Saturday, 26 March 2016

Fleurus, 1622

After the success of Edgehill, I wanted to give the Neil Thomas Pike and Shot rules another go in a different period, this time the Thirty Years War. Although I am fairly up on Gustavus Adolphus and the Swedes, the workings of the earlier Imperial and Protestant armies have always been a bit of mystery to me, so this was always going to be a bit of an experiment.

I wanted to do something from the early period before everyone had discovered the primacy of firepower so I dug around a bit on wikipedia and came with the Battle of Fleurus in 1622. An army of Protestant mercenaries (which included the Bishop of Halberstadt) in the hire of the Dutch and en route to raise the Spanish siege of Bergen-op-Zoom. The battle was fought near Fleurus, and also quite near to Quatre Bras and Ligny, so an exciting part of the world.

Eager defenders of the faith rolled up, John and Jerry took the wicked Spanish and Tim G took the wicked Protestants. As usual played with my 2mm stuff on a few hastily assembled carpet tiles. This was the first outing for my big pike blocks and Tercio stands some of which are dimly visible in the photos. (Many thanks to Tim for the photos, the SD card in my phone died and I lost all mine).

General layout of the battlefield. Protestants nearest the camera. Cordobas Spanish deployed with their flanks resting on the woods. I had to juggle the armies a bit to fit in with the historical strengths. The eight ad-hoc disorganised Protestant infantry battalions became two huge levy infantry regiments, whilst their excellent cavalry became three good quality horse units, one of which was led by the Bishop. The Spanish were a real dogs dinner and ended up with two elements of poor horse and three huge Esquadrons, one of which (incorporating the veteran Tercio of Naples) was rated as elite.

After a prolonged cannonade the Protestants moved forward and engaged in a musketry duel. This bit was quite good fun as the big infantry units packed a lot of firepower and very soon hits were flying all over the place. Sadly the Protestant cavalry discovered quite quickly that the big regiments were extremely dangerous to horsemen.

Eventually it came to push of pike and things went a bit pear shaped. A feature of the Neil Thomas rules in all periods is that units which are 'better' in close combat than their opponents get multiple dice per base, and as all the bases fight, regardless of unit depth, any advantages are compounded. The veteran Spaniards were considerably 'better' than their opponents, and ended up throwing 24 dice per regiment vs 12 for the poor old Protestants, which felt a  bit clumsy. The same thing happens in the Ancients set when Romans are fighting barbarians, it just feels a bit overpowered, particularly as the rules are aimed at armies of equal size It became fairly obvious at this point that the Protestants were going to get massacred, so we called it a day.

The problem is probably fixable. I could vary the forces sizes (historically the Protestants outnumbered the Spanish almost 2:1 but still lost!) and also have a look at how mixed units and combat advantages translate into close combat dice, possibly varying the to-hit rolls instead, but I don't want to break the basic system.

Along with thinking about rules modifications, I also had a look around at some other rules, particularly 'Marston Less' and the English Civil War Command and Colours variant, both of which would be easy to adapt to the Thirty Years War.. So, we'll head back to the killing fields of central Europe at some point, but I need to do a bit more tinkering around first.


  1. I've often wondered about how tercios fought--they were so huge, I see no way the troops even half way back from the engaged side could possibly have been involved in a melee. (Not to mention, how the heck were orders relayed to such a huge mass? Drums maybe, but there would have been a LOT of drums beating at the same time; and could they have been heard despite artillery and small arms fire, screaming, etc.?)

    Perhaps a solution would be to allow only half of a huge formation like a tercio could be involved in a melee?

    Just a thought.

    Best regards,

    Chris Johnson

  2. I was just reading the relevant chapters on tactics in 'Europes Tragedy'. Yes, units were very hard to control indeed, which was one of the reasons for grouping them into huge Tercios & Battalions on the first place. Like phalanxes, the extra ranks gave them depth and staying power.