Musing on unit types in Bolivar’s Very Bad Day

Bolivar’s Very Bad Day sees a few changes to the unit types compared to Tilly’s Very Bad Day. This is to reflect the scale of the game, the period, and nature of warfare in the South American Wars of Liberation.

Unit types - Bolivars Very Bad Day
Unit types – Bolivars Very Bad Day

High level concepts

Before talking about the unit types I thought I’d mention a few changes from Tilly’s Very Bad Day.

Game scale

I’ve already mused at length about game scale in Bolivar’s Very Bad Day. The game I have in mind has several characteristics:
Battle versus Skirmish: Battle
Command Level: Army commander leading between 1,500 and 5,000 men
Ground Scale: 1:1,000 (~30 yards per inch).
Tactical Formation: Battalions can adopt line, column, etc
Base Size: Big bases
Variable sized units: Need to cope with small and large units e.g. battalion of 200 men or 1000 men

Units and bases

In Tilly’s Very Bad Day “Every stand is a Unit.” In Bolivar’s Very Bad Day that is true for commanders, cavalry, skirmishers and artillery.

Infantry battalions are the exception. An infantry battalion is a unit but has two bases. This is to enable the unit to adopt tactical formations.

Tactical formation

Infantry and artillery units adopt one of several tactical formations.

Infantry can form line, column, march, or square. Technically the “column” is a “column of divisions” or “attack column” but I thought I’d save words. Similarly “march” is short for “march column”. For two base units see How to use Big Bases with Napoleon at War, Lasalle and FoGN for how to represent the various formations.

Tactical Formations of Infantry Battalions
Tactical Formations of Infantry Battalions

Artillery are either limbered or deployed/unlimbered – which is standard Tilly’s Very Bad Day. For convenience the word “limbered” is also used for mountain batteries when packed. The formation impacts movement and combat.

Since I’m using small cavalry units (squadrons), I haven’t given cavalry any tactical formation. If I’d gone with bigger cavalry regiments I would have allowed them to form line, waves (equivalent of column), and march.

A unit can replace its move to change formation, although only some transitions are permissible.


The unit type and tactical formation define the movement allowance. I’m thinking about more generous movement. The non-charge moves in open terrain are up to:

10 TUM for commanders
8 TUM for cavalry squadrons, battalion march, limbered horse artillery
6 TUM for skirmishers, battalion column, limbered mountain artillery
4 TUM for battalion line, rabble, limbered foot artillery
2 TUM for battalion square
0 TUM for deployed/unlimbered artillery (they cannot move but can pivot)


Commander unit type

The Commander unit type is unchanged. Although I like the idea of adding flavour with commander abilities.

I toyed with renaming the unit type from “commander” to “general” but often the overall commander was just a colonel.

Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) unit type

In Tilly’s Very Bad Day, the overall commander is also a commander of a wing or battle. This is in keeping with the Thirty Years War, for example, King Gustavs Adolphus was both commander-in-chief but liked to lead one of the cavalry wings.

Liberators-857 Royalist 1815 Brigadier General Joaquin de la Pezuela
Liberators-857 Royalist 1815 Brigadier General Joaquin de la Pezuela

In South America the overall commander should be separate from the divisions. For example, at Chacabuco San Martin should be the C-in-C and outside both Soler’s Division and O’Higgins’s Division.

The commander-in-chief (C-in-C) unit type as a sub-type of commander. A C-in-C is like a normal commander in all ways except they do not start by leading a division. A C-in-C can attach to any friendly unit, from any division, 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. That commander then stops being the C-in-C and cannot return to being the C-in-C for the rest of the game. 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.


The cavalry unit types are regular squadrons and irregular squadrons.

Regular Squadron unit type

Regular squadrons replaces the horse unit type from Tilly’s Very Bad Day. Regular squadrons shoot with pistol or carbine but are also willing to charge with either sabre or lance. This unit type includes all cavalry units which were inclined to shoot regardless of other weapons. The unit type includes dragoons as by this stage they were functionally equivalent to other horse. Regular squadrons are a one base cavalry unit.

Liberators-851 Royalist 1815 Guardia del General Cavalry
Liberators-851 Royalist 1815 Guardia del General Cavalry

Irregular Squadron unit type

Irregular squadrons cater for the Venezuelan Llaneros and Argentine Gauchos. Men born in the saddle and applying their particular skills to war. I thought about calling them “cowboys”, and they were, but the common stereotype of US cowboys don’t apply.

These South American irregular cavalrymen rely on shock, with lance, but are willing to avoid combat (evade) if the situation warrants. Irregular squadrons cannot shoot, even if equipped with firearms – I don’t think they were. Irregular squadrons are a one base cavalry unit.

Feigned flight: Irregular squadrons with an attached commander can conduct a “feigned flight”. Feigned flight happens during a rally back. On a successful command check the unit recovers all resolve and the unit and commander immediately charge back into contact with the original opponents. The unit, and it’s opponents, are locked in melee until melee phase next game turn. Certain commanders do not need to make a command check and the feigned flight happens automatically; these are commanders who have one of these attributes: Brave, Cavalryman, Centaur, Dashing Officer, Experienced Officer.

Vuelvan Caras - José Antonio Páez calls About Face to his Llaneros - Las Queseras del Medio - Arturo Michelena, 1890
Vuelvan Caras – José Antonio Páez calls About Face to his Llaneros – Las Queseras del Medio – Arturo Michelena, 1890


The infantry unit types are battalions, spearmen, skirmishers, and rabble

Battalion unit type

The battalion unit type replaces large pike+shot units from Tilly’s Very Bad Day. Battalions are more or less trained men armed with muskets. Typically battalions were formed from six companies including grenadier and cazadore companies. A battalion is two base infantry unit so they can form line, column, march, or square.

Liberators-865 Royalist 1815 Reserve Grenadiers - Line
Liberators-865 Royalist 1815 Reserve Grenadiers – Line

Spearmen unit type

Spearmen are infantry battalions equipped with spears/lances rather than muskets. This might be because they are recently recruited and relatively untrained. But it can also reflect veteran units with something to prove e.g. the Batallón sin nombre (Battalion without Name) who fought at Araure. (Spearmen might also been present at Junin and Ayachucho – to check.)

Spearmen units cannot shoot, obviously, so are more likely to close than musket armed units because they will continue to advance even when suffering from enemy fire. Otherwise spearmen are treated like normal battalions. They are two base units and can adopt the various tactical formations: line, column, march, or square.

Liberators-850 Royalist 1814 3rd Del Rey Battalion - Ill armed - Line
Liberators-850 Royalist 1814 3rd Del Rey Battalion – Ill armed – Line

[Note: I don’t have any spearmen units painted yet. 3rd Del Rey Battalion, in the photo above, is ill armed but would still count as a normal battalion because the majority of men have firearms.]

Skirmisher unit type

The skirmisher unit type replaces shot from Tilly’s Very Bad Day. Some infantry can be deployed as skirmishers at the start of the battle. Usually these are musketeers, often from the light companies of battalions or from dedicated light battalions (e.g. Argentine Cazadores de los Andes Battalion). The skirmishers unit type also includes Amerindians fighting in native style with musket or bow. Skirmishers are a one base infantry unit, which distinguishes them from battalions. Any friends can interpenetrate skirmishers. Skirmishers cannot combine into battalions during the battle, even if originally from the same unit.

Rabble unit type

Unchanged from Tilly’s Very Bad Day. One base units including the worst of the worst infantry.

Infantry tactical formation change

Two base infantry units (battalions, spearmen) can replace their move to change formation, although only some transitions are permissible. The allowed formation changes are:

  • Line to column or square or march
  • Column to line or square or march
  • Square to line or column (but not march)
  • March to line or column (but not square)

Line, column and square can transition from one to the others freely. The new formation forms in the centre of the original frontage, facing the original direction. They can them do an optional about face, to turn 180 degrees. The formation change happens at the start of the move and then the unit can move straight ahead up to its full movement allowance.

Line can change formation to march. The front of march forms on either left or right flank edge of the Line, so a 90 degree turn is mandatory. Similarly for when a march changes to line. The formation change happens at the start of the move and then the unit can move straight ahead up to its full movement allowance.

Liberators-727 Royalist 1814 Cazadores Infantry Battalion - Muskets - Column
Liberators-727 Royalist 1814 Cazadores Infantry Battalion – Muskets – Column

March can transition to column. The new formation forms in the centre of the original frontage, facing the original direction. They can them do an optional about face, to turn 180 degrees. Similarly for when a column transitions to march. The formation change happens at the start of the move and then the unit can move straight ahead up to its full movement allowance.

March cannot change formation to square, nor vice versa.


The artillery unit is called a gun, but different guns are distinguished by weight for combat and by transport for movement. For example, a unit might be defined as an “light mountain gun”, meaning it is has 4 pounders, packed by mule. It can be limbered (i.e. packed) or deployed/unlimbered. Although I’m using the singular “gun”, in practices these are gun sections of 2 tubes.

Gun unit type

Replaces “Cannons”. Batteries have a weight and transport attributes

Gun weight

Batteries are split into categories by weight. A common split is 2 pounders (“ultra light”), 4 pounders (“light”), 6-9 pounders (“medium”), and 12 pounders (“heavy”). I have 1, 2, 3 and 4 crewmen on a base to distinguish each of these weight classes. I also have naval guns that might be “ultra heavy”.

Liberators-679 Argentine 1817 Artillery 4lb
Liberators-679 Argentine 1817 Artillery 4lb – Light gun

Gun transport

Batteries are also defined as horse artillery (horse limber and mounted crew), foot artillery (horse limber and crew dismounted) and mountain artillery (guns on mules and crew dismounted); these move at different speeds.

Gun tactical formation change

Foot guns and mountain guns cannot move in a game turn in which they limber or deploy/unlimber.

Limbered horse guns can move 3 TUM and then deploy/unlimber. Deployed/unlimbered horse guns can limber and then move 3 TUM. No change of direction is allowed in this move.

Deprecated unit types

Bolivar’s Very Bad Day recycles most of the unit types from Tilly’s Very Bad Day. Commanders, horse, pike+shot, shot, cannon, and rabble all transfer to Bolivar’s Very Bad Day with a name change and and some tweaks to the rules.

In addition I’ve deprecated two mounted unit types: Light Horse and Dragoons. By this time the name of the cavalry unit was really just gloss and they all functioned the same whether called horse grenadiers, dragoons, light cavalry, or hussars. Light Horse simulates Croats, Hungarian Hussars, some Cossacks, and Tatars in Tilly’s Very Bad Day. Although western European nations adopted the “hussar” term, and this travelled to South America, the western Hussars were not the same as the irregular cavalry of the east. South America has its Gauchos and Llaneros, both of whom were irregular horse. But they tended to be shock cavalry rather than skirmishing from a distance, so I have created a new troop type for them. Dragoons are merged into the regular squadrons.

5 thoughts on “Musing on unit types in Bolivar’s Very Bad Day”

  1. Hi Steven, what is the rationale for having ‘column’ and ‘march’ formations? If these troops were trained according to Napoleonic tactics, they could form a truly bewildering and varied range of ‘column’ formations (left, right or centre in front, frontage of a platoon, company or pair of companies, full, half or quarter intervals, and probably more variants than that). The column/march distinction seems to neither represent this detail nor abstract it out so it seems like an odd design choice.

    Forming the traditional hollow square (if that’s what your ‘square’ formation represents) is also a lot easier from an open column of platoons or half-platoons with the left or right in front (if that’s a ‘march column’) than from the French-style closed column of double-companies on the centre, so I don’t understand why the march/square conversion isn’t allowed, perhaps because I misunderstand your column/march distinction.

    Your ground scale seems a bit off at 30 yards to the inch. That gives a squadron frontage of 100 yards, which implies a strength of about 200 rank and file if 2 ranks deep, which is a very strong squadron (French squadrons were occasionally this big in the napoleonic period at the very start of a campaign before they starved too many of their horses to death). Likewise the battalions have a frontage about 200 yards which implies a strength of 900 rank and file (or 1,000 including officers, drummers, etc.) which is very much at the upper end (Austrian Napoleonic battalions were bigger than this so it isn’t impossible). Likewise your 40mm for two guns is very generous. Maybe 30 yards/40mm would be closer? Would that throw your shooting ranges out of whack?

    I didn’t see a timescale specified, but if the fastest infantry speed is 8 TUM (i.e. 320mm or about 400 yards/600 paces) that implies a turn is about 8 minutes long I think? About 8 turns for an hour’s fighting seems like it should work well for such small battles. However if this is the case, giving up your whole turn to form column from line implies very poorly trained troops indeed (which might be accurate! but in which case maybe just don’t permit formation changes at all during the game if the troops are this badly trained, or certainly not while troops are under fire). Nafziger calculates the theoretical column/square conversion time under British or French regs at about 30 seconds…

    In principle infantry should march at the same speed whether in column or line, so a line movement of half the (march) column movement implies that half the time in each turn is being spent redressing the ranks – again if training standards are that low maybe just don’t allow any movement in line?

    Not sure if any of that is helpful or apposite in any way. Apologies if not.

    • Hi Andrew, all feedback welcome.

      Just bear in mind that everything I do is kind of abstract. Cartoon-y. That is true for my figure painting style, my terrain and my rules. I don’t believe that precision makes a better game. Usually just a more tiresome game. I want a good fun game, that is quick to learn, quick to play, looks good, and gives a realistic result.

      The troops in South America certainly fought in Napoleonic style, hence line, column, square, march.

      There were indeed a “bewildering and varied range of ‘column’ formations”. But I like to simplify. Most of that variety is irrelevant for my goal with this game. As I see it, there was a column of route and various combat columns. I call the first formation “March” because it was otherwise known as a column of march, and “March” is shorter. This was different to the others because it was narrow and very long having been formed by turning a line right angles. (This isn’t an Open column.) Columns of route had to change formation into something else (line usually) before forming square. That explains the draft rule preventing march to square, but draft rules can change depending on game logic.

      I lump all the rest together as “Column”.This is mainly because the Spanish had adopted French practice. And that means most columns were actually columns of division with company 3 and 4 in the lead (which the French called attack columns although that term is overloaded). I ignore the interval and assume they adopted what is sensible for the context (open, half interval, quarter interval, close). I’m not alone with this as most Napoleonic games – every game I know of – ignore interval.

      Although other variations were possible, I don’t want to get into that level of detail. I just want columns used for marching outside combat range (March) and columns used to manoeuvre close to the enemy (Column). We can quibble about the two names. An earlier draft called these “March Column” and “Attack Column”. But one word is better than two. And “Attack Column”, although adopted by the French, is misleading in its intent. It was a Manoeuvre column.

      I don’t think your ground scale numbers are quite right. I’m using 1:1,000 ground scale. Mainly for our North American friends I approximate that to 30 yards to an inch Personally I don’t think in inches. At 1:1,000 scale my 80mm wide base represents 80m (87 yards) on the ground. One of those is a squadron (80m / 87 yards wide). Two a battalion (160m / 174 yards wide ).

      I’m expecting battalions in my scenarios to have 400-800 men. A British battalion of 600 men in two rows would overflow my bases at 167m wide. A French or Spanish battalion would be narrower (111m) because they formed in three rows. Bear in mind that once in combat infantry expanded from official frontages. Infantry were meant to be 22 inches but in battle spread out to 27 or even 30 inches. So suddenly my French/Spanish battalion is much wider, at 139m. Close enough for me.

      I don’t assume area is totally occupied. So a small battalion occupies the same space; there is a good case that this is why the British adopted 2 rows as they had minimum battalion frontage regardless of the number of men. The depth of the base cannot be occupied; the men are in a thin line at the front of the base.

      My “squadrons” are nominal at 100-200 men. I just wanted a word for something smaller than a regiment. And squadrons were the most common unit mentioned in South American. Riders took up 0.91m (1 yard). So a nominal squadron of 150 men would be have a frontage of 75 men and two horse deep. 75 riders take up 68m (75 yards). But again, squadrons also spread out to avoid crowding the horses, so close enough.

      Yes, the guns are on bases that are two big. 30mm might be more accurate but I’m doing everything in TUM and 30mm doesn’t fit into the TUM scheme. Bear in mind that players choose how big a TUM is. My TUM are 40mm, but other people have chosen all sorts, from 20mm to 60mm. The guns scale is also a constraint of the models. The guns sections were dished out in penny packets, but a gun model doesn’t get smaller because it represents less guns. So I’ve just assigned guns the minimum base size, i.e. 1 TUM.

      I disagree about line speed versus column speed. The authorities are unanimous that columns were for manoeuvre exactly because lines were so clumsy and slow. And I’m going to increase the speed of squares to match line. 🙂

      I’ve been thinking about time scale since I wrote this post. And also re-read Nafziger and half a dozen other Napoleonic tactics books. I’ll probably soften the formation change rules.

      I’m writing a scenario at the moment where one turn is one hour. At least in the draft. We’ll see.

  2. Thanks for responding Steven. I understand that the original Tilly rules abstract out all the (very complex!) formation stuff of their period so I was surprised that you’ve let some of that detail back in, and not really understanding that design choice. I didn’t mean to imply that abstraction is wrong!

    At a high level of abstraction I would say well-trained C19 troops retain their formation well, and dress quickly when required, so they march fast. Less-well trained troops march more slowly because they need to dress more often and take longer to do it. Well trained troops can change formation easily and well-trained officers know which formation to adopt. I’d think you can abstract the formation detail away.

    If a turn is an hour and a unit is a battalion there’s no reason why that can’t work, but it should be normal for every individual unit combat to end decisively in a single turn – a firefight over an hour long is really unusual unless both sides specifically want to skirmish inconclusively – long static battles can also still happen if both sides have reserves to feed in, of course. At the scale of hour-long turns I certainly don’t think it makes sense to worry about whether an individual unit is in column, line or square, it can change several times in that timescale. What matters is whether it has the morale, training, and leadership to make the right changes at the right time and so maximise its own effectiveness.

    A game with hour-long turns should also have much longer move distances (for troops out of immediate contact with the enemy) Scharnhorst says that a small party of cavalry (such as one of your squadrons) should be able to trot 9,000 paces in 30 minutes (but not 18,000 in an hour as the horses will get too tired). At 1:1000 that means they can effectively move anywhere on the table subject to distance from the enemy – that’s a bit like how reserve moves work in Blucher. It sounds like a quick, deadly game if you can manage the IGOUGO issues.

    • If I was writing a version of Tilly for the Peninsular War to refight the Battle of Salamanca and such like, the the manoeuvre unit would be the brigade, just like in Tilly. And I would not really care what was happening inside the brigade.

      But for South America the armies are so small that a battle might only have a brigade a side. Large battles had only three brigades a side (although they were called “Divisions” to make the commanders feel better). So I have dropped the game scale so the the manoeuvre unit is a battalion, not a brigade. That seemed to warrant concern about battalion formation (line, column, square). If there are only 4-6 battalions on table, the commander-in-chief probably cares what they are doing. That said, I continue to wonder if you are right and I “can abstract the formation detail away”. My only concern with that would be the fear that the game is so far away from wargamer expectation that they wouldn’t recognise it as a Napoleonic style game.

      I’m not sure a turn is an hour in Bolivar’s Very Bad Day. I just know that is probably what it is for the scenario I’m working on.

      I find theoretical march rates helpful in general terms but not in the specific. General like, cavalry are faster than infantry and column is faster than line. But troop didn’t march those rates on a battlefield. Theoretically a squadron might be able to “trot 9,000 paces” in an hour towards a battle, but the terrain and enemy will probably prevent this once they are in the battle. That unit might actually trot 100 paces, and then wait around quite a lot, happy to let others fight it out.

      Long fire fights did happen. Actually I think long firefight were the norm in Europe (if French attack columns stalled) because (1) men that started shooting tended to keep shooting and (2) casualties were relatively low. Albuera is the most famous long firefight for English speakers but there were others. At the Battle of Auerstadt one ‘battle fire’ lasted three hours. In another incident, during the Hundred Days, the 14th Ligne Regiment conducted a fire fight lasting eight hours. Admittedly Scottish and English observers found these extended firefights “somewhat curious” as British practice was fire and charge, leading to a decisive result. But even Brits did the long fire fight thing, e.g. Albuera.

      I’m currently writing a scenario for the Battle of Vargas Swamp (25 July 1819). This battle featured 2-3,000 men a side in a battlefield only about 1,800 metres by 1,200 metres. The battle featured five hours of gruelling charge (x3) into fire and then counter charge (x2) between the opposing lines. Reserves were fed in on both sides (including dragoons who dismounted because of the steep wooded slopes). The battle ended quickly when the attacking cavalry broke a wing and then their infantry cleared up the centre.

      I want Bolivar’s Very Bad Day to be about to simulate that. And others like it.

      An hour long turn doesn’t mean the units get to march freely for an hour. With only 320 metres separating the two armies at the start of the scenario, all movement is pretty much in combat range of the enemy. And from what I’ve read of history, everything slows down when you’re in those ranges. And, at Vargas Swamp, lateral movement was difficult because of the terrain. The only movement was: (1) contact enemy, (2) move reserves up to contact enemy, (3) charge, (4) pursuit and mayhem.

      Good challenges Andrew. I think my design is sound, but your questions are making me justify it.

      • I should probably let you have the last word since it is both your game and your website, but I don’t quite feel ready for that yet.

        Albuera involves a long, rather static (and terribly bloody) firefight because both sides feed in waves of reserves. No individual battalion or brigade stays in the fight for the whole time. Auerstadt isn’t that different – the Prussians throw in waves of infantry and cavalry all of whom (pretty much) get beaten, so although a French regiment may have been fighting for several hours, in that time it has beaten off several different Prussian opponents. That’s what I meant by the ‘individual unit’ combat ending decisively in a single turn, even if another individual unit fights in the exact same place the turn later, making a static overall line of fire.

        I’m not actually advocating for cavalry to have a 6m move on the table but if you want a Crossfire-style undefined/variable turn length then I think that implies a Crossfire-style unlimited move length (or rather one limited by command and control issues, not distance). It may not matter for the refight of Vargas Swamp, but for the Albuera refight it would matter a lot whether the two turns that Zayas’ guys hold out represent an hour each (so that the British have time to get into position) or 8 minutes each (so that they don’t). This is quite a different style of game from ur-Tilly which feels more like a traditional war-game in which each unit can do a fixed amount of stuff in a turn, which must therefore represent some discrete period of time.

        When I tried to write a game at this roughly-a-division-a-side scale I went the other way with each turn representing a fixed amount of time. A lot *could* happen in one turn but usually didn’t because of the command and control rules. That in turn meant that you had to be able to resolve a turn very quickly indeed if all that happened was some ineffectual skirmishing and some brigadiers not pulling their fingers out.

        Anyway, none of this at all is to say you shouldn’t write exactly the game that you want to write. If you think your design is sound then stick with it.


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