Sharp Practice 2 was published last weekend by Too Fat Lardies in PDF format and Vidal I both woke last Saturday morning to a brand new set of rules in our in-boxes. Now, by brand new, what I really mean is a brand new take on an old favourite. Richard Clarke has done a masterful job of maintaining the cinematic theme and approach of the original Sharp Practice and throwing in a few ideas and mechanisms from Chain of Command. And this just in time for the first clash in our Imagination Narrative Campaign, on the border between St Julien and KaiserReich near an otherwise unremarkable town called Sulinger. The first contact here was decidedly between scouting forces, in the context of the campaign, and thus perfect for our first go round with SP2. Rather than wait for our hard copy bundles with all the cards, chips and tokens, Vidal marked up some poker chips and we had at it!
I spent some time and came up with SP2 army lists tailored to the armies in our campaign and then further tinkered with the lists for St-Julien and KaiserReich to reflect the forces available to both sides around Sulinger.
St-Julien Light Column
Leader Status II
Three groups of 10 Provincial Militia, muskets
Leader Status II
Two Groups of 6 Guerilla skirmishers, muskets
Leader Status II
Two Groups of 6 Scouting cavalry, lance/sabre
Point Value: 49
Leader, Status III
Leader, Status I
Two Groups of 8 Line Infantry, muskets
Leader, Status II
Two Groups of 8 Grenadiers, muskets
Leader, Status II
One group of Freikorps light inf, muskets
Point Value: 60
At first glance, the KaiserReich force would seem to be substantially outnumbered in terms of numbers of figures but out-points the St-Julien force by a good margin . This point differential allowed Vidal to purchase more support for his basic force than I could for the KaiserReichers(?), thus compounding the numbers differential. But the regular and elite troops of the KaiserReich v. the militia of St-Julien would prove to more than make up for the differences.
The St-Julien force would enter from the top-right and the KaiserReich from the centre-bottom.
The St-Julien main deployment point. As it turned out, the blessing didn't help!
St-Julien cavalry deploy with a commanding view of the field, accompanied by the force commander. This at first seemed to be a bit of a problem for the KaiserReich commander, as he/I had no cavalry at all!
The St-Julien guerillas are able to bring along a Moveable Deployment Point (the clump of trees to the right). This provided Vidal's force with some extra flexibility in his deployments (I had only one Deployment Point). He immediately took advantage of it and deployed three groups of guerillas (one was an extra support choice) and a mountain gun (not seen here) on the KaiserReich right flank. Although this seemed a serious problem, the majority of the action actually took place in the centre of the field.
A view towards the end of the game, KaiserReich lines at the bottom left, St-Julien at the top right. First, there is an obvious absence of St-Julien cavalry. These were sent packing earlier in the battle by the KaiserReich regulars after manoeuvring a bit too close while setting up for a charge.* Also absent is the mountain gun that Vidal brought on as a support choice. It can throw an impressive 10d6, even at long range, but it proved to be vulnerable to long-range skirmisher fire (a tad too vulnerable, as it retreated off the table and took 4 Force Morale points with it!).
*In Vidal's defence, the cavalry commander was on a separate quest of his own, separate from the objectives of the St-Julien force as a whole. He had recently fell into disfavour with El Duque and was trying desperately to clear his name. In SP2, Big Men can embark on their own mini-campaigns with their own objectives. In this case, to redeem his good name, this Big Man needed a trio of accomplishments: 1) lead a Force into Fisticuffs and win; 2) be wounded in battle, and; 3) kill an enemy leader in a duel. It was in quest of #1 that the St-Julien cavalry force was seen off by some disciplined KasierReich musketry.
A view from the other side at the same point in the battle. The game was all but over at this point as the St-Julien Force Morale had dropped to 2 (from a starting level of 11). Here can be seen the three 10-figure groups of St-Julien militia in brown coats, (looking suspiciously like Carlists) that Vidal finally got deployed together as one formation (not drawing the militia commander's chip for the first three turns kept them off-table and didn't help Vidal's attempts to attack). Even though they are militia, it would have been a tough nut for the KaiserReich regulars to crack, as the formation is so large and able to absorb kills and shock.
The game resulted in a victory for the forces of Das KaiserReich and proved a very successful first shot at the new edition of the rules. In campaign terms, this was a very small skirmish and will have very little impact on the larger picture but does add some interesting chrome (and current bragging rights to KaiserReich for first victory of the campaigning season of 1746!).
Some thoughts about the rules...
First off, a disclaimer: Vidal and I are both fanboys of TFL rules and all comments should be considered in that light.
The rules are all that we expected, a brilliant blending of the old Sharp Practice with some of the new Chain of Command ideas. Uppermost for me here are the basic force compositions and support choices, akin to the basic infantry platoon in CoC, and the use of Force Morale to track a force's desire to stick around. As with all TFL rules, the leaders (in this case, "Big Men") are the focal point of all action. A player is well-advised to remember that the action and zeal of his Big Men drive the activities of the units. Know who they are, know where they are, and know what they can do! With this in mind, the combat mechanics are simple (although not without nuance) and intuitive and follow the common TFL pattern. Simplicity here is key as it leaves a player's brain more time to think about the Big Men. These are perfect rules (as was the first edition) for tales of Derring-Do and Adventure. I foresee an number of encounters where plundered cattle are guarded against their erstwhile owners or the daring rescue of a Contessa from the clutches of La Inquisición!
Things to remember...
When purchasing support units, think about your command structure and whether you have enough Big Men to support and command the additional units. If not, consider also purchasing another Big Man or two.
Getting cavalry into the right position to charge can take some considerable time and has to be planned with care.
Formations with the ability to deliver controlled volleys can throw out some serious firepower, especially if combined with the First Fire bonus and the Good Shots characteristic. Think then how much better when also incorporating a Crashing Volley. Yikes!