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:
"Glory is fleeting,