Spitballing on Eastern Armies in Tilly’s Very Bad Day

I tend to focus on the Thirty Years War in western and central Europe. Tilly’s Very Bad Day is written with this same focus. But there was a lot going on in the East. Russia, Poland and the Ottoman Empire were all big players. Even closer to home there was also the Hungarians and Transylvanians – sandwiched between the Holy Roman Empire and the Ottomans – and they could field large armies in their own right. So how can we / should we represent these armies in Tilly’s Very Bad Day? I don’t know the answer so figured we should do some “spitballing” on the topic.

The discussion so far

Scattered through the comments of the posts on Tilly’s Very Bad Day, you’ll find mention of the eastern armies. Here are all the ones I found.

Musing on Types of Horse in Tilly’s Very Bad Day

Steven wrote:

What about Lancers

Some armies featured lancers. In the Spanish and Imperial service the guard companies retained lance throughout the war. I see no need to simulate these in a game focussed on brigades.

More eastern armies, e.g. Polish, continued to rely on the lance. But I think the generic rules for horse cater for these without modification. It might be that Polish Winged Hussars have a preference for charging. That is up to the player.

samacw (24 Aug 2019) commented:

I’m not sure I’d agree about the winged hussars counting simply as horse, but it’s a matter of interpretation.
The other cavalry issue with any eastern European conflict is the presence of what is essentially medieval light cavalry – be they cossacks, Tatars, Turks, pancerni, or others. Would you just roll them into the arquebusier class?
It’s an intersting question if you try to make rules that can deal with eastern and western armies in the same place – battles between Sweden and Poland, Sweden and Russia or Austria and Turkey are always fascinating

Steven (28 Aug 2019) commented:

Sam, I realised after I wrote this post, that I neglected to mention that Tilly’s Very Bad Day has a second category of cavalry called “Light Horse”. That covers all the eastern European cavalry types and specifically Croats, Polish Cossacks, and Hungarian Hussars (the ones that appeared in Catholic armies of the Thirty Years War).

This post is about the western European horse. The (more-or-less) heavies.

Making light horse more effective in Tilly’s Very Bad Day

30YW-794 - Catholic - Croat
30YW-794 – Catholic – Croat

John Rohde (22 Oct 2019) commented:

I struggle to think of a battle of the period where light horse had much influence. They were cheap and could be a nuisance to the enemy off the battlefield but they seem to have been mainly used in the war of outposts, much like Cossacks.

Steven (22 Oct 2019) commented:

In this period, Light Horse could literally be Cossacks.

They were certainly not battle winners. Their main value was at the campaign level, hence my ideas about scouting.

But they were deployed on the battlefield. Usually on the flanks.

I think the tweaks I’m suggesting will leave them on the flanks, because they can’t stand up to horse in a face to face confrontation. But they will be more valuable.

Chris Harrod (23 Oct 2019) commented:

I think the unspoken assumption here is that all troop types should have their own use on the battlefield. Surely battles are fought in a historical context, and historically you didn’t get to choose all the troops you had to hand. If light horse was wonderful (or very useful) why would people spend a fortune on armouring it and training them to fight in close order? Presumably “skirmishing with pistol while mounted, harassing the enemy flanks, and joining in the pursuit” is just a description of some rubbish irreguars you drafted in to your army to make up the numbers?

Steven (24 Oct 2019) commented:

> I think the unspoken assumption here is that all troop types should have their own use on the battlefield.

> Surely battles are fought in a historical context, and historically you didn’t get to choose all the troops you had to hand.
That is true. But doesn’t change the argument.

> If light horse was wonderful (or very useful) why would people spend a fortune on armouring it and training them to fight in close order?
They didn’t.

They hired different guys to fight as horse, whether armoured or not, and whether charging or shooting.

Whereas Light Horse, whether Croats, Huzars, and Cossacks, had a different approach to war. Different but valuable.

> Presumably “skirmishing with pistol while mounted, harassing the enemy flanks, and joining in the pursuit” is just a description of some rubbish irreguars you drafted in to your army to make up the numbers?
Nope. At least the “rubbish irregulars” bit.

The Hapsburgs valued their light horse. Raised many regiments of them during the course of the war, and had a peak of least 5 regiments of them at one point.

“skirmishing with pistol while mounted, harassing the enemy flanks, and joining in the pursuit” was their battlefield role. Which is not too inspiring, just a reflection of their shock capabilities.

The real value of light horse was in between battles. Hence the scouting suggestion above.

It was experience of the Hapsburg’s light horse during the TYW that encouraged western European nations to hire / raise their own Hussar units. They filled a niche that other horse did not.


I got that wrong. The Imperialists peaked at 10 regiments of Croats. Plus more recruited on an irregular basis.

Some quotes on the Croats from Brnardic on the Imperialist army … “Exceptionally useful light cavalry. Tough and experienced, they were led by daring commanders who were capable of rapid assessment of a developing situation, and decisive judgement. Each man was a skilled horseman and close quarter fighter”.

“As their numbers grew the name ‘Croat’ became synonymous across Europe with skilled, mobile light troops.”

So “rubbish irregulars”? … no.

John Mumby (25 Oct 2019) commented:

Just as an observation, I believe the light raw horse at White Mountain were Transylvanians and fled the battle very early on. I guess they were truly “rubbish irregulars.”

Steven (25 Oct 2019) commented:

That is why I have unit quality separate from unit type.

Version 2 of Tilly’s Very Bad Day

J. Streetman (28 May 2020) commented:

Hey, thanks for doing all this. I was wondering if at some point you would add rules for eastern armies(Russia, Poland, Ottomans, etc.) in the time period. Or at least suggest some values for the advantages/disadvantages I see common to them.

Excellent steppe cavalry: Advantage to scouting? Disadvantage to damage due to archery?

Fanatical and devastating charges: Infantry Advantage to charging, maybe full flanking bonus to front-flank? Disadvantage to getting charged by Cav due to shorter weapons. (swords, bardiches, etc.)?

Higher percentage of and reliance on cavalry: Maybe extra cav resolve traded for lower infantry resolve?

Idk just spitballing. Some suggestions or an official addendum would be neat. Really like your work. Thanks for listening if you do.

Steven (28 May 2020) commented:

Hi J, thanks for the suggestion. I would love to add the eastern armies. I admit that is unfamiliar ground for me. I might start with a post about it. See who else is interested.

Questions for you

My assumption that a combination of these troop types would be enough to field eastern armies:

  • Horse for close formation mounted shooters/chargers
  • Light Horse for skirmishing masses
  • Shot for firepower based infantry
  • Rabble for the great unwashed

As I told J. Streetman, I’m not very familiar with the eastern armies. So I need your help to shine a light on what needs to be fixed. Here are some questions to get you going …

What am I missing?
What were the unique troop types, only found in the east?
What new weapon systems need to explicitly factored into the rules?
Where would using current troop types bend reality too far?
And what sources are best for the eastern armies?

Where to get Tilly’s Very Bad Day

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

16 thoughts on “Spitballing on Eastern Armies in Tilly’s Very Bad Day”

  1. I’ve seen Polish cavalry put into 3 categories – the Hussaria being the heavy, then armoured and unarmoured lighter cavalry who were usually armed for both shooting (often bows) and close combat. As time went on and the hussars became more heavily armoured they usually made up a smaller proportion of the force. To be honest it seems that either the hussars won, or the Polish army lost.
    I think a 3 level cavalry split (heavy, medium and light) might be better for gaming purposes, considering that barring the Swedes many of the eastern armies are based on different types of cavalry with shot only infantry.

    Infantry tended to split along Polish or “German” lines depending on armament and origin, although there were also some more household type troops. In the 17th century the majority of Cossack troops were actually infantry, but Cossack style cavalry was pretty common.

    This is a good source http://www.jasinski.co.uk/wojna/index.htm but even sources I’ve come across in Polish tend to be light on the details of army make up and roles. I can’t get any book names for now as my books are boxed up.

    • Agreed on the three categories of cavalry. Although George Gush – Polish Armies. talks about Heavy (Hussars), Mediums (Pancerni, Rajtar, and Mounted Arquebusiers) and Lights (Cossacks, Tartars, Wallachians). The Rajtar and Arquebusiers were basically western in style – and exactly match my Horse type. Light cavalry are my Light Horse type. That just leaves the small number of Hussars to categorise. Hmm.

      Agreed on the mass of Cossack infantry.

      Thanks for the jasinski link. I quick glance suggests it is compatible with Gush although differs in some details.

      • Just random idea. Maybe you could use similar rules for heavy cavalry as for large pike+shot – making them two bases behind each other.
        – It would make them more rare on battlefield as they would cost two units
        – Their loss would have higher impact on army moral for the same reason and thus fulfill what samacw said above: “either the hussars won, or the Polish army lost”
        – It would make them harder to kill and more valuable than regular horse because of higher resolve
        – You wouldn’t have to create completely new type of unit
        On the other hand, I am not sure, if it would make them more charge oriented in the way they were in comparison to western cavalry.

        • Interesting idea Petr. From what I understand, and I’ve been reading furiously, the Hussars tended to be deployed thinly with 4 ranks. So not very comparable to the 20 deep pike+shot blocks.

          I’m tempted to “make them more charge oriented in the way they were in comparison to western cavalry.” Hussars were armed with pistols but that didn’t seem to change their single purpose – charge and break those long deliberately fragile lances. At the moment that hints at a “completely new type of unit” (to my surprise).

  2. From what I have read about the “Deluge” period, I got the impression, that:
    Majority of Polish/Cossack/Tatar forces consisted of cavalry, though, in cossack case, the main weight of battle was usualy carried by infantry.
    The infantry also tended to fight from “wagon forts” or other quickly created fortifications as a protection against cavalry.
    In relation to this, I have read, that russian Streltsy, ottoman Janissaries and even Cossack infantry often used spears or pikes, but I am not sure, if their usage on battlefield resembled that of western pike-and-shot.
    In the case of polish armies, I believe they often used german mercenaries as main part of their infantry force, and relied more on cavalry – the feared hussars, who, as was mentioned by samacw, tended to win the battle. They would even have whole carts with spare lances in rear, so that hussars could repeat their charge with new lances over and over until enemy formation broke, though according to some sources, they carried several pairs of pistols too. They also used extraordinary breed of horses, which were able to accelerate quickly and run fast even with heavily armoured rider on their back.

    • Thanks for sharing a bit of flavour, particularly on the Poles.

      Yes, I agree, wagon forts are new. I’ll have to think about them.

    • A bit more reading has shed some light …

      on the Bloody ‘Deluge (1655 to 1660) – right, I know what that means now. Phew.

      on Polish Cossack spearmen. 1 in 10 men had a spear. The other nine had fire arms. The spearmen were kind of NCOs and file leaders or file closers in a 10 deep formation. So not really comparable to to Pike in a Pike+Shot unit. More comparable to a halberd armed officer in a Shot unit, but with more of them.

      on Hussars. The proportion of Hussars, in the cavalry, dropped dramatically over the 17th century. From 85% in the 16th Century to a low of 5% around 1660. Then it climbed again to 20%.

      on proportions on cavalry v infantry. My impression is proportions varied enormously over the 17th century, both between cavalry and infantry and also between National and Foreign. I don’t know about the deluge period specifically but jasinski mentions this composition for 1634 against the Turks: “12,180 cavalry (including 4,180 hussars), 7,500 Polish infantry (large number of private troops), 5,500 western infantry, 3,460 dragoons and 16,000 Zaporozhian Cossacks.”

      The proportions for that force were:
      Cavalry 12,180 27%
      Dragoons 3,460 8%
      Infantry 29,000 65%
      Total 44,640

      Of the Infantry 19% are Foreign (12% of the total force).

      I’m quite enjoying this.

  3. Steven

    As regards infantry ‘types’, the thing I’d note about the Eastern Armies are Shot with above average punch, e.g. Janissaries who were also renowned swordsmen and Polish/Russian shot double-armed with axes.

    These are significant characteristics in rules orientated to hardware at the micro level, but I expect you are going to tell me that in TVBD those qualities would just translate into Superior (if justified).


    • Well, that is a good bet there Richard. Actually I might go further and look for evidence that those troop types were genuinely superior in our period. I don’t know about the Polish axe guys but I know a bit more about the Janissaries. Early on they were hard guys and would warrant being superior or equivalent. But by the 30 Years war the number of Janissaries had increased dramatically and the quality declined accordingly. So I think ordinary suits them. They just looked good compared to the other infantry in the Ottoman ranks, which generally wasn’t very good at all. The serhaddkuu infantry (Azabs and Segmems) were described as “Cannon fodder destined to be sacrificed” according to one Austro-Hungarian observer. Inferior tending to rabble.

    • The Polish infantry adopted the axe in 1670 so slightly outside the period of the Thirty Years War. I remain unconvinced of the axe’s influence on their effectiveness at brigade level.

      “In the early 1670’s the infantry began to use axes, which were used as a melee weapon, a musket rest and also for the construction of field defences. The length of these axes is not known (the one in the Warsaw Polish army museum seems rather short), but we can assume that their haft was as long as a musket rest (that is at least 1.2 metres), it was carried on a belt and slung over the shoulder. It replaced the musket rest and later also the sabre, however there is no proof it replaced the pike.”

      From http://www.jasinski.co.uk/wojna/develop/dev06.htm

      • The Poles may have copied the shot-axe combination from the Russian Streltsy, but I haven’t been able to find when the latter adopted it. The illustrations I’ve seen of Streltsy also seem to be post-TYW. What I suspect now is that axes were adopted to beef up the shot when pikes were already in decline.

        • There are definitely times early on when the Polish National infantry were viewed more as pioneers rather than fighters. Makes sense to give pioneers axes. Even as late as the Napoleonic wars all armies were doing that. But this is all guess work.

          I’m still trying to figure out how exactly you juggle both a berdiche axe and a musket – both of which are two handed weapons. In the moment of firing I get it, big axe acts as a musket rest. But what did they do when loading the musket? What did they do in hand to hand? They must have discarded the muskets -surely?? And wouldn’t that cause problems afterwards?

          More positively I read a small hint that the axes were effective against cavalry. More investigation needed.

  4. Another thing I’m mulling over. The ‘Cossack’ cavalry in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth included both armoured and light cavalry. Both could scout and skirmish. I only let light cavalry scout.

    • I would stick to what you state in the section about scouting in the rules: “(…) I assume any contribution to scouting by the opposing contingents of Horse counter balance each other, so it is only the Light Horse and Dragoons that make a difference.”

      In your Polish-Lithuanian Orders of Battle you give them same maximum of scouting units, as is for westerners (up to 2 light horse and 2 dragoons). As the Polish maximums grow in larger games, they already get scouting advantage as they have more scouting units. And even in small games they have minimum of one light horse, so they get better scouting than opponent without light horse/dragoons. Giving them more scouting units might offset a balance against western armies and make it really hard to outscout them.

  5. The Ottoman army went through a pretty big change in the 17th century. Janissary numbers peaked in the 1590s and in the 17th century they had a lot more mercenary musket troops (sekban) plus another type of infantry that could fight mounted or dismounted (tufecki). The Ottomans did use some halberdiers, but as far as I know they were not used in great numbers nor were they deployed like Western pike-and-shot formations. Most of the mid-seventeenth century Ottoman forces were musket line formations. It’s also somewhat difficult to pin down the role of their cavalry in the mid 1600s, since the timariot system of raising mounted feudal levies had essentially collapsed 50 years before. I guess to sum up, the stereotype of the Ottoman army being massed cavalry was definitely true in their initial expansion in the 15th-early 16th centuries but their military organization shifted in a big way by the mid seventeenth century.


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