Making light horse more effective in Tilly’s Very Bad Day

In my week of musing on unit types in Tilly’s Very Bad Day, I thought I’d outline what light horse represent and contrast them to (heavy) horse in the Thirty Years War. I also consider some ways to modify the rules to make light horse more valuable/useful/effective.

30YW-797 - Catholic - Croat

30YW-797 – Catholic – Croat

These are the posts in the mini-series on making certain unit types more effective:


What light horse simulates in Tilly’s Very Bad Day

Tilly’s Very Bad Day defines the unit type:

Light horse focus on skirmishing with pistol while mounted, harassing the enemy flanks, and joining in the pursuit, e.g. Croats, Hungarian Hussars, and Polish Cossacks.

We are talking about a different type of cavalry from the main stream horse. Whether their main function is the charge or shoot, western European horse rode slowly and close together. Like infantry their strength was in their mass. Light horse on the other hand came from the eastern tradition. They were more closely aligned with hun or mongol horse archers than with medieval knights.

We aren’t talking about armour. Some (heavy) horse could be unarmoured but their function in battle remained unchanged. Swedish horse, for example, often lacked armour and by the end of the Thirty Years War most horse had reduced their armour and many had none.

We are talking about function. I’m not sure we have enough light horse flavour. I want more “skirmishing with pistol while mounted, harassing the enemy flanks, and joining in the pursuit.”


Comparing horse and light horse in Tilly’s Very Bad Day

There are several key differences between horse and light horse in the current version of Tilly’s Very Bad Day (Version 1.3) and those before:

  • Light horse have less resolve, a 2 where horse get a 3, which means light horse are more fragile
  • Light horse get no charge bonus in the open, i.e. they hit on 6 when charging rather than 4-6 like horse, so you are not going to use them for frontal combat
  • Light horse move slightly faster, with a move of 8 TUM compared to horse with 6 TUM)
  • Light horse evade from a charge (which is an optional rule)

The net effect is that horse are much stronger than light horse. The advantages of horse (combat) outweigh the advantages of light horse (movement).

I don’t think that does light horse justice.

30YW-796 - Catholic - Croat

30YW-796 – Catholic – Croat


Possible rule changes to make light horse more valuable

A unit is a unit when constructing an army in Tilly’s Very Bad Day so there must be good reasons to, for example, take a light horse unit instead of a pike+shot unit or horse unit. As I showed above, light horse are quite weak in the current version of Tilly’s Very Bad Day (Version 1.3). So it isn’t obvious why a player would choose to take them except for flavour. I’m keen on flavour, but others are more pragmatic.

What to do to balance light horse with horse? I can think of a few possibilities

Faster

8 TUM is not significantly faster than 6 TUM. I could nudge it up to, say, 9 TUM. In fact in pre-production versions of Tilly’s Very Bad Day their move was 9 TUM.

My opinion: This is an easy change but not significant.

Tougher

I could bump light horse up to 3 resolve to match horse. They would shoot the same but horse would still get the charge advantage. Croats, for example, didn’t lack resolve in battle. They lacked a willingness to charge things head on.

Speaking of which I could also give them a charge bonus when attacking flanks or rear or perhaps even low resolve units.

My opinion: I like these changes. Increase resolve from 2 to 3. Allow light horse to hit on 4-6 when charging an enemy unit in flank or rear and when charging an enemy unit with a resolve of 1 (regardless of terrain).

Difficult terrain

Currently horse are more effective in difficult terrain than light horse. As a reminder difficult terrain includes villages, rough ground, woods, rivers/streams and difficult hills (have rough ground or woods on top, or steep sides).

Horse have a clear combat advantages in the open (charge bonus) but even in difficult terrain they are better than light horse. In difficult terrain the score to hit is the same for both unit types (6 to hit). The difference is the resolve: horse start with 3 resolve an light horse start with only 2. So, on balance, horse will beat light horse in the rough.

And the movement advantage of light horse only applies in the open. In difficult terrain horse and light horse move the same (3 TUM).

This is counter to history where Croats, for example, were famed for operating in difficult terrain. Terrain where the (heavy) horse was severely constrained or could not operate at all. I think light horse needs to be more effective in difficult terrain.

There are several ways to make light horse more effective in difficult terrain. I’m considering making light horse both faster and better fighters in difficult terrain, compared to horse. I can make the light horse better or the horse worse as either approach makes the light horse relatively more effective.

The first option is to prohibit horse from entering difficult terrain, but allow light horse to enter. This has a huge advantage that it is simple. Simple is good. But I’m conscious that horse need the ability to ford streams, so this rule would introduce different types of difficult terrain. Horse friendly and horse unfriendly. I’m not sure I want that complexity. And there is the unfortunate evidence of the Battle of Heeisch-Oldendorf (8 July 1633) where the Protestant Allied army advanced through a wood with shot supported by horse.

If I don’t do that then … For movement in difficult terrain, I’ve got a couple of big options:

  • Reduce horse movement: I’m tempted to keep the light horse at 3 TUM in difficult terrain but reduce the movement allowance of horse to 1 TUM
  • Allow fast moves through difficult: Give light horse a movement allowance of 6 TUM or even the full movement in difficult terrain

For shooting I could:

  • give light horse the cover advantage that dragoons and shot get; I’m not so keen about this as it makes light horse more powerful than the infantry skirmishers
  • remove 1d6 from horse shooting in difficult but leave light horse at full strength

For melee, horse already lose their open terrain combat advantages, but I could make this worse and

  • remove 1d6 from horse shooting in difficult but leave light horse at full strength
  • make them fight at 1d6 regardless of Resolve

My opinion: Tricky. I think the best option is remove 1d6 from melee and shooting.

Evade

Evade is currently an optional rule. Optional as in the players have to agree whether they are using it at the start of the game, not optional as a player can choose to evade.

My opinion: I think I have to make the evade rules non-optional, i.e. evades are allowed in every game. Evades, I admit, need a bit of work.

Scouting

Historically light horse had more of an influence at the campaign level rather than in an particular battle. This was the big advantage of light horse and the main reason generals would collect as many as they could.

I’ve had a few thoughts about how to simulate the campaign benefit of light horse. Here is the most well formed … The side with more light horse units has out scouted the enemy and gets one scouting advantage for each light horse they have more than the enemy. Possible scouting advantages are:

  1. Organise into commands after seeing how the enemy player organises their commands
  2. Swap two small terrain cards (if using terrain cards)
  3. Delay deploying a command: Pass instead of deploying a particular command and deploy the command later in the command deployment sequence
  4. Delay deploy a cannons unit: Pass instead of deploying a particular cannons unit and deploy the cannons unit later in the cannons deployment sequence

It is possible, because of the option to delay deployment of commands/cannons, that an entire army might deploy after their opponent. Assuming, of course, the army has sufficient light horse units.

Consider this additional rule: If both armies have the same number of light horse, the defender has the scouting advantage. But it might be too powerful.

I had a conversation about scouting with Adam. The context was that in the English Civil War dragoons were used for scouting. After all they had no Croats. Adam thought horse should also contribute to scouting. If I went this way then all mounted would contribute to scouting but different types of mounted might contribute more.

My opinion: I like this. I really, really like this. But it is a tad complicated. Mind you it only happens once a game.


Conclusions

You’ve seen where my head is in the “my opinion” bits above. The summary is:

  • Light horse start with resolve 3
  • Light horse hit on 4-6 when charging an enemy unit in flank or rear and when charging an enemy unit that has a resolve of 1 (regardless of terrain)
  • Horse lose 1d6 in difficult terrain when shooting or in melee
  • Light horse can evade
  • Light horse contribute (a lot) to scouting at the start of the game

What do you think?


Where to get Tilly’s Very Bad Day

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

11 comments to Making light horse more effective in Tilly’s Very Bad Day

  • John Rohde

    I struggle to think of a battle of the period where light horse had much influence. They were cheap and could be a nuisance to the enemy off the battlefield but they seem to have been mainly used in the war of outposts, much like Cossacks.

    • Steven Thomas

      In this period, Light Horse could literally be Cossacks.

      They were certainly not battle winners. Their main value was at the campaign level, hence my ideas about scouting.

      But they were deployed on the battlefield. Usually on the flanks.

      I think the tweaks I’m suggesting will leave them on the flanks, because they can’t stand up to horse in a face to face confrontation. But they will be more valuable.

  • I think the unspoken assumption here is that all troop types should have their own use on the battlefield. Surely battles are fought in a historical context, and historically you didn’t get to choose all the troops you had to hand. If light horse was wonderful (or very useful) why would people spend a fortune on armouring it and training them to fight in close order? Presumably “skirmishing with pistol while mounted, harassing the enemy flanks, and joining in the pursuit” is just a description of some rubbish irreguars you drafted in to your army to make up the numbers?

    • Steven Thomas

      > I think the unspoken assumption here is that all troop types should have their own use on the battlefield.
      Yup

      > Surely battles are fought in a historical context, and historically you didn’t get to choose all the troops you had to hand.
      That is true. But doesn’t change the argument.

      > If light horse was wonderful (or very useful) why would people spend a fortune on armouring it and training them to fight in close order?
      They didn’t.

      They hired different guys to fight as horse, whether armoured or not, and whether charging or shooting.

      Whereas Light Horse, whether Croats, Huzars, and Cossacks, had a different approach to war. Different but valuable.

      > Presumably “skirmishing with pistol while mounted, harassing the enemy flanks, and joining in the pursuit” is just a description of some rubbish irreguars you drafted in to your army to make up the numbers?
      Nope. At least the “rubbish irreguars” bit.

      The Hapsburgs valued their light horse. Raised many regiments of the during the course of the war, and had a peak of least 5 regiments of them at one point.

      “skirmishing with pistol while mounted, harassing the enemy flanks, and joining in the pursuit” was their battlefield role. Which is not too inspiring, just a reflection of their shock capabilities.

      The real value of light horse was in between battles. Hence the scouting suggestion above.

      It was experience of the Hapsburg’s light horse during the TYW that encouraged western European nations to hire / raise their own Hussar units. They filled a niche that other horse did not.

      • Steven Thomas

        I got that wrong. The Imperialists peaked at 10 regiments of Croats. Plus more recruited on an irregular basis.

        Some quotes on the Croats from Brnardic on the Imperialist army … “Exceptionally useful light cavalry. Tough and experienced, they were led by daring commanders who were capable of rapid assessment of a developing situation, and decisive judgement. Each man was a skilled horseman and close quarter fighter”.

        “As their numbers grew the name ‘Croat’ became synonymous across Europe with skilled, mobile light troops.”

        So “rubbish irregulars”? … no.

        • John Mumby

          “As their numbers grew the name ‘Croat’ became synonymous across Europe with skilled, mobile light troops.”

          So “rubbish irregulars”? … no.
          Just as an observation, I believe the light raw horse at White Mountain were Transylvanians and fled the battle very early on. I guess they were truly “rubbish irregulars.”
          John

  • Hmm, 1 point for each horse unit, 2 for each dragoon and 3 or 4 for each light horse outfit? Then one advantage per 4 points more than the enemy.

  • John Mumby

    Steven, when you play your next game, let us know how the “new” rules played out.Thinking out loud is great, but playtesting is the true test of “new” rules.
    John

Leave a Reply