Monday, May 16, 2011

Some thoughts on Sharp Practice rules

Here are a few thoughts on the recent Sharp Practice game I played.

Before the game, I determined the natives would outnumber the British platoon by two-to-one, through the simple expedient of recycling casualties. They also had the services of Sunny N’Sher’s mercenary tribal musketeers.

Chief Bubbalazi has an influence of 3, Sub-chief N’Kwana an initiative of 4. Two other nameless leaders with a rating of 1 each commanded one band of ten warriors. Sunny N’Sher also has a rating of 1.

In some regions of Africa, tribal chiefs controlled their warriors from the rear, giving directions and never being expected to engage in combat themselves. In some areas the matter of combat between tribes even extended to having a traditional place of battle. The two sides would meet on the war ground, and fight according to their chieftains’ directions. Whoever lost would withdraw unmolested, the matter settled.

I elected to have Chief Bubbalazi remain in the village. Following the personality factors attached to Big Men in the rules, it turns out he was considerably jealous of N’Kwana, who I rolled-up as Ambitious. N’Kwana was a go-getter type – so Bubbalazi let him go-get killed!

Through luck of the dice, the Barsetshires were handicapped by having a ‘Fine Fellah’ as Big Man 1, and a ‘Young Buck’ as Big Man 2. With initiatives of 2 and 1 respectively, the British groups were slow to get moving in the first half of the game. I like this feature. No more sporty units zipping all over the tabletop at their player's whim. Now the doubts, uncertainties and sheer fog of war creep in.

The rules have provision for another Big Man to step up to the mark if one should be incapacitated. Oddly enough, the cards fell right for them once Sgt. Harrington took over from the wounded Lt. Pike. Corporal Gedge successfully moved up to take Harrington’s role.

I couldn’t find mention of what happens when a group is victorious after a bout of Fisticuffs – does it follow-up automatically, or not? In the end I fudged it, saying a victorious group will do so once only, to reflect increased exhaustion. The melee concerned was complicated by the retreating (British) group falling back on and interpenetrating the reserve section, which the victorious native group promptly ran into.

For the melee itself, I gave the natives the one extra dice per three men fighting (as per ‘Wallahs’ under the rules) to reflect the native’s close combat prowess. Coupled with N’Kwana’s 4 initiative rating, it made the tribal group that struck the British a lethal force to deal with.

Too lethal? Well, the British do have three Breechloader cards allowing the group or formation so armed to fire when it’s drawn. (I added these cards on advice from a Lead Adventurers' Forum member - I think them a good idea). Given the chance, a British group will mow down anything in front of it. If it can’t fire before the natives get into close combat, the situation becomes much more fluid. I think it preserves game balance. There’s always scope, too, for judicious use of line-of-sight blockers on the tabletop to further restrict the Colonial Power’s killing zone. It would also force the Power’s player to use effective tactics.

In the game, the British force got a lucky run of cards. Grasp the Nettle certainly helps, along with At the Double! Once he took over, Harrington was able to direct fire against the victorious native group that had done so much damage. Through lack of activating cards this group stalled after the second melee. After a good ‘sloshing with Martinis,’ they were effectively destroyed, losing Big Man N’Kwana (‘Dulce et decorum est...’), with the few survivors routing.

The Bonus charts for firing/melee didn’t see any use during the game, because not once did more ones than two appear in the dice rolls. Another game or two should see them used.

Shock points are a big feature of the game. As they accumulate, so the group or formation affected becomes less effective. I made markers by means of the PhotoSuite program to indicate Shock. The program has a standard octagon shape, which I sized to my wants then added numbers 1-8 on each face, printing ten or so off on card stock. Pointing the relevant face at the unit shows how much Shock it has accumulated. I might give the markers a wash of brown ink to subdue the whiteness, since it looks intrusive in the photos.

The Blinds saw some use. I deployed four on the tabletop, one of which represented a group (the mercenary musketeers) and a sentry. See the first photo of the tabletop for locations. I diced to see who hid under which Blind. In the event the mercenaries lurked in the brush outside the village palisade, and the sentry was located in the easternmost clump of brush near the river, overlooking the British start line. He activated at once, getting a good run of Sentry cards and movement dice rolls, swiftly making it into the village to report. The other two Blinds I played as dummies, removing them once action was joined.
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After the dust had cleared, the Barsetshires were left with ten ‘dead.’ Since this platoon is engaged in a campaign, I followed the SP rules suggestion of dicing to refine the figures to see who lived to fight another day. The British were in possession of the field, and had a medic available, which I factored in to the result.

I rolled 1d6 for each of the ten. A score of 1-3 meant the casualty was truly dead, 4+ badly wounded. The result came to four dead and seven badly wounded, including Lt. Pike. To refine the figure further, I rolled another d6 for the badly wounded. A score of 1-3 meant permanent discharge due to wounds, 4+ eventual recovery and return to the ranks.

Assistant Surgeon Barrington and his colleagues did a fine job for the men, as only Privates Walters and O’Shea had to be discharged as unfit for further service. Luckily, Lt. Frederick Pike recovered from his wounds, although he now limps on his left leg.

On the whole Sharp Practice rules play well, and I’ll certainly continue to use them. Now to figure out how to represent Gatling guns…

1 comment:

Bluebear Jeff said...

Thanks for your SP insights, AJ.

By the way, I now have a "British Name Generator" on my Colonial blog which you are welcome to use in replacing personnel:

-- Jeff


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