Previously I reviewed Donnybrook (see my earlier blog post), a set of rules for ‘large’ scale skirmish gaming for the period 1660-1760. I intend to give a more complete view once I have played an opposed game but this has been delayed due to diary clashes for myself and regular opponent, Ian. Reading Donnybrook did remind me of another set of ‘large’ scale skirmish rules, this time set in the Napoleonic period; Sharp Practice. I last played the game over 3 years ago. I recall that at the time they gave a number of good, interesting games and I’m not sure why they have not continued in my gaming repertoire. Therefore, I decided to dig them out and give them another go in a solo game format.
The rules are A4 format, black and white print with a few illustrations and line drawings. There are two key rule mechanisms: (1) A focus on the actions of leaders or ‘Big men’. These motivate the groups of troops around them to undertake actions (move, shoot etc.) and to rally them (the removal of ‘shock’ points). (2) A card activation mechanic to activate the various ‘Big Men’ and to end turns in a random manner. In each turn some ‘Big Men’, and therefore some groups, will not be activated, but non-activated groups are given a limited activation (can fire but not move or rally) at the end of a turn. The Sharp Practice rules do add a lot of chrome in the form of a Bonus Card deck, nationality specific cards, and a wide range of ‘Big Man’ characteristics (e.g. Avarice, Gluttony, Pride etc.). There is also a section on Napoleonic drill.
I set the games in the Peninsular war and they revolved around taking control of a small hamlet. Each side had 4 groups each of 10 men, of which one group was Light or Voltigeur with skirmishing ability. All the troops were considered as ‘Regular’ quality. There were 4 ‘Big Men’ (levels 3, 2, 1, 1) per side.
In the first game I used the groups independently (I forgot the important use of formations!) and the game rapidly bogged down into a prolonged firefight, with neither side able to move forward (due to accumulated ‘shock’ points). Essentially the ‘Big Men’ were reduced to merely activating and rallying men. The skirmish capable troops had a significant edge in this type of combat and the game was decided by these troops together with the loss of a couple of the French ‘Big Men’.
In my second game I introduced an additional group to each side; 10 French Fusiliers and 8 British Rifles (rated as Elites). I also gave the French drummers to help activate any formations they would use. This game was much more dynamic. The Rifles were caught by a devastating volley whilst making a dash across the open village square and were massacred. The French lines were able to advance effectively due to their formation and ability to rally ‘shock’. The skirmish was won by the French Voltigeurs who were able to move through the now empty village and assault a British unit in the rear.
There is much to like about these rules and they give a good game, so long as you remember to use formations for your line troops. Whilst saying this, I still feel the skirmish capable light troops remain the dominant force, which is probably correct for the scale of combat covered by these rules. There are some sections of the rules that I’m not comfortable with, particularly the Bonus Deck. Drawing from the Bonus Deck largely results from throwing more 1’s than 6’s when a group moves or fires, which then requires a second dice throw to determine possible effects. I frequently found I forgot to notice this type of result because I was more focussed on the number of hits achieved. When I did remember, I often found the card drawn had no impact on the game. The only time the Bonus Deck had a significant effect was when a group of French ran out of ammo, then drawing the Bonus Ammo card was vital. I think in future games I will change the 1’s and 6’s rule by instead rolling an additional blank dice when moving or firing, with 1 or 2 faces of the dice giving a potential effect. I also feel the negative effect of ‘shock’ points on forward movement is too great and this prevents many opportunities for close combat (fisticuffs). The ‘Grasp the Nettle’ and ‘Sharp Practice’ cards add nicely to the game. I think I need to practice more in the use and control of formations e.g. I have only used lines and never used columns. I have not used cavalry or artillery, so cannot comment about them. The ‘Big Man’ characteristics, whilst fun, have never impacted on any of the games I have played.
Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed both games I played. I’m glad to have revisited Sharp Practice and plan to revive their use in some club games. I intend to purchase some cavalry figures to see how these work, but I cannot see myself getting into artillery.