Monday, June 6, 2016

When officers were gentlemen: Getting into Black Powder and Sharp Practice (2)

It's been a while since our last post - May was pretty crazy with baby birthdays, bbqs, and work stuff. I've got a new, probably hobby-defining project that I'm working on right now. My favorite time period has always been the American Civil War. I've researched, gamed, and reenacted the Civil War for 20 years. Miniature wargaming for ACW and the rest of the black powder time period has always been a bit daunting for me - you need to paint hundreds of miniatures and spend lots of time looking at tables and indices.

No longer is it daunting to do ACW (or other time period) miniature games. There are plenty of more accessible games coming onto the market now, with lots of plastic models out from Perry and other manufacturers, and of course the huge amount of pewter minis available. I'm going to discuss two rulesets here that I'm really excited about, tell you why I'm excited, and then detail what I'm working on.

Glory Hallelujah!

Black Powder, released by Warlord Games in 2009, is something I haven't really checked out before. While it does demand a higher number of models (a couple brigades on each side), the rules are extremely easy to use and do not get in the way of the game. They also just released their new Civil War supplement - Glory Hallelujah!
The first thing I want to say about the Black Powder series of books from Warlord is how beautiful they are. Tons of great art, lots of amazing model soldier photos, and great layout. Someone is clearly taking their time to make these books extremely appealing to the eye.

The author clearly did his research with this supplement. He covers all of the theaters of war and even includes rules for ironclads. There is a substantial section that is all history to give those new to this era a solid background.

There are a ton of great scenarios with orders of battle to help you get started. The author also helps you 'customize' Black Powder for this period. I really find it cool that he suggests certain changes, but gives you suggestions for how that might not be enough, or maybe players might agree to change it a different way. 

I really think my type of game going forward is this narrative type of game mastered game where you fight a scenario with cool rules and possible asymmetric-ness, not just a game where you show up with a beatlist and throw down on a random scenario. Telling a story is so important with Black Powder.

The rules for Black Powder itself are very simple. Orders are given by leaders to units, be them regiments or battalions, or at a brigade level. The basic unit is definitely brigades. This has put me off a bit in the past, but by building up slowly I think I can get to a few brigades of Confederate and Federal infantry to play a game at 28mm.

The other thing I've thought about with this type of game is a club getting together and each player painting a regiment or brigade. It makes it a lot less daunting if you have to paint 60 guys instead of 300, or 20 instead of 300. This seems like it could definitely be a successful project plan.

I'm really looking forward to getting a game going of Black Powder with these rules. The ACW was really about large engagements with brigades, divisions, and corps, and so this will really help represent that on a tabletop.

Sharp Practice

Sharp Practice is a set of rules produced by TooFatLardies. This set of rules has been around a while as well, but Version Two has just been released. I own the first version, and this set is much more streamlined and easier to read.

Again I'd say the layout and design is great for this one. Lots of great pictures, fonts, and diagrams. The main difference between Sharp Practice and Black Powder is that this is a skirmish game. Both sides need around 50 models to play.

There are plenty of other differences - being at a lower level of detail, at the squad level or small company level, makes it easier to have micro-level rules. There are plenty of rules that embrace the narrative. You can roll up skills for your officers, personalities, and characteristics. You can include extra civilians and support personnel in your army. 

These macro-level characters are super cool. I can include a surgeon, a marksman, or ammo / water carts for when my men run out of ammo or water (it happens). These events happen randomly through the game, and they add a lot of narrative and character to your fight.

He puts the Sharpe in Sharp Practice
Overall this game is really intriguing. TFL games always always always focus on the leaders. They are the important guys. They are the main character of your movie, the guy who gets things done. He's the guy who gets the lady, he's the guy who saves the general. Everything goes through your leaders.

The game itself is card-driven, with a player drawing cards from a deck that allow certain leaders to activate and then activate units with them. To be honest, I haven't yet played a game of Sharp Practice, and the rules are a lot different from what I'm used to, so its been hard for me to grok everything, but I am all in on this really characterful set of rules.

One of my favorite things about this game is that it does include drill manual formations. You can put your men in columns of companies, march columns, close columns, etc etc. The reenactor part of me really likes that =)

The author included roster suggestions for a ton of different wars, but most importantly the American Civil War. I am currently working on five groups of eight infantry and two groups of six skirmishers, plus four leaders.

The last thing I'm excited about is the scenarios. They've put a ton of work into scenarios here and plan to release more as pint-sized campaigns. You can think of a ton of different scenarios just from old tv shows, movies, and books.

So where do we go from here?

These two games are complementary, in my opinion. Sharp Practice is a skirmish game, Black Powder is a brigade level engagement game. While I'm painting all my guys for BP, I can be playing SP. I can do a small level skirmish in SP, then follow it up with a large engagement in BP.

I purchased a ton of plastic infantry, artillery, and cavalry made by Perry from Warlord Games. They're amazing sculpts and will look great on the field. I also picked up a ton of pewter minis - Old Glory, Sash and Saber, Dixon, Redoubt, etc. Mostly just various characterful sculpts to add a little bit to each line unit. 

Right now I'm just focusing on the ~50 miniatures I need to get a Sharp Practice game going. After that, I'll focus on knocking out the rest of the units I need for Black Powder. I am planning on doing the Orphan Brigade (1st Kentucky Brigade) for sure, and have to figure out what my second brigade will be. 

While this entire article has just been about ACW, these rules lend themselves to other time periods as well. I plan on creating a Sharp Practice for for the Revolutionary War, Napoleonic Wars, etc. My enthusiasm is at an all time high - this is my favorite time period, after all.

Check back next week for some in-depth on the units I'll be portraying in my ACW Sharp Practice force. Thanks!

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