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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Robin the Rich! A Billhooks skirmish scenario


Gather round all ye merry folk, strike up the band and hear the minstrels sing the tale of the famous outlaw Robin B’stard and how he bested Bad Baron Harding in the deep dark vale of Shirewood Forest.

This was another playtest of my skirmish game introducing the outlaw profile. An ambush scenario.

Baron Harding has returned home from a successful chevauchee in France with a good haul of rich pickings and is escorting his ill-gotten gains on mule back to his castle home with his Retinue. The road passes through the thick Forest of Shirewood, a dense forest well known to local outlaws and a prime place for an ambush. To prevent being waylaid on the main road, the Baron has hired a guide and some local peasants to lead his Retinue by one of the many lesser paths that wend their way through the Forest.

Baron Harding is not a modest man and word of his wealth has spread through the county, notorious Outlaw and bane of the local gentry, Robin B’stard has heard tell of the gold and is determined that it should be his. He gathers his Messy Men and in small bands they patrol the Forest in eager anticipation of acquiring the Baron’s Bounty.

The trail skirts the edge of Shirewood. There are several areas of dense forest which are considered Hard Going as are the two marshy areas and the Hills. As the Bad Baron I had to get my little convoy of gold off the far edge of the table, Mark as the good? Outlaw B’stard is out to steal it!

The Baron’s men enter the table on the first turn.

they begin to spread out, alert for any danger

In the shadows, furtive figures can be glimpsed moving through the trees. 

some of them with very suspect moustaches

Moving through the undergrowth, the Outlaws in small groups move towards the Barons Retinue until…


…they are surrounded

The Baron’s squire sir Edward Binns leads the column…

…unaware that he is being watched

the trap is sprung!

There is the twang of bow strings and the woosh of goose quill and thunk thunk thunk three men are down

 It didn’t all go one way however, Robin was unable to hit anything and then the unlucky Outlaw walked into an arrow going the other way! Sensing a quick victory Sir Edward charged into the marsh. I completely forgot that this hapless squire also has the trait Nimble and so he stopped short of contact…

 …and soon resembled a pin cushion. I had quite bad luck with all my saving rolls throughout the game, saving on 3+ Sir Edward should have lasted longer

Willamena Scarlett, arch outlaw side kick, has caught up and joins the turkey shoot.

The portly Friar Muck ambles over to Robin and uses his Blessings trait to heal the Outlaw chief.

Willamena and her band all run out of arrows as shown by the orange markers. These plastic markers cost about a fiver for 120. I have drilled the centres and glued in 3mm magnets which attach them selves quite nicely to the bottom of the pennies we use for bases.

With eight of this Retinue down, the Baron has to test his Will to Fight. It’s not a good day for rolling dice and despite being as “Bold as a Lion”, a trait that enables reroll of the WTF roll, the Baron fails miserably and surrenders.

  “Here take the gold, much good may it do you!” 

All in all a fun game and the Outlaws seemed to work well. The Barons men were quickly overwhelmed but I would want to run the game again before making any drastic changes. I think we possibly had too many areas of Hard Going on the table making it a bit easy for the Bandits.

I wanted to make the Outlaws quite different from the other Retainer profiles and I think I succeeded. They are Nimble so pay no movement penalty in rough terrain and have the Woodsman skill which means they can find cover in any terrain that is considered to be Hard Going. They are not particularly good in melee nor are they any better than Bow men at shooting, they are not well protected but they are hard to shoot at and can move quickly through the Forest. The idea is that they rely on their Heroes who are very good having multiple skills.  It will be interesting to see how they cope in different scenarios with different terrain. I should like to write a short ladder campaign for them with maybe this scenario being the first one in a series.

John Small , a lovely kit-bash by the very talented Mark Taylor

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

More Billhooks Skirmish: the tale of Nine Fingered Ambrose


The Tale of Nine Fingered Ambrose

    On Sunday regular opponent Mark Taylor and I played another scenario of my Billhooks skirmish game which now has the working title of Never Mind the Ruckus, this is it’s fifteenth and quite probably not final name. I suspect it will be forever known as the Billhooks Skirmish game! This time we played scenario 5- I Spy or Nine Fingered Ambrose-I am quite indecisive when it comes to naming things!

“Scenario 5: Ambrose of Longfield has returned from Europe bearing news of a devious plot to usurp the King! Having friends abroad and hearing rumour of this, Sir Blue, as a loyal follower of the incumbent One True King, is determined to find and interrogate Ambrose before he can pass on the wicked plans. Sir Red is just as keen to meet Ambrose and discover how he may help to restore the displaced One True King to the Throne.

However, Ambrose is unknown to either of them, all that is known of him is that he has only nine fingers, having no little finger on his left hand. Aware that Sir Blue is seeking him, Ambrose takes refuge in a nearby monastery donning a habit and cowl and hiding among the brethren who are sympathetic to his cause.

Sir Blue and Sir Red arrive at the monastery at the same time, who will find him first?”

The table is set out as a monastery garden with walled areas containing vegetable plots, herb gardens, orchard, and livestock. There are five monks in the garden, one of them is Ambrose. We made a deck of five cards one of which contained a nine, when a figure moves into contact with a monk, the owning player draws a card, if it’s the nine then Ambrose has been discovered. Ambrose has to be taken off the players starting edge to win the game.

This game was a laugh from the start. The five monks were initially to be placed by the players with one monk being central and the others placed at least 12” from him and from each other. We soon saw the flaw in this, and reset with the five monks in a line cross the centre of the table. Each turn, in the bonus phase, the winning player can take a bonus card or move a monk 6” in any direction. 

We each of us moved our Retinues in to the gardens. Mark was using his hilarious creation Gaston Villa with his main henchman Manual Emmanuelle and Portero Martinez plus the usual retainers.

  I had elected to bring Sir Henry Bevor, Jaques de Malley and Sir Roger Donat. We drew cards for skills. Sir Henry got Valour Exemplified, Fast Hands and Sly Knave a mixed bag, de Malley- Giant of a Man and Mighty Warrior- a bruiser if ever there was one and Donat drew Riposte and Born to Hang a combination to frustrate opponents!

Jaques de Malley moved up the small lane that wends through the garden on his first turn and then stayed there the entire game. It seemed his ploy was to tempt the monks toward him rather than go looking for them.


Gaston and Jaques spot a monk in the lane at the same time.  Somehow, both Mark and I knew this monk would be Ambrose!

Mark had won the first Bonus and had moved the monk towards Gaston and his spear.

I won the next Bonus and moved him back. Gaston was in hot pursuit. Sir Jaques card just did not come up and he had to just stand idly by, watching the sneaking Gaston.

How do you tempt the innocent? I have no idea but de Malley succeeded. ”This way m’sieur, there is shade under this tree”

Gaston in hot pursuit! He may be too late, de Malley has drawn the nine of clubs! The monk reveals his hands, he has only nine fingers and declares himself to be Ambrose of Longfield!

Billhooks can be frustrating to play and it’s little spin off brother is no different! De Mally still has not had a turn!

  Gaston catches up with the monk! 

Have at you then sirrah!” assisted by William Mann, retainer, Jacques scores two wounds on Gaston who rather foolishly rolled very low dice. The red counters indicate wounds. Ambrose , who some might say is taking his role too seriously, prays for their souls.

A drones eye view of the action reveals the death and general violence occurring elsewhere in the peaceful monastery gardens

Sir Henry gets stuck into Manuel Emmanuelle! “Look! He’s over there!” cries Manuel. 

“I am not falling for that again!” says Sir Henry “ Not after last week!”

   The micro dice indicates the first round of melee

Arthur Bowman charges into Gastons supporting bill man, the gallant Nick o’ Thyme, depriving Gaston of his support.


  A mere bystander, Ambrose counts his fingers

Meanwhile, Manuel has reinforcements in the shape of banner bearer Portero Martinez… a safe pair of hands.

 Arrows fly all through the garden! People are getting hurt!

it is over! Without his supporting bill man Gaston is quickly overcome and his demise brings the game to an end!
  Well that was another fine game! We enjoyed it so much that we set them all up again and played the same scenario, which was just as much fun.


  The game evidentially works and this scenario is fun.
We tried another scenario involving mounted characters which did not go as well, partly , I think because I used the wrong tactics, partly because I could only roll 1’s and 2’s and also maybe, because the scenario needs adjusting. The good news was that the rules for mounted characters worked well and probably don’t need adjusting.


What’s next? Well, Mark has kit-bashed some excellent Outlaw figures, for which we have rules, so time to research a scenario and i-player have the 1938 classic Adventures of Robin Hood! 

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Billhooks as a Skirmish Game


pic: Get the Gold! Scenario three

I have been playing Never Mind the Billhooks since it was first published as a free game in Wargames Illustrated. I must have played fifty games by now, each a different experience, each a dramatic story. No two games are the same and while there are many different ways to lose a game of Billux, no one tactic will grant you victory! Billhooks is a game where Special Event Cards and capricious mechanisms create a dramatic narrative that more often than not echoes historical events and this game certainly feels like a chaotic fifteenth century mud-and-blood-to-the-death fight for survival. Frustrating and gratifying by turns this seemingly simple game has provided hours of fun and after-action debate.

One aspect of the game that has never been popular however is the Duelling rule, where two enemy leaders can slug it out man to man in the midst of battle. The game as written uses the paper/rock/scissors game which feels somehow out of kilter with the rest of the system. If one of the leaders involved is the CinC then the result of the battle could be decided this way so the rule is often not used, and is significantly absent from Tournament games.

Billhooks has a lively community presence in its Facebook page where fellow Billhookers come to swap tales, offer advice, show off their armies and generally chew the fat. A post from veteran gamer Stuart Smith had an idea for Duelling, where each combatant rolls one dice per level of leader and the winner inflicts a wound on the loser. What an elegant and simple solution I thought. And then it occurred to me that the drama of the process could be enhanced by allowing each Duellist to have a Parry rule where they could force the opponent to reroll their dice, this led to the idea of having a Lunge rule whereby they could each reroll their own dice. In the event, I have never used this to settle the Duelling issue and in the games I play, Duelling simply does not happen.

However, Stuart’s idea would not go away and sat in the back of my mind, like a Rules Rodent, nibbling away at my gaming brain creating a nest of unconnected thoughts concerning Billhooks that suddenly one night coalesced into the inspirational idea that dragged me from my bed and had me rushing downstairs in search of pen and paper. “Billhooks as a skirmish game!” I wrote and went back to sleep.

Billhooks has been written using a few simple rules that have been knocking about in the gaming world since Wargaming came into being at the end of the nineteenth century, using a d6, where 6 is good and 1 is bad. These rules have formed the basis for thousands of games ever since, roll to hit, roll to save. The principle is sound, the result is interactive as both players are involved. Translating the “small battles” game into a skirmish version is easy as you simply use the existing rules but with individuals instead of units. The only thing that requires writing is a more engaging Melee system and Stuart had unwittingly provided the template for it!

Over about three months I fleshed out a complete game. I honed the Skill’d at Arms Skill, as I call the Thrust-Parry-Fend system, the system that evolved from Stuart's idea, for melee and introduced the idea of individual skills for combatants. These are decided at the beginning of the game using playing cards, each representing a skill from one of four suits Clubs -Strength in combat, Spades -dexterity in combat, Hearts -Leadership/Charisma skills, Diamonds-Archery/Missile skills.

I am now beginning to look at a campaign system where characters can develop and grow new skills, the bones of this are done, it just requires some flesh which I think will grow with playing the game.

Ruckus,one of several working titles, is set in the Albion theatre but is easy to adapt to the other Deluxe theatres as the stats are already written.

I am now engaged in writing scenarios for the game, so far, I have six, I am aiming for about twelve. I want the game to be scenario driven, it's so much more challenging and therefore more fun to have to achieve certain conditions rather than just having a slug-fest. Of these, three have been play-tested several times and seem to work.

 Andy Callan and Steve Wood have played a game and they like it! Andy is giving the game his complete support and Wargames Illustrated now have a copy and are considering how to publish it. The current plan is to take the game to WI towers later this year to demo the game with the Wargames Illustrated crew. Happy Days!

I think the game is fun to play, works well, provides a good narrative and is easy to use for anyone who already Billhooks as it only uses a few figures and uses the same cards and factors as the main game. If you are a Billhooks player then to play the game has no extra attached expense apart from purchasing “Lil Billux/BilluxJunior/Ruckus”. From what I can see the market for skirmish type games is much bigger than for full battle games and I think this game could sell. I would like to see it as part of the “Billhooks franchise” ideally with similar production values to Deluxe, all be it a fair bit smaller.

Last weekend my regular nemesis and gaming partner Mark Taylor and I met up at BIG and played through three scenarios. The longest of these took less than two hours. Each game takes about 10 minutes to set up, mostly drawing cards and writing profiles for the characters.

Game one

Scenario Two “Make Way! Clear the Road” - A solid stand-up fight for honour and precedence. Two equal forces of rival knights with their Retinues, meet on a road and neither is prepared to give precedence to the other. Soon insults begin to fly and the Retinues face off. 

This game is just a scrap! The retinues set up 12” apart on a road that the Knights are not allowed to leave. The winner is the knight that survives! Sure enough, it was over in three turns!

  Mark had Gaston Villa and his entourage at the top of the picture, Sir John de Barre , approaches from the South.

There were a few casualties from desultory volleys of arrows but both sides soon got stuck in. Gaston Villa wounding de Barre in this brief exchange

Squire Crispin Lovelace takes on Gaston Villa, de Barre stands back hurting and plotting revenge

From behind the small cottage there emerged an ambush of peasants… It didn’t amount to much!

off the road Villas squire Manuel Emmanuelle takes a wound from Rover de la Tete Gaz as indicated by the red counter.

Wounds all round! Outnumbered, Gaston is fighting for his life!

It is all over Sir John is down and out and Gaston has won the right to walk down the road. Chivalry! It all seemed to make sense back then!

  If we were playing the campaign version then after the game we would roll to see what happens to Sir John, Gaston would gain Valour Points that he could use to increase his profile.

Game Two

Scenario One “This is my Manor!” or “Get off my land!” - A meeting engagement. Two equal forces of rival knights with their Retinues meet in disputed territory to settle who has the right to tax its inhabitants.

We kept the same table set up for this game, the Hamlet of Much Ado. There are three markers on the board, we used Sheeples, (Mark likes sheep) that are deployed according to the vagaries of the d6. The aim of the game is to gain control of all three by 6+d6 turns, thereby claiming the territory and as it happens, the rights to tax the wool market. We elected to not roll the d6 variable until the 6th turn, as it turned out, this added to the tension and the fun.

I had to deploy may first Spear before Mark and again, the vagaries of the scenario Set Up dictated that he should deploy on the table edge ninety degrees anti clockwise to where I came in.

Mark deployed Diago Arquero, the captain of Archers he gained while rolling up his Knight, right on my flank and what a pain he turned out to be!

The deployment of Objective markers and Mark’s entry point, both dictated by the scenario, gave him a considerable advantage from the get go

Gaston Villa bravely hiding behind a wall

Roberto Domingues, banner bearer extraordinaire! Banners give you a Reroll when you have to test your courage

Diago and friend shooting up the hood!

That is both my mercenary hand-gonners and one of my archers!            There! On the floor! Dead! Or at least taken out presumed dead.

  The white markers indicate a Mishap, not able to shoot this turn, the yellow ones indicate Characters who are Feckless (Uncontrolled) 

de Barres right hand man, Rover de la Tete-Gaz, approaches the house which has the third marker in, from the back…

…getting closer annnd….

… he is in! We took the roof and first floor of the house off!

The Archery War continues


Manuel Emmanuele arrives at the front door of the Wool Merchants, both his Archers have broken strings. Arrows fly from the windows but all fly high.

as we approached the 6th turn things began to get tense! Gaston’s Retinue hold two of the three objective markers but Gaston is wounded, if de Barre can get the jump on him now and finish him off, he will win the day-and the lucrative wool franchise!

  6th turn we roll a 1! Only one turn remains for me to kill off the opposing Captain and grab glory!

The Last Turn! Gaston is wounded and exhausted (purple marker) he should be easy meat for the happy de Barre. The next card drawn is… de Barre he hefts his pole ax…why is Mark smiling?…I know that smile…

…special event card “Local Truce” which in this scenario stands for Special Event “What Wicked Trumpery is This?”  which trumps your opponent’s character, stops his activation and allows one of your characters who has not yet activated this turn to go instead!

  So Sir John doesn’t get to end the game in a glorious defeat of his enemy…

…instead, the Trumper, Manuel Emmanuele, burst into the Wool Merchants and…

… and does for poor old Rover de la Tete-Gaz, putting the result of the game beyond all doubt!


  What a nail biter!

A beaming Mark Taylor, who, incidentally, does not like skirmish games! 

Game Three

Scenario five-the Fog of War. Two armies meet in a pitched battle early in the morning, in a thick, dense fog. In the confused melee, friend fights friend and cries of Treachery fill the air. One flank gives way, there is a pursuit over miles of heath and in the befuddled aftermath, small groups of soldiers, unsure of what has happened or who to trust, seek their enemies in the cold mist.

We set up the table anew for this post-Barnet skirmish. We wanted to represent the Battlefield with its open heath, occasional wooded area, and country lanes.

    This scenario has several special rules for the Fog. The first of which is Wrapped in Fog. Organise each Retinue into Spears before deploying on to the table. Take the Billhooks cards, one for each Hero and the two bonus cards and deal them on to the table, one to each corner, and one half way along each table edge. Deploy each spear within 6” of the appropriate card., add a “Skirmisher and Artillery” as A Fog Card and reset the deck.

The game starts in Dense Fog with visibility of only six inches. When the Fog card is turned up, we roll dice to see if the fog is lifting or getting worse.

There are also Fog specific Special Event Cards.

Crispin Sydebotham, de Barres squire, makes his way down the quiet lane. His card has been laid between two enemy cards and he is isolated and unflanked. Of course, he does not know this as the fog is so thick

de Barre deploys at the opposite end of the same table edge

Manuel Emmanuele deploys between the two spears. “Look“ he says, pointing “ Sheep! We must be playing a game with Mark Taylor!”

Clouds of Fog drift across the battle field. The Fog status is Dense Fog , visibility is at 6”

Turn 3! The tiny Fog status dice tells us its still Dense Fog!

Crispin leaps the wall and charges Manuel who… 

… points accusingly at Bill Mann

Manuel and his Spear easily despatch Crispin, Bill is off! “Get him!” shouts Manuel, pointing the way

There is no reprieve for Bill this way! Gaston has arrived with his spear. The unfortunate Crispin’s archers to the left have the Yellow markers  that indicate they are Feckless and not able to activate normally. Instead they roll a d6 which decides their actions for them. the centre of he table, Sir Rover de la Tete-Gaz has caught up with Roberto Domiguez and a sharp fight ensues

Encumbered as he is with the standard  Roberto is swiftly dispatched.

  “Sheep Down!”

The Fog is gradually lifting and now looking across the field we can see that Sir John de Barre has at last caught up with the action on the left, Gaston and Manuel stare at him from behind the wall “There he is!” points the ever helpful Manuel

Gaston realises that Crispin and his spear are coming his way, eager to end the fight he leaps the wall and attacks de Barre

But Sir John is as “Bold as a Lion” and as “Brave as a Griffin” (his skills-there really should be a song) and is not easily cowed, the hapless Villa rolls puny d6’s and takes a wound

Manuel, in an attempt to save his Lord, rushes in but is no match for the Brave, Bold de Barre who dispatches him with a swipe. Wounded and Exhausted, Gaston is no Griffin nor is he a Lion and he fails his Will to Fight test and proffers his sword to the victorious de Barre!

Well, we certainly had a good go at the game! It ran smoothly, coped with the different scenarios well and it was fun! We neither of us realised that it was 5 pm when we finished and we had met at ten in the morning, the time flew by! We really enjoyed the game, which is a great relief to me as this was its first real test as a fully written project.

There are a few rough bits. One or two skills need adjusting , some of the card events need a bit of a rewrite but it works! And works well. One thing about having an acerbic, grumpy, growly, somewhat cynical gaming pal (and who doesn’t right?) is they don’t hold back! And …he liked it! Moreover, he really liked it and actually smiled and hummed happily as he played. My version of this great game has actually passed the Taylor test!

With thanks to Andy Callan for writing this fantastic game, Never Mind the Billhooks, published by Wargames Illustrated and available directly through them or from Arcane Games and Scenery.