Spanish draw Swedes – 4 player game of Tilly’s Very Bad Day

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).


Deployment

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.

Tilly-886 Table

Tilly-886 Table

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.

Tilly-889 Spanish infantry in checker board

Tilly-889 Spanish infantry in checker board

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.

Tilly-887 Deployment

Tilly-887 Deployment

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.

Tilly-890 Swedish with medieval deployment

Tilly-890 Swedish with medieval deployment

Chris obviously expected to benefit from the hills on his flanks and put horse on the left wing hill.

Tilly-891 Swedish left wing cavalry on hill

Tilly-891 Swedish left wing cavalry on 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.

Tilly-888 Spanish left wing cavalry

Tilly-888 Spanish left wing cavalry


The battle

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.

Tilly-892 Swedish right wing cavalry fan out

Tilly-892 Swedish right wing cavalry fan out

Jamie pushed our Spanish infantry straight forward all along the line.

Tilly-893 Spanish infantry advances

Tilly-893 Spanish infantry advances

On my left some Spanish harquebusiers charged the end unit of the Swedish horse and routed it.

Tilly-894 Spanish harquebusiers rout Swedes

Tilly-894 Spanish harquebusiers rout Swedes

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.

Tilly-895 Routed unit marker

Tilly-895 Routed unit marker

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”.

Tilly-896 Opposing horse face each other on hill

Tilly-896 Opposing horse face each other on hill

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.

Tilly-897 Spanish right wing horse fans out

Tilly-897 Spanish right wing horse fans out

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.

Tilly-898 Swedish guns knock over Spanish infantry general

Tilly-898 Swedish guns knock over Spanish infantry general

We were using cotton wool for shooting markers. Such a simple device but very effective to look at.

Tilly-899 Swedish foot blaze away

Tilly-899 Swedish foot blaze away

You can see all the shooting, resolve and commander casualty markers.

Tilly-900 You can see the shooting resolve and commander casualty markers

Tilly-900 You can see 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.

Tilly-901 Swedish reserve wheels right

Tilly-901 Swedish reserve wheels right

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.

Tilly-902 Spanish shoot back

Tilly-902 Spanish shoot back

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.

Tilly-903 Spanish charge the guns

Tilly-903 Spanish charge the guns

On my left the Spanish horse were pushing the Swedes off the hill.

Tilly-904 Spanish left wing horse take the hill

Tilly-904 Spanish left wing horse take 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.

Tilly-905 Pressure on Swedish right

Tilly-905 Pressure on Swedish right

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.

Tilly-906 Charge

Tilly-906 Charge

Tilly-907 Conflict all down the line

Tilly-907 Conflict all down the line

My left wing horse continued their winning streak and got another rout.

Tilly-908 Swedish horse routs

Tilly-908 Swedish horse routs

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.

Tilly-912 Spanish left continues to advance

Tilly-912 Spanish left continues to advance

Another rout in the Swedish right wing horse.

Tilly-914 Left Wing Spanish Horse roll on

Tilly-914 Left Wing Spanish Horse roll on

On the other flank the cavalry battle was much more evenly balanced. The Swedes repulsed my Spaniards.

Tilly-913 Outnumbered Swedish left drve back Spanish horse

Tilly-913 Outnumbered Swedish left drive back Spanish horse

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.

Tilly-915 Spanish pike and shot routs

Tilly-915 Spanish pike and shot routs

Tilly-916 Spanish pike and shot routs

Tilly-916 Spanish pike and shot routs

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.

Tilly-917 Rally backs on Spanish right

Tilly-917 Rally backs on Spanish right

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.

Tilly-918 Spanish horse confronts Swedish reserve

Tilly-918 Spanish horse confronts Swedish reserve

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.

Tilly-919 Lines reform on Spanish right

Tilly-919 Lines reform on Spanish right

Another Swedish rout on the Spanish right.

Tilly-921 Spanish horse rolls over more Swedes

Tilly-921 Spanish horse rolls over more Swedes

But the Spanish suffered in the centre.

Tilly-922 Swedes rout Spanish pike n shot

Tilly-922 Swedes rout Spanish pike n shot

It wasn’t all one way and Spanish infantry got some revenge for a generally bad day.

Tilly-923 Spanish rout Swedish pike n shot

Tilly-923 Spanish rout Swedish pike n shot

But the trend was obvious.

Tilly-924 Swedes route another Spanish pike n shot

Tilly-924 Swedes route another Spanish pike n shot

The Spanish general of reserves then caught a bullet. It really wasn’t a good day for the tercios.

Tilly-925 Spanish general goes as well

Tilly-925 Spanish general goes as well

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.

Tilly-926 Lots of death on the right flank

Tilly-926 Lots of death on the right flank

That made it a draw.

Tilly-927 End Game

Tilly-927 End Game


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.

Markers

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.

Cavalry columns

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.

Cavalry battles

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.

Minor points

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.

Chequerboard (checkerboard)

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.

14 comments to Spanish draw Swedes – 4 player game of Tilly’s Very Bad Day

  • Andrew Fisher

    From the report, the win/loss/draw condition seems a little arbitrary. The Spanish left-wing horse seem to be in a strong position that would prevent the Swedish infantry centre from exploiting any advantage they have gained, so I’m not clear why the putative historical battle should have halted with a draw at this point.

    • Steven Thomas

      Andrew

      I agree the victory conditions are arbitrary. Deliberately so. 25% losses and you’re done. This of course is to represent morale collapse of the army.

      In a recent game, which I’ll blog about in due course, Jamie and I tried 33%. Made for a longer game but didn’t actually change the outcome (compared to 25%). And of course was still the abrupt ending.

      There are other ways. For example, in the rules I give a random victory conditions option so armies can hang on longer. For our games we opted for the standard, simpler rules. Simple has distinct advantages: clear outcome and shorter games.

      Do you have a suggestion for a less arbitrary approach to victory/defeat?

      • Andrew Fisher

        Well if arbitrary is what you wanted, then it isn’t a problem. I agree it has an advantage in terms of clarity and simplicity. The Perfect Captain has some simple rules that use an army morale track very successfully. I was playing Ironbow last night which uses this mechanism very effectively.

        • Steven Thomas

          Andrew, I finally got some time to track down the Perfect Captain. It turns out I have Spanish Fury Battle by the Perfect Captain. This includes a “confidence track” which behaves as an army morale track. I guess Ironbow has something similar, and that this is what you’re talking about.

          The confidence mechanism is quite rich – comprehensive and well thought out. 11 factors influence an army’s initial confidence – my favourite is, of course, -2 for “Facing Spanish Infantry” (the Tercios live again). Then there are six causes for alarm and five causes for rejoicing, all of which require die rolls to see if they affect confidence during the battle. And these die rolls have six modifiers.

          I’m sure if you are experienced with this system you can make it quite slick, but it does appear to be quite a lot of accounting compared to my simple 25% units lost and you’re done.

          • Andrew Fisher

            Ironbow is a simpler implementation of the same basic principle – events modify confidence without so many die rolls and modifiers. As confidence falls (or rises) it modifies other morale rolls. I find it is no more complex than keeping count of lost units in games (e.g. Blucher) where I have to do that.

            Anyway, it was only to bring the approach to your attention. You should write the game you want to play.

  • John Rohde

    One way to create an incentive for chequerboard infantry deployment might be through the shooting rules. Some of these came to mind.
    Infantry suffer a considerable minus for having fired or bonus for first firing.
    They must fire at the target directly before them, to prevent concentration of fire.
    The idea is that infantry tend to open fire and keep on firing until they are out of ammo. Once they’ve done that, they tend to think their job is done. Clausewitz notes the effect.
    Musketeers are carrying twelve shots.
    A force that keeps a reserve line, can move units forward to take on enemy maybe half of whom have wasted their first fire in support. That’s analogous to how Clausewitz sees skirmish lines being effective.
    It might also explain the Swedish brigades keeping many of their musketeers tucked behind their pikemen, that is evident in prints and was noted by Imperialists at Lutzen: they would be prevented from firing and available, fresh, for a decisive close range salvo. I know Richard Brzezinski states that the pikemen were supposed to take the enemy long range fire, protected by their armour and that could be part or all of the reason.
    Gaps between units were necessary when drill entailed moving with open and fighting with closed files but the chequerboard formation seems have gaps specifically to allow fresh reserves to move forward.
    None of the above is particularly thought through but it just occurred to me as a possible angle.

    • Steven Thomas

      John,

      I like the first fire thing for Napoleonics. This is a centre piece of 2 by 2 Napoleonics game system. It has a very elegant mechanism for doing this as well. I’m not sure it is a thing in the Thirty Years War. French practice, for example, was one volley and then charge with sword and clubbed muskets.

      Good point about the 12 shots. But some battles took all day so I assume they had some mechanism for resupply during the battle.

      I like your rationale for the Swedish having many musketeers tucked behind the pikes. Hadn’t thought of that. Of course it also undermines the commonly accept belief that the Swedes maximised their firing line. They didn’t. At least not under Gustavus.

      > the chequerboard formation seems have gaps specifically to allow fresh reserves to move forward.

      I think that is the key point. They rotated lines to bring fresh troops into the front line and to pull back battle worn units to rally. And the infantry units of the period could not interpenetrate (unlike Napoleonics) so they needed gaps. (Cavalry was a bit different because cavalry squadrons were much smaller.)

      • John Rohde

        Re the French single volley and charge tactic: I wonder if that isn’t an artefact of their attacks in sieges and against field fortifications. That’s what French infantry spent a lot of time doing and were reputedly very good at. It just seems to me odd that such a simple and direct tactic wasn’t universally adopted, once we leave aside arguments from suppose national temperament. These chaps are either marching through a lot of fire to loose one close volley or charging a long way into point blank fire.
        Re ammunition supply: there were supplies at hand. There are instances of ammunition wagons blowing up in battles. It could also be that the long, sullen and desultory phases of infantry battles were due to lack of ammunition. Standing at effective range for hour in hour hardly seems possible otherwise. In game terms, perhaps both players hold back their infantry centres to avoid routing when pressed to charge, hoping to win it hang on with their cavalry.
        Diminished firepower would also allow for the occasional push of pike.

      • John Rohde

        PS I wouldn’t see a rule in the TYW as first fire bonus: more, I’ve done my bit; time for the toffs and high pay men in the front rank of the pikes to do their job. More an exhaustion than a freshness thing, based on a turn representing a lot of volleys.

  • Vincent Tsao

    My two cents: the loss rate among the officers seems a tad high. My house rules for officer casualties (in horse and musket period) is roll two dice, one white, one colored. If the colored die is higher, the officer has been hit. Otherwise the horse has been shot (or a nearby aide) and the officer is out of the game for a turn while a fresh mount (or clean trousers) is procured. If this happens during a lost melee the worthy may be captured.

    • Steven Thomas

      I half agree with you Vincent.

      Agree: We get a lot of officer casualties in our games.

      Disagree: Because we insist on attaching our generals to units and charging them into contact. And every time one of them gets shot we say “oops, I really should learn not to do that.”

      Still agree: But perhaps it is true that they die too fast. I’ve considered a saving roll which gives a similar effect to what you describe.

      Still disagree: But I haven’t done that because it complicates the game. I am trying to keep it to one dice mechanism for everything.

      But still vacillating: But a saving roll could be as simple as roll 1d6 and save on 4-6. Which is about the odds in your system.

      • Vincent Tsao

        True. My system also uses both dice against a table to reveal how bad the wound was and how long the officer will be out of action (anywhere from a day to eternity). It is intended for the campaign that we will play some day… But yes, if you don’t need to know how bad it is, a saving throw would do the same.

  • Vincent Tsao

    And oh yes, how long did the game take to play and how many moves were played?

    • Steven Thomas

      It took 3 hours to play. Which seemed okay for a biggish game, although had Jamie on the edge of challenging “fast play”. We haven’t been tracking turns in our games but I really should do that because it might inform scenario design.

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