Generic 30 Years War Army List for Tilly’s Very Bad Day

The rules for Tilly’s Very Bad Day include a generic Army List for the Thirty Years War. I wanted to explain the army list a bit so copied it here. And having copied it, I couldn’t resist tweaking it. This list applies to all western and central European armies i.e. those of Spain, the German Catholics (Bavaria/Catholic League, Austria/Imperial), the German Protestants (Palatinate, Brandenburg, Bohemia, Saxony, etc), Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and France.

Western and Central European Armies

The troop types of Tilly’s Very Bad Day reflect the troop types of the Thirty Years War: commanders, horse, light horse, pike+shot, shot, dragoons, rabble, and cannon. Everybody had commanders, horse, pike+shot and cannon. The Catholics had access to light horse. Dragoons and detached shot went in and out of fashion. And only the desperate would rely on rabble.

Different nations had different proportions of these troop types at different times during the war, but I see a lot of commonality in the armies of the western and central Europe. For example, earlier armies had more foot than horse, but later armies featured greater proportions of horse because later armies tended to be small and needed to move more rapidly.

There were national differences but patterns that started as national practice either became common or were abandoned. For example, at the start of the period, economic limitations meant the Swedish native horse and pikemen wore little armour. The Swedish authorities wanted the armour but they couldn’t afford it. By the end of the war most armoured types, both corselets (armoured pikemen) and cuirassiers, of all nations had abandoned their heavy armour. Regardless of what the regulations demanded, the wide ranging campaigns of the later war meant men preferred to be more lightly equipped. So Swedish thriftiness got painted as military innovation and then became general practice.

Another pattern was the shrinking of infantry formations. The Spanish, Imperialists and Swedes started the war with large pike and shot brigades. Analysis of battles show these large brigades were remarkably effective against the smaller formations of their opponents. However, by the end of the war all nations had settled on smaller brigades. The protestants touted Gustavus’s genius introducing the “Swedish Brigade” but found it unworkable with their own more armies, and even the Swedes abandoned it after the King’s death. It took veteran troops to make the formation workable and the Swedes, then on the back foot, lacked those veterans. I suspect the same thing happened amongst the Catholics. Although the Tercios are now seen as monoliths, in practice they were highly flexible organisations with commanders rearranging them as needed during a battle, most commonly to detach the sleeves of shot (mangas) for duty elsewhere on the battlefield. That flexibility required veterans and by late war veterans were in short supply. Furthermore the armies of the latter war were smaller and had less foot, so perhaps there just weren’t the men available to fill these large blocks and armies had to make do with a more linear formations.

The resulting similarities means I think a single generic army list is fine for armies of western and central Europe. Players can choose their preference for nationality and period of the war and construct an army accordingly. I have included some national differences but kept these to a minimum.

Note: Those armies from further east are covered separately e.g. Zaporozhian Cossack, Crimean Khanate, Transylvania, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the Ottoman Empire.

Generic 30 Years War Army List

I have tweaked the Generic Army List from the rules slightly. A Thirty Years War army must be one of Spain, German Catholic (Bavaria/Catholic League, Austria/Imperial), the German Protestant (Palatinate, Brandenburg, Bohemia, Saxony, etc), Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark or France. The army:

Must have one Commander for each command in the army (wing or battle)
Must have one Cannon and can have up to four Cannon
Can have up to two Ordinary Light Horse (only Spanish outside the peninsular and German Catholic)
Can have up to one Superior Large Pike+Shot (only Spanish, German Catholic, and Swedes; only when using the lower troop ratio of one normal brigade is 1,000 and a large brigade is 2,000 men)
Can have up to three Ordinary Large Pike+Shot (only Spanish, German Catholic, and Swedes; only when using the lower troop ratio of one normal brigade is 1,000 and a large brigade is 2,000 men)
Can have up to one Superior Horse (only French and Catholic Germans, as Gendarmes and Cuirassiers respectively)
Can have up to two Ordinary Dragoons
Can have up to two Ordinary Shot
Can have up to two Raw Rabble
Can upgrade up to two Ordinary units to Superior
Can have up to three Field Fortifications
Must fill rest of army with Inferior Pike+Shot, Ordinary Pike+Shot, Inferior Horse and/or Ordinary Horse

Commanders: These are the overall general and the generals in charge of each subordinate command (battle, wing, or reserve). Commanders coordinate movement of their units. Commanders do not fight independently but may join a unit during a move or charge to help them in Melee; doing so risks becoming a casualty themselves. During the Thirty Years War generals got their position via nobility and wealth. Many had previous military experience at a lower rank, but some, because of family influence, became generals the moment they stepped into a camp.

Horse: Horse are the vast majority of cavalry in the period; most are armed with pistols and swords. Horse might wear ¾ armour, just a back and breast, or no armour at all. By the 30 Years War, and a long time before, charging was the tactic much preferred by generals e.g. Wallenstein and Montecuccoli. But there were always cavalry units that were intended to shoot, not charge, and some of these used an arquebus or carbine as their primary weapon. Every army of the 30 Years War seems to have had cavalry units that, officially at least, focussed on one or the other, with the shooting types being called Arquebusiers and the charging types Cuirassiers although the names varied by nation. The Germans had cuirassiers to charge and bandellier reiter to shoot. Dutch had cuirassiers and carabins. French had gendarmie to charge and both Chevaux-legers and carabins to shoot. The Swedes favoured the charge and their native cavalry did just that, but they also used German bandellier reiter for shooting. For the Spanish it was caballos corazas (horse cuirassiers) and harquebusiers; incidentally the proportions amongst Spanish horse were 70% shock and 30% firepower. As the war progressed a third type appeared, the horseman, men armed with pistols, who might have back and breast and a helmet, or a hat and no armour at all. The native Swedish cavalry were meant to be cuirassiers but in reality where more lightly equipped horsemen. The horse of all nations drifted to this more lightly equipped type over time. The horse unit type also includes the relatively few lancers still in service; given these were restricted to small numbers of guard troops, they were probably subsumed into larger brigades. I’m not convinced the category of unit is important in a game as the category did not guarantee actual battlefield behaviour. Shooting units could charge and were rewarded for doing so. Shock units, when given the choice, might panic, and then stop to shoot instead. To simplify things in Tilly’s Very Bad Day I let a unit use shock or fire power as the player wishes. I do allow players to decide whether some of their units, whether French Gendarmes (because of their dash) or German Cuirassiers (because of their better discipline and armour), are superior relative to their opponents. I have allowed a single unit for these national troop types, but you can add more by using the superior upgrade. You can also downgrade horse to inferior if you think their historical performance warranted; for example German bandolier reiter are plausible candidates for inferior. A unit is nominally a brigade of about 500-1,000 men and horses.

Light Horse: Light Horse fight in an Eastern style and focus on skirmishing with pistol while mounted, harassing the enemy flanks, and joining in the pursuit. During the period this class of cavalry were widely known as “Croats” because the first of the type to appear in western and central Europe were Croats in Imperial Service, but “Croat” units were as often as not Hungarian Hussars and/or Polish Cossacks. The unit type also includes troops from further east, e.g. Tatar tribesmen, although these easterners did not appear in the armies of western and central Europe. A unit is nominally a brigade of about 500-1,000 men and horses.

Dragoons: Dragoons are mounted infantry. They ride nags, so move faster than other infantry, but still dismount to skirmish with fire arms. A unit is nominally a brigade of about 500-1,000 men and horses.

Pike+Shot: Pike+Shot are the main infantry type. A unit contains men armed with both pike and firearms, and both types of figure appear on the same base. A unit is nominally a brigade of about 1-2,000 men. During the war units had different proportions of pikemen and men armed with firearms. The most common proportion is two shot for each pikeman, however, early war Catholic units often had only one shot per pikeman. We can conjecture theoretical differences in the efficacy on 1-to-2 versus 1-to-1 ratios but in reality we have no data on the relative battlefield effectiveness. So, For simplicity, I don’t distinguish and treat all of these the same. Personally I think the quality of the unit is more important than the weapons. An early war levy of foot is likely to be inferior; they might also have a higher proportion of pikes. French and Swedish infantry doctrine specified a single volley and then a charge to push of pike. Again I don’t distinguish this as I think battlefield practice saw considerable variation from doctrine.

Large Pike+Shot: Large Pike+Shot is a special variation on the Pike+Shot unit type. You will only need this unit type for certain historical scenarios where big brigades coexisted with normal sized units. That means large Pike+Shot units would only be applicable at the lowest level of game representation where one normal Pike+Shot unit is 1,000 men; in that case a large Pike+Shot unit would be 2,000 men. At the highest level, where infantry units are 2,000 men, the bases would already represent large brigades or two regular units – so you don’t need a separate unit type. Large Pike+Shot can be used for both the Swedish brigade and Tilly’s big tercios. One of the reasons the Battle of Breitenfeld is interesting is because there were two types of Catholic formation: Imperial and Catholic League. The Imperials were in units of 1,000 and the Catholic league units twice as big. You might want to simulate that difference on the table. And of course the Swedish also had their big brigades. I’m not convinced there is a appreciable difference between 2000 Spaniards or 2000 of Tilly’s Veterans and 2000 veteran Dutch or Swedes. A Swedish brigade was up to 2,000 men and was deployed deep. One of Tilly’s Catholic League tercios at Breitenfeld was 2,000 men and deployed deep. Okay, the details differed, and the formation inside the unit differed, but at the scale of Tilly’s Very Bad Day the effect was the same. Similarly for a Dutch brigade of four battalions in a diamond formation. For me they are all just large pike+shot.

Shot: Shot are units containing only men with firearms. These can be specialist shot units or men detached from the pike+shot units for special duties, e.g. commanded shot or forlorn hopes. Thirty Years War battles featured shot units wandering around detached from pike. This might German musketeer regiments, detached Spanish shot (sleeves”), or whatever. These detached shot units were exposed when fighting horse, were less aggressive than the pike and shot units (were not so keen on “push of pike” because they didn’t have pike), and were best in difficult terrain. In fact the Spanish often detached shot to contest difficult terrain, e.g. at the Battle of Nordlingen. In the Thirty Years war commanded shot were usually split into small units and interspersed with horse. Sometimes the small shot units were tiny, e.g. 50-100 men. At other times they were larger. Generally commanded shot were used by the side weaker in cavalry. They extended the cavalry line and meant the weaker side would not be swamped. Commanded shot was not seen as a winning strategy, it was to prevent losing, or at least prolong the experience of losing. Sides with superior numbers of horse didn’t do this. The Swedes were fond of using commanded shot but this is because they were often facing Imperialist armies with a superiority in cavalry. A unit is nominally a brigade of about 1-2,000 men.

Rabble: Rabble are peasants with improvised weapons, and the most raw of recruits regardless of weapon type. A unit is nominally a brigade of about 1-2,000 men.

Cannon: Cannon are the big guns generally with a civilian crew. They have considerable distance firepower but, in this period, have limited movement once unlimbered. Cannon have a few hundred men to man about 8-16 guns.

Superior: You can upgrade two ordinary units to superior. You can choose which ones but historical patterns would have French gendarmes, German cuirassiers, and veteran Swedish, Catholic German or Spanish pike+shot as superior. Upgrading a single large pike+shot unit superior uses up both upgrades.

Example Western or Central European Army

Example: Generic 30 Years War Army

  • Right Wing (4 Units; 16 Coins)
    • 1 x Commander
    • 2 x Horse
    • 1 x Shot
  • Centre (8 Units; 30 Coins)
    • 1 x Commander
    • 6 x Pike+Shot
    • 1 x Unlimbered Cannon
  • Left Wing (4 Units; 16 Coins )
    • 1 x Commander
    • 2 x Horse
    • 1 x Light Horse
  • 16 Units; 62 Coins; 6 break point

Where to get Tilly’s Very Bad Day

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

4 thoughts on “Generic 30 Years War Army List for Tilly’s Very Bad Day”

  1. A good read and reference would be ” The hero of Italy ” some interesting scenarios here .


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