This post really is only my first impressions of Sharp Practice version 2 rules by Richard Clarke (TooFatLardies, 2016) and cannot be taken as my definitive opinion. I have read through the rules a couple of times and played a single solo game. I have previously played the first version of the rules many times and really like them. The solo game was set in the Peninsular in 1813 between a British regular force with some Spanish allies and a French regular force plus some grenadiers and dragoons (60 points aside). The game was an encounter with the aim of securing the centrally placed village. Both deployment points were opposite each other on the same flank of the table.
The British got off to a flying start deploying a solid firing line of regulars facing the French under the level III senior officer, whilst the light infantry skirmishers moved into the village and a second formation of regulars moved towards the opposite flank. The Spanish militia remained in reserve and moved to support the skirmishers. The French main formation moved against the British firing line in column of attack with supporting skirmishers on the flank (not out front), whilst a second column headed towards the village. The French dragoons failed to deploy at the start. The British firing line opened up on the French column using ‘controlled’ volleys augmented by ‘crushing volley’ (causing double shock) when the required 2 command tokens were available. This pretty much stopped the French in their tracks and they were reduced to attempting to return fire as best they could because the accumulated shock severely reduced any forward movement they may have attempted. The French remained too far away to successfully utilise the ‘Pas de Charge’ characteristic. Eventually after a few turns the French were ground down, the formation broke apart and constituent groups routed.
In the village the British skirmishers looked comfortable but the French dragoons eventually deployed and immediately charged at the gallop. The British skirmishers were thrown back (their officer had a lucky escape and scrambled back with light wounds), but the dragoons charged again and wiped them out! At this point the group of Spanish militia opened fire and lucky dice resulted in the repulse of the dragoons. At this point the game was over due to the deductions from the French force morale, and a clear British victory was achieved. Both sides had some uncommitted formations, the second formation of British regulars secured the far flank unopposed, whilst the advance of the second French column (with the grenadiers) was blocked by the attack of the dragoons down the main street of the village.
So what did I think of this second version of Sharp Practice? The presentation, lay-out and writing are all very much improved. The rules look great and read well, with clear, useful, illustrated examples of play. The army lists and scenarios at the back are also a great addition. I feel these rules are significantly different and are an amalgam of Sharp Practice version 1 and Chain of Command. I like the use of deployment points, and I think the purchase of a secondary deployment point may be important in future games. I like the defined unit size because I always dithered about what was the optimal unit size under version 1. This version of the rules certainly facilitates the use of formations, particularly for regular groups, and this was an aspect of the earlier version I always struggled with. The replacement of ‘Grasp the Nettle’ for Command chits is excellent and forces the player to consider whether to horde or play them. I suspect I will turn out to be a ‘hoarder’ because you can always use them once the Tiffin chit appears. The firing rules seem simpler to me, and controlled, crushing volleys are devastating! I think I like the uncontrolled volley rule which can result in your formation blasting away rather than obeying your commands. I initially mis-read the ‘Chapter Ends’ (p31) ruling and thought this applied to each draw of the Tiffin chit, which would have been stupid, but this shows the importance of reading the rules carefully! The ‘Random Events’ rules were much easier to apply than those found in version 1, which I had given up on using because they were too easy to overlook. It is certainly easier to get into fisticuffs, at least if you have little or no shock, but I struggle with the rule that deducts an inch of movement for each point of shock. I find this slows a group or formation to the point of stagnation very easily. I suspect I will use a house rule that deductions are only made for each 2 shock points (this would bring the rule into line with the deductions for firing and fisticuffs). One issue that arose in my game was when the French dragoons galloped into contact with the British skirmishers;
there did not appear to be any combat advantage to charging at the
gallop and, as far as I could see, movement stopped at contact. I would have
thought that irrespective of the fisticuffs outcome, the galloping dragoons
would have ‘burst’ through skirmishers continuing their move due to momentum.
In the second charge action (which wiped out the British) they only moved 6” of
the possible 21” the dice allowed them to move. If they had continued they
would have hit the poor Spanish militia behind, but as the rules played out they
had stopped and presented a prime target for the Spanish muskets! I would be
interested in the thoughts of other gamers.
The Force Morale rules appear to be straight from Chain of Command and provide a clear end-point to games. I think the Big Man characterisation (section 9) can add colour to scenarios but I’m not sure knowing that Big Man #3 is ugly as sin and not likely to pull is going to be a major part of my pre-game preparations. Too much bother and adds a level of detail I’m not seeking. The details I am likely to pursue are the addition of medics, civilians and various carts to my forces, and now I have a use for those drummers and standard bearers I already possess.
To conclude, from the basis of a single solo game, I generally like version 2 of Sharp Practice. I prefer playing using chits rather than playing cards; I hate shuffling and the cards soon get ‘dog-eared’. The rules are an improvement compared to the first version and they represent a significant change rather than a modest development or re-write. I do have a few problems (as discuss above) but nowhere near the number the first version posed. I can see me using the rules a lot and enjoying many happy games, particularly in the Peninsular setting. I think they will not replace Muskets and Tomahawks for FIW or AWI games, but I will try them out in these different settings. The rules may inspire me to purchase some Indian Mutiny figures (caution needed)!