Never Mind the Billhooks

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Categories : Specials

Never mind the Billhooks is a simple, Wars of the Roses-themed wargame pitched at the Big Skirmish/Small Battle level. This sort of thing probably went on a lot of the time, particularly up around the Scottish borders, without ever troubling the chroniclers, but my original inspiration was the action at Nibley Green, Gloucestershire, fought in 1470 between the small private armies of Lords Lisle and Berkeley.

If you want a set of rules to re-fight Towton or Tewkesbury you must look elsewhere. This game is definitely not an attempt at a simulation of a typical Wars of the Roses set-piece battle. Truth be told, nobody really knows the tactical detail of what happened on those battlefields anyway because “The Wars of the Roses were … unfortunate in their historians”. (Oman). So, in the absence of any detailed contemporary evidence for how the battles were fought (there really is none!) both historians and wargamers must rely on guesswork when it comes to modelling major battles of the time. You can find my own attempt at simulating such scrum-like affairs in the Paper Soldiers book I did with Peter Dennis,Wargame the Wars of the Roses: 1455-1487 (Helion). “Billhooks” is supposed to be rather more fun to play! It uses a card-activated turn sequence and you roll dice to hit and dice to save (depending on armour) with whole figure casualty removal, so it’s very old school! (Like its author.) Longbows are deadly but not dominant since their arrow supply is limited. Cavalry and skirmishers have their uses but you will find that you need the heavy infantry – men-at-arms, bills and pikes – to win the battle for you.

You will need about a hundred figures a side for a two-player game that should take you about two hours, but it will easily expand to a bigger, multi-player set-up once everyone is familiar with the simple game mechanics.

Although the available troop types are for the Wars of the Roses and the contemporary Burgundian Wars, it seems to me that very few changes would be needed to adapt the game for Renaissance Italy or for France in the Hundred Years War.

And now, to quote the Bard,

“Give me some ink and paper in my hand.
I’ll draw the form and model of our battle”.

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