My poor dragoons. I've fielded them in most of my battles, and every time this lonely little unit has been chewed up by enemy cavalry or infantry. And to make matters worse, they haven't even had proper officers to lead them, or trumpeters to make them look good! The line must be drawn here! This far, no further. It was time to crack up another one of Perry's lovely French dragoon boxes, and get to work.
This batch was pretty pretty big, as I had a couple of unpainted minis left from the first box. First off I needed 16 troopers to for two more units. Some of these I gave the heads indicating the elite company of the regiment. The box comes with both bearskin heads, which were for elite companies before the 1812 uniform change, and the plumed heads for post-1812. I'm saving the bearskins for a possible future project, and went with the plumes. I only had enough for half a unit of elite company dragoons, though.
After the troopers, I went for the command group. The officer and the standard bearer have the fake leopard skin covers on their helmets. The musician has the (honestly more boring) 1812 regulation uniform, where they kept the jacket green instead of using the facing colour. Maybe I'll paint up a second, alternative musician later.
I didn't go with a flag for the standard bearer. Napoleon got fed up with cavalry squadrons losing their eagles in the confusion that is so typical of cavalry warfare, but a lot of cavalry regiments refused to keep them in safe storage despite orders. I've decided not to use the paper flags that come with the box, so now I've got to decide which brand of flags to go with. Then I'll order flags for all my regiments at the same time.
Finally, my dismounted dragoons got a well deserved reinforcement as well. One more unit of skirmishing dragoons join the fray, and I also painted up a NCO (so no fancy leopard skin) to lead them, brandishing his sabre.
Altogether this increases my dragoons to five units, a much more respectable force. But will it be enough to finally see them win a scrap?
A French Edge on the Battlefield
God fights on the side with the best artillery, according to Napoleon. And by that measure, God really was on France's side for two decades, as a combination of new technology and doctrine made sure that French artillery was the world's finest. This development started well before Napoleon's entrance on the scene, or even the Revolution, as Jean-Baptiste-Vaquette de Gribeauval laid the foundation set to work in the 1760's. He redesigned the artillery arm from ground up, including the artillery pieces themselves, their ammunition, their wagons, and the entire logistics apparatus. This early work at making a uniform system of cannon that were both smaller and better was not fully introduced, but the foundation was laid for a Revolutionary government desperate to find a weapon to repell an increasing number of antagonistic neighbours. And once the army was in the hands of a genius artillery officer, it would continue to wreak havoc against France's enemies across the continent.
By the invasion of Russia, the French artillery had been further standardized, in the "System of the Year XI", referring to the new calendar introduced in Revolutionary France. The cannon came in three sizes, 24 pound, 12 pound and 6 pound cannon. In addition there were mortars (24 and 6 pound) and howitzers (also 24 and 6 pound).
French artillery came in two kinds, the line and the horse artillery. Horse artillery were the more mobile version. By using the lighter 6 pound cannon and with an all mounted crew, they could be tasked with either giving heavy support for cavalry attacks or to manouver to new positions during the battle to gain advantage of how the battle developed. The line infantry could either be divided to give close support to attacking infantry, or bunched up into huge destructive batteries that could virtually eradicate an exposed enemy formation.
A typical full strength artillery company would have 6 cannon and 2 howitzers, and around 100 to 120 men.
Artillery in Sharp Practice
Since Sharp Practice is a skirmish game, you are not likely to see a full company of 8 guns staring down the table. The artillery's main advantage is range, as a cannon can reach any target it can spot on the table. However, they need two actions to reload, compared to the single action of most infantry, so you will not be able to fire every turn. A medium cannon will fire with 12 dice, and a heavy cannon fire with 16 dice.
While the short ranges of a skirmish would mean that artillery would be well within canister (+1 to hit) range, Sharp Practice takes a bit of leeway and you'll firenormal cannonballs ("shot") if the target is more than 24" away for medium guns, and 30" for heavy guns. Each gun also only carries three rounds of canister. Finally, they can get additional +1 to hit by firing at columns or squares, and spend an action to fire controlled (+1 to hit) shots.
So while we have yet to play with artillery on the table, I don't believe they will be some kind of death star weapon. They shoot as much as one and a half or two units of infantry, and have the advantage of a practically infinite range. I can definitely see that a shot from a heavy gun, especially if you take the time to aim, can hurt a lot. The limited frontage is also nice, as we are already seeing how cramped space can get when we increase the army sizes. However, in return you'll be firing two out of three turns at most, the cannon lack the manouverability of infantry, and you can not use it for the close combats that we see decide our battles again and again. Overall I'm really excited to see how they'll play out!
So what to do if you want some big guns in your Sharp Practice force? Well, let's start with the good things.
The standardization of the French artillery is a huge boon. If you use individually based crew, like I do, you can just swap them out as you go. You can buy separate guns from companies like Front Rank and Calpe, so a single crew can turn up with a 12-pounder one battle, and a 6 pounder the next. You also use the same cannon for horse and line infantry. Just get whatever guns and crew you want, and mix and match. Very versatile!
Now, the bad thing is that a lot of companies sell their cannon with a crew of four gunners. This won't do, as Sharp Practice calls for a crew of 5, and you'll also want an artillery officer which is rarely included with the cannon crew. So you are pretty much stuck with either keeping to ranges that let you buy individual crew members (like Front Rank) or buy several packs of crew members (Perry have extra crew sets, which include officers). The exception I can find is Victrix, which has a plastic artillery set which is just short of enough crew (15 crew, including officers, for 3 guns). Warlord doesn't even have artillery officers, so you're out of luck there.
My own solution has been a very ad-hoc one. First, when I decided to get a bunch of Dragoons, I got a Horse Artillery 6 pound cannon from Perry to support my nascent cavalry force. The Perry box comes with four crew members (sorry for the glare from the gloss varnish):
As I was a crew member and an officer short, I bought some extras from Front Rank. What I didn't consider was that their style is a bit different, but more importantly, they come in full parade uniforms! Stylish indeed, but they do stand out:
To make things more complicated, I also got two sets of Warlord Games 6-pounders with Line Artillery crew in the second hand lot I recently picked up. One set was halfways painted already, so I finished it:
The Road Forwards
So now I'm in a convoluted mess resembling the hotdog-to-bread ratio dilemma. There's pretty much no way to get an exact number of crew to guns, so I'll probably pick up some more Line crew from Perry to get enough to field two guns and then some, and then either get even more Front Rank Horse Artillery crew or find another source of campaign uniform Horse Artillery crew. The alternative would be to get even more guns from Perry, as they don't sell separate Horse Artillery crew, and then we're starting to get ridiculous numbers of guns for a skirmish project.
Anyway, here they are as it stands now, with somewhat uneven manpower:
Setting the Scene
A couple of months ago, the club got together and made big order from Great Escape Games; it was so big, we broke their shipping calculator. The order was placed through email, but once it arrived we noticed one "problem". It contained a box of British Line Infantry instead of French (Great Escape Games quickly shipped the missing box of crapauds). Jonas has a theory that something like this happened:
At some time, at the Great Escape Games office:
A: "Boss. Boss! Look at this order that just came in."
Jonas already had a box of Victrix Highlander Centre Companies lying around somewhere waiting for a gentleman to lead them to victory against the Corsican Tyrant. And Jonas has been hinting in the blog for ages that SOMEONE should start playing the British. This just won't do, someone must do something!
Enter Zach! After my first game of Sharp Practice 2 in which I used Shirty's brave Russians and just barely failed to stop the cowardly Monsewers from escaping with their garlic stinking sausages I was hooked. As a consolation prize I got to take both boxes of British Infantry with me home.
Now I had a base on which to build the army that will defeat Boney. Because I, like Prometheus, can be a bit rash, I immediately built an officer and all 8 men flank company men in Waterloo uniform. Next I did some research, first by buying the first Sharpe's books, second buying the rules for Sharp Practice. After confirming with Jonas that his froggies could be used for both the Peninsular War or 100 Days I decided to go for a Peninsular War force. The very same day I stumbled upon a whole bunch of Sharpe's DVDs at a closeout sale. Surely this must be fate.
Next came choosing which regiments to field my little mens as. For the Highlanders the choice was easy. Since I've only been painting miniatures for about 6 months, and don't consider myself the most skilled painter, I went with the 42nd Regiment of Foot, also known as the Black Watch, simply because their tartan had what looked like the easiest pattern.
Finding a regiment for the regular line infantry wasn't as easy. Wanting something a bit special I first found the 56th (West Essex) Regiment of Foot, called the Pompadours, with purple facings. But they never served on the peninsula. Next there was the 35th (Royal Sussex) Regiment of Foot, the Orange Lilies, that were so hardcore protestant that King William III gave them special permission to wear orange facings as a mark of royal favour and a sign of their piety. Sadly, these badass disciples of Martin Luther never set foot in the peninsula either.
Well if I can't have God's own boys, I guess I'll have to settle for the Devil's Own. The 88th (Connaught Rangers) Regiment of Foot was an Irish regiment with yellow facings, that were known as the most troublesome and fearless rogues of the whole British army. And at Salamanca they captured an old Moorish standard, a 'Jingling Johnny', which sound like an interesting conversion for the future.
I also had four riflemen, they will be of the 95th Rifles. No need to research any alternatives, Sharpe's literary exploits decided for me.
A Starting Force
The box of Victrix Highlanders contains 60 men and out of these you get 4 of both Officer, Drummer, Sergeant, Colour bearer, and Piper. This leaves a bayonet strength of 40, exactly 5 groups of 8.
Not quite an even number, this won't allow me to make a symmetrical Attack Column. Not that I ever would, but still it's a cause for annoyance. Luckily Napoleonics is very much about style and fancy stuff, and we have already decided as a club to feature a lot more musicians, Colours, sappeurs, etc. than the rules of Sharpe Practice recommend. Filling out groups with extra musicians (a force can field only one in Sharp Practice) and some Colours guarded by Sergeants I should be able to field 6 full groups of Highlanders eventually.
Perry's box of Line Infantry comes with 40 men, out of which I have already "wasted" the officer and 8 flank company men. The flank company men can easily be salvaged with a simple head swap, and to get some officers I converted the Ensigns carrying the colours into proper officers. The box also comes with four Riflemen, a drummer boy and a Sergeant, leaving me with a current bayonet strength of 24. Since skirmishers fight in groups of 6 in Sharp Practice I made an order from Perry for one more pair of plastic Riflemen, their metal Riflemen, and a pack of command figures to lead them all. This adds up to 2 groups of 6 Riflemen.
This should be able to keep me busy for quite some time, but I know that my adventures in the Peninsular war won't feel complete without also experiencing the little war. Shopping around for Guerilleros I settled for some from Front Rank, combined with Perry's Carlist Fighting Clergy, with the vision of homebrewing some rules for an armed band wielding pistols, swords, blunderbusses. As a bonus the armed priests and monks can also be used as Holy men, with or without Relics. I've gotten an unhealthy liking for the vendors where shipping is calculated as % of the order, because it's like: slightly more expensive duders and FREE SHIPPING!
Order of Battle
From all the forces available for me, Duke W(Z)ellington, to fight the crapauds getting it all ready for a first battle won't be necessary. As an initial force to bring to first true battle (and to finish before I can buy more stuff), I settled for:
4 grps of Highlanders, w/ Officer
3 grps of Line Infantry, w/ Officer
2 grps of Riflemen, w/ Officer
1 grp of Guerilla Skirmishers
See you next time, with my force all painted, based, and ready for battle.
After two games with Zach as the Russian general, Shirty was happy to return to give the humbled French another lesson in slavic grit. Even better, this game was one of those great moments of tabletop wargaming when both sides have painted up a whole bunch of new miniatures!
The French thought that the addition of two lance-armed Chevau-léger units and some Carabiniers would be enough to incite fear in the Russians. However, the Russians turned up with two new cavalry units of their own, as well as some dismounted Cossack skirmishers and even more line infantry. Now it's starting to look like the invasion in Russia for real!
Will these bigger forces give us more tactical options, or will the ruleset be bogged down as we start to go beyond the suggested force sizes? It was time to escalate things, Kriget Kommer style.
Scenario - Encounter at the Forest
We wanted to focus on testing the two increased forces with as few distractions as possible. Instead of rolling for scenario we simply picked "Encounter", and made an open table with few terrain features. The forces would meet each other at the outskirts of a forest, with a road that forks at a deceptively innocent looking shed.
In the Encounter scenario you roll for which third of the table edge you deploy from, and the Russians entered by the blue beehive, but with a second, movable, deployment point in the woods that the sneaky Cossacks provided. The French would deploy at the French Foreign Legion marker. I know. I've ordered more suitable deployment markers for them.
The Russian Force
The Russian force has two regular infantry formations. The first one is made of 6 units of line infantry, and the other consists of three units of Grenadiers.
The regular ranked up formations are supported by two types of skirmishers, both Jäger skirmishers (who are "proper" skirmishers) and foot Cossacks, who are irregular skirmishers. Each type have two units on their formation.
Finally, the Russians have two units of light cavalry, both Hussars and Cossacks. The latter are irregular cavalry rather than scouting cavalry, and give the Russians a Mobile Deployment Point at the start of the game.
The French Force
I didn't take a proper picture of the French force, so here it is picture with a few additional troops that didn't hit the table.
4 units of Carabiniers, led by a lvl 3 leader. Carabiniers are the equivalent of Grenadiers for light infantry, so this is pretty much as good as my French infantry gets without being from the imperial guard.
4 units of Fusiliers, led by a lvl 2 leader. Bog standard line infantry.
Two formations, each with 2 units of skirmishing Voltigeurs, each led by a lvl 2 leader. These will act as skirmish screens for my two ranked up infantry formations.
2 units of Chevau-léger lancers. In a possible contradiction in the rules, these are Scouting Cavalry (which are worse in close combat than regular troops), but lancers are also specifically listed as the same quality as regular troops in close combat. However, no lancers are noted as being armed with lances in the rulebook. So we figured out that these are simply scout cavalry that fight as well as regular troops in close combat, which seems to fit the descriptions I've read of lancers in historical accounts. So in gameplay terms we treat them as Dragoons that can't dismount to fight as skirmishers, but instead they can deploy further away from a deployment point. However, I think it would be nice to have some more special rules for lancers.
1 unit of mounted Dragoons. These are cavalry that are expected to get stuck in, but can also fire with slightly less accuracy than musket troops if they stand still, or dismount to fight as skirmishers.
We were both short on cavalry leader models, so each of our cavalry units had an "invisible" lvl 1 leader, and each of our cavalry wings were led by an additional lvl 2 leader.
The battle begins
As in last battle, the French starts pouring onto the field. Since their deployment point is towards the corner, they need to fan out quickly or get surrounded.
A lone unit of Russian Hussars look on as the Carabiniers deploy in line, screened by skirmishing Voltigeurs.
A long line of Russian line infantry back up the Hussars. The French deployment area is so cramped that the Dragoons and Fusiliers have to deploy in column, to be able to squeeze through the space left by the Carabiniers.
Finally, the lancers make their debut on the table, hemmed in behind the rest of the force. In the distant edge of the forest you can see the Russian skirmishing foot Cossacks turn up. They are irregular skirmishers, which means that they don't have all the perks "true" skirmisher have, but irregular skirmishers still get +1 to hit at long range if they fire from cover.
The battle lines are drawn pretty much immediately. The Russians have one long line of regular infantry and cavalry, which faces the weaker French infantry and their cavalry. The French Carabiniers and their skirmishers are facing the rest of the Russians, with their Grenadiers and supporting skirmishers.
Even a casual glance will tell you one thing: that shed was built in a really bad place for the French! Unable to fan out, the cavalry has to slow down and squeeze by in column. To dissuade a sudden attack by the Russian cavalry, and with no enemy skirmishers in the way, the French Voltigeurs open up at long range and start to land some shock-causing volleys on the Hussars. It might not sound like much, but shock can really complicate an attack in Sharp Practice, as the shock will reduce the number of attacks in both musketry and in close combat. But worse, shock reduces the distance your units move, which means that a charge might not hit home, leaving you stranded in close musketry range.
The cavalry clash begins
When the Hussar start taking a beating, they turn and move into cover behind the Russian infantry lines. The Dragoons are smelling blood, their eyes focused on the remaining irregular cavalry at the tail end of the Russian lines. The French general, thinking "when have ever an impetuous charge on Cossacks failed?", seizes the opportunity. With spurs dug in, the Dragoons charge across the field! For the Emperor!
Their charge hits home, but both sides roll badly. Close combat is normally pretty deadly in Sharp Practice: you'll usually roll somewhere between six to ten dice per unit in combat, with 5s causing kills and 6s causing both a kill and a point of shock. But this time both sides are mostly unharmed, with the Dragoons barely scraping in a narrow victory. The Cossacks are pushed back, but they manage to remain on the table, facing the attackers. Instead of routing the enemy horsemen as they expected, the Dragoons are now facing a mostly unharmed unit, as well as the distraught Hussars who move up to support a counter-charge.
And then, in another first time event, the Russian regulars lines up in a square! This way, they wíll be protected from the French cavalry if the combined Russian cavalry units would be humbled by the heavier Dragoons. However, they are now immobilized and will not be able to bring their superior numbers to use against the French infantry line. Proper Napoleonics, ladies and gentlemen!
Cavalry clash, concluded
Now it was the Russians turn to unleash their riders. The Cossacks and Hussars smash into the French Dragoons, and the time of low die rolls is over. The rash Dragoons are outnumbered, outfought, and cut down to a man!
However, the cheers among the Russian horsemen are interrupted when the French Lancers finally snake their way between infantry, and counter-counter-charge the counter-chargers. Their deadly steel lances find their marks, and the Russian cavalry is eliminated, with riders and mounts strewn across the battlefield. This leaves the French equestrians finally in control of their flank. But will they be able to make a dent in the neat infantry square in front of them? Or even dare to try?
A contest of elites
As the back-and-forth of the cavalry progressed, the other side of the battlefield saw two groups of elites facing each other. One one side, the Russian grenadiers who excel in close combat, and supported by plenty of skirmishers. On the other, the French Carabiniers who have a numerical advantage in regular troops, but half as many skirmishers.
Initially the contest unfolded in the Russians favour, with the French leaders again getting knocked out by pot shots from the skirmishers in the woods and unable to activate their units. Their saving grace was that the nimble Voltigeurs did their job well, and their skirmish screen kept the French lines from taking too many casualties. Skirmishers count as having one level higher of cover, and if you fire through them at the units they screen, those units get the same benefit.
With pressure mounting on their other flank, the Russians move forwards, aiming to even out the odds by beating the French in hand-to-hand combat. But they have to get across the killing field that is the 12" close range of muskets, and their movement roll is unfortunately not enough to make contact.
The row of Russian Grenadiers are looming in when the French light infantry captain finally woke up. He pushed his men forward, and the line shoved their way trough the skirmish screen, opening up a last minute volley at close range. Yet again, the devastating effect of a first fire volley in the open (32 men firing, 3+ to hit, 3+ to shock) was demonstrated.
The reeling Grenadiers, almost losing a third of their men and with a wounded officer, find themselves with so much shock that they are unable to get to grips with the French. With the tide turning against the Russians, a last salvo breaks the willpower of the Russians. The remaining skirmishers and the besieged infantry square are no longer a threat to the remaining Frenchmen, and the battle is called.
Lessons from the game
First of all: never ever underestimate a first fire volley at close range. Especially since the activation system means that sometimes one side can get in two volleys in a row before the other side can retaliate. In this case, the volleys at the end simply eradicated the poor Grenadiers.
Secondly: skirmish screens are really good. The French line infantry spent quite a lot of this battle stranded, with knocked-out leaders, unable to do anything. Still, the incoming fire from the Russians, both from skirmishers and line infantry, didn't manage to really harm them. Each formation lost a few men here and there, but all of them were still in fighting shape. A line formation that has a skirmish screen is quite likely to get into close range without that many casualties or shock.
Thirdly: cavalry is fun! And more cavalry is more fun! It can be hard to manouver them, but they are actually quite threatening in close combat, especially as soon as you have two units at the same time. We had read a lot of posts online about cavalry being ineffective in SP2, but we really haven't seen that in the latest battles, and especially not now that we have 2-3 units per side. I'm excited to see what happens once we get three or four unit formations...
Fourth: the game actually got even better with these larger forces. With both sides having two ranked formations, several skirmisher units AND cavalry, it felt a lot more tactical. And this size was actually great for our experimental simplified NCO rules, as you had a suitable number of leader cards. We did not have a whole bunch of command cards piling up every turn, as we had when we tested the new NCO rules with smaller forces.
Fifth: if we go for even bigger games, we might need to look into multiple deployment points, as it's really hard to squeeze in more than a dozen units within the allowed distance from your deployment point.
Speaking of escalation
And larger games would not come as a surprise. After this game, a quick note appeared on our group chat, informing me of a guy selling some Napoleonic French.
It turned out to be a bit of a small army, with two boxes of Warlord French, one box of Perry French, one box of Warlord's Vistula Legion, a box of Chasseurs-a-Cheval, some officers and two line artillery 6-pounders.
I'm still thinking about what I'll end up painting them all as, but this should be a start on the light infantry Chasseurs, a bulked up formation of line Voltigeurs, more Voltigeur skirmishers, and maybe even the start of a small Polish contingent? Please share your ideas of how to best use this unexpected infusion of infantry!
I was asked to write up a blog post about the various markers we use in our games. Both Sharp Practice and Chain of Command are skirmish games where you have quite a lot of tactical options, which we like. However, all those special effects can require a bit of bookkeeping on the table to keep track of everything.
The rulebook has some guidelines, but I think there are actually a lot more markers that you'll end up wanting than what the book mentions. If you are looking into picking up Sharp Practice, here are what we've found to be strictly necessary, what will be helpful, and finally, some things that are simply there if you want to go the extra yard.
Sourcing your markers
You can make your own markers, but these days there are so many affordable MDF shops that it's hardly worth it, unless you have some serious artistic talent.
A lot of our markers are MDF markers that I got from Supreme Littleness Designs together with the sabot bases. They sell a large number of different markers, and I prefer the small sized ones. I personally prefer to get MDF markers and paint them myself compared to acrylic markers, but that's simply because I prefer the look and I think they fit better with painted miniatures and terrain.
We also have some acrylic markers bought from Too Fat Lardies.
Markers you'll need
Some effects are just all over the place, and impossible to keep in your head:
Markers that are nifty
Once you have the basics down, you can start to get creative. The first, and most obvious one, is to model your own deployment points. This is a nice way to make your force more unique, and there are tons of miniatures, from casualties to camp followers to smug Aide-de-Camps who can fill this role. Once the Brits hit the table, I might have a use of all those British casualty figures that come with the Perry cavalry sprues...
Another popular way to make your table more cinematic is to make three dimensional markers for volleys. One way is to simply use a bit of MDF board and glue some cotton on, to make the image of your unit being engulfed in gunpowder smoke. In my latest order from Warlord Games I went one step further, and picked up a blinking LED volley marker. Excessive? You bet! But it's a very evocative way of endulging in some historical battlefield decoration.
So that's it. Needless to say I'm looking forward to make more elaborate markers to kit out our games, and especially to make some themed deployment points for my French. If you have some great ideas for home-made markers or deployment points, please share!
The French Cornered
Zach wanted revenge after the French slipped through his grasp in the last battle, so we arranged for a second battle. Initially we planned to roll for scenarios, but after trying to set up the Rescue Mission and realizing that it would be a bad fit for our forces, we decided to play a straight up meeting engagement instead. Evidently, the Russians were alarmed by a certain French captain who had not only beaten one of their skirmish forces, but also slipped through their net despite their best efforts to catch him. Now, on a small road outside Vitebsk, the French captain runs into yet another Russian search party. Will he prevail and add another trophy to his growing list of achievements, or has his luck finally run out?
This was the first battle where we used the points system, and we used the PDF Russian list and the French Peninsular list from the rulebook. Needless to say, I'm not completely happy with the French list for representing France in Russia 1812. In the list, French veteran company troops are worse than the Russian line troops! But until my own French 1812 list is vetted by the club, I use the one from the book. The battle was fought before the French light infantry and lancers were finished, so the forces are similar to our first games.
Experimental rule: Simplified Leader Activation
We set up a simple crossroad with a small farming household and some woods, where our two forces would meet.
The French force has a formation of four Fusilier units. With them are a large formation of 4 groups of skirmishing Voltigeurs, led by a single NCO. These two formations are bolstered by a single unit of mounted Dragoons.
The russian has one large formation of four units of line infantry, and one formation of grenadiers. They are fronted by a formation of two units of skirmishing jägers.
The French quickly took initiative, and rolled onto the field with their entire force. The Fusiliers marched on in a line, covered by a huge cloud of skirmishers. On their left flank, the lone Dragoons started looking for vulnerable units to prey on.
The Russians were caught by surprise, and scrambled to meet them. The Grenadiers and skirmishers advanced straight for the French force. while the line infantry formed up a column and started marching towards the unprotected French right flank.
The skirmishers get within range to open up on each other. Skirmishing troops get +1 to hit at long range with muskets, and troops with the "First Fire" rule get an additional +1 to hit with their first salvo. Our skirmishers only have to roll 4+ to hit on the first volley, and 5+ on consecutive rounds. Meanwhile, line infantry quickly ends up needing 6+ to hit if they try to fight a long range battle.
However, skirmishers also counts as being in one level of cover extra, since they are spread out and utilize whatever they can find to hide behind. This means that losses are few in the initial firefight, but the leader of the Russian formation is knocked out! If Zach wants to activate him, he needs to roll a 5 or 6 to wake up. This takes a while, so the Russian skirmishers are temporarily out of action.
The Battle Heats Up
The Russian Grenadiers are not worried that the skirmishers halt, and move up to the solid stone wall by the road. From the heavy cover they start firing on the French skirmishers on close range, and the both sides are embroiled in a firefight.
At this point the French Fusiliers are in a bad spot. The skirmishers are in a large formation, they can't easily be manouvered to the sides. The Fusiliers could push forward and move the Voltigeurs to their back, but then they are in light cover, against a formation in heavy cover at close range. Instead of a decisive action, the French stands still, exchanging fire with the Russians. A combination of deployment mistake and static battle plan? This doesn't sound good!
Meanwhile, at the crossroads:
After two battles of being useless, the French Dragoons are chewing at the bit to prove their worth. And what's more tempting than the flank of an already engaged infantry group with unloaded muskets? It's time to recover their lost honour!
Slowly trotting forward, they change facing at the crossroads and line up. You can only change speed one "step" up per turn with cavalry, so they are spurred on to a canter, but not gallop. To make sure that they make contact, the French player spends two command flags to use their special rule "Tally Ho!". This gives them an extra die for movement, and two extra dice in the Fisticuffs if they get into contact. With the extra die and +3 inches per die for moving at canter, the Dragoons crash into the surprised Grenadiers!
The Dragoons are only one unit against the Grenadiers, who are supported by the unit next to them. Even though they are Agressive (extra dice in close combat), the flank charge removes enough dice from the Russian side for the Dragoons to overpower them. While losses are few, the Grenadiers are pushed back, and have to leave their heavy cover.
Meanwhile, the intrepid Russian column has fanned up into a line, and are advancing through the woods. The French Fusiliers hurry to form up to face them head on, but they are very close now!
The Dragoons are now in a much worse situation, and it's do or die as they continue their attack on the Grenadiers. But at this point they have formed up in a line, and while they are badly mauled and not really in combat shape after the Fisticuffs, the Dragoons are killed to a man! Only the officer survives, and retreats from the battlefield in a frantic panic. This angers the Voltigeurs, who fires upon the Grenadiers until they are forced to retreat due to accumulating too much shock.
Meanwhile, the Russian troops open up a devastating volley on the French! Casualties are high, and before the French can reply in kind, a second volley riddles the French captain with musket balls, and he falls dead to the ground. Quel dommage!
With the French losing their captain and with only their skirmishers in fighting shape, the players agreed that it was a good spot to call it a day and break off for lunch. The Russians had prevailed, and put an end to the French rampage across their countryside. At least for now...
We learned a lot from this battle. First of all, skirmishers should not operate in such large formations! If they had been organized as two formations, they could have manouvered much more efficiently, and maybe try to flank the Russians or get in the way of the marching column while still keeping the Grenadiers in check.
Secondly, getting a first volley at close range with ranked infantry against other ranked infantry is very lethal. It's likely to put you in a position where your opponent is weakened enough by the shock and losses that they can't claw their way back into the fight.
Thirdly, if the Dragoons had two units instead of one, the Grendiers would probably have been wiped out, not pushed back. Even in perfect conditions, a single cavalry unit is pretty limited. But at the same time, it practically removed three units from the battle through their sacrifice. So cavalry, while they have their weaknesses, are far from useless.
Finally, it's more fun to have two ranked up units than one! Only fielding one unit of Fusiliers made the French force needlessly static. With more units you can manouver more, and do interesting things like flanking. So bumping up the armies in size a bit so that both have more than one "core" unit is probably for the better.
Overall a fun game with the balance shifting back and forth. Now it's on to add more troops, so that we can fight bigger battles!
I enjoyed the two first units of Carabiniers from Front Rank, and what's not to like about spiffy blue uniforms and bearskin hats? But to form an elite formation for my SP2 force, I needed more than 16 men. So next up I got two packs of 8 Carabiniers from Wargames Foundry, to bulk out the formation.
I managed to find a pack of the parade style uniform, with plumes and the Hessian boots, and in the end they ended up looking very similar in both size and proportions.
Main differences compared with the Front Rank ones:
Other than that they look very similar, and it's hard to even tell them apart when they are put in the same formation. I'd say the foundry miniatures have slightly finer details in some parts, but it's hard to tell from even a short distance.
They're roughly the same price, so the main difference is that you can choose the exact miniatures from Front Rank while Foundry sell theirs in 8 figure packs, where most packs are single-pose miniatures more aimed at large units.
After fielding the entire formation in a game, I must say that I'm pleased with how they add an extra spot of colour with their blue and red uniforms, compared to the more drab fusilisiers in their greatcoats. A good start to the light infantry, and now they only need a little bit of of a Chasseur (the light infantry equivalent of fusilier company) backbone!
French Chevau-Légers Lanciers
My second addition to the cavalry wing is a unit of French lancers. These nimble cavalrymen started out as Dragoons, but were ordered to add the lance to their arsenal after the Uhlans, especially of Polish origin, impressed the Napoleonic era by showing how efficient a long metal pointy stick could be.
Six French Dragoon regiments were turned into Chevau-Léger (light horse) lancers before the invasion of Russia. The Grande Armée in 1812 had two visibly different types of lancers - the French style ones with a crested bronze-coloured helmet, and the Polish style lancers with the square topped Czapka helmet. Note that some non-Polish lancers, such as the 2e régiment de chevau-légers lanciers de la Garde Impériale (or second Imperial Guard Lancers) wore Polish style uniforms, despite these Red Lancers being Dutch.
The added reach and impact of the lance meant that the lancers, despite their light horse classification, were a threat to most other cavalry except the armoured Cuirassiers. They were deadly in pursuit and their weapon could strike an infantryman from beyond the reach of his bayonet. With their distinct white and red lance pennons, they're a very colourful addition to a French army.
Warlord Games lancers
I got 8 sprues of lancers with 2 lancers on each sprue. The sprue has extra epaulettes to make one of them into an elite company member, and two lances that are either held upright or sideways across the chest. You also get one arm with a sabre and a loose musketoon: the first rank of the lancers would carry lances, pistols and sabres, and the second rand sabres, pistols and musketoons or carbines. Since these are my first 16, I decided to go with lances for everybody.
My unit is painted up as the 2nd Chevau-Léger regiment, which had orange collars and turnbacks. It was tricky to get an orange that is visibly different from the red on my Dragoons, and in the end they might be a little bit too similar. But if you doubt their allegiance, there's a tiny little "2" on the sides of the saddle bags. I went with the 2nd regiment since they were at Borodino, in a heavy cavalry brigade under the capable Montbrun, and I thought that their orange facing colour would look good with the green uniforms.
1st to 6th lancer regiments had green coats and breeches, and the 7th to 9th had blue, with each regiment using different facing colours. So there's a lot of colour options if you get some lancers for your force, and as always you can get some colour guidance at Napolun.
I'm happy with how these lancers turned out. If I do more I'll probably scrap most of the sideways lances, and just use the ones pointing upwards for both practical and aesthetical reasons.
I saved a few pounds on getting these during the sprue sale, but I also missed out of getting the command group that comes in the box, so now I need to get those anyway. I'm honestly not sure if I should get just a command group, from Perry or Front Rank or similar, of if I should spring for a whole box of lancers from Warlord. That way I'd get one unit more and some extras, plus the command group, and it's not that much more expensive than buying a metal command group from some other company.
Either way: lancers are good, lancers are cool, and these are a good budget option for any French players who wants a light cavalry with a little bit more "oomph" to them.
That's it for today. Now, where is the closest group of Russians so I can try these bad boys out?!
Now that I have finished a basic core of French infantry, I'm looking at expanding the cavalry. When I started to look into the subject, I realized just how little I knew about French cavalry in the Napoleonic era. First of all, there's just so many different kinds of cavalry! And they change over time with new equipment, new uniforms and organization. How could I translate all those things into a small skirmish force? Needless to say, I realized that I had to read up a bit and then make some choices.
I started out with two books that cover cavalry. The first one is the excellent Swords Around A Throne by John Elting. It's just a great source overall for everything in the French army, and the cavalry chapters are just as good.
My second source was a second hand bargain, complete with a smell that said that it might have spent many years in some library cellar: Napoleon's Cavalry and Its Leaders by David Johnson. It puts a lot of emphasis on describing the generals and marshals who led the French cavalry formations, but in a way where descriptions of smaller scale events both on and off the battlefields are covered as well. It was a surprisingly easy read and takes care to flesh out the characters, instead of listing dry facts.
Finally, since we're mostly aiming at the invasion of Russia 1812, I also picked up The Battle of Borodino by Alexander Mikaberidze, to get some more detailed information about the campaign. It's like the oppositve of Johnson's book, spending a ton of time with details and evaluating different sources. Not as fun a read, but plenty informative on the many parts of the battle that were cavalry played a big role.
Revisiting my cavalry plans
What have I learned this far?
First of all, cavalry differed not just in where it was deployed, but at what time during an engagement, for what purposes, and how they would get involved with the enemy. Basically, I don't think that having a small skirmish force with 4-5 different kinds of cavalry at the same tiny spot is all that realistic, historically speaking.
The second issue is that if you want an historical French Napoleonic cavalry skirmish force, you're not guaranteed to be able to include everything you want. Basically, the problem is that cavalry regiments were organized into cavalry brigades which tended to have one or two types of cavalry, and each corps would have different types of cavalry brigades. Personally I see the extreme variety among cavalry types and regimental uniforms as one of the big draws of doing French cavalry. But if I wanted to have my troops come from the same corps, as I first planned, my options are suddenly more limited.
For example, I initially wrote that I planned to have my troops come from Grouchy's III Reserve Cavalry corps, and I painted up my first dragoons as a regiment from that corps. But the rest of that corps was one regiment of Hussars, some regiments of Chasseurs-a-cheval, some Bavarian and Saxon Chevau-légers, aaand... Dragoons. A lot of Dragoons. If I want some Cuirassiers (which I really want after reading David Johnson's book), or French lancers (which I'm painting right now), I'm going to have to give up that idea.
Finally, some of the uniforms really differ a lot. Especially for Hussars, but also for most other troops. And some of the colour combinations just appeal to me more than others, and the idea of forcing myself to paint a less appealing uniform just to fit into the right brigade doesn't sound so fun to me, once I realized just how many hours of painting are in front of me.
This was the point where I decided to give in to the sweet temptation of hedonism. In an unprecedented show of disregard to all that's holy, I'm going to mix regiments that are not even in the same corps. My lancers are going to the 2nd Chevau-léger regiment from Montbrun's II Reserve Cavalry Corps! *gasp*
I know this drastic call must terrify you ("they were on different flanks at Borodino!"), but as there's no historical way to make a force that lets me field all the full splendour of the cavalry, I'll throw away the Orders of Battle and march on. And, maybe in some distant future, I'll have enough regiments anyway to field a small force from a single corps, or even brigade. For now, enjoyment won out over my tabletop OCD.
That doesn't mean I'm giving up completely. I'm only doing regiments that fought in the Russian campaign, and at least in this first round I'm sticking to regiments that took part at the battle of Borodino. We'll see if I'll revisit this when we get some Brits who wants to fight all the Dragoons that were left in Spain.
So what am I getting first? Looking at the stuff I already had, what I got from the Warlord sprue sale, and what I just recently got when I bought a small second hand army still in boxes, I can field the following 8-man units:
3 units of Mounted Dragoons (7th regiment)
2 units of Chevau-légers (French lancers, 2nd regiment)
3 units of Hussars (not decided yet)
4 units of Chasseurs-a-cheval (also not decided)
Which in itself is definitely enough for an all-mounted force in Sharp Practice 2. In addition, I'd love to extend the lancers with a second rank armed with pistols, sabres and carbines, and I also want to add Cuirassiers for some really heavy cavalry. Finally, as always, I need more officers because I always have too few officers for SP2.
Here's a quick view of the madness as I built most of the horses (there's like 30 more):
I plan to work in batches of 16 cavalrymen, and for now I'm testing to paint them with the riders glued on from the start. The lancers are the smallest formation, so they got to go first. I already got to the stage where they mostly need some highlights and some work on the horses:
I hope I'm not going to regret this project soon.
Wish me luck.
"Glory is fleeting,