Alternative Chacabuco – A Bolivar’s Very Bad Day Battle Report 2

Chris and Adam played my variant of John Fletcher’s Alternative Chacabuco scenario, my go to for testing out rules. We were play testing incredible rough draft of Bolivar’s Very Bad Day, a Liberators variant of Tilly’s Very Bad Day.

Summary: Really good fun game. Adam’s Patriots took the game but it was down to the wire. Adam lost Bernardo O’Higgins and his command stalled. Chris lost Field Marshal Del Pont and his command evaporated.

The rules – Bolivar’s Very Bad Day

I gave the guys version 0.1 of the Bolivar’s Very Bad Day quick reference sheet and told them the rest of the rules were in my head. When they asked me something I’d tell them the rule; then I’d write down the rule so I remembered.

Here are some key elements of this draft:

Battalions and Wings: Most infantry were formed into two base battalions. But I treated the understrength Valdivia as a half battalion (wing) with only one base.

Regiments and Squadrons: Most cavalry were formed into two base regiments, but a few were independent squadrons. The Argentine Granaderos a Caballo were Superior Sabre Squadrons/Regiments. [I also distinguished between regular sabre cavalry and irregular lancer cavalry, but that wasn’t relevant to the game, as there were no Llaneros or Gauchos in this battle.

Faster movement: Cavalry in march column moved up to 10 TUM, waves (2 deep) go 8 TUM and a line go 6 TUM. Infantry battalion in march column moved up to 8 TUM, an attack column 6 TUM, a line 4 TUM, and a square 2 TUM.

Commander-in-chief: As in Tilly’s Very Bad Day, the commander-in-chief is a divisional commander.


I gave both sides flexibility on deployment.

Chacabuco-801 Table and deployment
Chacabuco-801 Table and deployment

Chris deployed Maroto’s Division in the fields near Chacabuco farm.

Chacabuco-802 Royalist deployment - Maroto's Division
Chacabuco-802 Royalist deployment – Maroto’s Division

The Santiago Division deployed near Los Tauretes hill.

Chacabuco-803 Royalist deployment - Santiago Division
Chacabuco-803 Royalist deployment – Santiago Division

While his stage thought about the advancing Patriots, Mariscal de Campo Marco del Pont was figuring out his fasted way back to Santiago.

Chacabuco-807 Field Marshal Del Pont checking the route to the rear
Chacabuco-807 Field Marshal Del Pont checking the route to the rear

Adam condensed his frontage so the entire Army of the Andes was facing the Royalist Santiago Division.

O’Higgins’s Division was near the table edge. All of the infantry were in attack column and crowded together.

Chacabuco-805 Patriot deployment - O'Higgins's Division
Chacabuco-805 Patriot deployment – O’Higgins’s Division

Soler’s Division was near the road.

Chacabuco-804 Patriot deployment - Soler's Division
Chacabuco-804 Patriot deployment – Soler’s Division

San Martin, overall commander of the Patriot Army of the Andes and also divisional commander of Soler’s Division, was on the road.

Chacabuco-806 Patriot General San Martin
Chacabuco-806 Patriot General San Martin

Turn 1

Adam roared ahead.

Chacabuco-808 Patriots advance
Chacabuco-808 Patriots advance

Cannons blazed.

Chacabuco-810 Royalist cannons blaze
Chacabuco-810 Royalist cannons blaze

It was pretty obvious that Adam wasn’t coming over the top of Tahuilaca hill so Chris pulled the Chiloe Regiment back from the fortified walls.

Chacabuco-811 Royalist Chiloe Regiment pulls back from walls
Chacabuco-811 Royalist Chiloe Regiment pulls back from walls

The Royalist reserve, the Carabineros de Abascal, also pulled back. They wanted to join the battle in the centre so had to find a way across the stream that avoided the farm.

Chacabuco-812 Royalist Carabineros de Abascal pull back along stream
Chacabuco-812 Royalist Carabineros de Abascal pull back along stream

Chris also saw a chance to enfilade the advancing Patriot columns and pivoted his gun in the fields to get a good shot.

Chacabuco-814 Royalist cannon in the fields pivots 90 degrees
Chacabuco-814 Royalist cannon in the fields pivots 90 degrees

Turn 2

Game turn 2 saw another big advance by the Patriot army and continued Royalist redeployment in the fields.

Chacabuco-815 Patriot movement - Royalist shooting
Chacabuco-815 Patriot movement – Royalist shooting

Adam wanted to close as quickly as possible, so just went hell for leather forward.

Chacabuco-816 Patriot advance on left flank
Chacabuco-816 Patriot advance on left flank

Chris also wanted to close, but had to move troops around in the fields to get at the Patriot flank. Chiloe formed march column and then moved across the fields. Talavera formed attack column.

Chacabuco-820 Royalists in fields turn to face Patriot flank - Chiloe in march column - Talavera in attack column
Chacabuco-820 Royalists in fields turn to face Patriot flank – Chiloe in march column – Talavera in attack column

Not surprisingly in a Tilly variant, the cavalry contacted first, although the Argentine 11th Regiment went with them.

Chacabuco-822 Charges
Chacabuco-822 Charges

On the left a squadron of Concordia Hussars routed.

Chacabuco-823 Squadron of Concordia Hussars rout
Chacabuco-823 Squadron of Concordia Hussars rout

Two squadrons from each side charged in the centre.

Chacabuco-821 Cavalry charges in centre
Chacabuco-821 Cavalry charges in centre

Adam and Chris discovered how potent superior cavalry are against their more ordinary peers.

Chacabuco-825 Superior Patriot cavalry mince Royalists
Chacabuco-825 Superior Patriot cavalry mince Royalists

We also had our first column against line situation. With Charles Oman echoing in my head I gave the attack column melee advantages. In hindsight this was a mistake.

Chacabuco-824 Attack column versus line
Chacabuco-824 Attack column versus line

One Royalist rout and a few rally backs.

Chacabuco-826 Melee results
Chacabuco-826 Melee results

Turn 3

Adam went in again.

Chacabuco-828 Patriot movement
Chacabuco-828 Patriot movement

But Chris was getting his flank attack within striking distance.

Chacabuco-829 Royalist movement in fields
Chacabuco-829 Royalist movement in fields

Shoot was impressive but ineffective.

Chacabuco-830 Shooting
Chacabuco-830 Shooting

Lots of charges.

Chacabuco-831 Charge declarations
Chacabuco-831 Charge declarations

Chris suffered two routs: Infantry on the left and cavalry in the centre.

Chacabuco-834 Melee results
Chacabuco-834 Melee results

Half of the Chillan Regiment, on the slopes of Los Tauretes hill, ran for Santiago.

Chacabuco-833 Melee results at Los Tauretes
Chacabuco-833 Melee results at Los Tauretes

But O’Higgins was wounded and had to withdraw from the field. Every surviving stand in O’Higgins command lost resolve. And they would now have to roll to move.

Chacabuco-835 Impact of losing O'Higgins
Chacabuco-835 Impact of losing O’Higgins

Turn 4

Straight to the charge declarations.

Chacabuco-837 Charge declarations
Chacabuco-837 Charge declarations

The remainder of the Chillan Regiment ran.

Chacabuco-838 Melee results - left at Los Tauretes
Chacabuco-838 Melee results – left at Los Tauretes

But the Argentine Mixed Cazadore and Grenadier Battalion routed.

Chacabuco-839 Melee results - centre
Chacabuco-839 Melee results – centre

As did half of the Argentine Cazadores de los Andes Battalion.

Chacabuco-840 Melee results - right
Chacabuco-840 Melee results – right

There was a mixed bag of results. Superficially it looked like the Patriots were worse off. But on a count of losses, the Royalist hard had passed their breakpoint and lost the battle.

Chacabuco-841 Melee results
Chacabuco-841 Melee results

Observations and conclusions

Draft as they are, Bolivar’s Very Bad Day got a big thumbs up from the guys. Jamie, who wasn’t present, asked Adam and Chris what they thought:

Jamie: Did you guys like the system? I really like the changes Steven has made to Tilly that update it to the later period

Chris: ❤️ (heart emoji)

Adam: I like it a lot! Definitely tweaks to make (especially the interplay between column and line), but felt thematic

Jamie: I reckon it could be tweaked to cover everything from Napoleonics to ACW.

This is Chris’s summary of the battle:

Argentines over stacked1 and there were too many to kill, so they won. However everyone attacking on one flank left the Royalists half committed, so they swung in and slaughtered the Argentines by attacking on their flank.

(1) Chris is a board gamer hence “over stacked” when he meant crowded. 🙂

The scenario

I really like John Fletcher’s Alternative Chacabuco scenario. Fairly evenly matched armies that have key differences e.g. superior patriot cavalry and inferior royalist cavalry. Interesting terrain (the guys know which scenario they are playing when I put down the huge Tahuilaca hill). Generals with personality. Clear victory conditions (hold/capture Chacabuco farm and/or break the enemy army).

We’ve now played it eight times now using different rules. In fact that is part of the reason I go back to it … I get to try out rules on a scenario I like. We very quickly get an idea whether the rules are good for this period or not. Many are not.

I’ll write up the Bolivar’s Very Bad Day version of the scenario.

I made only one change from the previous play test: The enclosed fields now offered protection like fortifications. Nice addition.

In this game San Martin and Del Pont were division commanders, like the original scenario. For the next iteration of this scenario I’m going to have San Martin and Del Pont as separate commanders-in-chief, outside the divisions. Brigadier General Miguel Estanislao Soler is the obvious candidate to take over “Soler’s Division”; it is all in the name. I’m not sure which Royalist commander should take over the Santiago Division from Del Pont.

Failed experiments (and what to do about it)

This game was an experiment and like all experiments, some things didn’t go so well. There are a lot of these but each is an opportunity to learn and improve. A lot of this is related to two base units.

Regiment/squadron and battalion/wing: Having one base batteries and two base battalions was fine. The problem was where the same troop type has a choice of one and two base units i.e. cavalry regiment/squadron and infantry battalion/wing. Adam expressed the problem with a question, “what is the point of the two base regiment when I could have two squadrons flying around?” Having to cope with both sizes of unit meant early drafts of the rules were more complicated; even the QRS was more complicated. On balance I think I’ll go with infantry battalions and cavalry squadrons. Adam suggested wings be reserved for skirmishers … something to consider.

Two base command check: We didn’t know how to do a command check for two base units. The rule is “To make a command check roll 1d6 for each point of the current resolve… hit … on a 6. Scoring any hit means the unit can make a move. No hits means the unit cannot move this step.” With a two base unit we added the two resolve scores together and rolled 1d6 for each. For example, a unit with 3+2 resolve (three resolve on one base and two resolve on the second) rolled 5d6. This made passing command checks too easy. I’m thinking of using the lower of the two resolves so a 3+2 resolve battalion would roll 2d6. A 4+0 battalion would roll 0d6. Harsh.

Two base interpenetration: At one point Chris moved an attack column through a battery. At the end of the move the battery lodged in between the front and back base of an attack column because the attack column didn’t have enough move to make it entirely through. In hindsight I should applied the standard Tilly rule to prevent it: “In all cases the moving unit must fully clear the far side of the unit being interpenetrated.”

Two base hits: I was a big vague on how weakened resolve was applied to two base units. We kind of settled on choosing to either (1) keep the two bases balanced to within one resolve of each other (e.g. 3+2 and 2+2 are okay but 3+1 is not) or (2) deplete one base and leave one base at full resolve (so 4+4 to 4+3 to 4+2 to 4+1 to 4+0 to 3+0 etc). I suspect that gives the players more control than a real general should have. We were also inconsistent about apply losses e.g. on one case 4 hits routed a base with three resolve but we didn’t apply the extra hit to the sibling. In other cases we did. I think I’ll mandate balance and all hits apply to the entire unit.

Two base rout: We allowed one base of a two base unit to rout. This caused morale erosion of its sibling or another unit. It all felt wrong. I now think the rout should occur with the unit gets to 0+0 resolve, i.e. both bases have zero resolve. But being a two base unit it counts as two bases for morale erosion and unit heroics. So battalions will be very resilient but when they rout it is going to hurt.

Two base rally back: How does rally back work when there are two bases? I guess it is based on overall winning/losing. “A unit has lost a melee if it has suffered more hits than it has inflicted.”

Base versus unit: The rules will have to be clear when a base is meant and when a unit is meant. For example, rally back of a battalion is determined by the outcome of melee for a unit, not for individual bases.

Formation changes and movement: Some formation changes should allow subsequent movement but I was a bit vague how on which. I need to define this. Line to march column should allow full movement. Line to attack column with a 90 degree turn to flank probably should not allow movement. So the rule should allow: change formation and stand still; change formation and then a straight ahead move; change formation and a turn to flank without subsequent movement. Perhaps there are other combinations that should be allowed.

Massed attack columns: a real bug bear of mine is massed attack columns in Napoleonic rules. Attack columns lined up side by side and ganging up on lines opposing them. It didn’t happen but wargaming rules always seem to encourage it. Apparently this, admittedly very draft, version of Bolivar’s Very Bad Day also encourages massed columns. So Adam relied on this tactic. Mutter mutter. Have to do something about that. I need to disadvantage crowded attack columns somehow. This warrant a post by itself.

Chacabuco-805 Massed Patriot Attack Columns
Chacabuco-805 Massed Patriot Attack Columns

Attack column in melee: I gave an attack column full resolve for the front base because it was the primary fighter, and 1d6 to the rear base as a secondary fighter. So a full strength attack column got 5d6 dice in melee. That is a lot. Mind you a line would get 4d6 and chance of second base contributing 1d6. And the attack column probably has to suffer fire as it goes in and might have lower resolve. I’ll have to do some maths to experiment here. The rear base already provides “support” so perhaps that is enough.

Infantry melee to hit: I gave full resolve infantry units hits on 4-6. That is devastating. I think I’ll tone it all back. Infantry hit on a 5-6 when charging and 6 otherwise. I’ll allow the charging benefit in difficult. If I’m being really cruel to attack columns, then rule might be hit on 5-6 when unit is charging at full resolve (4+4 resolve) and 6 otherwise. So an attack column that takes hits on the way in is going to be no better off than the unit it is charging.

Shooting arc: I was vague on this as well. The shooting arcs of Tilly’s Very Bad Day are too generous as they allow shooting to the side. That works for the Thirty Years War but not for Liberators. So I was toying with a shooting arc 1 TUM to each side and then straight forward. That seemed to work for artillery. But I’m not sure I even need it for infantry and cavalry; perhaps they should just shoot straight ahead in this period.

Commander-in-chief: As in Tilly’s Very Bad Day, the commander-in-chief is a divisional commander. In hindsight San Martin and Del Pont should be separate from the divisions. I need a Commander-in-chief rule. A C-in-C can attach to any friendly unit so can charge with them and rally them. Only one commander can attach to a particular unit at a time. A C-in-C can replace a subordinate that has become a commander casualty, but then stops being the C-in-C and cannot return to being the C-in-C. They lose the ability to attach to units outside their new command. Morale lost from the initial commander casualty are recovered in the normal way, i.e. by commander rally.

Successful experiments

Of course other things worked well and I’ll call out the biggies.

Battalion formations: Everybody loves the two base battalions and their formation changes. This is what makes the game thematic. Lines and attack columns were common. We even had a march column at a critical moment and it was perfect. We didn’t try try a square in this game but they appeared in the previous play test.

Infantry shoot or move: Infantry stood around to shoot. So I didn’t allow to move (or charge) and shoot in the same turn. Skirmishers should probably be able to move, at least to evade. Cavalry can move and shoot, but could not shoot and then charge.

Infantry keep shooting: During this period infantry who started shooting, kept shooting. So we applied that rule here. We left the shooting marker on the unit to show that it is the shooting mode. It took a command check to stop shooting. Cavalry don’t have this restriction.

Squadrons: We liked the nippy little one base cavalry squadrons.

Cannon: The guns were noticeable without being overpowering.

Canister: Artillery shot canister at 4 TUM and hit on 5-6. With single 4 pounders shooting with 2 dice that was survivable. It would hurt with bigger guns or a grand battery. Seems about the right balance.

Support: Batteries can support the flank of lines. Attack column is always supported, unless enemy to rear.

Faster movement: This seemed to work. I will probably tweak a bit so line is even more constrained in difficult.

Possible experiments for next time

Here are some things I’m playing with for the next draft.

Roads: Chris suggested movement to follow the road. And I let him do it with a cavalry squadron. But really road movement should only be allowed for march columns. After all march columns were designed to march along a road. Other formations spanned the road so would not get the movement benefit.

Shooting into depth: The guys asked about improved shooting effects when in enfilade of a line or shooting into an attack column. Both are worth considering, particularly for cannon. Maybe a battery gets an extra 1d6.

Point blank musketry: If cannon get canister should infantry get point blank musketry that is more effective. This was actually an essential part of British infantry tactics and one of the things that set them apart from other nations. They had the fire discipline to wait until short range and then blast the enemy. Other nations started shooting too early and lost the impact of that initial blast. Probably related to the draft “Fire Discipline” rule which I’m inclined to give to British trained units e.g. the Albion Legion. I might restrict point blank musketry to units with full resolve (4+4); units that have already been engaged won’t have the fire discipline to hold back.

Garrison formation: In this period infantry defending villages would skirmish with a solid support outside the village. That might be a new battalion formation.

5 thoughts on “Alternative Chacabuco – A Bolivar’s Very Bad Day Battle Report 2”

  1. Massed attack columns are in von Reisswitz’s Kriegspiel rules. Their disadvantage in them is that the consequences of a repulse are worse.
    Not many rules simulate the point von Clausewitz makes, that a battalion will cause more casualties, the more targets are in range to its front; that infantry fire is to some extent area fire. That would also be a disadvantage of massed columns, though against musketry, not much more so than a close order line.

  2. One possible solution to massed columns (the flying phalanx) : allow only one unit to attack each target unit. The others can count as supports, rather than getting the full effect. Also, if a column attack doesn’t win, the unit must form line. If there isn’t enough space, the unit should be disordered and penalized until it is able to deploy. As you can tell, some half-thought out ideas off the top of my head.

    • I quite agree. Limiting assaults to a single unit is Neil Thomas’s solution to silly massed columns. An alternative is to allow one assaulting unit per face (front, flank, rear etc). That actually works really well.

      • I agree it works well and is the solution also adopted in the second editions of Black Powder and General d’Armee. The first edition of the latter had used the other half if Vincent’s thinking: by increasing the penalty caused by confusion when repulsed.
        Allowing only one on one combats does solve the problem, though it does so by precluding something contemporaries thought could be done; as von Reiswitz’s rules show.


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