Playtesting any rule set is often about testing out very specific situation which will not always lead to the type of rip-roaring, bodice ripping adventure which one expects from Sharp Practice but which is very much the bread and butter of rule testing. We need to make sure that the rules work in some very specific situations and the best way to do this is to take an historical situation and try to replicate it on the table top. This allows us to use history as the benchmark by which we measure the rules.
Most recently, the American War of Independence has been our focus for playtesting. There has always been the assumption that Sharp Practice is a set of Napoleonic rules; it isn’t, it never has been. They are a set of rules for pretty much the whole black powder period and we are testing them right across the spectrum from 1745 to 1865 to make sure they work at all points on the compass. One of the most famous battles of the AWI was, of course, the battle of Bunker Hill. In the initial phase of that a British force was attempting to outflank the Rebel positions on Breeds Hill and found itself facing troops from New Hampshire who were defending a rail fence which ran down to the Mystic River. The British troops were undoubtedly odds-on to win, but fell into some disorder and were repulsed by the Rebels after an initial crashing volley caused disorder in the British ranks. In truth it was a close run thing, but we wanted to attempt to test out just how punchy our British troops were in precisely such a situation. Of course, this was not Bunker Hill, but a smaller version. So, in view of the New Hampshire primaries occurring as we played, we called our action Trumper Hill. Little did we know…
My apologies here as the figures we used were more appropriate for later in the war, but for our playtest purposes they served their purpose. The game began with the British entering the table in an open march column.
At long range the American gun began firing in the hope of slowing the British movement and causing some casualties.
Deploying unfashionable early, some Rebel riflemen in fleches on the flanks of the hill opened fire at extreme range.
As they approached their rebellious foe, the British column wheeled to the right…
While on the rail fence the New Hampshire men deployed to face the attack.
The gun kept up regular fire, but the inexperienced gunners lacked the discipline to keep up accurate fire, preferring instead to blaze away with the utmost alacrity.
The British drill saw them snap into line in a practiced manoeuvre…
…and the advance to attack their foe began. A few men had been knocked down by the rebel gunnery, but the officers and NCOs rallied the men and pressed on.
The riflemen in the fleches continued to fire, but their early deployment rather pushed the British down towards the river and the long range reduced the effectiveness of these troops.
The New Hampshire troops presented their muskets, ready to receive the British as they came into close range.
A volley of controlled fire crashed out, tearing holes in the British ranks and causing some confusion. However, Lord Charles replied with a volley of his own, shocking the ranks of the rebellious colonialists.
Yet again the rebels fired, their musketry thinning the ranks of the British line even further. On the British left stragglers were leaving the line and the whole line involuntarily recoiled back as a pall of smoke fell across the field between the two sides.
Frantically the British officers and NCOs rallied their men before Lord Charles called for the bayonet to be used to sweep these damned rebels from their position. Despite their losses the British troops rallied to the call and pushed home their attack with cold steel. The empty “black holes” in the movement trays show just what losses the British had suffered up to this point and their force moral was plumeting.
Without bayonets the rebels were unable to hold back the red tide and the fence was crossed. Now the rebel force morale dropped to 3 but the next roll of the dice or turn of the card would be critical.
Lord Charles stepped forth. Dressing his ranks he formed four ragged groups into three relatively robust ones and fired again. In haste the volley was uncontrolled, but the damage was sufficient to see the men of New Hampshire decide that discretion was the better part of valour and head away, their force morale broken. British losses had been terrible, of the forty man column which began the action, just 17 men remained. Six men has routed from the field and seventeen had died.
Rebel losses had been minimal until the British went in with the bayonet and even now only ten men of their original force of sixty men and one gun were killed. It had been a close run thing, the British really only being saved by a great roll of 14″ to make the charge home to contact when they played the Thin Red Line bonus with two available Command cards.
Nevertheless, what we had intended to be a bit of a dry playtest of a very specific situation turned out to be an incredible window on a very interesting action. The British drill had carried them into battle with speed and seen them form up and make a text book attack. The rebel volley had torn through their ranks and in a brief firefight the British line had recoiled and nearly broken, yet the quality of the British leadership had ensured that the line rallied and pushed home the attack despite their losses. It was undoubtedly a pyrrhic victory but still one which raised the spirits of any Briton. One could but wonder how such a result at Bunker Hill would have affected the morale of the colonists.
Points of interest. The colonials kept a reserve of two groups of New Hampshire troops who joined the action late. Had they been part of the first crashing volley there is little doubt in my mind that the British would have been halted. Secondly, the riflemen in the fleches deployed VERY early and that allowed the British to avoid them. In view of the fact that the fleches were not on display until they deployed, the rebels would have been better off keeping their powder dry and luring the British into closer range before they popped up. At Bunker Hill it was fire from their fleches onto the flank of the attack which added much confusion to the British ranks.
So, in conclusion, Cousin Jonathan COULD indeed have bested our British regulars at Trumper Hill, but failed to do so. As a stout Briton, it was a joy to behold British steel at work. Even the Traitor McKipper declared for the King!
After our first patrol action game the Soviets now had the opportunity to probe against the German outpost line. Their objective for this game was not to destroy the enemy, but simply to find a route past them. How difficult could that be? We began the game with the Soviets rolling for support and getting