English Civil War Campaign Rules for Tilly’s Very Bad Day

Chris is really keen that we do a Campaign. Every time we play Tilly’s Very Bad Day he mentions this. So here it is. At least here are the rules. Unexpectedly I’ve chosen the English Civil War as the setting for the campaign, but only because I’m following the lead of Peter of Grid based wargaming – but not always. Peter’s ECW campaign system uses a simple area based campaign map to drive tactical battles and weaves in a bit of flavour along the way. Exactly what I’m looking for, but I feel obliged to change some things, of course. I’ve called my version “Populous, Rich, and Rebellious”.


Thanks to Peter for both the inspiration to write my own version of the campaign system and giving me permission to use his material.

Updated version

You can download this campaign – branded as Populous, Rich, and Rebellious – as a PDF.

Introduction and design goals

You might remember that Peter of Grid based wargaming inspired my Terrain Cards – Random terrain placement for pick up wargames. The terrain cards were actually part of Peter’s ECW campaign, which I blogged about last week. There is quite a lot to this campaign – Peter wrote something like 45 posts on it.

I really like the simplicity of this campaign system, quite DBA-Campaign-esque, but with some unique features. The map is area based with 13 regions in England and Wales. There are no complicated economics and no tracking of battlefield losses from game to game. The orders of battle are randomly generated, allowing unbalanced match ups. But a number of factors can counter-balance bad dice luck when rolling for the orders of battle (adjacent friendly regions and some chance cards). Being a civil war, the first year of the campaign is a drive to seize uncontrolled territory, whereas later on the focus shifts to capturing enemy territory.

All of that is great and I think I can adapt it for my purposes. But, to be honest, I can’t help tweaking everything I play so there has to be some adaptation. In this case I want to:

  1. Compile the campaign rules into one place
  2. Use Tilly’s Very Bad Day as the tactical rules
  3. Allow all of my wargaming group to play all the time
  4. Reduce the number of games to increase the likelihood we play to conclusion
  5. Align the rules for 1642 and 1643+

Peter evolved the campaign rules so they are spread over several posts in his ECW campaign. That made sense at the time as he was figuring it out as he went along, but I want my version in one place so I can point my group at the single source of truth. I think this is mostly a blogging style. Some folk treat their blog like a stream of consciousness. My is more like a library.

Peter used a home grown variant of One Hour Wargames (Horse and Musket). I, not surprisingly, want to use Tilly’s Very Bad Day. That means the troop types change – I don’t distinguish gallopers and trotters, for example. The army size ends up about the same. Peter’s random armies start between 7 and 15 units excluding commanders. Mine have 14 units including three commanders. I drop rolling for recruiting because …

Although I like that fact that the first year of the war (1642) has different goals, I think the game mechanisms can be integrated more fully with those of later years. The key difference is that 1642 has recruitment re-rolls and later years have chance cards. I think the random element, for all years, can be chance cards, which I call campaign cards.

ECW Campaign - Campaign Cards - Pile
ECW Campaign – Campaign Cards – Pile

Peter played solo but I have four players to occupy. So there will be more than one player for both Royalists and Parliament. And I want all players involved all the time to avoid the rather dull situation where four players watch two players fight a campaign game. Far too slow – I know I’ve inflicted that on players in the past. I want snappy. Which brings us one to…

Peter played 30 games during his ECW campaign. That must have been quite a big investment in time, even at one hour per game, and I’m not sure my lot would manage it. So less games is probably better. I’ve settled on four per year to match the number of players. 20 total over the five years of the campaign. If we play two games per night that is 10 nights. Stretchy but do-able.

If these ideas pan out I’ll do a version for the Thirty Years War.

Campaign Rules

In 1642 the players attempt to seize uncontrolled regions as recruiting grounds. In subsequent years the factions are trying to encroach on enemy territory.

Factions and players

There are two factions: Royalist and Parliament.

The game can be played solo, as Peter did, or as a contest between teams representing the factions. Each faction has one or more players, but it is best if factions have the same number of players each. The goal is that all players are involved all the time.

Example: I will use my group – from the Finchley Wargaming Club – as an example throughout the rules. The players are Adam, Chris, Jamie and Steven. Adam and Steven are the Royalists with Chris and Jamie representing Parliament. No dice rolling involve in that, we just decided based on player preference.

Campaign Map

I think we may as well use Peter’s lovely hand drawn map of England, Wales and Scotland for the ECW campaign. England is divided into 12 regions with Wales a 13th. Events elsewhere are ignored.

ECW Campaign - Map
ECW Campaign – Map

The campaign starts in Autumn 1642 with Parliament controlling the Thames Valley region and the Royalists controlling the North Midlands region, where the King has been recruiting

Campaign year

The campaign is fought in the years 1642-1646 inclusive. Slightly different rules apply in 1642 as the sides try to establish areas in which they can recruit.

A campaign year has:

  • Two rounds: early and late (1642 also has a consolidate round)
  • Four seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter
  • An order-of-play for the players
  • Two, four, six or 11 Player Turns

Each campaign year is divided into two halves: early and late. This is a mechanism to allow your group to fight multiple battles simultaneously. The first year of the campaign (1642) is a bit different and adds a consolidate round.

The seasons affect the weather in a particular battle and hence the time limit to use in each game. The campaigning year starts in spring (February). Battles were rare in winter but not impossible. The seasons in England and Wales are:

  1. Spring (February, March, April)
  2. Summer (May, June, July)
  3. Autumn (August, September, October)
  4. Winter (November, December, January)

Each campaign year comprises a series of player turns. The order-of-play determines who gets to take their player turn, when.


The order-of-play is just the list of players, in the order in which they are going to take their player turn this campaign year. Factions compete for campaign initiative at the start of the year. The faction with campaign initiative takes the first player turn. Player turns then alternate between Royalist and Parliamentarian players.

First determine which faction has campaign initiative. That faction will be able to strike the first blow. Each faction rolls 1d6 and adds the number of regions they currently control. The faction with the highest score has campaign initiative and will make the first player turn. Re-roll any ties.

Example: It is 1644 and the Royalists have five regions and the parliament has eight. Adam rolls 1d6 for the Royalists and scores a 2, making 7 in total for campaign initiative. Jamie rolls for Parliament and gets a 1. With their eight regions that makes a total score of 9. Parliament has campaign initiative.

The faction that starts with campaign initiative chooses a player to have their player turn first.

Example: Chris and Jamie confer. They had previously agreed that Chris would fight in the north and Jamie in the south. They decide that contesting Yorkshire is a priority so give first place in the order-of-play to Chris.

Then the other faction chooses a player to take a turn. Alternate factions until all players are listed in the order-of-play.

Example: Because of an incident earlier in the campaign, Steven wanted to fight Chris as the strategic defender. It is personal. Adam agreed so they put Adam next in the order-of-play. So the order-of-play became Chris (Parliament), Adam (Royalist), Jamie (Parliament), Steven (Royalist).

Early and late rounds

I want all players involved in the campaign at all times. Rounds do this by allowing a group of players to fight multiple battles simultaneously.

Each campaign year is divided into two halves: early and late. Draw a line half way through the order-of-play. The top set of players take their player turn in the early round, and the bottom set of players are in the late round.

Example: The order-of-play is now complete for 1644:

  • Early 1644: Chris (Parliament) then Adam (Royalist).
  • Late 1644: Jamie (Parliament) followed by Steven (Royalist).

Rounds mean each player fights two battles every campaign year, once as the strategic attacker and once as the strategic defender. The net result is that a two player campaign has two battles a year, a four player campaign has four battles, and a six player campaign has six battles. Solo players can fight as many as they want, it depends on their stamina; of course they fight both sides.

Example: Our campaign has four players so we can fight two battles simultaneously. In the early round Chris (Parliament) chose Yorkshire at his target region. Adam (Royalist) chose the East Midlands. With four players we can fight the two battles at the same time. This speeds up the campaign and keeps everybody involved.

Example: The 1644 order-of-play dictates who fights each other in the four battles:

  • Early 1644:
    1. Battle 1 (Yorkshire): Chris (Parliament) v Steven (Royalist)
    2. Battle 2 (East Midlands): Adam (Royalist) v Jamie (Royalist)
  • Late 1644:
    1. Battle 3 (?): Jamie (Parliament) v Adam (Royalist)
    2. Battle 4 (?): Steven (Royalist) v Chris (Parliament)

1642’s Consolidate round

Unlike the other years, 1642 starts with only two regions controlled and ends when all regions are controlled by either the Royalists or Parliament. So there must be 11 battles, one for each of the uncontrolled regions at the start of the campaign. This is true regardless of the number of players.

In 1642 play the normal early and late rounds and fight the battles on the table top for these rounds. Then follow them with a consolidate round to deal with the remaining uncontrolled regions.

In the consolidate round go through the players again in the 1642 order-of-play until all regions are controlled. In their player turn the strategic attacker can chose an uncontrolled area, like normal, however, you resolve battles in the consolidate round using dice rolls rather than table top battles. The strategic attacker and strategic defender each roll 1d6. Add the number of friendly adjacent regions to the result. The higher score wins the battle and controls the target region. Re-roll ties.

Sequence of play in a round

The sequence of play in the early and late rounds is:

  1. The players in the round, in order-of-play, take their player turn as strategic attacker:
    1. Advance the campaign clock
    2. Strategic attacker chooses a region to contest
    3. Enemy faction selects a strategic defender to contest the region
  2. Fight all battles for the round
  3. The winner of each battle gains control of the region

Advance the Campaign Clock

In 1642 the campaigning year starts in autumn (August), otherwise in spring (February).

At the start each player turn check whether the season advances:

  1. If the current season has already had two battles fought in it, then the season automatically advances without rolling.
  2. Otherwise roll 1d6 to see if the season advance: 1-4 season is unchanged; 5-6 season advances.

Region to contest

In their player turn the player chooses one region to target. The target region must be adjacent to a friendly controlled region. In 1642 the target region must be uncontrolled but in 1643+ the target region must be enemy controlled.

Example: Chris (Parliament) kicks off 1644 by targeting Royalist held Yorkshire. Over the course of the year the choices of target are:

  • Early 1644:
    1. Chris (Parliament) targets Yorkshire
    2. Adam (Royalist) targets East Midlands
  • Late 1644:
    1. Jamie (Parliament) targets South Coast
    2. Steven (Royalist) targets in Yorkshire (because Chris took it early in the campaign year)

Strategic defender

The enemy faction selects a player to contest the region being targeted. The strategic defender must always be a player listed in the order-of-play of the other year half, it cannot be a player from the current year half. In a two player campaign this is, of course, always the other player. Even in a four player campaign there is no choice once the order-of-play is set for a campaign year. The only real choice for strategic defender is when there are 6+ players in the campaign.

Example: With four players, and the order-of-play set, the match ups are a given. Chris cannot play Adam as they are both in the early part of the order-of-play. So Chris must fight Steven and Adam must fight Jamie.

  • Early 1644:
    1. Chris (Parliament) versus Steven (Royalist) in Yorkshire
    2. Adam (Royalist) versus Jamie (Parliament) in East Midlands
  • Late 1644:
    1. Jamie (Parliament) versus Adam (Royalist) in South Coast
    2. Steven (Royalist) versus Chris (Parliament) in Yorkshire (again)

Fight a battle

The players fight a battle for the contested region. Most of the battles will be fought on a table top using miniatures – how to do this is explained at length below. But also see the 1642 consolidate round.

Gain control

The player that wins a battle gains control of the contested region. This may or may not be the player whose player turn it is.

Attacker Wins: Tactical attacker takes/retains control of the region
Defender Wins: Tactical defender takes/retains control of the region
Draw: Strategic Defender retains control of the region

In the campaign there are no consequences for a loss other than the loss of a region.

Winning the campaign

The faction with the most regions at the end of the campaign wins.

The player who won the most battles becomes “The Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland”. This is the title Cromwell adopted, but I guess if the Royalists had won a strong man might have emerged.

Fighting a table top battle

Game time limit

In Tilly’s Very Bad Day the game time limit is 10 turns. In the campaign the time limit is modified by the season, start time of battle and weather.

Season modifier:
Spring and Autumn: No change
Summer: Add 2 turns (so 12 not 10)
Winter: Subtract 2 turns (so 8 not 10)

Weather modifier: Roll 1d6 for the weather on the day of battle:
1-2 = Overcast = Subtract 1 turn
3-6 = Fair = No change

Start time modifier: Roll 1d6 for the start time of the battle:
1-2 = Morning = No change
3-4 = Noon = Subtract 1 turn
5-6 = Afternoon = Subtract 2 turns

Example: It is Autumn 1643 so no change to the normal 10 games turns. A roll of 1 for weather shows it is overcast so you need to subtract 1 turn, making 9. And the start time of 6 says it is already afternoon before the battle starts so you have to subtract 2 turns, making 7. It is going to be a short game.

Unmodified Orders of Battle

Each side gets a small army, with 14 units, in Tilly’s Very Bad Day. The orders of battle start fixed but can be modified by campaign cards:

Unmodified Order of Battle

  • 3 x Commander
  • 4 x Horse
  • 4 x Pike+Shot
  • 1 x Shot
  • 1 x Dragoon
  • 1 x Cannon
  • 14 units; 54 coins; break point 5

Select Campaign Cards

Campaign cards provide a bit of flavour and random element for the order of battle used in a particular battle. All campaign cards are one use. Use and discard. Unless they say otherwise, most campaign cards apply only to the one battle and get discarded even if they are unused. A few can be retained until a battle occurs where they can be used.

Before each battle both factions randomly select campaign cards. Campaign cards influence either the order of battle or events in the battle. You get one campaign cards for each recruitment factor that applies:

+1 if you are the strategic attacker so are assumed to have prepared for the campaign
+1 if you are the strategic defender so control the contested region
+1 for each friendly controlled region adjacent to the contested region
+1 if you control Thames Valley and this is either the contested region or an adjacent region
+1 if you control West Midlands and this is either the contested region or an adjacent region

Okay, I admit the points about strategic attacker and strategic defender just mean they get a one bonus campaign card.

A player also have retained a campaign card from an earlier battle. These must be used as soon as the conditions apply.

Example: Parliament (Chris) is attacking Yorkshire from Lincolnshire and has no other adjacent regions. The Royalists (Steven) control Yorkshire, Lancashire and North Midlands. The Royalists get three campaign cards, one for where the battle occurs and two for adjacent regions. Parliament gets only two campaign cards, one for their base in Lincolnshire and one for being the strategic attacker.

Modified Order of Battle

Most campaign cards alter the order of battle before the battle begins. The owning player always chooses between options. Add and remove units before the battle begins.

ECW Campaign - Campaign Cards - Example in Yorkshire
ECW Campaign – Campaign Cards – Example in Yorkshire

Example: The reason Chris was happy to attack Yorkshire, despite having less campaign cards is that in an earlier battle he’d already picked up the “Scots send aid” campaign card, couldn’t use it at the time, and retained it for later use. He thought Scottish aid would counter balance the advantageous position of the Royalists in Yorkshire. Chris gets two Scottish Pike+Shot units to add to his order of battle. He also draws his two additional campaign cards and gets “‘The Contribution’ – King’s excise tax” and “A rousing sermon”. “‘The Contribution’ – King’s excise tax” is a Royalist card and, being Parliamentarian, Chris treats it as a blank. “A rousing sermon” is a Parliamentary card and Chris can use it during the coming battle to strengthen resolve. Steven draws three campaign cards: “Dashing Horse”, “Dragoons away foraging” and “Melt church bells for cannon”. As a Royalist, Steven can use “Dashing Horse” to add a Horse unit to his army. Unfortunately, “Dragoons away foraging” means he loses his single Dragoon unit but in partial compensation “Melt church bells for cannon” means he adds a Cannon unit.

Modified Orders of Battle in Yorkshire

  • Parliament (Chris)
    • 3 x Commander
    • 4 x Horse
    • 6 x Pike+Shot
    • 1 x Shot
    • 1 x Dragoon
    • 1 x Cannon
    • 16 units; 62 coins; break point 6
  • Royalist (Steven)
    • 3 x Commander
    • 5 x Horse
    • 4 x Pike+Shot
    • 1 x Shot
    • 2 x Cannon
    • 15 units; 56 coins; break point 5

Tactical attacker and defender

The tactical attacker, the “attacker” as defined in Tilly’s Very Bad Day, is the side with more units at the battle. If both sides have the same number of units then the attacker is the strategic attacker (the player whose player turn it is).

So, yes, the strategic attacker is not necessarily the tactical attacker. The logic is that campaign conditions can put the strategic attacker on the defensive at a tactical level. The Battle of Lutter (1626) is such an example.

Example: In Yorkshire Chris has 16 units and Steven only 14. Having more units, Chris is the tactical attacker.

Selecting Terrain

Use Terrain Cards – Random terrain placement for pick up wargames. Battles are fought on small tables of 30 x 30 TUM, so have four sectors. From version 2.0 the terrain card rules are also at the back of the Tilly’s Very Bad Day rulebook.

Terrain cards - Pile of Cards
Terrain cards – Pile of Cards

Rivers and multiple streams didn’t appear to feature in English Civil War battles do do NOT use these optional rules:

  • Advanced Rule: Two steams
  • Advanced Rule: Two Streams makes a River Option

Campaign cards

Campaign cards introduce both a bit of English Civil War flavour and a random element into the orders of battle.

Most campaign cards are beneficial. A minority are detrimental. The balance is important roughly 3 out of 4 cards should be beneficial.

Most campaign cards are applicable to both factions. Some campaign cards are specific to Parliament or Royalist. The enemy ignores such cards and treats them as a blank card.

Some campaign cards are tied to specific regions. If the battle is not being fought in that location then ignore the card. These cards provide two units rather than the normal one.

Example: ‘Scots send aid’ gives Parliament 2 x Pike+Shot but only if fighting in Lancashire, Yorkshire, North Midlands or Lincolnshire.

ECW Campaign - Campaign Cards - Examples
ECW Campaign – Campaign Cards – Examples

When to use and discard campaign cards

Campaigns cards are generally used for a battle (or not) and then discarded. There are five phrases that impact when a campaign card is used:

  • Before the battle
  • For the entire battle
  • Once during the battle
  • But only if fighting in
  • Retain until used

“Before the battle” campaign cards MUST be used before the battle. Typically these add or remove units to the order of battle. The owning player always choose between options. Discard the card once it is used.

“For the entire battle” campaign cards MUST be used before the battle. Typically these affect one unit for the entire battle and you must choose the unit before the battle starts. Retain the card as a reminder for the entire battle and then discard.

“Once during the battle” campaign cards MAY be used at at time during the battle. Retain the card until it is used, then discard. If it is not used during the battle it is discarded at the end of the battle.

“But only if fighting in” campaign cards MUST be used in a battle within the specified regions and CANNOT be used outside. If the battle is not being fought in that location then ignore the card. Typically these cards also have “Retain until used”.

“Retain until used” campaign cards MUST be used if the specific conditions are met and CANNOT be used otherwise. They are retained until they can be used in a battle. Only discard once they are used.

“Negate” campaign cards MUST be used as soon the enemy has the card to negate. The only example is “Montrose rises” and the effect is “Negate Parliament card ‘Scots send aid’”. So as immediately Parliament has the “Scots send aid” card and the Royalists have the “Montrose rises” card, both are discarded. This means the Scottish Pike+Shot do not appear.

Example campaign cards and their effects

I have knocked up some campaign cards. Many are derived from Peter’s campaign, Adam Landa suggested a quite a few, and some I made up. There are 48 in four sets.

12 campaign cards are for Parliament – they say so and have a nice little blue and white flag (top right). Every card has a number in the top left. The number is to allow dice rolling for the campaign cards to use rather than using physical cards. They are all beneficial (the number has a white background). Every card has a description for flavour (e.g. “Cromwell’s Ironsides”) followed by the actual campaign effect (e.g. “Before the battle add one Horse unit to the order of battle”).

ECW Campaign - Campaign Cards - Parliament
ECW Campaign – Campaign Cards – Parliament

The next 12 campaign cards are for the Royalists. Again they are labelled as Royalist and have a red and white flag. All are beneficial.

ECW Campaign - Campaign Cards - Royalist
ECW Campaign – Campaign Cards – Royalist

Then 12 campaign cards that apply to either side. All are beneficial.

ECW Campaign - Campaign Cards - Neutral
ECW Campaign – Campaign Cards – Neutral

Lastly 12 campaign cards that apply to either side but are detrimental. These have a black background to the card number to distinguish them from the more positive campaign cards.

ECW Campaign - Campaign Cards - Detrimental
ECW Campaign – Campaign Cards – Detrimental

So 48 campaign cards. 12 for parliament. 12 for the Royalists. 36 beneficial. 12 detrimental.

Selecting a campaign card

They are cards, right. So make a deck of cards, shuffle them, stack ’em up face down, and draw the top one from the pile.

If you don’t want the bother of making the cards then you can roll dice. Every card has a number from 11 to 86. Roll 1d8 for the first number and 1d6 for the second. [I hate funny shaped dice so sorry about that 1d8. The trouble is I needed more than 36 campaign cards.]

Example: rolling 6 on 1d8 and 4 on 1d6 gives campaign card 64 “Armed Peasants”.

Rejected options for campaign cards

I rejected a few possibilities when making the campaign cards:

  • Reducing resolve: low supplies, for example, could reduce the resolve (by 1) of several units
  • Elite units: Cromwell’s Ironsides, New Model Army Horse, Dashing Cavaliers, all warrant being higher quality (superior) than their more ordinary peers
  • Low quality units: Adam suggested making the New Model Army foot inferior
  • Changing unit type: Peter has Horse going from trotter to galloper, presumably because this is beneficial in his rules of choice
  • Full year benefits: Peter has some cards lasting the entire year

I decided to go for adding/remove whole units. So I dropped unit quality (Inferior, Superior) and tweaks to resolve (with one exception, “powder explodes”). Leaving them out loses flavour but retains simplicity. I kind of like simplicity. Which is the reason I only have one type of Horse in Tilly’s Very Bad Day.

I also decided I didn’t need the cards that lasted the whole year. This is because the effect of most cards is similar, so the army may as well just draw another card.

And a final note on “Factionalism and nepotism in command structure”. This was, perhaps, my favourite campaign card. It was a Royalist card that imposed a penalty and was the only faction card that was detrimental. This unbalanced the set of cards so I removed it despite liking the name.

Populous, Rich, and Rebellious

After I published these rules. About 10 hours afterwards. I thought of a name for them: “Populous, Rich, and Rebellious”. This is a quote from Lacey Baldwin Smith (1983) who said “the words populous, rich, and rebellious seemed to go hand in hand” (p. 251). This is in reference to how England was divided between the Royalists and Parliament. The Royalists were strong in the countryside, the shires, the cathedral city of Oxford, and the less economically developed areas of northern and western England. In contrast, and this is Smith’s point, Parliament was strong in the industrial centres, ports, and economically advanced regions of southern and eastern England, including the remaining cathedral cities (except York, Chester, Worcester). So I think “Populous, Rich, and Rebellious” makes a nice name for the campaign.

Reference: Smith, Lacey Baldwin (1983), This realm of England, 1399 to 1688. (3rd ed.), D.C. Heath, p. 251

Where to get Tilly’s Very Bad Day

Tilly’s Very Bad Day is available for Download (PDF).

Download as PDF

You can download this campaign – branded as Populous, Rich, and Rebellious – as a PDF.

6 thoughts on “English Civil War Campaign Rules for Tilly’s Very Bad Day”

  1. Thanks for the shout out. I really like your modifications, additions which have definitely cleaned up the rules. Good luck with your campaigning.

  2. Hmm, gives me ideas for a campaign set in the American Revolution, southern theater. It’s not going to happen any time soon since I am holed up away from my troops, table and books.

  3. Hi Steve. That’s a really neat take on Peter’s version. I’ll definitely have to ‘borrow’ it. Regarding ‘funny shaped dice’ I don’t like them either so I’d be inclined to assign a standard playing card to each campaign card. Omit the Kings, so run from Ace to Queen, and align each set with a particular suit. I’d always rather stay with cards for card based systems because it preserves the uniqueness of each event. All the best and keep safe, Chris


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