Sharp Practice! – Australian Frontier Wars

Wargames Illustrated article (part 2) – September, 2019


In the latest issue of Wargames Illustrated there is an article on the Encounter at Pinjarra, an engagement fought south of Perth, October 1834. Along with that article there is supplementary information provided on the WI site describing the game as a scenario to play with Sharp Practice! In this post you can find the aforementioned SP supplement that will give you all you need to engage in Frontier Wars clashes using Two Fat Lardies Sharp Practice! battle game system  for this game and others.

Given that the article is provided online, free for download, I am putting the article up on my blog should it inadvertently be removed from the WI article repository over time.

For those that missed it, Part I of the article providing a primer on the period can be found in the August, 2019 issue. But first, to the supplement.

Sharp Down Under…

Sharp Practice! is very well suited to frontier wars encounters. It is pitched just at the right scale of being a skirmish game but enabling the handling of units – massed skirmish as I have described in previous articles on this topic.

Sharp Practice! (uniquely) combines skirmish game elements and battle game based mechanics. This gives the game a distinct style of game that moves from the historical to the, sometimes, theatric. All this is inline with aspects of Frontier Wars encounters.

The supplement for SP covers the period of 1788-1855 which does not include the Eureka Stockade battle as this is not the focus of Frontier Wars clashes. That subject however woudl work quite well for SP when fought as a large scale encounter. Within the supplement are explained various reasons for the rules as they are and incorporate all the salient features, in respect to SharpPractice! Whilst other aspects could perhaps be added, or possibly removed, this I shall leave for others to decide.

For now, here is Sharp Practice! -Australian Frontier Wars.


Encounter at Pinjarra…

The following is a scenario designed to allow the interested gamer to refight this battle using the Two Fat Lardies’ Sharp Practice! Rules

The Two Fat Lardies’ Sharp Practice! rules will work very well as they use interesting game mechanics to represent critical variable factors in play pertinent to this scenario. This battle should be played at a 1:1 figure scale. Players can use other rule sets using the ideas below to set up their scenario if they wish.

Players would need to determine the manner of how to depict both sides feeding in troops through the scrub to replicate the chaotic and piecemeal manner of advancing through difficult or limited visibility terrain into contact from a line of march. This is one historical ‘what if’ that would be interesting to play out.

For those using Sharp Practice!, use all the forces indicated below for the historical scenario on a table covered in light scrub and trees – only the east-west track will be shown. Visibility within the entire table will be 18” with no movement restrictions. Randomly choose scenario #1, #2 or #3 to set the scene for this clash – any of which can be representative of the type of encounter that could’ve occurred. The Pinjarup camp can be depicted on the most northern edge of the table or assumed to be just ‘off-table’ and need not be modeled.

Historical Scenario – The historical variant provides the opportunity for a clash to occur on a single table as discussed above. However, the real encounter was spread out over a bit more ground as it was really two clashes. To enable the full spread of the historical refight to play out both need to be accounted for, or the possibility of both. To do the entire battle would require a very large table at the scale of 12” = 40-50yds as used in Sharp Practice! – or some creative thinking!

Fortunately, we have two things working in our favour. The relative sameness of the terrain the action was fought over and the unique deployment system Sharp Practice! uses when placing troops on table. What I propose is that the complete battle can be recreated without having to straight jacket the players into focusing on just one part of the action and still only needing a standard 6’x4’ wargames table.

To do this we need to look at the battle as occurring in two separate stages i.e. the initial stage involving Ellis’ command and Stirling’s initial position centred around the upper ford, then the end stage at the lower ford after a brief hiatus, where the outcome was finally decided.

So, the idea will be to use the same table but use it to depict different parts of the battlefield. As the terrain is very similar in all places where action occurred this will mean resetting terrain will only require the repositioning of the river, ford and track as well as shifting the trees around a bit to make it look like a different layout – this should all take only a few minutes to do.

In Sharp Practice! victory is determined when one side’s force morale is reduced to zero (0) whereby they either surrender or break off the action – this is what we will use to determine victory in our refight as per the rules. When determining the start Force Morale, add +1drm to the British roll and +2drm to the Pinjarup roll, however to account for the small forces involved, reduce the final force morale score by 2.


The forces involved are;

British (25)                              36pts

Captain James Stirling, RN           (Status III)

Captain Meares                             (Status II)

x5 Regulars, Rifle                          (21st regt of Foot)

x3 Settlers (Irregular Skirmishers) Fouling Pieces

Captain Ellis                                  (Status II)

x3 Mounted Police (Dragoons), pistol, smoothbore carbine and sword

x1 Settler, smoothbore carbine     (James Norcott)

Lt. Roe (unarmed)                          (Status I)

x4 Armed Settlers, smoothbore carbine

x1 Wagon and driver

Corporal Delmage

x5 Regulars, Rifle                          (21st regt of Foot)

Note – Lt. Roe may only be used on table 1 and Corporal Delmage can only be used on table 2.

Pinjarup Clan (48**)              37pts

Calyute                                          (Status IV)

Gummel                                         (Status II)

X8 six-figure (Aggressive) Skirmisher units, armed with boomerangs, throwing spears and woomeras. Both leaders can command any troops.

**The women and children fled the camp area and are not represented as they are non-combatants, a number perishing in the subsequent confusion of the engagement.


Special Rules

Table Layout

Terrain for the upper and lower ford is as depicted on the map. The entire area is covered in light scrub on flat ground limiting visibility to 18” but being relatively open it counts as open ground for individual group move purposes with restrictions that no formations are allowed.

On the Upper Ford table there should be at least 6 huts to represent the Pinjarup camp (there being about 20 bark huts in reality), without these having any effect on play. The area is flat ground with only slight undulations.

The Murray River is depicted as 8”-12” wide (i.e. approximately 30-40 yards). The Murray is swimmable (by aboriginals) as Really Heavy Going – British troops may not swim. Firing at targets in the water is only possible if the shooter is within 6” of the river edge. Targets in water count as if in hard cover. The high banks of the river are treat as Really Heavy Going 4” either side of the river.

The ford counts as Broken Ground. The riverbanks have tall grass that block line of sight as if ‘light orchards’ (i.e. 6”) on each bank. In Sharp Practice, this will mean any units in the scrub adjacent to the Murray River will be able to see, and be seen, up to 18” away, as the Murray River is depicted as 8-12” wide


Deployment Points

On Table 1 all deployment points are fixed. On Table 2 the Red (Stirling) and blue (Pinjarup) are moveable deployment points. The Green (corporal party) deployment point is fixed.

The attack by Ellis and his small mounted detachment caused a degree of panic out of proportion to their size. Therefore, all warriors, when deployed, start the game in disorder (1d6 shock on them) when first activated, or 2D6 shock if Ellis deploys (as per SP) before any Pinjarup do. Allow the mounted detachment to deploy on table with an ambush bonus as your rules allow – for Sharp Practice!, give the British player two command cards at game start to enable him to conduct an Ambuscade if he luckily draws another command card before the warriors react i.e. their leader activation card is drawn.

If the aboriginal deployment is overrun, then complete surprise has been achieved. Place all the clan groups on table as well as applying 2D6 shock on them, (as above), however they only count half their figures in the first round of Fisticuffs.

Calyute and Stirling count as Prominent Leaders as per Sharp Practice i.e. their loss causes two force morale rolls, with a +1 to each die roll.

Subplot – the aboriginal Noonar was being pursued by authorities for many ‘crimes’ – a so-called ‘aboriginal desperado’. If a British unit enters fisticuffs with an aboriginal unit roll a d6. On a 5 or 6 Noonar is identified in the unit – immediately place a Status II level leader with the unit and include a leader card in the draw deck next turn. He is treated as any other leader.


Pinjarup movement?

To the wargamer looking at this scenario it might seem that massing the Pinjarup warriors and attacking Stirling piecemeal is the obvious choice. Given the confused nature of the contest and lack of knowledge of Stirling’s force by Calyute and his men, the direction the Pinjarup ‘retreat/advance’ to is best left to chance.

Therefore, after Ellis’ force has engaged the clan, the Pinjarup player should (secretly) roll 1d6. If the Pinjarup player loses the fight against Ellis he adds +1 to this die roll.

On a score of 1 he may advance on the Upper Ford.

On a 2 to 5 he advances with all groups toward the river then moves north along its bank, attempting to cross at the Lower Ford.

On a 6 he moves directly north (i.e. not toward the river first) and off toward the Lower Ford. Once the Pinjarup reach the northern edge of table 1, phase 1 of the battle is over. Reset the terrain as Table 2 with all units removing shock, but still retaining any casualties as lost for the second half of the battle.


Figures for Pinjarra

Figures for this particular battle will be easy to obtain. The British regulars of the 21st will use Bell Topped shakos. The best source for British infantry such as these is the Perry Miniatures Carlist War range or the Oronico Miniatures Liberator range. The Police are a bit harder to find but you only need to represent Ellis’ detachment of five mounted constables. I’d suggest using appropriate Perry Miniatures ACW rebel cavalry or Cape Wars Mounted Rifles with head swaps as proxies. Civilian settlers in Roe’s detachment can be any Napoleonic era civilians with assorted weapons. The aboriginals are all available from Eureka Miniatures Denisovan range.

The game itself will be quick playing and should only take 2-3 hours in total to complete. The variability of the first half of the game can lead to other outcomes that might not even involve the second. Players can mandate a historical refight by fighting both actions but I think letting the scenario play out is probably the most interesting to explore that ‘what ifs’ of this encounter.

This encounter plays very well at the skirmish scale. For a small investment in miniatures you get military, police and civilians all combined into a nice small force against a local aboriginal clan – a limited outlay that provides a typical force for this period. This would provide a good basis for a mini campaign such as that provided by this author on his weblog (see below for details). Adding further troops enables you to expand out the forces with the addition of one or two more units of aboriginals and you have a complete clan of warriors.

This scenario can actually be played out in almost any black powder setting and makes for an engaging and fast-moving game so feel free to match up your favourite native vs ‘civilised’ opponents and try it out nevertheless.


Our Refight!

The game started with both sides on force morale 9. The first turn kicked off with Calyute detecting the early movement of Captain Ellis. The Pinjarup warriors jumped to their feet and moved on Ellis’ position (ie deployment point). Later in the turn Ellis and his intrepid band commenced their attack on table, but were unable to achieve surprise as happened historically.

The next couple of turns saw the Pinjarup get the jump on Ellis (getting their leader cards drawn first), hurling many a spear that brought down one of his troopers and slightly wounding another (some shock) and forcing his small band back – reducing force morale by 1 pip. Stirling up to this point still had not appeared on table (his leader card having not been drawn yet) and Ellis was left to fend for himself. The next turn saw Calyute once more get the initiative and he ordered his warriors to attack, launching their spears as they pressed the assault.

This volley proved particularly deadly as shock mounted up with Mr. Norcott getting a spear in the chest, killing him instantly. With that Ellis’ remaining men broke and ran, the British force morale reducing by another pip, with Calyute now satisfied he had seen off any threat – Captain Stirling was still not on-table and the Pinjarup then (by way of random die roll) made their way down to the river and started moving along its banks northward toward the Lower Ford.

As Calyute gathered up his clan he saw a pall of smoke from the opposite bank as Stirling’s force, now in position, commenced a fire. Killing two warriors and inflicting a few shock the Pinjarup beat a hasty retreat down the river bank with the aim of crossing at the lower ford to turn Stirling’s position and evade the immediate threat from the redcoats. In the ensuing three turns the Pinjarup outpaced the British, but not before losing another man to some long range rifle fire. This completed phase 1 of the battle…not to far from the historical outcome so far! Force morale was British 7, Pinjarup 9.

With the table reset and a quick tea break, we were off again! This time the Pinjarup had to find a way across the river and defeat Stirling’s force or be beaten doing so.

With the resumption of hostilities fate once again played a hand. Calyute got the jump on the slow moving British and quickly moved toward the river bank and crossed before the British were even deployed! Subsequently the Corporal’s detachment and Stirling emerged through the scrub (ie now on-table) to find the warriors on their side of the river ready for battle!

Immediately a contest of fire occurred as the British franticly started ‘tap reloading’ their Baker rifles with Calyute’s men moving first on Stirling with a small force to hold him off, whilst the bulk of his warriors advanced on Corporal Delmage’s small body of redcoats. In the ensuing to and froing the British fired a hasty volley or two and then evaded from the warrior’s charge, simply unable to deliver enough firepower to stop the Pinjarup ducking and weaving through the undergrowth. Though moving quickly they were not quick enough, being caught and cut down to a man.

Meanwhile Stirling had started to get the better of it along with Captain Meares as Calyute’s rearguard was decimated by fire. In what now became the climax of the action Calyute turned his victorious warriors back to Stirling’s firing line in a final showdown. At this point force morale was British 4, Pinjarup 5.

Calyute gathered his forces, cleverly staying out of visibility range (18”) and then in a succession of back and forths his force started to get whittled down as the rifle shots found their mark. However, Calyute then called for a charge, which was held off by Stirling and his redcoats but flung back Captain Meares’ small group, he getting a wound as he beat a hasty retreat.

Not to be denied, Calyute attacked again before the redcoats could reload and fire – in once more and this time in a savage encounter where all but one of the men of the 25th were overwhelmed, Stirling himself receiving a mortal wound from Calyute’s own hand. With that the lone survivor broke and ran, Calyute’s warriors celebrating their victory, as he now surveyed the Pinjarra battlefield, a hero to all his tribe.