Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Sharp Practice and the American Revolution

Last year a gaming friend of mine introduced me to Sharp Practice! Too Fat Lardies skirmish rules for the black powder era. We played a handful of games set during the Peninsular War and having already taken quite a shine to TFL's WWII skirmish rules Chain of Command I found myself quite at home with Sharp Practice.

But first, a confession, I know very little about this period of military history. If I am going to get into it for gaming I have a fairly steep learning curve ahead. Sharp Practice provides rosters for forces including the French and Indian Wars, the American Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and the American Civil War.  Lots to choose from there and obviously many more conflicts across the 165 years covered by the rules.

I know a bit about the French and Indian Wars, having played the excellent GMT board game Wilderness War. Admittedly that's an operational level game, so my tactical knowledge of the period was limited.

That game had led me to read Fred Anderson's magisterial work Crucible of War and I was fortunate enough to go to Quebec several years ago and visit the battlefields. This was a tempting period to consider (and at the time there was much chatter about the Musket and Tomahawks skirmish rules, so lots to tempt me there).

I started to look around at miniatures and discovered there was a great deal to choose from in both metal and plastic. It was while I was doing this I came across more and more for the American Revolution and in particular the Perry Miniatures plastic range. They seemed to offer a quick and inexpensive way to get into the period. So I started to gravitate towards the American Revolution, a war I knew very little about, but the more I discovered about the numerous low level encounters the more it seemed to lend itself well to a skirmish level game. So the American Revolution it was going to be, but first some research.

I’ve found that Osprey books are always a quick and easy place to start. There is normally enough there to give you a taste for a period and to see if it takes your fancy.

I was particularly intrigued by the use of light infantry and the fast tempo of many of the battles. There was a tactical fluidity that surprised me and while massed ranks of muskets still had their place, manoeuvre played a significant part in most encounters.

Those two initial reads gave me enough of a feel to want to explore further and it was at this point I became aware of Matthew Spring's work 'With Zeal and with Bayonets Only'. This was an excellent read that takes a revisionist approach to examining exactly how the British army went about fighting the war.  It's certainly a great book for a wargamer as it delves into the details of tactics to reveal a very dynamic army. Having grown up with some of the standard myths of revolutionary war this was anything but the story of red coated automatons marching headlong into the deadly musket fire of crafty American militia.

A couple of other books helped give a general overview of the war. While they have remarkably similar titles they are two very different books. Hibbert's is a good general read, where as Bicheno is his usual provocative self, arguing a case that is counter to many of the prevailing myths.

Clearly this was a war where both sides were constantly evolving their tactics and so makes for a very appealing subject to study and game. I've decided to play at skirmish level and so I've chosen to play in 28mm and having settled on a scale, the next step will be acquiring the miniatures. You can follow progress on the AWI Sharp Practice page.


  1. Good news, Muskets and Tomahawks also covers the Revolution. 😀

    I’ve also been tempted by this period of history bc it’s so interesting and more importantly: has good looking uniforms. I still might do it but likely in 15/18mm.

    Good luck with the project.

    1. Thanks Stew, there's certainly plenty to attract me and I can only see myself delving further into it. Interestingly I'm not finding the uniforms take as long to paint as I had thought, they are no more consuming than WW2 for some reason, not sure why, but I'm not complaining.

  2. I love Sharp Practice and the AWI. I've run games at Fall-In and the recent Cold Wars set in the southern theater (though fictional scenarios). Here's a link to my blog if you'd like to see some pics. https://minysoldiers.blogspot.com

    1. Checked out your blog, I really like those Shock markers with the casualty figures, they work very well. I have some of those bases, but haven't put them to any use yet, but you've given me ideas!