I persuaded Adam and Chris to play my S12 Fighting Across the River Scenario for Tilly’s Very Bad Day. Although this is a generic scenario, the armies were from the Thirty Years War. Chris was the Blue player, the attacking Swedes. Adam was the defending Red player, with the Imperialists.
Version of scenario used in the game
We used the second version of S12 Fighting Across the River Scenario. Although we hadn’t played the scenario before, Roger Calderbank had played it twice. You can see Roger’s observations on his games as comments on the original scenario post. The short version is, Roger’s first play test found the first version of the scenario too tough for the defender (Red). His second play test gave the defender an off table reserve to arrive later in the game and Roger found this variant more balanced.
I followed Roger’s lead for our play test and updated the scenario to give the Red defender an off table reserve arriving from the base edge. They were scheduled to arrive on game turn 7 for a shallow table and turn 6 for a normal table. The breakpoint remained unchanged.
Red Off table Reserve
- 1 x Commander
- 3 x Pike+Shot
- 1 x Horse
As it happened we didn’t get to turn 7.
And in this version of the scenario Blue is attacking and Red defending. You’ll see why that bugs me shortly. Since the map is likely to change in a future version of the scenario, I’ve shown the map we used:
Phase 1: Game Set up
A lot of the set up was predetermined by the scenario.
1.2. Recruit armies
The orders of battle were set by the scenario. I went with Swedes for the Blue attacker because the Swedish nation colour was blue. Similarly red for the Imperialists. This did have the odd effect that the Swedes got a light horse unit which isn’t really historical.
You can see the mismatch in numbers from the first photo. Masses of Swedes lined up to approach the far bank of the river. A thin line of Imperialists on the hills behind the near bank.
Chris deployed as far forward as possible. To reduce his marching time.
Adam was stretched. He has a small army to cover the entire river line. The meant the Imperialist left wing had to guard both the stone bridge and the central section of river. Adam didn’t have enough troops to guard from the Stone bridge to the left of the battlefield.
The Imperialist right flank had the wooden bridge and the long stretch of river extending to the right of the battlefield.
The defender’s bombardment was ineffectual.
Chris advanced everywhere.
Now that Adam had seen where the threat was he started moving troops towards the river.
It must have been pretty lonely for some of those Imperialist units. Alone facing a Swedish horde.
Particularly the units guarding the bridges as this was where the Swedes would hit first.
In Turn 2 Chris had nearly reached the river.
This brought them within reach of the Imperialist musketry.
And a firefight broke out across the wooden bridge.
Adam got the initiative on turn 3 and closed up on the bridges.
The imperialist defenders were suffering from Swedish musketry.
Then the Swedes began to cross the bridges.
Musketry couldn’t stop the Swedes on eh bridges.
And they charged. At the Stone Bridge the defenders took a mauling but held.
The defenders routed at the Wooden bridge.
So the Swedes had a toe hold at both bridges and were threatening the entire river length.
The Swedes began to wade the river.
They also began to exploit their bridgeheads. The Imperialists looked weak at both bridges.
Imperialist musketry scored a hit … destroying a Swedish Cannon. But was otherwise ineffectual.
Adam started pulling back to the hills.
The Swedes launched an ineffectual charge from the Stone bridge.
In turn 5 more Swedes crossed the river.
There was some shooting.
Adam tried to stem with tide.
But the Swedes swept away the defenders at the Stone bridge including killing the Imperialist general. Adam had nothing left on this flank.
Adam still had his cavalry on the right but they were vastly outnumbered by the Swedes.
That was the end of the game.
Observations and conclusions
It looked pretty but this really wasn’t a great game. The attacking side (Swedes) just flowed over the river and swamped the defender (Imperialists). A devastating Swedish victory.
In the post game debrief Adam and I got talking about the underlying premise of the scenario, the river crossing bit. My scenario is based on the generic “Fighting Across the River” scenario from a book (Grant & Asquith, 1996). So the premise doesn’t start from a strong point. Some folk would be content to just play the game. But Adam and I are historians as well as gamers, and interested in simulation, so the premise of a scenario is important to us.
Following the play test and the post game discussion with Adam, I did some research and wrote up what I found as Contested river crossings in the Seventeenth Century – Musing for Tilly’s Very Bad Day. This research highlight some things for me. Multiple crossing points. Tick, there are two in the scenario but even more would be fine. A vastly outnumbered defender is fine. That is the reason the defender is behind a river. Tick, the scenario does that. Hills behind the river are fine but the fighting happens at the river bank until the defender is pushed back. Tick, that seems to happen. The game should end when the defender can’t drive the attacker back into the river with counter-attacks. Tick, got that one too. The river should be impassable except at bridges and fords. Ooops, got that one wrong.
So, for the next play test, I’ll change the river rules. For a start I’ll bring back Tilly’s Very Bad Day’s rule that rivers are impassable except at roads and bridges. I should have just stuck with that. But I think I need to add another nasty scenario special rule … units cannot fire while any part of the unit is in a water feature, and that includes crossing a bridge or ford. These are black powder weapons and water and gunpowder do not mix. So the troops have to get out of the water before they can fire. I’d apply the same rule to troops crossing bridges. That might seem counter intuitive as troops on a bridge are out of the water, right? But there are two reasons for this restriction to apply at bridges: (1) either the troops are crossing the bridge in narrow column so have limited fire power or (2) the unit has troops are on the bridge but also wading the river on each side of the bridge and water is bad for gunpowder. And I’m going to make the bridges difficult terrain for similar reasons.
With those tweaks to river crossing I’d drop the defender’s off table reserve. The measly troops on table have to hold the river or the army loses. Seems to match historical precedent better.
I think the victory conditions are okay as they are. As a reminder the diagram shows the combinations resulting in a Red/Defender or Blue/Attacker victory.
Finally, and a bit trivial, as I mentioned above, in this game the Swedes got a light horse unit which isn’t really historical. If I really cared I’d flip the colours around so Red is attacking and Blue is defending. God I can be a pedant. I think I’ll have to make that change.
Where to get Tilly’s Very Bad Day
Grant, C. S., and Asquith, S. A. (1996). “Scenarios for all Ages”. CSG Publications.