Just the other week I had the chance to do my first venture into the colourful world of the Too Fat Lardies. I’d already amassed a fair amount of their rulesets, but never managed to actually use one in anger. So I eagerly awaited our first run of Sharp Practice.
If you haven’t heard of this game, you probably lived under a stone; however, here’s a short recap: Sharp Practice is a unit-based skirmish game, originally set in the Napoleonic era, but certainly usable beyond these limits as proven by a number of supplements, both ‘official’ and fan-made. It uses a card-driven activation system and quite a few “result tables”, which can be a bit confusing at first sight. Therefore and because the rules are meant for scenario-driven rather than match-up games, an umpire is recommended. Unfortunately, as there was nobody at hand, I run the game while playing myself – and trying to learn the rules as we went along.
First thing to change was the setting. I do possess a small stock of 28mm figures for the American War of Independence. (For the time being full details can be found on my old blog.) These were meant for army-level games, i.e. they’re multi-based, still perfectly serviceable for smaller actions as well. I’ve concentrated so far largely on collecting the British and their allies, thence the choice for the Rebels (or Patriots if you prefer) was severely limited. Added to that, I own nowhere near enough, bar the kind of models required by most of the scenarios published online or in the supplements. This lack of smaller layouts really can be a hurdle for beginners!
In the end I found this scenario and took it as a guideline for our encounter, set somewhere in South Carolina 1780 AD: The British under General Clinton are marching on Charleston. Scouting parties are advancing ahead of the main column in order to prevent dispersed enemy troops from forming up. Thereby they stumble across a farmhouse, obviously used as headquarters to the unruly local militia. The Brits must not stop their advance while still smoking out this rebel lair…
[N.B.: Since I was busy running the game, I didn’t take photos of the actual game. Thus what follows are scenes I restaged not long after the event, but leaving aside the markers and cards used in the game.]
First off, the lay of the land. Due to the game’s shrunk size we played on a one by one metre square. Two sides of the table should be heavily wooded (okay, I struggled a bit here), and the British need to cross the interjacent aisle with as many units as possible. A third side’s occupied by some kind of building or defensive structure to represent the militiamen’s encampment.
And here are the protagonists (“Big Men” in game terms) of the opposing forces: The Brits are led by Hauptmann Amadeus von Holzhohlen (grade III), a Hessian gentleman of distinguished service and education, and the trusty Mr H. Jarce (grade II), a ranger-come-guide in His Majesty’s colonial forces (who apparently relocated to England after the war where his descendants made a name for themselves).
The Rebels in turn are commanded by Lt. Jean d’Angers (grade II), an avid French volunteer, amicably nicknamed “Johnny Danger” by his men. The lieutenant’s local contact is Mr Jobbs (grade I), a dyed-in-the-wool frontiersman native to the western wilds of the Sylli’kon Valley. Both have a hard time bringing the men to their feet as the British appear at dawn to the menacing sound of fife and drum.
An opening exchange of fire makes that disparity even clearer: While the militiamen struggle not to shoot ramrods at the enemy, the Hessian soldiers calmly advance and lay down constant fire. Luckily for the Rebels, Prussian drill doesn’t emphasize taking good aim, so quite a few shots miss their target.
But, there, a mounted messenger appears. He’s heading towards the wavering line of the Rebels, if apparently wary of bullets flying around since he’s rather unhurriedly ambling forward. [The messenger turned up on the third “turn ends” card in the game, trying to reach a Rebel “Big Man” on his own activation – which saw him moving only a few inches each turn…]
Finally, the messenger finds Mr Jobbs, handing him a letter. Unfortunately, Jobbs isn’t more skilled with pitfalls than the written word. At this point the situation for the Rebels look pretty dire, and Hauptmann von Holzhohlen rejoices.
However, it’s not all sunshine and sparkles on the British side. Some redcoats seize the chance of imminent victory and begin to “search & secure” the enemy’s headquarters. [During the game the British repeatedly suffered from random events triggered by bad dice rolling, but still they added to the flavour and, not the least, provided a good laugh.]
In the meantime, Jobbs has finally deciphered the message: “Hold out, reinforcements are approaching!” However, somebody needs to take command and lead them to battle. The more urgent as otherwise their looted British uniforms might easily attract friendly fire… [Well, they are British Light Dragoons, but beggars can’t be choosers!]
Against all odds the Rebels stand their ground (with a little help of the messenger who’s plucked up enough courage to join the fight). The battered Hessians withdraw into the woods, before Sgt. Jarce is able to remind them of their fearsome Teutonic efficiency.
For Hauptmann von Holzhohlen has another ace up his sleeve: The Royal artillery proves their value once again by methodically unhorsing all of the cavalrymen before finishing them off in almost one go.
Here we ended the game. The Brits had successfully driven off the Rebels and seized their positions. Though the British advance had ground to a halt due to (unexpectedly) stout resistance by one tiny unit of militiamen who shook off hails of bullets and even a bayonet charge. In sum, we called it a minor victory for the Rebels.
But what about the rules then? To cut it short: we had a blast! Sure, we made a couple of mistakes, forgetting about modifiers, mixing rules up and overall not necessarily playing ‘by the book’. However, really, that’s how it goes, if you’re just starting out with a new set of rules. Most certainly, though, this won’t be their last outing in our circles. In fact, the rules fulfilled all my (pretty high) expectations in providing fun and easy gameplay (for the most part I ran the game from an extended QRS) coupled with a distinct historical feel. That’s all thumbs up!
Actually, I was so overjoyed that I simply had to paint up a dedicated Big Man model. As you’ve seen, for our first game we looted a few single-based models from my French & Indian War collection along with a Hessian battalion commander. During a post-game chat I remembered a particular mini purchased a while ago from Westfalia Miniatures, mainly to support this great little homeland company. So Sergeant Richard Heed was born…
The original model represents a Highland soldier from the Napoleonic era. Hence the uniform and equipment isn’t accurate for the AWI. However, I limited conversions to Sgt. Heed’s remodeled headgear and the addition of a sash to cover the “strapwork” of his knapsack. Also a Front Rank musket was supplemented.
Some may find the model of ‘special taste’. Yet, for me this figure perfectly matches the “tongue in cheek” approach of Sharp Practice and most other TFL rules – which, to be honest, I enjoy as much as the thought that went into their games obviously.
On a side note, Sgt. Heed is also a somewhat belated fulfillment of a promise made on the old blog: There I announced the addition of Highlanders to my AWI collection – and, well, there it is. 😀 And if you think that’s cheating, fear not, a full unit is to follow in the not too distant future.
Miniatures by Wargames Foundry, Perry, Conquest & Westfalia Miniatures. Gaming mat by Lt. Hazel – thanks, mate!