Last week John and I had an inaugural game of Never-mind the Billhooks Deluxe using my Burgundian army against my Swiss. The Swiss are based for Pike and Shotte rules but conveniently are in blocks of 40mm so were perfect for the game.
Most Billhooks games are based around 100 to 150 points, but John and I usually opt for bigger affairs and so selected 250 points of troops. It gave each side between 14 and 16 units, which is perfect for a few hours, unless I command them.
When Andy Callan was writing the new rulebook he was kind enough to discuss and send me his ideas for both the Burgundians and the Swiss. The impression I got was that the Swiss would be virtually unbeatable when facing the poor Burgundians, but I do like a challenge and I also like being the underdog. The new rules have some nice historical features for the Burgundian army. One in particular is the combination of Ordonnance pike and ordonnance long-bowmen. Charles the Bold amongst his many ideas thought it would be a good way to use his mercenary longbowmen. Sadly it was never tested as he was chopped to bits in the final of three defeats against the Swiss.
Anyway I like the idea so based my three main wards around a pike and archer block. I also used dismounted knights in two of my wards and backed them up? with crossbowmen. Another nice rule is my commanders can only join high quality units in the Burgundian army where they can add to the melee factors. For my final ward I used coustilliers, mounted crossbowmen and one unit of gendarmes. All my commanders are rated as average so have two commands per move, it makes a change from having the odd 'dolt' in command.
The Swiss, are forced to use three wards as per their historical background, but they are allowed allied cavalry. John opted for a unit of gendarmes. The main Swiss block consisted of two companies of pike and one company of halberds with a smaller pike block in support. The Swiss have no commanders as such, but instead have a designated committee of veterans per each ward. They dont offer up extra melee dice, but also mean they cant be killed unless the block is literally wiped out.
The Burgundians have to deploy first, as in history, where they were caught out in each of their defeats. The Swiss also move first.Oh and they alsso move at a rate of 8 inches as opposed to my 6 inch move. It sounds like the Burgundians are hard done by, but personally I appreciated the historical features.
I wont provide a move by move account but the sight of the Swiss blocks piling forwards was pretty disconcerting. In an effort to stop the free moves, I quickly started the ball rolling by pushing forward my skirmish arqubusiers who fired at the fast moving Swiss. This halts the free moves and causes the command cards to be used. In an effort to back up my weaker pike blocks I had placed organ guns with each of two wards, whilst the third had a large artillery piece.
John was a tad unlucky with the command card draw and I was able to move my troops forward in the hope of shooting the Swiss before thy came on. Because of the period, the Swiss pike arent heavily armoured, that came later after they robbed the bodies of the dead Burgundians, so do die if successfully shot. My crossbowmen were effective with their first volley, which in the rules means 12 dice, and then in subsequent moves they drop to 6 dice, to signify the slow loading techniques. I managed two volleys before the Swiss pike charged them. The subsequent melee was very short and devastating.
One issue Burgundian commanders will have to get used to,is reaction tests as the poor ordonnance troops rout. As the Swiss charged my crossbowmen, I also lost an archer unit and arqubusiers due to poor dice throws.
One surprise was the archers who whilst hiding behind the pikes managed to rake a pike block and cause it to go daunted which is not a good position for a unit to be in. The subsequent melee between Swiss and Burgundian pike was also a surprise as I managed to hold the initial charge for two whole moves.
I was however losing tokens very quickly as more units fled the field. My poor coustilliers were routed by the allied cavalry and my gendarmes badly shot up even before they charged. But not everything was going the Swiss way and I was winning some tokens which is unusual for me.
John and I had a couple of issues with how the Swiss halberdiers fought and also how to keep the Swiss in command range of their captains. We also struggled a little in recording the Swiss block causalities, but Im certain we've sorted that problem now.
My organ guns were effective, well until they failed a morale and ran away. Still they are cheap and can do damage.My dismounted knights were my best troops so John made certain they were bothered by clouds of Swiss skirmishers. When I was finally able to charge, they did very well, but after the melees were finished as viable units.
Another nice feature Andy has created for the Burgundians, is that once they have lost their final army token they have lost, as opposed to other nations being able to fight on until additional tokens are required. So managing to throw some seriously pathetic morale dice, a double one is never good, my army was beaten and leaving the field.
So another loss for me, but to be honest it felt more like a moral victory as I had given the Swiss a bloody nose before the collapse. Andy Callan has done an excellent job with the Deluxe rulebook. Im really looking forward to reading mine over Christmas. As for any would be Burgundian commanders I would offer the following advice. Consider the archer/pike formation. My skirmish mounted crossbowmen were effective once they had got around the flank of the Swiss. Organ guns were pretty effective. My heavy gun didnt play a role due to the Swiss skirmish line, me having to advance which covered the gun and finally a morale test which caused the crew to run, but apart from that.....
I can see against lesser armies the Burgundians just might spring a couple of surprises. As for the Swiss, well yes its virtually impossible to physically break the army but they do die, and they do become daunted. Dont even consider sending cavalry against them, its pretty pointless, as in real life.
The one issue was the lack of moveable commanders who could leave a unit and move into command range of other troops. Im certain in a 'normal' Billhooks battle the special rules will work fine, but in a larger, ie double sized battles the lack of physical commanders will cause issues.
But overall, well done Andy for creating an enjoyable set of wargames rules which uses historical research well.