Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life, featuring small skirmishes and big battles from many historical periods (and some in the mythic past or the far future too). The focus is on battle reports using a wide variety of rules, with the occasional rules review, book review and odd musing about the gaming and history. Most of the battles use 6mm-sized figures and vehicles, but occasionally 15mm and 28mm figures appear too.

Monday 18 April 2022

Sharpe Practice - First (Proper) Look

I managed to get something a bit different to the table over Easter - or at least different for me: Sharp Practice, and first edition Sharp Practice at that...this was what all the cool kids were playing a decade ago but I have just got around to it.  Oh well, this is Heretical Gaming where everything is done wrong...


Anyway,  I set up a little skirmish, with a French force and an Austrian force advancing to forage some supplies and hold a small ford over a stream.

The Forces:

The French:
Lieutenant Villeneuve (Class I Big Man) and 12 Fusiliers (Average)
Sergeant Platini (Class I Big Man) and 6 Voltigeurs (Good)
The Austrians:
Lieutenant Klammer (Class I Big Man) and 10 Musketeers (Average)
Sergeant Wimmer (Class I Big Man) and 10 Musketeers (Average)
The French had Pas de Charge and Hop to It! cards in the bonus deck, the Austrians had Stalwart but no Hapsburg Heroes.

The Set-Up:
Sorry, I bump from one terrible location for taking photos to another! Oh well, never mind - French approaching from the left, Austrians from the right.  For this battle, I didn't worry about blinds and spotting, I just assumed that the two sides spotted each other simultaneously at the beginning of the action, as one less thing to get wrong in this first full game.

The French: Lt Villeneuve's men to the left, Sgt Platini's skirmishers to the right

The Austrians: Lt Klammer's group to the left, Sgt Wimmer's group to the right.

The Battle:

The Austrians react first, and they break out into a loose order to take advantage of some of the cover.

More Kaiserlichs push forward...

Lt Villeneuve was slower to react, but gets his lads to advance down the track...the Voltigeurs pick more gingerly through the trees

Lt Villeneuve, second off the mark, has hustled his men forward and formed a firing line over the other side of the stream: some of the Austrians have started firing, but caused little or no damage (n.b. they caused 1 'shock' - see the little blue counter to the left of the French group)

View from behind the Austrians at the edge of the woods - the French line can be seen in the distance; note that the nearest Austrian is a woman, serving in the ranks...

Same position, but from the other side of the track

And again

The French fire is rather more effective in response: one of the musketeers goes down and some 'shock' is caused to both groups of Austrians

As second and third volleys fly from both sides, the Austrians again come off worse: another Austrian goes down

The Austrians are having trouble getting organized - the troops under fire are blazing away back, but neither the Sergeant nor the Lieutenant can get their troops moving

The cautious French Sergeant held back earlier on, but now Lieutenant Villenueve is helpfully drawing fire, his Voltigeurs secure the building (and the goodies inside it!)

Some of the voltigeurs advancing cautiously through the woods

Sgt Wimmer gets his musketeers forward, bringing a few more of them into the firefight

Another view

Lt Klammer gets his lads into a position to enfilade the advancing French from the woods

They in turn receive some flanking fire from the Voltigeurs in and around the house

Everyone is firing at each other: Lieutenant Villeneuve hasn't been able to get his fusiliers in to close with the Austrian musketeers, and although the Austrians have lost more soldiers thus far (see another one has gone down in the foreground), the French are feeling the heat...

The French are stuck in the treeline under severe fire from two directions

And the first Frenchmen goes down

As if feeling the musketry as a physical presence, the French involuntarily step back towards the stream

Although fewer in number, the Austrians were feeling distinctly bolder and Sgt Wimmer wades in in front of them - although they lose another soldiers, four Frenchmen go down in quick succession and the remainder pull back over the stream

A few more shots speed the French Fusiliers on their way home!

Not confident that he can hold the Austrians alone, Sgt Platini decides to make a controlled withdrawal, and the encounter ends.

Game Notes:

And a very good time was had by all.  The mechanisms were pretty easy to pick up and gave a reasonably fast game.  I am familiar with the TooFatLardies' World War Two skirmish game Troops Weapons & Tactics and although by no means the same game ported to a different period, there were lots of familiar points between the two games.  Although there is a lot of tongue-in-cheek chrome to the game to allow for the kind of Sharpe-esque adventure games that seem quite popular, I played this one relatively straight and it seemed to work fine.  

There were a few things that got my attention.  Movement is variable, with quite a swing.  Not a problem in itself, but I found the interaction of movement rates, firing rates and visual scale/distance a bit unfamiliar in a skirmish game.  It all works mind, it is more the visual impression is strange for a skirmish game (as if you can fire too often for too little movement;  it isn't true, it is more that the implied ground scale is more like a 'regular' wargame than a skirmish game).  This is probably why many players seemed to play it with an implied figure scale of somewhere between 1:5 or 1:10 rather than actually as a 1:1 skirmish (although the actions of the commanders are in 1:1 scale, if you see what I mean).

The card draw activation works as well as these things ever work.  If you like them great; if not, then not.  Co-ordination between different groups is hard, but there again, it is hard in real life.  I have a minor query about formations: can a single group form a line formation?  The rules kind of imply both that they can and that they can't, at least to my reading (although I may have missed something).  There are enough points of manipulation to somewhat balance the luck with leadership ability and player tactical handling - although this kind of thing is always going to strike some players as meta-gaming overlay. A chacun son gout and all that...

I did have one quite serious calibration issue with the rules (and admitting I may have missed something here): casualties and 'shock' (the main morale mechanic) work on a different scale, so (if you like) losses reduce strength, and shock is compared to current strength.  I am not entirely convinced by this - I tend to think casualties should cause shock in their own right rather than it be an either/or.  But like I wrote above, perhaps I just missed this.

The other problem I had with the rules was one that has been identified more generally by Sam Mustafa: with individually based figures, the single figure will always be the lowest tactical sub-unit if anything is counted in single figures.  the rules really try to make big men and groups the basic units of currency, but there will inevitably be times where some soldiers are counted for firing, others not (this came up quite a lot in the game, since the Austrians were in the trees to begin with during the fight and later the French entered the woods too).  This creates a mini-game of how best to position individual soldiers so they have line-of-sight.  This is fine perhaps, but then you lose lots of the potential streamlining by trying to think of things in groups.  And it means that you need quite highly defined terrain.  More on this in later games, perhaps. 

Anyway, all good fun and highly promising for scratching this particular itch.  I think I should do a closer comparison with Paddy Griffith's skirmish rules and perhaps Flintlock and Ramrod too, at some point, to try and work out what I think of all of them.

Also, this is the first game with trees on old CD bases - I quite liked them, they were certainly a lot handier.  Please forgive the slightly crude 'fantasy' cottage too!

Figures are 28mm Perry Miniatures (with the female figure having a Statuesque miniatures head swap).


  1. I have to say that v2 has been out for several years and I would say that it is a big improvement on the original rules. 'Command cards' rather than 'Grasp the Nettle' give rather more decisions to players, and enable unactivated units to do something at the end of a turn.

    1. Hi Peter, noted and I am sure you are right, although as a solo player the perceived lack of decisions/choices doesn't actually bother me that much; the game had plenty of early 'Tiffin' draws and that was fine.

  2. That's a nice little action there and glad that you had a nice game. I've played SPII a few times, but it seemed too fiddly to me, with a case 'of less is more' working better for me. Still horses for courses as you rightly say.

    1. Yes, I see what you mean. I didn't find this particular game too fiddly except in the relationship of individual figures to the terrain but then using groups as the main determinant, which was an issue in parts. I don't think I found the rest of it that fiddly, although this was a pretty stripped-down skirmish: my impression of many Sharp Practice games is that there is a lot more stuff going on.

  3. Well done on getting round to giving the rules a try! Like Steve, I have played a few games of SPII but unlike him, I quite enjoyed them! I never played V1 so cant offer a comparison.

    1. Thanks, appreciate it. Unless I can see SPII on at a show or similar, I can't imagine I will buy it unless (paradoxically) I play enough of SPI first and enjoy it...

  4. SP2 explicitly says you can only create a formation with 2 or more groups, but it doesn't say how many men have to be left in each group (e.g. can a pair of lone survivors form line?)

    1. Thanks Dave - hopefully I can track down the definitive answers!