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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
“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
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.
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
Crispin Lovelace takes on Gaston Villa, de Barre stands back hurting and
behind the small cottage there emerged an ambush of peasants… It didn’t amount
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
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
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
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.
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!
deployment of Objective markers and Mark’s entry point, both dictated by the
scenario, gave him a considerable advantage from the get go
bravely hiding behind a wall
banner bearer extraordinaire! Banners give you a Reroll when you have to test
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
The white markers indicate a Mishap, not able
to shoot this turn, the yellow ones indicate Characters who are Feckless
right hand man, Rover de la Tete-Gaz, approaches the house which has the third
marker in, from the back…
… he is in!
We took the roof and first floor of the house off!
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.
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!
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…
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…
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!
Mark Taylor, who, incidentally, does not like skirmish games!
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.
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.
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.
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
deploys at the opposite end of the same table edge
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!
leaps the wall and charges Manuel who…
accusingly at Bill Mann
his Spear easily despatch Crispin, Bill is off! “Get him!” shouts Manuel, pointing
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
the centre of he table, Sir Rover de la Tete-Gaz has caught up with Roberto
Domiguez and a sharp fight ensues
he is with the standard Roberto is
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
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!
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.