So, after sitting in a postal warehouse just a few miles from me for half a month, this little package arrived. Paint pot for size comparison:
Earlier this month, I got in touch with a fellow Scandinavian, who was selling a rather large lot of French miniatures. He was very helpful, and he let me buy out about one third of the lot, as I there were far more than I would need for even a few years of painting.
Buying a bunch of miniatures second hand can be nice way to begin a new project or expand your force, but it comes with some issues. For example, it's very likely that some of the miniatures are not exactly what you planned to buy.
In this case, I got four boxes of Victrix infantry, a box of plastic cuirassiers, and a box of various metal miniatures, primarily from Gringo40's. Now, I already have a lot if plastic infantry waiting to be painted.
So why did I go for these sets, except for a crippling miniature addiction?
This first part is not so hard to figure out. The two small boxes are metal cuirassiers from Perry Miniatures, one of them with command figures. Together with the plastic box, I have 20 cuirassiers, which means two units of 8 plus full command and even an extra officer. Neat!
I plan to use these boxes for many different things. First of all, I have lots of extra dragoon heads left from my Perry dragoon boxes. I plan to use them to convert a bunch of these into foot dragoons, which will suit our Peninsular games great.
I also plan to check if I can make some gendarmes out of the 1804-1807 box. It's hard to find good sources on the "normal" gendarmes (i.e. not the Gendarmes d'élite de la Garde Impériale), but AFAIK it seems that they were pretty busy in Spain, even if they had a miserable time escorting stuff back and forth and getting ambushed by angry Spaniards.
I also have a bunch of metal heads for Polish troops, that I think would look better on these than on the Warlord boxes I have. If I get some additional heads, these could form the initial core of a Polish force. I'm also a bit interested in painting some as Italians and/or Croats.
Finally, I'll probably make some more French skirmish voltigeurs, and maybe beef up my grenadiers that I'm painting at the moment. All in all, there should be plenty of fun stuff to make out of these.
Finally, there's these. I'm a bit less sure about what to do with them. Of course I could simply paint them up as what the box says, and at some point I know I'll end up building at least some guard units. But I could also use them to make some light infantry in greatcoats (by switching the heads), or even some Italians (like the Turin Velites) if I want to. I think I'll wait a bit before I decide.
Those are my initial ideas, and I hope it shows the possibilities out there if you pick up a bunch of kits. And if you have other ideas for what I should do with any of these kits, I'd love to hear from you.
-Jonas, currently drowning in plastic
Return to the Lovely Russian Countryside
One thing we want to add to our skirmish battles are new scenarios. This battle we tried out a scenario based on taking ground and holding it until the end of the game. On the rather barren table we put three objectives along the middle of the table, and each player got one objective that was sligthly more towards their own table edge. At the end of the seventh turn, the player controlling the most objectives (i.e. being closest to them) would win the scenario.
Shirty immediately put my French force to shame in the most efficient way: by plunking down his new deployment points on the table, depicting the horrors of the battlefield. With no nice looking deployment points to counter with, the French captain could merely stew at this Russian show of hobby supremacy.
As if to make his point even clearer, he also had a mobile deployment point vignette, depicting the horses left by his dismounted Cossacks! These he put down dangerously close to an objective point, and suitably enough just next to the lone stables.
The game kicked off with both the Russians and the French deploying line infantry formations, staring each other down across the table.
The Russian commander was more alert than his French counterpart. When he saw the French at the horizon, he quickly call for support. With the help of a good draw of cards, the French line infantrymen are soon staring down three Russian formations. The line infantrymen are flanked by a formation of veteran Carabinieris on the left a bunch of fresh recruits on their right: poor in quality, but ready to do their duty.
A French cannon opens fire on the approaching Russian lines. But the target is outside of canister range, and the bouncing roundshot is not disruptive enough to halt them.
Cannon in Sharp Practice 2 requires two activations to reload, so it can't fire every turn. This is a medium cannon, and at long range it is about as deadly as 12 men firing with muskets. But if the Russians get close enough I can fire with canister, which doubles inflicted shock. So not so dangerous on the attack, but a powerful defensive tool.
A Cavalry Duel, Again? What Were the Odds?
The Russians keep pouring onto the table, while the rest of my French infantry refuses to get out of their sleeping tents. In the second turn, the Russian line is reinforced with skirmishers and another new addition: Shirty's second unit of lance-wielding Cossacks!
Thankfully, the French cavalry prooves to be more reliable than the infantry, and a lancer formation appears to back the increasingly outmanned line infantry. A lone unit of dragoons turn up on the far end of the table, hoping to keep the Cossacks from rushing towards the cannon. This was before I painted up two new units, so yet again they have to join the fray as a very small, vulnerable unit.
The French dragoons are, by now, painfully aware of the role they end up playing in every game this far. Let's just say it is a very expendable role. They rapidly advance to plug the gap between the woods and table edge, blocking the path to the cannon with their bodies.
Meanwhile, two units of Voltigeur skirmishes finally catch up with their parent unit. They form up in front of the French line, and starts to snipe at the Russian lines. The Russian officers, clearly a bit hesitant due to the large body of lancers, seem a bit hesitant. Is it wise to advance? Far off in the distance, a formation of French foot carabiniers arrive, ready to defend the cannon if the Cossacks break through.
A Clash of Hooves
The French dragoons have the initiative. With the choice of receiving a charge or getting stuck in first, they decide to at least go out with a bang!
The combat odds are quite even, despite the dragoons being outnumbered 2:1, as they are of a higher fighting quality. However, their main disadvantage in this duel is that they don't afford taking any casualties.
Despite the French elan, the Cossacks are victorious! They push the Dragoons back, leaving several troopers killed, and the dragoon leader steels his remaining troopers for the inevitable attack. To little surprise, the dragoons are then wiped out, even though they drag several Cossacks down with them. But will there be enough time for the celebrating horsemen to wheel around and have an impact on the rest of the battle?
Clash of Hooves II: Equestrian Bugaloo
The Russian and French infantry formations edge close to each other, under a hail of long range fire from the skirmishers. Facing a 3 on 1 situation, the proud French infantry knows what to do: attack! The line marches through the skirmish line, aims, and shower the Russians in lead.
The French lancers, eager to prove their worth, see the opening. dig their heels in and pounce towards the Russian centre formation. By spending two command cards, they can use their "Tally Ho!" special ability to not only get a longer move, but also deal extra attacks in combat. With their opponents in some disarray, the odds are looking very favourable for the lancers. If they can make contact, that is! I measured the distance, and it would be about a 50-50 chance. Lets roll!
Let's roll two inches too short!
But the danger is not over for the Russian company. As the lancers thunder towards him, the quick-thinking Russian officer rapidly forms his men into a square. He's now safe from the pesky cavalrymen, but the Russian attack is halted. Meanwhile, the poor formation of fresh recruits seen in the foreground above realize that they are now the most tempting target in range. Their officer barks out orders to present their weapons and aim, ready to either receive a charge or start firing on the approaching lancers.
The French lancers are obviously proud enough to consider a bunch of raw recruits an easy pray, even though they are completely unharmed and bracing for impact, with loaded and presented muskets. Obviously Shirty knows my weakness by now: I'm second only to British cavalry when it comes to charge at everything, every time. Needless to say, the lancers sweer off course and crash into the raw recruits instead of the square hedghog that was their original goal.
It's an absolute carnage. The two units that receive the charge lose the fisticuffs, and are pushed back. But the lancers take heavy casualites, since the infantrymen had presented and were unaffected by shock. The remaining two units of Russians evidently had ice instead of blood in their veins, because the simply wheeled around, and let loose with a volley on the lancers who were about to pursue the retreating units.
The carnage continued as the French cannon, seeing the distress of the cavalry, piled in and pounded the retreating Russians. But the musketry from the remaining troops were too much for the lancers, and they decide to head off from the field as quickly as possible.
At this point we had a dilemma. According to the rules, we had several distrupted units of lancers and recruits, all milling around in various stages of routing. This single lancer charge had cost both sides about half the Morale points available for the entire game, and the game could pretty much end here, with both players just forcing more morale losses by shooting at retreating units. This felt unreasonable, given that this entire fight involved maybe 10% of our forces. So we settled on removing both French and Russian routers, and then continue the game to reach a more suitable finale. This is when our optional rules for better Morale were born.
The Russian Curse
By now we were rapidly approaching the last turn of the scenario. It was clear that the French carabiniers might as well be deployed on the Champs de Mars, because they'd be just as likely to get close to combat in time. Both side's cavalry were either dead or too far away and weakened to do anything. The surviving Russian recruits were still thanking their lucky stars that they were standing on the right side of the line that day, and not the left side.
With the French elite infantry far away, it would be down to the single formation of line infantry to fend off the remaining two Russian formations.
And then, as if by some mysterious force, the Russians seemed to be dull and slow to react, while the French lieutenant rushed back and forth, urging his men to fire another volley. And another volley again.
The Russians in the square seemed unwilling to redeploy and approach the French, who suddenly seemed to fire and reload with an unholy speed. The Russian carabinieris knew that it was now up to them to carry the day. Slowly, but steadily, the fixed their bayonets and got ready. It was time to show the French invaders once and for all. These pesky fusiliers would be no match in close combat. They charged forward, with a loud "huzzah! huzzah!"....
The final French volley ripped loose, just as the first rank of carabinieris were just meters (1 inch!!) away. The point blank fire cut a huge swath through the Russians, who were stopped in their tracks. Just then, the flanking French skirmishers added their firepower to the crescendo, and it was over. The survivers pulled back, dragging comrades with them as they made their retreat. It was over.
Yet again, the battle between the French and Russians had been settled by a failed carabinieri charge. It's insane, but true. This time it was a mere inch missing! I feel bad for Shirty, I really do.
At the same time, I also missed out barely on a charge, and I do believe that it was the right option to try both of the lancer charges. If the first one had hit, it would have been a good chance to disrupt his entire center. Instead, I got into a much worse charge, but it was an entertaining one! So in that way, it was worth it.
My left flank was completely wasted. I should have deployed the cannon closer to the action so that I could have used the canisters. Then I could maybe have gotten some use out of the main investment of my army, the carabiniers who ended up deploying after half the game, and then just move forwards twice. Instead, it was the plucky line infantry who were my heroes of the day. Despite their skirmish screen snoozing, and despite being vastly outnumbered, they really pulled double duty, advancing into the jaws of death and beating back the superior Russians with volley after deadly volley. They're definitely getting a proper flag after this!
But to be honest, a lot of the reason why the line infantry could appear so heroic was because the Russians just couldn't draw the right activations. The line infantry unit started out sluggish, and wouldn't redeploy into line or attack column quickly enough after the lancers passed them by. The carabinieris came closer, but with enough shock stacked on them they just couldn't get to grips with my troops, and were carved up by musket fire.
All in all it was a great game, and it was down to the wire at the last turn. I think the scenario worked well, as the multiple objectives made us spread out our forces, and the turn limit put a definite pressure on us to advance quickly. I'll happy play it again.
A Free Campaign Setting for Sharp Practice 2
This is the big one!
When we prepared for our Dawns & Departures campaign in Russia, we decided to make our own army lists as there were some entries we wanted to reinterpret. As things progressed, we ended up writing two new army lists for the setting, one French and one Russian. While we were at it, we added some introductory background and house rules, and now it's here! Our first real campaign book.
This project is, however, far from over. Both army lists have large gaps in them: the Russian one is focused on the Jäger formations of the Russian army, while the French lack auxiliary corps and the Imperial Guard. We also hope to add a lot more flavourful house rules and alternative tables to make your Dawns & Departure campaign a chilly 1812 affair.
But in the meantime, please enjoy the campaign book! We'd love to hear your feedback. The army lists are available as separate documents, with a more convenient layout for playing.
Click here for the Rules & Downloads page
To not build up the hundreds, if not thousands, of miniatures long backlogs that other club members have, I decided to give myself a rule to follow:
You can only buy new miniatures when everything you have is painted, based, and ready for battle.
Not very realistic, I know. And of course I haven't been able to hold myself to it. So to feel better about myself, I amended it somewhat:
The Black Watch, 42nd Regiment of Foot
Devil's Own, 88th Regiment of Foot
Royal Americans, 5/60th Regiment of Foot
We are planning on running two separate campaigns, one in Russia and one on the Peninsula. Both set in 1812, and of course I'd like to field a force that would at least be plausible historically.
Order of Battle
The battle of Salamanca was one of Wellingtons greatest victories, were he broke his usual style of being defensive in battle to defeat 40,000 men in 40 minutes.
Using the Order of Battle (available at Wikipedia) I tried to see if my force could be fielded from a single source.
Sadly the 88th and 42nd are organized in different divisions, and the only division with Highlanders in kilts is the 1st.
The 74th, a Highlander regiment, were a part of the 3rd Division together with the 88th, but it didn't wear Highland dress on the Peninsula. And anyway I'm not very keen on repainting the kilts I've toiled over.
Neither the 1st nor the 3rd had any riflemen from the 95th! But they did have riflemen from the 5/60th (5th Battalion, 60th Regiment), the Royal Americans.
Reading Oman's "Wellington's Army" about how Nosey quite early distributed the 5th battalion of the Royal Americans among his brigades, to help them get enough skirmishers to counter the massive green cloud of French Voltigeurs, I got the impression that the 5/60th are some of the unsung (or lesser sung?) heroes of the Peninsular War.
They also had a much spiffier uniform, having red facings. Just a quick little paint job and I had converted my riflemen. Historically it looks like they should have had grey or dark blue trousers, but they were issued dark green ones after the war. And I'd say a company could have been issued new (dark green) pants after having worn out their previous pairs, so I left the pants as they were.
I really like the 88th, such an iconic regiment. The roughest and toughest of the Fighting 3rd.
My first battle with my assembled force helped me decide how to expand the force. I wanted Light Company skirmishers, only having the (expensive pointswise) riflemen to screen my forces with felt a bit odd. I also realized that skirmishers ideally have a lot of officers attached so you can split them up during the battle.
After a quick headswap, the Perry plastic Flank Company infantrymen that I over-eagerly assembled for the 100 days are ready for the Peninsular War. These I complemented with 6 skirmishing figures from Front Rank. A $15 coupon from Warlord also tricked me into getting their box of Chosen Men.
Painting all this together with some of the unfinished Perry Rifle command figures gets me:
Before going into Napoleonics I must say I was a bit confused seeing Jonas and Shirty's behavior. They were buying so many little plastic (and metal) men.
But I was intrigued, and then Jonas gave me a first taste. Now when planning were to take my force from here megalomania has struck, I've decided to set my Napoleonics goal to be assembling the Fighting 3rd. The Highlanders I have can simply be some added flavor.
I wonder if the thoughts and feelings I'm having are the same as Nosey & Boney two hundred years ago. Then Warlord has a sale on sprues and I order 80 Portuguese Line Infantry to allow me to field two line battalions of Manley Power's brigade together with some Caçadores.
The time has come for the red coats to test their mettle in battle. This would be my third game of Sharp Practice 2, and my first one using the British forces I've painted.
Order of Battle
Jonas took the opportunity to try out the army list he made for our upcoming 1812 Russia Campaign. I'm using the list from the rulebook, but with updated points costs.
42nd Regiment of Foot, Black Watch
4 groups of Highlanders, Regulars
Thin Red Line, Sharp Practice, Stubborn
1 Officer, lvl 4
88th Regiment of Foot, Devil's Own
3 groups of Line infantry, Regulars
Thin Red Line, Sharp Practice, Aggressive
1 Officer, lvl 2
5/60th Regiment of Foot, Royal Americans
2 groups of Riflemen, Light Infanty
1 Officer, lvl 2
1 NCO, lvl 1
1 group of Guerilla Skrimishers, Irregular Skirmishers
Moveable Deployment Point
1 Officer, lvl 2
1 Holy man, with Relic
1 Moveable Deployment Point (Guerilleros)
4 groups of Elite
Pas de Charge, Aggressive
1 NCO, lvl2
6 groups of Regulars
Pas de Charge
1 Officer, lvl2, 1 NCO, lvl 1
2 groups of Lancers
1 NCO, lvl 1
2 groups of Skirmishers
1 NCO, lvl 2
I knew going into the battle that I wanted something out of my moveable Deployment Point (represented by a monk armed with a musket). I was also afraid of the Lancers which I really didn't want to give an opportunity to charge me in the flank or rear. The dice determined that my primary DP should be placed in the right hand corner, seen from my side of the battlefield, so after measuring carefully I placed my sneaky monk infiltrator in the small woods over on Jonas's side of the board.
The French forces deployed from the center on their side of the board.
This was my first game using cards which I must say I much prefer over using the chits. It went much more smoothly because you'd be satisfied with shuffling the deck once, instead of waving your hand around in a box to pick up a chit. The first card to be drawn was for Jonas terrible monster unit of Carabiniers, Elite and Aggressive! Not something you want within charge distance. They deployed in open column which would enable them to form up to a line easily after a short march.
Next, the 88th and my riflemen were deployed from my primary DP, followed by a big blob of French Line Infantry and Voltiguers which deployed next to the Carabiniers. Further away by the road, some Lancers appeared. Then the card for my Force Commander was drawn. I couldn't decide if I wanted to deploy my Highlanders so that they would eventually face the Lancers, or if they should join the 88th. On top of that, I hadn't had a chance to "open" my moveable DP yet. In the end I kept the Highlanders off the board and instead moved my monk forward a few inches. Then Tiffin!
"Zach's Guerilleros were equipped with a Movable Deployment Point, which he got to put in the woods on my flank. If he managed to deploy his Guerilleros through it, they would then enable other undeployed units to follow through this DP and easily flank my forces. However, if I could move my forces close enough, I would be able to block him from deploying from it, and give his overall morale a kicking as well, A race against the clock begun!" - Jonas
Now I got to experience the frustrating thing about moveable DPs. if you want any sort of ambushy action you need to draw the cards in the correct order. The following turns saw me and Jonas advancing towards each other, with the Lancers swinging around the central farm towards my rear. Instead of facing the threat they posed, I tried to keep moving forward and away. I was hoping that once they catch me it would be too late and I'd already done enough damage to win.
I just couldn't draw the Guerilla Officer's card, not to mention doing it before drawing my Force Commander's. In the end Jonas's Carabiniers got too close to the moveable DP for me to be able to pull something flashy. However, I did get to deploy my Guerilleros, and they started to harass the French flank. The next turn they were followed by the Highlanders deploying in a attack column in the woods.
The Lancers were getting close, but a well aimed shot by a rifleman put took down their NCO down to level 0. A leader with level 0 is not dead, but has no Command Iniatiatives if his card is drawn. Jonas needed a Command Flag to activate the unit, either on the officers card (by temporary boosting his number of Command Initiatives to 1) or at the end of a turn when the Tiffin was drawn. As my luck would have it, Jonas again and again failed to draw a Command Flag before the Lancer NCO's card came up, giving me a chance to keep them away from my flank for a little while longer.
Jonas's Carabiniers and my 88th were getting closer and closer. Jonas decided to fire his first volley just outside of Close range, while my forces were still screened by the Royal Americans. This wasn't as effective as he had hoped. My 88th hadn't activated yet, and in an attempt to get a devastating first volley I decided to move closer and Present. Hopefully I would be able to activate before Jonas in the next turn. I also managed to get my Highlanders up to the edge of the forest.
Then I drew two Command Flags, giving me the option to use Sharp Practice. I could either fire a controlled volley with the 88th, or uncontrolled with the larger unit Highlanders. It was a hard choice, but in the end it was the Black Watch that got the order to FIRE!
The next turn had us both anxious to see who would get to activate their units first. We both had level 4 officers in the thick of it, and whoever got his first would be able to do a lot of damage. And as always has been the case in these draw-offs between Jonas and me, Jonas proved to be the luckier one. My 88th got a super sized serving of lead salad, and were dangerously close to being forced to withdraw from the combined fire of the Carabiniers and Voltigeurs.
But my No. 1 wasn't far off! He started by calling in a Holy Man, to provide some much needed solace to the hard pressed rogues of the Devil's Own. Then he had the 88th and 42nd deliver one volley each into the Crapaud Carabiniers, who broke under their relentless fire.
The Glorious End
This happened just before the Lancers finally got to attack, but the Riflemen managed to safely evade their thunderous charge. To protect my infantry I had the 88th form a square, and was preparing to angle up the Highlanders to form a new line of battle to face the big blob of French infantry that had finally managed to get close enough to join the fight.
We never got to see their first volley, as the slaughter of the Carabiniers had crashed Jonas's Force Morale. As a final display of defiance he charged the 88th with his Lancers. He ended up with just a few dice to roll while I needed two hands to cup mine. The results were predictable and Jonas graciously retired.
A French Eulogy
Arrrgh, sacre bleu! The indignity of losing to the British royalists!
This was a great game, and it really showcased the British army in Sharp Practice. With their line infantry having both Sharp Practice and Aggressive, they have the unnerving ability to be both great at close combat and at shooting. And with Thin Red Line, there is always the threat of a sudden rush into Fisticuffs as well. So when you meet them, you have to be wilier if you want to survive!
In this particular game, my deployment turned out to be crap. The big Fusilier blob took too much time to climb over the fence and wheel in the muddy farm backyard. A complete waste! I should probably have avoided the farmhouse completely, and focused on maintaining a solid line that didn't allow one of my formations to be outnumbered and picked apart.
My only saving grace were the Lancers, and if the NCO had been lvl 2 instead, they would have plowed into the British in a very unpleasant manner. As it was, they were inches away from a good chance to even the odds. This time they failed, but like in all games before they added a lot of fun to my role as French commander.
While heaping praise on the proficiency of the British infantry, let's not forget that in this game the Guerilleros also played a vital role. They poured lead into my poor Carabiniers, halting their march (you move slower if you have shock markers on a unit) and made my deployment mistakes so much more punishing.
This was also our first game where we really took care to use the rules for resolving volleys correctly. Before, we tended to just spread out shock on the formation hit, which made big formations really good. With the "proper" rules, big blobs are much more prone to have one or two units chipped off, wrecking your Force Morale. While it was a bit fiddly the first couple of turns, we gradually got used to it, and in the end it made for a much more tactical feel to the game. It did change the effectiveness of small formations vs large ones though, meaning that this was probably the last time in a while that I take a 6 unit strong formation.
All this combined and looking back, I would have been much better served by trading some of that big blob of infantry for more Voltigeurs. Being outnumbered in skirmishers is never fun, but doubly so against British. Anything that can protect you from their Sharp Practice-fuelled controlled volleys is worth considering. So more skirmishers, smaller and more manouverable formations, and better coordination? Sounds like a plan.
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!
"Glory is fleeting,