Sharp Practice Formations – Are they worth it?

One of the questions that I get asked more regularly than any other (apart from “Is it your round?”) is whether it is worth putting units into Formation in Sharp Practice.  The argument runs that if an individual Group is harder to hit than a Formation then surely the benefits cancel each other out.
It’s a seductive argument, however one that misses the key issue of the importance of Shock within the rules.  The major benefits of being in formation are that, firstly, casualties and Shock are spread evenly among the component Groups and, secondly, that it is much easier to rally Shock as your subordinate Big Men are able dedicate all of their energies to precisely this task.  That said, I thought it might be worth a look to see exactly how this aspect of the rules performed under laboratory conditions.
The following example take two forces of three Groups each which are about to enter a firefight.  They are drawn up (roughly) as follows:
Turn 0
Red’s force would, in reality, be a somewhat loser formation, but for diagramatic purposes this will serve our purposes.
As can be seen both sides are exactly the same.  Both have Three Big Men, one Status II officer and two Status I NCOs and these command thirty men.
For the sake of our experiment we are assuming this is a close range affair, under 12″, and that both sides are armed with smoothbore muskets.  As one side must get the drop on the other I am allowing te Red side first honours as I reckon they will need all the help they can get, however throughout I assume that the cards drawn for both sides are the same in each turn.  I am also assuming that the roll of the dice follows a pattern of even distribution, so if you roll 6 dice you’ll get 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 all appearing once.  Indeed the pattern that I have used is 6, 1, 5, 2, 4, 3.  Having the 6 up front (so the first,seventh, and thirteenth dice rolled is assumed to come up 6) skews things give a slightly bloodier then average in terms of number of men dead as opposed to Shock inflicted, but we have to draw the line somewhere.  Feel free to try this out using a different spread of numbers (or even better on the tabletop with real dice rolls) I am confident that you’ll get a similar end result.  So, now I have set up my laboratory how does the experiment go.  (call a psychiatrist someone!)
Turn One
Red’s Status II Big Man opens fire with two Groups.  Both have ten men, both benefit from having fire directed by a Big Man.  They need 4-6 to hit as they get a +1 due to their target being a formation, so a dense target.  They achieve six hits each which results in two men dead and six points of Shock.
Blue’s Status II Big Man now opens fire with all three Groups.  Two Groups are down to 9 men, but they all benefit from their fire being directed by a Big Man.  Each of the component Groups has two points of Shock, so they also lose one dice per Group for that. They don’t get a +1 for a dense target as the enemy are in individual Groups, but they do get +1 for being in formation themselves; so 4-6 hits.   They achieve 16 hits which results in four dead and 9 points of Shock.
Next Red’s Status I Big Man fires with the remaining Group which now has 9 men and 3 points of Shock.  They achieve six hits, resulting in one man dead and three points of Shock.
Blue’s Status I Big Man now removes one point of Shock.
At the end of turn one the honours are roughly equal, despite Red getting to fire first.
Turn 2Turn Two
Blue’s Status II Big Man is first out this time.  He rallies one point of Shock and then with his second Initiative he opens fire with all three Groups.  He achieves 14 hits which result in 3 dead and six Shock
Red’s Status II Big Man now uses his two Initiatives to fire two Groups, one of seven men and one of eight.  Both have 5 points of Shock, so lose two dice for that.  This results in 2 dead and 3 Shock.
The Tiffin card now ends the turn with the last red unit firing, resulting in 3 hits, 1 dead and 1 Shock.  So at the end of the turn the firefight looks like this.
Turn 3Turn Three
Red’s Status I Big Man begins the turn, firing one Group of eight men, resulting in four hits, 1 dead and 1 Shock.
Blue’s Status I Big Man now removes one point of Shock.
Red’s Status II Big Man fires two Groups.  This results in eight hits, 2 dead and 3 Shock.
Blue’s Status II Big Man removes a point of Shock and fires with all three Groups.  This results in eleven hits with 2 dead and 5 Shock.
Red’s Status I Big Man now removes one point of Shock, and Blue’s remaining Status I Big Man does the same before the Tiffin card ends the turn.  At the end of the turn the real difference is the levels of Shock on the units.  Blue has been able to rally his men much more effectively than Red and Red’s force appears to be on the verge of losing its bottle.
Turn 4 Turn Four.
An immediate Tiffin card sees all units fire simultaneously.  Red’s increased level of Shock means that he gets six hits, whereas Blue gets eight.  What’s more the resulting casualties (1 dead and 3 Shock on Blue as against two dead and three Shock on Red) means that two of Red’s units are now retiring due to losing their Bottle.  Blue has been hurt by the firefight, at the end of the day the equality in numbers has meant that the number of men dead has been pretty equal, but it has been their ability to have two NCOs constantly dedicated to removing Shock that has kept them in the fight for longer.   A couple of turns rallying should see them ready to join the fray again.
So, are Formations worth it?  Yes, they certainly are.   What is more the above example saw two equal forces meeting.  In addition we need to consider the fact that were three individual Red Groups attempting to attack Blue’s Formation it is quite likley that their adavnce would not be as well co-ordinated as Blues three Groups that are united in one Formation.  Had Blue’s firing line come up against just two Red Groups the result would have been much more quick and bloody.


12 thoughts on “Sharp Practice Formations – Are they worth it?”

  1. This Blog is proving most worthwhile and useful…combined with your endeavours on YouTube which will come good (do you really want any background music at all ??) with practice I’m really impressed.
    Well done – top man.

  2. Do I want music? Of course I want music, I payed £9.99 for the rights on it, so I’m going to use it!
    Glad you are enjoying the Blog. It does give me an opportunity to sling in some half worthwhile stuff that doesn’t fit on the TFL Group.

  3. I see you’re using the alternate interpretation re: how many groups in a Formation a BM can control. These rules state the BM must be a level equal to or greater than the number of groups in the Formation he’s controlling. So in this example, a BM Lvl II could not give orders to a Formation comprising 3 groups. I feel this kind of detracts from the purpose of forming up into Formations, so I play the way this example is stated.

  4. Hi Chuck
    Great minds think alike! 8^)
    I think you’re right, and I have come to the conclusion that the fact that a lesser level Big Man will have greater problems getting his Groups into Formation (due to having less Initiative with which to do it) is penalty enough.

  5. I am a little puzzled by the very first fire example. You say there are 6 hits resulting in 2 dead and 6 shock. How can you have more total results than hits? Did I miss an implication that a kill also adds a shock point? I thought the pip score was kill OR shock.

  6. A fascinating and, as always, thorough analysis. Some time after reading it I had a belated thought on the pros and cons of formations.
    Taking the example Red Force of three groups led by three big men.
    As separate groups Red has three chances to move/shoot/charge at least one group – one on each of the three big men cards (or 2 on the status two big man). If Red goes into formation then it can only move/shoot/charge on the senior big man’s card. All excluding the shoot/reload etc on Tiffin.
    So while being in formation, as you demonstrate, has advantages in combat (spreading and removing shock etc.) it appears to be at a disadvantage when it comes to advancing on the enemy or just moving somewhere safe!
    Of course I may have misread the rules on who can give orders to a formation, which is entirely possible.

  7. Hi Pat, always a pleasure to hear from you.
    You are right, individual groups are more tactically nimble. However the difference here is that units advancing individually against an enemy will get defeated in detail, whereas your formation may take a little longer to move, but when it gets there it’s efforts are co-ordinated and generally much more effective. It’s a big clunking cavalry sword of an attack, as against the pin prick of a rapier that a small individual Group represents.
    What is more, if you have three Groups under the command of a Status III Big Man (for example) then all three will fore with the +3 dice for his Status.
    And don’t forget that if your formation doesn’t move, it does still fire on the Tiffin card.

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