Sunday, 12 January 2014

Sharp Practice AAR: Clash at San Salvador

Last Sunday I had the great pleasure of heading to Wyvern Wargamers to put on a game of Sharpe Practice for Stuart and Bob. My Napoleonics haven't been out for a while (since October 2012, apparently!) so it was great to get them on the table, plan a game and play on the larger tables that they have available.

I pulled together a three-way scenario, with Stuart as a French, Bob using my Brits and me taking a weaker force of Spanish guerrilleros. Set in northwestern Spain 1809, a French force was pursuing the British hard, both forces having exhausted their supplies from the hard marches. The French push on to the town of San Salvador with the aim of seizing it by force and pushing the British back once again. The Brits rise from their bivouacs and resolve to give those damn frogs a bloody nose. Meanwhile, a band of local guerilleros descend to protect the town and dissuade either force from pillaging this fertile area further, hoping to bag a few French along the way.

Stuart had an entirely infantry force and a slight advantage in numbers from the start. Arriving in numbers starting with skirmishers, they promptly start identifying and peppering the British in the town square.

In San Salvador, the 95th Rifles take cover and trade shots. The British deployed in the town and with plenty of cover, remained fairly static.

With initial rounds inconclusive, with both sides led well enough to remove shock in short order, Stuart makes a flanking move in force with a formed line, leading me with no option but to withdraw with my harassing Spanish. This and him wiping out another unit on the opposite flank out paid to my plans of being a thorn in his side as he engaged the British.

As the French line slowly rumbles into position to threaten San Salvador and bring some real weight to the French fire, British reinforcements arrive at the battle line. Light Dragoons - this could well get messy for one side, depending on the draw of the cards.

Everywhere else is a sideshow, with units trading shots for minimal effect and the guerilleros content with holding their ground. Probably the most important draw of the cards - if French Lt Gagon comes out first, the line gets a second volley to soften the impact of the charge. If the Lights come out first, they get a relatively fresh charge in. 

It's the British. The Light Dragoons crash through the swirling smoke on the unloaded French line. Despite the numbers of infantry, they are hurled back in disarray. Not a slaughter, yet, but the blooded British cavalry continue the pursuit (and merrily off the table...!).

Bit quiet around here chaps... 

We played out a few more turns of skirmishing, but in reality, that crashing cavalry charge secured a British victory.

Closing thoughts

I think a fun game was had by all, thanks to Stuart and Bob for indulging me and apologies for any glaring errors in scenario design or gameplay. In reality, I'd set both forces too hard a task - the French scored by taking the town but were initially faced with too stiff resistance to do so by force. I should also have made it clearer that I was an independent player with my own objectives rather than allied to the British. While I didn't actually do much damage to the French at all, my presence might have dissuaded Stuart from making a more aggressive assault.

The British scored from making French units lose their bottle or flee. But I'd forgotten how few kills are achieved from shooting in a Sharp Practice, especially when in cover, as well as the difficulties breaking formations and well-led units. Only the cavalry succeeded and even than, if they hadn't been so close to the edge of the board the French may well have been able to recover as neither unit was too badly mauled.

Both could supplement their scores by foraging the supplies in the area during lulls in the fighting, marked by the red and blue flags. My Spanish scored by denying the French and British access to these spoils and stopping them foraging, scoring for any left at the end. I'd added this secondary objective to encourage the forces to spread out and discourage an outright 'rush to the centre' that I've previously seen in Sharp Practice games. In the end each force grabbed an even number of supplies, leaving half for me. But the British scraped a victory through that daring cavalry charge forcing the French line to flee the table.

Cavalry are hard to balance in a scenario. A couple of volleys on them and they soon become ineffective. A lucky break and relatively unhindered charge and as seen here, they can hurl back two units. While that is a good trade but, it still leaves them quite badly mauled and not up for much more. This time, they were fortunate the French hadn't advanced far, as they ploughed right off the table and out of harms way. This feels like the right result, but makes finding a balance in force compositions a challenge. But all in all, the scenario could do with being refined a tad.

Gharak and I had dabbled with various mechanics of Sharp Practice, but perhaps our most rewarding tweak was changing the 'wound' tables and this game reminded me why. In future, I'd reinstate that rule and have the wound table at close range by 1-2 Miss, 3-4 Shock, 5-6 Kill. This gives real bonus to leaving cover to close on the enemy and unleash a volley for greater effect, particularly with a Sharp Practice card in hand!

On a positive note, the rules I'd given the guerilleros worked well. They deployed in small, fragile units of 6 men, making them easy to break or destroy. But to reflect their loose formation. knowledge of the land and ragged fire, I allowed them a free bonus move of 1D6 at the start of each activation, at a cost of losing half of their base shooting dice (6 men firing with 3 dice, plus modifiers). This special rule made then more mobile than the other forces, but less able to bring heavy fire to bear.


  1. Great AAR! How have you liked Sharp Practice otherwise? I've been planning on getting the rules to try slightly smaller battles compared to Blackpowder. Do they work well with multibased minis too as pretty much everyone at my club has their minis that way and only the skirmishers based individually?

    1. I really like the rules, but I'm a fan of the Lardies' style of rules. It benefits from interesting scenarios to avoid too much of a slogging match. But the card activation is good and adds some 'friction' which I like.

      It does have spcasualty removal though, so you'd need a way of tracking casualties on your multi-bases. Not too much of a problem I'm sure!

  2. Beautiful pictures, a very nice report!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Phil Great game, I dont think it was to hard but my initial deployment was a little off, I planned on sweeping around the flanks and picking up easy markers not counting on your crafty Spanish guerrilleros, holding me up and then there was the Rifles, that Bigman 3 certainly earn't his pay keeping the shock away.... and as for the Cavalry Bob is that rare breed a lucky cavalry commander...

    1. Haha, those early 1" moves aside, he did get the luck of the draw backs up by some decent dice in the melee. Still quite close though.

  5. Very interesting AAR. I like a lot these rules. And very nice game table and figures!

  6. Replies
    1. Er, heck no! The French aren't mine :-)


Please feel free to leave a comment if you liked this post.