Small Kircholm – A Tilly’s Very Bad Day Scenario

I have been Musing on Polish Winged Hussars in Tilly’s Very Bad Day and I needed a scenario to play test on. So here is the Battle of Kircholm (27 Sep 1605), in the Polish–Swedish War (1600–1611), using Tilly’s Very Bad Day. The Swedes had over 10,000 men and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth about 4,000, but it was a massive Polish-Lithuanian victory with the Swedes losing up to 9,000 killed to only 100 Polish-Lithuanians. This is one of many victories by the Polish Winged Hussars – and I introduce terribly draft rules to cover them. These defeats were pivotal in persuading Gustavus Adolphus that he had to reform the Swedish army. Given the number of troops involved in the real battle, this is a small game on a small table with small armies (in numbers of units).

Historical Situation

Setting: near the small town of Kircholm, some 18 km south east of Riga, 27 Sep 1605 (Gregorian Calendar)

1599 saw the end of the short-lived Polish–Swedish union under King Sigismund Vasa (Wikipedia: Polish–Swedish War (1600–1611)). Sigismund retreated to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and his uncle, Duke Charles, became King of Sweden. The Polish–Swedish War (1600–1611) was the struggle between the two Vasas – Charles IX of Sweden and Sigismund III of Poland – over control of Livonia and Estonia. Sigismund got the Polish parliament, the Sejm, to agree to an invasion of Swedish territory of Estonia.

In 1600, a Commonwealth army under Krzysztof Mikołaj “Piorun” Radziwiłł defeated Swedish forces several times but the Swedes managed to take control not only of Estonia, but of most of Livonia (Wikipedia: Polish–Swedish War (1600–1611)). The Lithuanian hetman Jan Karol Chodkiewicz and Radziwiłł defeated the Swedes in the first major open battle of the war at the Battle of Kokenhusen (23 Jun 1601). Chodkiewicz besieged Dorpat, defeated a Swedish reinforcement force under Arvid Eriksson Stålarm at Wesenberg (Rakvere), and the town surrendered in April 1603. In 1604 Chodkiewicz captured Dorpat. He also won the Battle of Weissenstein (25 September 1604) with only 2,300 men against 6,000 Swedes; the Polish–Lithuanians lost 81 dead and 100 wounded and Swedish lost nearly half of their army. Chodkiewicz would consistently defeat numerically superior Swedish adversaries. He would use his Hussars to break the Swedish cavalry then pick off the demoralised Swedish infantry, who found they could not retreat in the face of the Commonwealth cavalry.

In 1605 the Swedes raised a large new army with many conscripts (Wikipedia: Polish–Swedish War (1600–1611)). The initial Swedish reinforcements arrived under Anders Lennartson of Forstena (5,000 men) and Count Frederick Joachim Mansfeld (4,000 men). The King Charles arrived with yet more reinforcements (around 5,000). The separate Swedish forces met near Riga and Chodkiewicz built a small fortified camp to their south at Kircholm. On the 27 September Swedish force under king Charles moved towards Kircholm.

Swedes initially deployed on a narrow frontage on high ground with the Dvina on their right and thick woods on their left (Wikipedia: Polish–Swedish War (1600–1611)). Chodkiewicz skirmished for four hours with the Tatars and Arquebusiers, then signalled a withdrawal. Charles was convinced this was a real withdrawal and wanted to catch the Polish-Lithuanians before they escaped. So the Swedish left their defensive position and marched down onto the low ground. This scenario starts at this moment in the battle.


The map is based on the that one from Wikipedia: Battle of Kircholm, which is in turn based on one in Wisner (2005).

Table - Kircholm - Tillys Very Bad Day v2
Table – Kircholm – Tillys Very Bad Day v2

Key features are:

  • A small table of 30 TUM x 30 TUM (this is 4′ x 4′ with my 80 wide bases)
  • Shallow small table lines for those who want a more smaller battlefield – these are the thin green dotted lines – use as the base edges
  • Flank lines – these are the grey dotted lines – used for deployment
  • The Swedish rear deployment zone, corresponding to their original defensive deployment position, with:
    • The River Dvina cutting across one of the corner; the river is Impassable to all troops.
    • Two woods (Medium 6 TUM; Medium 6×4 TUM)
    • A medium hill (6 x 4 TUM) representing the rise the Swedes initially deployed upon
  • Kircholm, a small town (3 x 4 TUM)
  • A third wood (Small 3 x 4 TUM)
  • A couple of roads

Pre-game preparation

Normal rules for scouting, deployment, and bombardment.

One of the Polish-Lithuanian Wing Hussar units is a Dummy Lancer unit, and the player has to note which Lancer unit is a Dummy Lancer.

Polish-Lithuanian Player (Defending)


Defeat the Swedish invaders.

Forces Available

Guthrie (2013) gives the Polish-Lithuanians 3,310 cavalry in 15 squadrons, 1,040 infantry, and 7 guns. Wilson (2010) mentions 2,600 cavalry and 1,000 infantry. I use Guthrie only because I want to give the Polish-Lithuanians more troops.

Polish-Lithuanian Order of Battle

  • Right Wing (4 Units; 18 Coins)
    • 1 x Commander (Sapieha)
    • 2 x Lancer Superior/Inferior [Hussars]2
    • 1 x Horse [Pancerni Cossacks]
  • Centre (6 Units; 24 Coins)
    • 1 x Commander (Jan Karol Chodkiewicz)
    • 2 x Lancer Superior/Inferior [Hussars]2
    • 1 x Horse [Kurlander Arquebusiers]
    • 1 x Shot
    • 1 x Unlimbered Cannon1
  • Left Wing (5 Units; 20 Coins2)
    • 1 x Commander (Dabrowa)
    • 2 x Lancer Superior/Inferior [Hussars]2
    • 1 x Horse or Light Horse [Cossacks, German Arquebusiers]
    • 1 x Light Horse [Tatars, Cossacks]
  • 15 Units; 62 Coins; 5 break point

(1) The artillery was spread across the commands. Guthrie (2013) has 3 on the right, 2 in the centre and 2 on the left. I have aggregated them into one unit in the centre.
(2) 5 of the 6 Hussar units are Lancer Superior. However the Polish-Lithuanians deployed dummy hussars, camp followers (horseboys and grooms) on horses with lances, so one unit is Lancer Inferior. Historically the dummy hussars were in the Left Wing so I have reduced this command’s coin cost.


Deploys behind the red dotted line.

Normal deployment rules apply e.g. all Pike+Shot units must deploy in the centre (between the grey dotted flank lines).

Cannon deploy unlimbered.



Swedish Player (Attacking)

Begins scenario with initiative.


In an attempt to catch the apparently withdrawing Commonwealth army the Swedish force is attacking. If there is no result within 10 Turns, they lose the battle.

Forces Available

Guthrie (2013) gives the Swedes 8,368 infantry in 13 battalions, 2,500 cavalry in 11 squadrons, and 11 guns. Aside from the German mercenary infantry and the better quality Swedish foot, this army is largely inferior. The Swedes initially deployed in four echelons on a narrow frontage in hills. But after four hours of skirmishing they deployed into into line on the flat in front of their original position. In the centre Lennartsson commanded both his own 1st Echelon and Luneburg’s 3rd Echelon after the latter got in a huff and joined the men in the ranks armed with a pike.

Swedish Order of Battle

  • Right Wing / 2nd Echelon (4 Units; 16 Coins)
    • 1 x Commander (Count Joachim Friedrich von Mansfeld)
    • 3 x Horse Inferior [German and Finnish]1
  • Centre (10 Units; 34 Coins)
    • 1st Echelon
      • 1 x Commander (Lennartsson)
      • 4 x Pike+Shot Inferior [Swedish Conscripts]2
      • 1 x Limbered Cannon
    • 3rd Echelon
      • 4 x Pike+Shot Ordinary [German Mercenary, Finnish, Swedish, and Duke Friedrich von Luneburg armed with a pike]
  • Left Wing / 4th Echelon (3 Units; 12 Coins)
    • 1 x Commander (King Charles IX of Sweden / Colonel Brandt)
    • 2 x Horse Inferior [Swedish]1
  • 17 Units; 57 Coins; 6 break point

(1) Guthrie notes the Swedish cavalry were inferior in both numbers and quality. Following the poor performance of the Swedish horse in Livonia, Gustavus Adolphus revised their tactical doctrine. I take that to mean they are Inferior in this battle. It also helps balance up the two armies
(2) The Swedish conscripts were considered inferior to the German Mercenaries. Amongst other things many of them carried halberds rather than pikes making them weaker against horse.


All units deploy behind the blue dotted line.

Normal deployment rules apply e.g. all Pike+Shot units must deploy in the centre (between the grey dotted flank lines).

Historically the Swedes deployed in four echelons. This affected their deployment as they moved onto the low ground. All units in 1st Echelon must deploy closer to the centre line than those in 2nd Echelon, which must deploy closer than those in 3rd, who deploy closer than those in 4th.

Cannon deploy limbered.



Victory Conditions

Normal victory conditions apply. A side loses when, in the Army Morale step, they have reached their army break point (lost at least ⅓ of the original Units). If there is not a result within 10 Game Turns then the attacker loses.

Scenario Special Rules

This scenario introduces Lancers. In fact this scenario is a mechanism to play test Lancers. There is a good chance they will unbalance the game.


Lancers are a new troop type for Tilly’s Very Bad Day. They have all the characteristics of Horse, except:

  • They roll 1d6 more when charging
  • They cannot shoot, ever.

The genuine Polish Hussars are also Superior, so have a starting Resolve of 4. The dummy hussars are inferior and so have a starting Resolve of 2.

Dummy Lancers

The Polish-Lithuanians deployed dummy hussars, camp followers on horses with lances. I assume, because these were horseboys and grooms, they are competent horsemen, but certainly not the quality of Hussars. One unit of Hussars is designated as the dummy hussars before the battle. This is a secret. The Polish-Lithuanian player reveals the dummy hussar when the unit is shot at, attempts to charge, or is in melee. The dummy hussar is Lancer Inferior.


Nominal unit size: 1000 for Pike+Shot, Shot, and Rabble; 500 for Horse, Dragoons and Light Horse; 300 for Lancers; 8 guns for Cannon.

I have reduce the nominal unit size for the Hussars from 500 to 300. There are several reasons for this. They Hussars are Superior and had more impact than their numbers warranted. They are lancers and deployed in a remarkably thin formation. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth army needs the numbers.

Guthrie (2013) mentions that 3,350 of the 8,368 Swedish foot were armed with pole arms. And many of the Swedish Conscripts had halberd not pike. I simulate both of these conditions by making the Swedish Conscripts Pike+Shot Inferior.

In terms of Coins the Commonwealth has a slight advantage. You could balance it up by bit of removing the dummy hussars (3 coins) which, after all, had no active part in the battle. Personally I would still put them on table to add colour.

Where to get Tilly’s Very Bad Day

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


Guthrie, W. P. (2013). Actions of the Thirty Years War: Eastern Europe, the Baltic, Italy and France, pp. 21-25. Partizan Press.

Wilson, P. H. (2010). Europe’s Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War, pp. 95. Penguin.

Wisner, H. (2005). Kircholm 1605. Warsaw: Bellona

Wikipedia: Battle of Kircholm

Wikipedia: Battle of Weissenstein

Wikipedia: Polish–Swedish War (1600–1611)

3 thoughts on “Small Kircholm – A Tilly’s Very Bad Day Scenario”

  1. So after ages I got back to TVBD and decided to test Kircholm.
    In the first game I didn’t really know what I am doing and it resulted in terrible disaster for Swedes. At the end of turn 2, Swedes have lost most of their Horse and some infantry, total of seven units, with Poles losing only one unit of Hussars. The inferior Horse really stood no chance against superior Lancers. It also seamed, that Hussars can break line of pike and shot quite easily.

    The second try was strange. I was thinking a lot about how to play the Swedes, which obviously have great disadvantage because of their special deployment rules and because of having most of their army inferior. But I figured out, that if I place the units right, the 3rd echelon (ordinary Pike+shot) can get exactly 1 TUM in front of 1st echelon and create effective checkerboard line with better infantry in front (this was done by placing 2nd echelon in line, forcing the 3rd deploy only 1 TUM behind 1st, and as Swedes begin, they can march 3 TUM forward – 1 TUM to get behind 1st echelon, 1 TUM to get in between them and 1 TUM to get in front of them). In the first turn, I left the Horse somewhat behind to protect the flanks and make sure, they don’t get slaughtered right at the start.
    For the Poles, I just went charging straight ahead, not bothering with flanks. From previous game I learned that superior Lancers can break Pike+shot. Yes, they can, but at what cost! They killed six units of Pike+shot, but have lost eight units by the end of fourth turn. The Swedes almost won! Strangely enough, the inferior Horse managed to hold Kirchholm, destroy two light horse units and kill Polish general without losing a single unit! Lucky bastards…

    The scenario was real fun, even when playing it alone (damn pandemic). I really like the idea with dummy lancers, might add some flavor when playing against real player. The Swedish deployment is interesting too, made me spend about an hour to figure out how to deploy effectively. I think the scenario is slightly imbalanced in favor of the Poles, but not because of Lancers, the reason is rather large number of inferior Swedish units. Especially the Horse, they have no chance against Lancers. Because of this, I figured it is not ideal scenario for testing Lancers. So I tried a picked-up game using your orders of battle from previous post.
    It was a small game on 64 coins. I gave Poles six superior Lancers (considering them as 5 coins each, just like any superior unit) plus minimal required number of other units. All organized into three commands. For their enemy I chose an infantry-heavy list – 7 Pike+shot, 4 of which superior, in one command, 5 horse and 2 cannons in second command.
    I played two games (advantage of homeoffice, you can play and work at the same time…), one with Poles attacking, one with them defending. Both resulted in their defeat, although not significant, they always took some enemies with themselves. The Polish army really couldn’t do anything against line of Pike+shot. Superior Lancers died when facing superior Pike+shot (although killing some of them too), Shot had no chance in close combat, same for Light horse. The single Polish Pike+shot unit didn’t make much difference. I tried to flank the line, but the infantry formation was able to react and in combination with lot of Horse halt their advance and send them falling back. The other flank was protected by forest, so not good place for cavalry. Oddly enough ordinary Horse actually stand a chance against superior Lancers if they outnumber them and have commander to aid them. Shot hidden there destroyed one unit, but it was not enough to turn the tide.

    To sum it up: Hussars seem quite balanced in current state. They are brutal on charge, but not too brutal. Most of their power comes from being superior, although the extra d6 makes some difference from time to time. Pike and shot counters them, when facing large number of Hussars superior Pike+shot really pay off. Horse stand a chance against them and can win with a bit of luck, but in small numbers won’t hold for very long time. Recommendation – Hussars should be backed by some Pike+shot against enemy infantry. Shot just isn’t enough when it comes to close combat.

    Few unrelated questions:
    1) Left/right flank deployment. Do I get it right, that in scenarios the left/right flank command must deploy completely to left/right of rest of units (just as echelons in Kirchholm deploy in front/behind each other)?
    2) Battle length. Is it normal, that majority of my games end after turn 3 or 4? My longest game took 5 turns. I only play small games with my comrades. Might be this? Or that we are all just to aggressive? I mean, is it even possible to get to turn 10 in small game?
    3) Sieges. Sieges were important part of Thirty years war and 17th century warfare in general. Do you plan to create some rules for that? I understand the difficulties for current TVBD rule set to apply to such type of combat, but some situations might be simulated using current rules, with slight adjustments. I am thinking of things such as siege of Zbarazh in 1649, where the city was rather lightly fortified and forced Poles to raise earthworks around (could be simulated by field fortification rules). The defenders even conducted charges from their fortified camp with Hussars from time to time to rout the enemy storming their defenses. (By the way I highly recommend famous Trilogy by Henrik Sienkiewicz, consisting of three novellas: With fire and Sword, Deluge and Colonel Wolodyjowski. All were also filmed. Genial story, although probably not fully historically accurate.)

    • Thanks for this Petr. Great feedback. I’ll try experimenting with Polish-Lithuanian in the New Year as my army should be ready to play. I have a sneaking suspicion that just be “Superior” would give the Hussars sufficient edge without the special rule (which was my original idea).

      Most of my scenarios specify a Left Wing, Centre and Right Wing. And some have a reserve. These reflect historical orders of battle and deployments. It is up to you how strictly you adhere to them. We tend to do so, so “Left Wing” is to the left of the Centre, but this is a choice.

      We find games last 4-6 game turns. More often 6 than 4. You are unlikely to get to 10 game turns unless both players are quite passive. The game turn limit is to discourage passive play and not really to limit how long the attacker has to win. If an attacker attacks, then they will have plenty of time to play to conclusion.

      Nice ideas about sieges. Perhaps later.

      There are quite a few open field battles where field fortifications were a critical element. I’ve got a few I want to have a go at.

      And I’m still thinking about the Cossack Tabor. Often they were static field fortifications but sometimes they where mobile and that requires some thought.

      I watched and enjoyed the 1999 movie based on With Fire and Sword.


Leave a Reply