I’ve recently seen an interesting question pop up several times: what’s the best way for a new player to get into Sharp Practice? Now, I’m in no way going to say that I have the definite answer to the best way, especially since that depends on personal preference. But the question tickled my brain enough into researching a few alternatives for a new player to get a playable force on a limited budget.
The result is this, a quick look at a couple of solid foundations for a collection. I’ll focus on French this time, as it’s what I know, but if there’s a demand for it I'll see if we can cover other starting forces as well. These are not the only ways to get started, but I hope they can be useful if you are unsure about where to start.
To make it a little bit more of a challenge I set a spending limit of £50, as I think that’s a reasonable entry point for a skirmish miniature wargame. A lot of these options are actually available slightly cheaper if you look at some online stores, but I'll use RRP.
Alternative 1: The Practical Path of Perry
I start with this one, as it was the one I went with myself. The Perry plastic French infantry box is a good deal, as it comes with a lot of different infantry. One box alone is a bit shy of a working force, but it’s close. Each box comes with:
On the other hand, if you add a second box, things look much better from a Sharp Practice point of view:
Now, the Perry boxes retail at £20, so we have some money left in the budget. I’d spend it on getting a blister pack of cool leaders. Perry have several interesting offers that would add some life to your force. Maybe some mounted colonels (FN4) which will stand out nicely and can be painted as captains or lieutenants instead of colonels. You can also get a blister pack of NCOs (FN13) which will make more interesting leaders compared to if you paint regular troopers as NCOs.
If you’d rather get more unit types, you could spend that extra money on a cannon instead, to use as a strongpoint for your balanced infantry force. Another good option is a blister of six more skirmishers (FN7 or FN8) to better cover your infantry and make your force more versatile. Either way, you’ll end up with a diverse army with many types of infantry.
With this balanced force, you can add pretty much anything. If we keep to the Perry theme, I’d look into getting two boxes of their lovely cavalry boxes, as that would give you a substantial mounted wing. French cavalry always looks good, so grab the opportunity to treat yourself! With such a lot of ranked infantry, why not get some Hussars or Chasseurs to add some speed and ability to threaten flanks?
Alternative 2: Warlord Speed Paint Greatcoat Horde
I’ve seen Warlord’s Waterloo starter box mentioned, but I don’t think it’s the best start out there for a French player. The troops simply don’t come in numbers that are really useful for SP2.
Instead, if I decided to start an army using Warlord, it would be to maximize the use of their infantry boxes in full greatcoats. Nothing says speed painting like covering 80% of the model in brown or grey, and then just applying a wash! With this alternative you’ll have your force ready to hit the table in record time.
In my opinion, Warlord’s best looking boxes for the French are their greatcoat infantry boxes. For £16, we get 8 flank company troopers, 16 center company troopers, and a command group including two leaders. Let’s get burn our budget (£48) on three boxes, and we can form them into:
You can check me out painting Warlord in greatcoats here.
This is a force that’s heavily centered around your line formations. Use the skirmish screen to protect them on the way forward, try to get into position to unleash both formation’s volleys on the same target, and watch them suffer. The lone Grenadiers can be used to protect the flank of one of your formations if your opponent tries to encircle you.
With this base, I’d keep a close look at Warlord’s news as they regularly offer sprues on sale. If you pick up a few more sprues, or simply another box, you can beef up your Fusilier formations to four groups each, which makes them a bit scarier. In addition, your Grenadiers will probably work better if you can get them up a formation of two groups.
What I’d personally like to add, is cool looking skirmishers! While your Voltigeurs in march formation are technically right for the job, a skirmish screen in action poses just feels that much better. So if possible, I’d start to upgrade my force by getting some Voltigeurs in skirmish poses. As a bonus, you can use your old replaced Voltigeurs in line formation, giving you an even bigger wall of greatcoat-wearing menace. Warlord has metal Voltigeurs in action poses, but you can find cheaper options from Perry, Front Rank or many other makers.
Alternative 3: The Victrix Skirmisher Circus of Death
My third option is the direct opposite of the previous one. Does a big mass of ranked up, quick to paint model sound too boring for you? Then I have just the thing for you.
Victrix makes sets of plastics that tends cause a start divide in hobbyist forums: either you appreciate the large number of parts and options for converting unique poses, or you curse over minis that take a lot of time to make, parts that break, and poses that are not ideal for large marching battalions.
Victrix has two boxes of basic French infantry, one with uniforms from 1804-07, and one for 1807-1812. They are very similar - if you don’t have a period in mind it’s basically down to if you prefer bicornes or shakos, though I’d recommend the latter uniform, as it covers a lot of the big Napoleonic events.
The £25 box has 60 minis. About one third in shooting poses, one third in loading/holding muskets, one third in marching poses. The box includes 4 drummers, 4 flag bearers and 8 are officers. The arms comes with epaulettes that denote flank company troops, so we have a lot of leeway in how we utilize the box – a big advantage compared to the previous options, which are made for games where you move entire battalions around.
I’d start by using the kneeling models and some of the shooting ones to form two groups of skirmishing voltigeurs. Then I’d form up the rest into four groups of ranked up infantry.
Now, the easy way to blow the rest of the money would be to simply double up: get another box, and we’ll have four groups of skirmishers and eight (!) groups of ranked up infantry, for exactly £50. Those could be formed up into two neat formations of four ranked up groups each, both covered by a skirmish screen of two groups.
But if we want to make something a bit more different, we could go for a skirmish heavy force. If we decrease the size of the two blocks of infantry to three groups each, then we can cram out six(!) groups of skirmishers to overwhelm the table, including some extra figures to spare. This would make for a much different force than the two previous ones, centered around using the rapid moves of skirmishers to surround the enemy and hurt them at long distance, while still having enough of a backbone in the ranked groups to deliver the knock-out blow close up.
With so much infantry, you’ll probably wish for some variety after painting them all up. With so many skirmishers, chances are that there’ll be weakened targets just waiting to get charged by something heavy, like cuirassiers or dragoons. Again, Perry’s plastic boxes are a good foundation for a heavy cavalry wing.
Bonus Alternative X: Crazy Cavalry Crusade (a.k.a Jonas Starts Cheating)
For this one, you say to hell with conventions and go for a dragoon horde. Several online stores will give you a discount on Perry plastic boxes, so use that to just slightly break the £50 budget and get three boxes of French Dragoons.
You will now have enough cavalry to make a formidable wall of horses – two formations of two groups each, with extras to make additional leaders. Paint some of the extras as leaders to the dismounted dragoons you also get in the box, and you have four groups of skirmishers to field as well!
This is probably not the best start out there, but it would be different, and quite thematic for a peninsular war force. (don't actually do this if you are new to the game!).
Tip of the Iceberg
As you can guess, those are just a few good ways to get started with Sharp Practice as a French player. You might have noticed that I didn't even get into metal miniatures. Doing so often cost a bit more, but opens up a ton of options for building the foundation of your force.
If you have a certain alternative that you really like, don't hesitate to write about your favourite French starter force in the comments. :)
"Glory is fleeting,