Musing on Large Pike+shot in Tilly’s Very Bad Day

In Tilly’s Very Bad Day all pike+shot are the same. But Tilly, after whom the rules are name, was fond of the older style big tercios and Richard (doctorphalanx) has been encouraging me to do something about this.

And Tilly wasn’t alone in the appreciation of big brigades. Gustavus Adophus invented the Swedish Brigade of the Thirty Years War and this was as big as Tilly’s tercios although the interior configuration differed.

What to do with the large pike+shot units in Tilly’s Very Bad Day?


Big Brigades: Large pike+shot

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 upto 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.

Simulating this in Tilly’s Very Bad Day gives you two types of pike+shot:

In the remainder of this post I explore two aspects to large pike+shot units: basing options and rules options.


Basing Options for Large pike+shot

There are three basing options for large pike+shot: (1) do nothing; (2) double depth; (3) two bases.

Basing Option 1: Do nothing

Just base large pike+shot like other pike+shot. Simple but you lose the aesthetic appeal.

Basing Option 2: Double depth

You could base the large pike+shot as double depth unit. For example, my Big Bases could be doubled to 80mm x 80mm with twice the number of figures.

Basing Option 3: Two bases

Personally I would use two bases, one behind the other. I have demonstrated this approach in my post on Basing Pike and Shot Figures for the 30 Years War.

Swedish Yellow Brigade

Swedish Yellow Brigade


Rules options for Large pike+shot

There are four rules options for large pike+shot: (1) do nothing; (2) tougher unit; (3) two linked units; (4) Single massively tough unit.

Rules Option 1: Do nothing

Version 1 of Tilly’s Very Bad Day completely ignores big brigades. Just give yourself the appropriate number of pike+shot units for the game scale you have chosen and move on.

I do recommend you use unit quality to distinguish veterans – whether Spanish or Swedish – from the vast bulk of the pike+shot, from the recent recruits.

Rules Option 2: Single modestly tough unit

In this option large pike+shot unit

  • Starting resolve of 5
  • Can shoot to the flank with a resolve of 2 (rather than 1)
  • Count as one unit in the simple army list; but cost 4 points for an ordinary unit if using points
  • Otherwise all other rules apply.

It would make sense for these units to look physically bigger so use either Double Depth or Two Bases.

Rules Option 3: Two linked units

This rule works best with Double Depth or Two Bases.

A Large pike+shot unit:

  • Is purchased as two pike+shot units; this is true whether recruiting a number of units or using points
  • One unit is the front unit and the other the rear unit
  • The rear unit is deployed behind the front unit and must stay there all the time, until routed
  • The front unit moves and takes the rear unit with it; the rear unit never moves by itself
  • The front unit can shoot and melee to front; the rear unit cannot
  • Both front and rear unit can melee and shoot to flank; if either can fight then both can; effectively this means the large pike+shot fights with 2 resolve to the flank
  • Is supported in melee unless there is enemy to rear within 2 TUM; it doesn’t need friendly units to be supported (this relates to another new rule I’m experimenting with)
  • The player can allocate lost resolve to either unit at their discretion; the player could, for example, apply all lost resolve to the rear unit
  • If either unit routs then the large pike+shot unit becomes normal pike+shot unit
  • Otherwise all other rules apply

I shared this option with Richard (doctorphalanx) and he said “too complicated”

Rules Option 4: Single massively tough unit

This rule works best with Double Depth or Two Bases.

A Large pike+shot unit:

  • Is purchased as two pike+shot units; this is true whether recruiting a number of units or using points
  • Has a high starting resolve: inferior 6; ordinary 8; superior 10
  • Limited shoot or melee dice to front (before combat modifiers); inferior 3d6, ordinary 4d6, superior 5d6
  • Shoot or melee to flank with 2d6 rather than 1d6
  • Is supported in melee unless there is enemy to rear within 2 TUM; it doesn’t need friendly units to be supported (this relates to another new rule I’m experimenting with)
  • Otherwise all other rules apply

So what do I think?

Some wargamers seem to think the Swedish Brigade were a super formation. Admittedly, at the time, German protestant princes thought Swedish brigades were worth a go. The trouble is everybody stopped using them the moment Gustavus died. Personally I suspect the veteran troops of the Swedish army would have been effective regardless of the formation.

Some wargamers also think Tilly’s big tercios were ineffective because they were old fashion. But Tilly had a winning streak that lasted many years. So he he probably knew what he was doing. His big tercios terrified the opposition.

I think it was more about the men than the formation. If you are content with that then just reward veterans with superior unit quality and leave everything else the same. This was my approach when writing version 1 of Tilly’s Very Bad Day.

Under pressure from Richard (doctorphalanx) I have now accepted version 2 of Tilly’s Very Bad Day will have to treat big brigades different. You won’t be surprised that I favour using two bases, one behind another to present them (Basing Option 3). And in terms of rules …

  • Rules Option 2: Single modestly tough unit – too wimpy
  • Rules Option 3: Two linked units – too complicated
  • Rules Option 4: Single massively tough unit – perfecto

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