Snakes and Ladders Campaign for Tilly’s Very Bad Day

Peter of Grid based wargaming has sparked some interest in using the children’s board game Snakes and Ladders as the basis for a wargaming Campaign. The snakes become tribulations and the ladders are campaign successes. So I have made up a board for a Tilly’s Very Bad Day Snakes and Ladders campaign based on Peter’s board for the 18th Century.

There is no skill in playing this campaign system as, like the children’s board game, random dice rolls lead to success. If you are lucky, you will win. For me this makes a Snakes and Ladders Campaign most suited to solo play where the goal is to provide narrative for the game. I’m not really a solo player myself, but I know some Tilly’s Very Bad Day players do play solo and I hope this will appeal to them.

Snakes and Ladders for Tilly’s Very Bad Day

The Snakes and Ladders campaign system lends itself well to a solo campaign for Tilly’s Very Bad Day. The campaign is for a Small Game with 10-18 units a side in each battle.

The objective of this campaign is to create a handful of battles leading up to a final battle. Good fortune and the outcomes of the earlier battles will give one side an advantage in the final battle.

I copied Peter’s board for a Generic 18th Century Snakes and Ladders Campaign to make the campaign map for Tilly’s Very Bad Day. I tweaked the battle squares to provide appropriate army lists for Tilly’s Very Bad Day.

Tilly's Very Bad Day - 30 Years War - Snakes And Ladders Campaign
Tilly’s Very Bad Day – 30 Years War – Snakes And Ladders Campaign


Armies begin on the start square and roll a D6 dice moving forward the number of dice pips shown.

Fortune Squares

When an army lands on a fortune square it must follow the fortune arrow. Fortune only takes effect when you land on a fortune square at the end of your movement. Fortune squares passed across earlier in the movement are ignored. There are two types of fortune square:

  • Tribulations (bad fortune) replace Snakes: The army go backwards, down the board, along the red arrow. Examples of bad fortune are: muddy roads, desertions, no pay.
  • Successes (good fortune) replace Ladders: The army go forwards, up the board, along the blue arrow. Examples of good fortune are: supports join the cause, intelligence arrives from spy in enemy camp.

Battle Squares

An army must stop if it reaches one of the double-sized battle squares, regardless of the number of used/unused pips.

Fight a battle using Tilly’s Very Bad Day. Each battle is a small game on a small table (or small shallow table) with a small army (10-18 units). Use the army list in the battle square to select your army. Different battle squares give slightly different army lists e.g. “Early skirmish with 10 units per side: 2 Commanders, 4 Ordinary units and 4 Inferior” versus “Battle with 15 units per side: 3 Commanders, 1 Cannon and 11 Ordinary units”. The majority troop types should be Horse and/or Pike&Shot. Use Terrain Cards to determine the terrain. The moving army is the attacker.

The result of the tabletop battle determines whether the moving army can move further. After the battle, if the moving army:

  • Wins: the moving army gets a free move along the battle success arrow (green). Battle success arrows guarantee the move avoids tribulations.
  • Loses: the moving army stays in place on the battle square.

Final Battle Square

An army reaching the last battle square triggers the Final Battle. The moving army gets an advantage in the army list: “Battle with 18 units for the moving army and 15 units for the other army: 3 commanders, 2 Superior units, and all other units are Ordinary”.

The winner of this battle is the winner of the campaign.

Differences to the children’s game

The campaign came is pretty similar to the children’s game of Snakes and Ladders. But there are a couple of differences worth calling out. Firstly, the battle squares. The children’s game doesn’t have these. These are effectively ladders with a special rule, i.e. you have to win a tactical battle to benefit from the ladder.

Secondly, the conclusion of the game. In the children’s game the winner is the first player to reach the end of the board. Some people play a “bounce” option, where you have the roll exactly the right number to finish. The campaign version has a final battle and the winner wins the campaign. So the slower player might win the campaign even though they have not made it to the end. That is a significant difference. The campaign is basically a race where the winner of the race gets an increased force in the final battle.

Where to get Tilly’s Very Bad Day

Tilly’s Very Bad Day is available for Download (PDF). You can also get a printed copy from Lulu.

What has gone before

I didn’t invent this campaign system of course. I have borrowed heavily from wargamers that have gone before me. Three wargamers have posted material on using Snakes and Ladders as the basis of a wargaming campaign. They are all, from what I can tell, using it as a mechanism for solo campaigning. I have put them in chronological order as one leads to the other.


Snakes and Ladders Campaign is another innovative idea from Peter of Grid based wargaming. Although a comment on one of his posts suggests that Bob Cordery sparked the original idea.

Grid Based Wargaming - Generic 18th Century - Snakes and Ladders Campaign
Grid Based Wargaming – Generic 18th Century – Snakes and Ladders Campaign

Peter wanted to “sneak in a small campaign of a few battles or smaller engagements”. He recently completed his linear style ECW Campaign (which I borrowed heavily from for Populous, Rich, and Rebellious – English Civil War Campaign). This was an epic – he wrote 45+ posts on it – and wanted something a bit different. Simpler.

Peter’s Snakes and Ladders campaign is set in the Jacobite rebellion using paper armies. The rules are scattered through his first few posts.

Peter felt he had the number of snakes and ladders misfortunes (snakes) and successes (ladders) about right on his board.

Peter’s board has green arrows for the free move after a successful battle. His battles also have slightly different profiles with the troops become more seasoned as the campaign progresses.


And Peter has shared the source file for his board:

Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith used a Snakes and Ladders approach for his English Civil War campaign. Being the English Civil War, Stephen added one interesting tweak the the system: a time track. Each year of the war is one pass through the Snakes and Ladders board. When a new year comes the armies start at START again. And Stephen drew his own map. He uses the Portable Wargame ECW variant.

Stephen Smith - ECW - Snakes and Ladders Campaign
Stephen Smith – ECW – Snakes and Ladders Campaign

Smith has a cool “how to” video on this: ECW campaigning with snakes and ladders.


Kaptain Kobold

Kaptain Kobold followed on from Stephen Smith with an English Civil War campaign. Like the others, he drew his own map. But he replaces the Snakes (tribulation red arrows) with “DOWN” and the Ladders (success blue arrows) with “UP”. The Kaptain also replaces the battle success arrows with “ADVANCE”. Each battle square shows how many units are used e.g. “5 rolls” means each sides gets 5 units and rolls for the type of each unit. He uses his own Portable Wargame ECW variant.

Stronghold Rebuilt - ECW - Snakes and Ladders Campaign
Stronghold Rebuilt – ECW – Snakes and Ladders Campaign


19 thoughts on “Snakes and Ladders Campaign for Tilly’s Very Bad Day”

  1. This must be a fairly new idea as not much of this system exists on the internet. This can be adapted to many campaign subjects. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

      • Yes I am already thinking how well this can work with my 15mm DBA . It can be an interesting way of generating battles in a reasonable way. I want to thank for creating this marvelous website that is a great tool for war gamers. It has given me much food for thought.

  2. Does the losing army remain in the battle box? Even if they were somewhere else on the board? It seems possible in any case for any battle box but the last to be visited more than once. I may have misunderstood, wouldn’t be the first time.

    • Hi Vincent. The losing army is where the associated counter is, so not in the battle box. Only the moving army is in the battle box, and might move on if it wins.

  3. Excellent overview and review Steven.

    I have been working on a variant myself that is more aimed at a two player campaign. My variant uses and a card deck of events card play and a small deck building element to the game to enable some player ‘agency’ to be employed so that the entire, campaign progress isn’t random.

    For a solo player the existing method works well. For opposed play some level of control on the campaign track is needed/desirable I think to make it ‘competitive’ for each side with the aim to get to the finish and win the campaign.

    I shall keep you posted on my progress.


    Happy Wanderer

  4. Since there are no decisions to be made by players, I ran a solo campiagn pitting SYW Austria and Prussia against each other. The Austrians leaped ahead and were on the way to the final batle when their leaders argued and down they dropped. The campaign lasted 17 turns, with 9 battles and one skirmish. One battle was a tie. Most of the events happened, the Austrians suffering desertions twice. But their battle dice were hot and they won the last battle easily.

    I am considering giving the winner of a battle a free re-roll of one die in the next battle. Otherwise only yhte initiater of a battle gets any bonus from victory.

    • Hi Vincent,

      I’m incorporating benefits for the winner of battles and also a bump for the first player that gets to each battle box….however, we are playing two player – 1 v 1. This sets up a bit of ‘competition’ to keep things spicy as the narrative unfolds and a bonus of you pull off the win in the battle.


  5. What a great idea – already mulling over 2 immediate possibilities for this: Seymour’s expedition during the Boxer Rebellion and a German punitive force either in East Africa or during the Herero Revolt using MWWBK as the tabletop rules.

  6. Hi – Been a lurker of your site for a while – I really enjoy that much of your content is campaign focused and that so many of the systems are game agnostic (or at least made easily tweaked to fit other games). I’ve been using the political token campaigns for a few years now and love that, although quite simple as a mechanic, it can be made quite thematic by just changing ‘political token’ to be ‘Italia’, ‘Hispania’, & ‘Africa’ and suddenly you’ve got a Punic war campaign.

    After reading your post on these Snakes and Ladders campaign – I immediately thought that the system could make for an excellent Caesar in Gaul solitaire campaign – because of the back and forth nature of that campaign and the constant supressing of rebellions, I think it lends itself exceptionally well – likewise rather than having the tiles laid out sequentially like a snakes and ladders board, its easy to see how this could be jumbled up over a map of Gaul to help with the immersion aspect. Rather than being a race to the finish between two factions, as a solitaire campaign the objective can be to conquer Gaul (get to the end) in a certain number of turns.

    Keep up the great work!


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