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.
I'm always up for adding miniatures from different ranges, and I love to see how they compare. You never know when you'll find a new favourite source of plastic or metal fuel for your miniature addiction, and I don't mind a slightly varied army look. When Warlord Games had one of their recurring sprue sales at New Years, I picked up a few sprues of their French Line Infantry, as the first Perry box wasn't enough for a four unit formation of 32 Fusiliers.
The Warlord sprue comes with four miniatures, one of which can be made into a Grenadier or Voltigeur. This sprue is for French units from 1806/1807 when the bicorn was replaced by the shako, and there are alternative heads for full parade dress with plumes and cords.
I gave the Fusiliers simple shakos with pompons to fit in with the Perry miniatures, but decided to give the Voltigeurs a little bit of panache with parade plumes. My idea with adding some pre-1812 is both because I learned that it's more historical (as the 1812 uniform was widely introduced in 1813), but also because I like the look of them, especially the parade uniforms with plumes. Compared to our WW2 wargaming I think of this project as an opportunity to cave in to the spectacle of flashy dressed up ranks of troops. Maybe I'll get some more Voltigeurs in parade uniforms to go with these later?
The paint job on these were honestly a bit rushed, as I realized that infantry in big blocks don't really stick out that much. Better to get them done and spend more time on showpieces like cavalry and officers. So these were mostly painted with quite rough layers and washes, and slotted into the gaps in my Fusilier formation.
However, I took the opportunity to give them some extra features to show that these are experienced veteran campaigners, not raw recruits. Some of them have mended their trousers, as constant marching tended to wear out the knees. Seasoned troops would preemptively strenghten the clothing with an extra layer where they expected them to break first. The troopers where also expected to supply their own trousers, unlike the parade uniform breeches, creating an incentive to use cheaper (or looted!) cloth. So for example striped trousers or trousers in other colours than white would be seen on veteran and/or thrifty soldiers.
The photo badly shows it, but the Warlord backpacks added some flair that makes them look like they are on campaign: cooking pots, mugs, and even bundles of onions are attached to their backpacks. A nice addition, and the cartridge boxes comes with "N" molded on them.
The four Voltigeurs got parade plumes. I'm honestly not a huge fan of the pose on these models, as the very tight legs make them look a bit like, well, like the need to pee. The heads also have slightly comic style proportions with huge noses and moustaches. So I much prefer the Fusiliers on this sprue.
Finally a size comparison. As you can see, the Warlord figure is quite a bit bigger than the Perry one, especially the shako. It's less obvious on the Fusiliers, who I think fit better into the unit than the Voltigeur. The Alternative Army Voltigeur is huge! He's currenly serving as a leader until I can paint up more Voltigeur officers.
Overall I think the Fusiliers make a great addition to my Perry Fusiliers, with some added variety while still fitting in quite well. I'm less happy with the Voltigeurs, but they'll work as placeholders until I get more of them. Maybe they'll fit in better if I get a unit with parade uniforms. As for now, I'm happy to have filled out the gaps in the Fusiliers formation, and it's high time to finish my Light Infantry Carbiniers and get started on my mountain of cavalry miniatures.
"Glory is fleeting,