In a very exciting game the Spanish (Jamie and Steven) just barely managed to deny the Swedes (Chris and Adam) the victory they thought well in hand. We really enjoyed our first game of Tilly’s Very Bad Day following publication. Again the rules proved themselves able to provide a fast and exciting game, with lots of flavour. We are still struggling to break deeply ingrained habits from DBA, e.g. bunching up, and the more we do this, the more we enjoy Tilly. And we still need to iron out the problem with chequerboard formations.
Version of Tilly’s Very Bad Day
This was our first play test of the rules as published (version 1.1). Tilly’s Very Bad Day is available for Download (PDF).
Chris pointed out that, as the defender, he had quite a big advantage because he gets to choose the terrain. And to demonstrate this he chose two gentle hills on the defender’s side of the table, and a wood on the attacker’s side. A road ran though the middle.
Jamie set up for the Spanish. This is because I have something in mind when playing Tilly’s Very Bad Day – after all, they are my rules – and I’m keen to see what other people do with them. Our centre was a shallow chequerboard of infantry units with cannons in support. Nothing controversial there.
But Jamie surprised me twice, once on each wing. The cavalry on both our wings were in a four deep column. This is a super sensible formation in DBA as it is manoeuvrable and can expand into line at the critical moment. But in Tilly, as we found, a dense column is quite tricky to do anything with. And our right wing cavalry was even worse off because Jamie deployed them on an angle, facing the enemy centre; that meant they were not facing the enemy wing directly opposite them. I let him do it to see what happened.
The Swedes set up with their infantry centre in line and cannons to the front. They had a small reserve of horse with more horse on both flanks.
Chris obviously expected to benefit from the hills on his flanks and put horse on the left wing hill.
The Swedish right wing was tucked in close the infantry, so the Spanish left wing was way out on the flank. This is the advantage of the large table in Tilly’s Very Bad Day, it allows on table flank marches.
Right away we realised that units deployed in a bunch – a brilliant formation in DBA – wasn’t so clever in Tilly’s Very Bad Day. And with that realisation we came to use the “fan” manoeuvre, i.e. start in column, wheel and advance each stand, and end up with the stands fanned out. This is exactly what the Swedish right wing cavalry did. They fanned out to head for the gentle hill on their flank.
Jamie pushed our Spanish infantry straight forward all along the line.
On my left some Spanish harquebusiers charged the end unit of the Swedish horse and routed it.
The published rules of Tilly’s Very Bad Day (version 1.0) mentioned a bunch of markers which I own and which seemed useful, but which we hadn’t used pre-publication. This battle saw them appear on table. First up with the red skull marker. We use this for routed units. We need a marker to remember to give enemy an opportunity for recovering resolve through unit heroics. We quite liked them. Simple, visual, effective. You’ll also see one of my resolve markers in the photo below. I’ve got double sides “1/2” and “3/4” markers. Again them are obvious but don’t seem to dominate the table.
My left wing cavalry faced the Swedes right wing horse. My harquebusiers had already routed one unit so I had 4 to 2 odds. Seemed good. I just had to get out of column and into line. So, another “fan”.
This was also the time when Chris realised that rushing his horse for a gentle hill didn’t really help him. Horse don’t get an advantage on hills in Tilly’s Very Bad Day. Effectively only infantry defending a hill are advantaged; although, more accurately, units attacking infantry on a hill are disadvantaged.
My right wing cavalry was also doing some complicated manoeuvring to get out of column and to face their immediate opponents. This involved yet another fan, but using an oblique rather than a wheel. This left me arranged in a rather odd fish scale formation. I figured I’d address that next turn with a wheel.
Commanders are quite vulnerable in Tilly’s Very Bad Day and we had a “Tilly” moment when a Swedish cannon shot rendered our infantry general hors de combat. Notice the white skull to remind us to do command morale later on. This was very bad occurrence for our infantry. Our entire centre was going to lose resolve.
We were using cotton wool for shooting markers. Such a simple device but very effective to look at.
You can see all the shooting, resolve and commander casualty markers.
Chris realised he was in a bad situation on his right flank, so mobilised his reserve to go to the rescue. Of course we had the now common problem of a column having to fan out to move.
Following the Swedish move the Spanish shot back. This is an interesting feature of Tilly’s Very Bad Day. It is I-GO-U-GO with a twist. I go, you shoot, you go, I shoot.
Cannons are quite fragile in Tilly’s Very Bad Day. The best way to deal with them is to charge them. Contact means the cannons are destroyed. So Jamie’s Spanish infantry charged the guns.
On my left the Spanish horse were pushing the Swedes off the hill.
What that means is Spanish advances followed by Swedish withdrawals (rally back). Chris was hoping to be rescued by his reserve. But one unit of Swedish horse got trapped between the Swedish infantry and the Spanish horse.
This was the big moment. Charges all along the line. All the cavalry, on both wings, charged and the Swedish infantry charged. Jamie’s spaniards were not so keen because, without a general, they struggled to move. This is where you can see my charge markers – the green arrows. They make charge declarations very obvious.
My left wing horse continued their winning streak and got another rout.
My left wing continued to advance. I was taking out the Swedish horse piecemeal and the enemy reserve looked like it would come within reach one at a time as well. I also had that tempting infantry flank starting to be exposed. Could I reach it before Adam could respond.
Another rout in the Swedish right wing horse.
On the other flank the cavalry battle was much more evenly balanced. The Swedes repulsed my Spaniards.
In the centre the battle was quite ugly, from a Spanish perspective. All of the units in Jamie’s centre were one down in resolve. So none of the melees were going to be nice. Two routs in the first turn of melee.
On the Spanish right the cavalry melee was more interesting. Successes and failures. Charges and rally backs. It gave a really good impression of a fluid cavalry battle.
The Spanish left wing cavalry continued their victorious advance. And I finally had a clear charge at the Swedish infantry … unfortunately Adam turned to face the threat before I could contact.
On the Spanish right the two sides reformed for another go. However, my Croats smelt weakness and went after the Swedish unit that had only 1 resolve left.
Another Swedish rout on the Spanish right.
But the Spanish suffered in the centre.
It wasn’t all one way and Spanish infantry got some revenge for a generally bad day.
But the trend was obvious.
The Spanish general of reserves then caught a bullet. It really wasn’t a good day for the tercios.
The game was decided on the right flank. The Spanish lost two units of horse. The Swedes lost one unit of horse and their general.
That made it a draw.
Observations and conclusions
We really enjoyed the game. Both the visual spectacle and how it played out.
The game was close fought, so close it ended up a draw. The Swedes won the infantry battle and the Spanish won the two cavalry battles. Which, for the period, was a common enough result. The event that shifted the battle from a minor Swedish victory to a hard fought draw was the death of the Swedish general right at the end. Chris and Adam thought they won … and then didn’t. Such is war.
During the game there were, of course, some interesting discussions about specific rules. Or the absence of rules. Sometimes there was discussion and we decided the rules were fine as they were. Sometimes we thought some change/improvement was warranted.
Version 1.0 of Tilly’s Very Bad Day mentioned a bunch of markers that I already own, that seemed useful given the game mechanisms, but which we hadn’t used pre-publication. This battle saw the entire range of markers appear on table.
- The red skull marker is used for routed units so we could remember to recover resolve through unit heroics. We quite liked them. Simple, visual, effective.
- Similarly for white skulls and commander casualties. Simple and clear.
- There has to be an honourable mention of my resolve markers – we used them in previous games but still like them. I’ve got double sides “1/2” and “3/4” markers. They are obvious but don’t seem to dominate the table.
- The green arrows for charge declarations and rally backs really helped clarify intent.
- Finally, we were using cotton wool for shooting markers. Such a simple device but quite impressive on table.
Defender choosing terrain
Chris pointed out that the defender has an advantage when placing terrain. The defender can place any terrain they want without restriction. To demonstrate how powerful this advantage is, Chris placed gentle hills on each flank. My starting point was “Well, players should be gentlemen.” Of course, a long history of wargaming tells me that some players are anything but gentlemen. So I’m thinking about terrain placement rules – perhaps terrain cards. As it happens, Chris did not benefit from his game winning terrain placement. What he didn’t realise is that in Tilly’s Very Bad Day only infantry defending the hill get a combat advantage. So the Swedish horse on the hills did not benefit.
Sequence of play
Once again Jamie commented favourably about the sequence of play. It is I-GO-U-GO with a twist. I go, you shoot, you go, I shoot, somebody charges, the other bloke shoots. It is frustrating not to be able to shoot all the time – we have been kind of spoilt by DBA in this – but it feels right for the period. Gives a sense of the slow pace of pike and shot warfare. I have, however, noticed that we never use point blank shooting. The choice to shoot or charge is made during a player’s normal shooting. So, by the time charges happen, target units have already shot. I’m tempted to drop point blank shooting from future versions.
As I mentioned both my wings had cavalry in a four deep column. On the right my problem was how to face the enemy and get into line. On the left my problem was how to advance rapidly to get behind the Swedish flank but be in line when I headed for the centre. Columns are the right formation in DBA but not in Tilly’s Very Bad Day. In fact, in Tilly columns of units in physical contact make it harder. The answer was fairly obvious and doesn’t require a rule change. Don’t deploy bunched up. And do deploy pointed towards nearest threat.
We liked the feel of the two cavalry battles. On the Spanish right the cavalry battle was very fluid. Ebbs and flows. Successes and failures. Charges and rally backs. It was active and quite exciting. On the Spanish left my cavalry quickly gained ascendency and Chris could only feed in units piecemeal. But again this had a great feel. Chris was slowly sacrificing cavalry units to give Adam’s infantry a chance to win the battle. And they almost did.
There were a couple of trivial points about the rules:
- Tilly’s Very Bad Day lacks guidance about shooting beyond the crest of a hill. For this game we treated the hills as flat for shooting, which is not very elegant. Something to think about.
- There were a question about zones of control (ZOC). Does a ZOC extend through units; we ruled “yes” as Tilly doesn’t specify, but it doesn’t seem quite right.
The big question was chequerboard (checkerboard) versus line. Historically units formed in chequerboard. This maximised firepower and allowed mutual support. But the rules as published give the advantage to lines. This requires some thought. In fact, readers have been adding various suggestions about what to do about this. I’ll post my thoughts on this soon.