Saturday, 11 February 2017

A Day in the West Country(1) What's The Point?

On Friday I went down to Wiltshire to meet up with Phil and Richard for a day of wargaming. Three white fifty-somethings in a purpose built wargames room in a picturesque Wiltshire village. Who says this isn't an inclusive hobby?

We managed four games in the day, first up being "Sharpe Practice" the popular "large skirmish" game from the Too Fat Lardies. This was an interesting prospect as neither Phil nor I had played it before, having both heard good things about it.

Richard got out some of his rather nicely painted Front Rank figures, of which we had about 50 aside. So, as someone who grew up with "Flintlock & Ramrod" from the Old West Skirmish group definitely a large skirmish.

The game has an off-to-on table deployment system, and our deployment points were marked with a cavalry figure each. I grabbed the Brits, so Phil had to manage the French. Obviously with much thinking.

Early doors he got on 6 voltiguers and 24 line infantry, presumably representing 3 sections (don't know if this is a Napoleonic concept. No doubt someone can tell me).

Movement is random by drawing officer chits from a bag. There are also other chits that give extra commands and end the turn, so you don't always know if you'll get to move all of your units.

I got on my two units of line infantry and pushed my one unit of skirmishers towards the wood on my right. My left hand unit is cunningly hiding behind the crest line.

My skirmishers worked their way into the wood, where lurked some of their French opposite numbers.

Then, I was able to move my left hand line up and over the crest....

...where I gave fire at Phil's right hand voltiguers. A waste of a first volley, perhaps? Who cares, - I killed most of them and they took loads of "Shock" and fled to the back of the table.

The skirmishers exchanged fire in the wood, - or at least I shot at Phil - and I hit some chaps and wounded their officer.

As Phil moved up a unit to support his voltiguers in the wood I was able to volley into them with my other line infantry.

I hit quite a few people. Now, pay attention to this bit. The French line blunder into the wood and contact some of my skirmishers. Fisticuffs ensue, and one of the French squads gets badly beaten up and expelled from the wood in a bad state (??)....

... however, Phil's outnumbered voltiguers then counter-attacked through his line, and my skirmishers were ejected from the wood in short order. Right.

By this point we were heading for lunchtime and I had got Phil well on the back foot. We declared it a British win, and Richard went off to make sandwiches.

So, what about a verdict? Well, ignore the nice figures, because this is about the game mechanisms. The system has a number of interesting mechanisms that mesh together to produce a challenging and occasionally tense game. Mostly the system is clear and clean and gives unequivocal results. In a case of parallel development there were a couple of things in there that I have stuck in some of my homegrown rules and thought that I'd made them up myself, so can't complain about them. Admittedly, most of the system is based on a single figure rolling a 6 or other number to hit which isn't ground breaking, but it is done well.

Where I had the problem was I wasn't sure what I thought the game was simulating. I don't know if small groups of men fought like this in the Napoleonic period. I'm inclined to think it is unlikely, and then it hit me. What this set of rules is for (and the clue is in the title) is to enable you to play games of the battles that you see on TV in programmes like "Sharpe", where they try to make 30 men look like an army, or a battalion. It's almost like that set of rules for 1960s Sci-Fi (7TV) which is designed not to produce realistic results but what you saw on your TV set in "The Avengers" and such like.

My personal view is that if you want to play low level actions with 50 figures side you'd be better off seeking out one of Pete Berry's "File Leader" style sets of rules, where figures are deployed as companies on movement trays. They actually simulate a style of warfare for which we've got some decent evidence.

Of course, if you don't care about any of that, then I guess it gives a decent, enjoyable game.


  1. I have the same issue (low level games and tactical representation) with Pikemans Lament.. I'm not sure pikemen ran around on their own in a skirmish battle..

    1. Of course you don't run around on your own with a pike. Stupid idea. I wasn't aware of PL, but looking at the reviews just now I'd say again, - if you have that number of figures and want to do low level actions then buy File Leader.