue 4 is first out,. Having missed my chance in the last Turn, I deploy my Leader and his Irregular Skirmishers onto the rear fence rail and open fire on the Rangers. It’s long range for rifles, 0ver 24″, so normally I’d hit on a 6. However, these are skirmish troops so that moves to 5 (we presume that the bets shots are used for skirmishing) and it’s my first shot in the game with this group so their weapons are well loaded with a measured charge of powder and a well wrapped ball, this gives me an additional +1 so I need 4, 5 or 6 to hit. It’s six men plus a Status I leader, so that’s seven dice. I roll 4 hits which inflicts one dead and two Shock on the Rangers. A fine start for the American riflemen.
A slight diversion here for the uninitiated. For each hit we roll a D6 to see the effect. This is influenced by what cover the target is in and, in this case, the fact that the Rangers are skirmishers. The orchard is light cover, but being skirmishers they are presumed to be using the best cover possible, so that becomes hard cover. Only 6’s kill and 5’s cause Shock, as a result, two Shock and one dead is a very good result for my rebels. More on what Shock does later, for now just think of it as negative cohesion points.
Red 1. Nick deploys his infantry into Line in preparation for an advance against my Militia.
Red 3. This was the card Nick was waiting for. His Light Infantry officer. He deploys his two Light Groups in column on the road 9″ from the main DP.
Blue 2. This is the second in command of my Continentals. They are hidden and remain so. Had I wished, he could have deployed with one or two Groups of these troops, leaving the rest with the overall force commander, Blue 1, but my plan is to let my militia soften up the bloody-back British before they get to my second line position.
Red 5. The Rangers ignore the American skirmishers and fire into the Militia line, their primary mission is to soften these up for Nick’s British line to attack. They have five men and a Status I leader, so normally that would be six dice. However, they have two points of Shock, so this is reduced to five dice. They roll and get four hits. Because the militia are in a formation of four Groups the hits are spread across all of those groups (its a big benefit when trying to keep your formation fighting to have the effects spread rather than concentrated). As it is, this translates into two dead but no Shock.
Blue 3. This is my militia Leader. Musket armed, they are outside the 24″ range of the British Line. I could split off one or two groups to face off the Rangers, but if I divide my force the British line will make mincemeat of it, so I do nothing but stand and wait. Had the Rangers inflicted Shock rather than kills, I could have rallied off two points as the militia leader is Status II, but whilst I can remove Shock I cannot resurrect the dead.
Tiffin. There are two Blue and two Red flags in play. This would allow both sides to activate two units which hadn’t been activated, but as it is we have activated all of our troops on the table, so these are ignored. All chips are returned to the pot for the next turn.
Red Five. The Rangers Leader immediately picks up the Red Flag and uses it to rally one point of Shock and then uses his one single command Initiative to get his men to fire at the militia. Their Shock reduced to one point, they now fire with six dice. At effective range (12″ to 24″) with rifles, he’d normally hit on 5 or 6, but he gets the Skirmisher bones so that’s 4,5 or 6. He gets 4 hits, again spread across all four militia Groups, but a terrible roll by me sees that become three dead. Ouch! Fortunately the one group which didn’t suffer a loss was the one which my Militia Leader is attached to, so he doesn’t have to test to see if his is hit. I am grateful for small mercies…
Red 2. This is the NCO with the British Line. He has nothing to do as he is just there to support his boss when things heat up, so we move on.
Blue 4. That’s my American Skirmishers. They fire on the Rangers and kill one man, but by luck this is the Ranger Leader. He is wounded which reduces his Status to zero. That’s potentially a nightmare for Nick as he has no Command Initiative now and can only use Flags in play to activate or rally his men. A big win for me, as the British Force Morale dips to 8.
Blue 1. This Leader remains hidden with his force
Red Flag. Three flags in a row, whatever the colour, means a random event will occur if the last unit activated moved or fired. The Rangers were last so we roll. Random events are not huge game changing effects and can be good as well as negative. In this case the Rangers get an additional firing related action, so they complete reloading their rifles which are slower to load than muskets. a nice result for them.
Blue 3. The militia Leader still stands and waits.
Red 3. The Light Infantry commander uses one Red Flag to enhance his movement. The thrusting Light Infantry troops can do this for just one Flag, other troops may need two or three Flags to do the same, or like the American militia, may not be able to do it at all. With there 4D6 of movement (two normal plus one for the road column, plus one for the Flag) the Light Bobs surge forward to threaten the militia left.
For those who recall the original Bonus Deck in the original rules, this has now been completely subsumed into the Command Card mechanism. No need for a separate Deck as before, the Command Cards combined with the troop ratings provide a whole menu of things you can do to enhance fire, movement, drill and more just using the flag cards or chips in the normal Game Deck. It’s a much simpler mechanism but one with many more nuances.
Red 1. The line shall advance. And it does, into range of the Militia.
Blue 2. Still hidden.
Red 4. This is the subordinate Light Infantry commander and he has nothing to do as, like Red 2, he is just there to support his boss. Where this happens in future I will simply note “subordinate”. These blokes are great for rallying off shock in the heat of the action and assisting with formation changes, but it’s the officer who commands the formation.
Tiffin. Three Blue flags and one red flag are in play, but everyone was activated.
Red 2. Subordinate
Blue 4. The skirmishers kill another Ranger. They really are rather good at this.
Tiffin. This is interesting as it gives us a chance to see what happens in a short turn. We have one flag of each colour in play. Blue has the higher force morale so they get to use theirs first (the side with most flags usually goes first, but this is a tie). The Militia are just in range of the British Line. They are at long range with muskets (12″ to 24″) so need 6’s. However, it’s their first fire and they get a +1, requiring 5 or 6. They cause 8 hits which, as the British line is a formation, is spread over the three Groups. They kill one man and cause four Shock. With our second action we reload.
Now the British line is activated on their flag. They use their first Action (they, like all troops, get two Actions when activated) to present and their second to fire. This measured approach allows them to fire “controlled volleys”, something my militia couldn’t do in a month of Sundays. They are at long range, but a controlled volley gets them a +1 as does first fire, they hit of 4 to 6. Their 24 men cause 12 hits (better than my 40 men!) which is spread across my four groups. They kill two men and cause five points of Shock.
The British are now completely unloaded, we mark that with the kapok seen above. It looks rather spiffing in the photo. As you’ll note, the controlled volley is slower, but more effective. If the British can combine this with their unit characteristic, Sharp Practice, using two flags, their rate of fire will increase and their lethality likewise. This is where the use for Flags (more properly Command Cards) makes for an interesting game. How, on what and when you play them has a significant influence on the effectiveness of your troops.
Okay, one more turn in detail and then we’ll go narrative…
Red 2. Remember our NCO who we said was just there to assist his boss? Well this is his moment. He now rallies one point of Shock of the British line. He could have picked up the flag and made that two Shock rallied, but the British really want to use their Sharp Practice (for two flags) or Crashing Volley options (also for two flags) to get the militia really rattled.
Blue 3. The Militia leader uses the Blue flag to allow him to rally two Shock before using his remaining Command Initiative to fire his men. One British dead and two Shock.
Red 4. Subordinate Light Infantry.
Red 3. The Light Infantry officer breaks his column into two groups so as to get a better field of fire and they open fire on the militia. The yankees are lucky to only lose two dead and one shock.
You can see that I am using little red “gems” to show Shock. Normally we use ore discrete micro-dice, but for your benefit these are more prominent.
Blue 1. Hidden
Blue 4. Unsurprisingly, the rebel skirmishers kill another Ranger.
Red flag. There are four Red flags out now. That is a complete bonus activation for any Leader, whether he has already activated or not. Nick activates the Line who load with one Action and Present with the next.
Red 5. The Ranger leader has no flag so cannot activate.
Red 1. The British Line leader was activated with four Flags, but is is a bonus activation, so he does not count as already having been activated in this turn so may now activate again. His line fires a controlled volley with one action and advances with the second. As we could see above, one point of Shock on each Group reduces the formation’s move by 1″. They roll 6″ but only move 5″.
The rebel militia is looking shaky to say the least. The British have advanced into close range and the real killing will now begin. As the American commander I need to decide whether the damage they will potentially now inflict is more importance than the loss of my own Force Morale if I leave my militia in line too long and they all rout off the table.
Tiffin. The American have flags in play, but they have all activated, so we “reshuffle”. For the next turn.
Turn Six. The next turn sees the rebel militia under more fire from the Light Infantry. It’s my job to slow down the British and inflict what casualties I can before falling back with what I can salvage to form a second line. When Blue 3 comes up he uses a flag to activate three Groups, attempting to break them from the formation to run back to the next fence line. However, his troops have been firing uncontrolled volleys and, in the smoke and noise, only two Groups actually turn and run. The rest keep firing even though they have no target immediately before them.
Seeing the rebels run, the British Line uses two flags to “Step out” (remember the enhanced movement that the Lights needed just one flag to do?) and they rush towards the fence.
On the road, the Light Infantry now move forward to try to catch the fleeing rebels.
However, the rebel militia commander grabs four Blue Flags and abandons half of his force, ushering the rest of his men back towards the second line position. By running with an additional dice they lose all order and take more Shock, but it is worth it to try to save the remnants of this force. Whether they can rally up in time to form up again is another question. A fortuitous run of chips which allowed a well times bonus.
On the fenceline, the remnants of the militia are still firing to their front when the British line crosses the fence and breaks formation.
However, the rebels make the first charge, despite their lesser numbers. They kill two British and inflict a couple of Shock, but are narrowly repulsed.
However, the subsequent British charge sees them routed from the table and he American Force Morale fall to 6. This is bad, but it is by no means a disaster. My second line is now being formed and my morale is high enough to still retain all of my Blue Flags in the “deck”.
Elsewhere, the Light Infantry which were moving up to catch the fleeing militia have diverted to the village on the American left.
They make it by a good use of flags to rally some shock and allow them to use their Light Infantry step to get to cover. The American rifles are accurate but slow to load, allowing Nick some time. However, time is also allowing me to rally the militia who are now behind the fence.
The British line were slow in forming up after their melee, especially as a random event saw their commander, Red 1, out of action for a turn after someone barged him out of the way during a change of formation. A turn was required to dust himself down and apply fresh powder to his wig.
This delay saw me able to deploy Blue 1, the overall force commander, to rally more Shock off the Militia, again by using three flags, and turn them round into a formation again.
However, more Light Infantry activity from Nick on my left saw that flank under threat.
My Irregular Skirmishers are comfortable taking pot shots at a goodly range and from behind cover. The bayonets of the Light Infantry saw them withdraw, only to be replaced by a force of Continentals who had been hidden. They were obliged to deploy further back by the thrusting Light Infantry (you cannot deploy within 12″ of an enemy without an Ambuscade). However, a good run of cards saw me advance and fire an volley, albeit an uncontrolled one. which rather stopped the British flank attack.
The British were forced back into the village itself and the Light Infantry now appeared to be on the point of breaking and were especially in trouble as the village was alight, its buildings burning (a random event). In the woods the British Line was moving up and already its fire was rattling the militia and reducing the Skirmishers in numbers and effectiveness. It was now my intention to rush the Continentals over the fence and to crush the Light troops before returning to make a strong defence against the British Line.
Using a run of Blue Flags I rallied off all shock and sent the Continentals forward. However, as my men approached the narrow entrance to the village the damnable Light Infantry used their flags to charge in, throwing tomahawks as they ran to disorder my men. In what should have been an equal fight, they caused seven kills for the loss of only one man. My lead group broke and routed through its supporting group. My force morale collapsed to 2. This resulted in three of my four Blue flags being removed from the deck.
Well, that was pretty much that. Despite the British Line having lost seven men out of the original 24, it was shock free and advancing against militia who were badly shaken. With the Light infantry now rallying on my flank it was time to throw in the towel. As the rules stand, I could carry on until my Force Morale hits zero, but with the importance of Command Cards, their loss was a crippling one.
Hopefully this game has shown how the game is about the command decisions which are made to best influence your force. The basic rules on movement and firing are so simple that a monkey could learn them in a couple of turns (as Nick proved). It is the Command Cards which embody that energy and provide lots of opportunities along with lots of potential pitfalls. To use a number of Command Cards now may provide an important benefit immediately which may be a penalty later when the turn ends and you have no Command Cards to activate units which were not activated by their Leader. In this game, the Rangers played no part in the battle after their Leader was wounded as the British were using their Flag cards to push on as rapidly as possible. Indeed, it could be said that the Light Infantry over extended themselves by that policy, although the Devil’s own luck saw it win the day.
For the Americans, my focus on rallying the militia and using all of my Flag cards for that purpose probably penalised the Continentals and stopped me destroying the Light Infantry in shorter order. Ultimately, both Nick and I used our Command Cards to maximise the effectiveness of what we were trying to do. He just happened to make the right decisions and won the game.