SPI, MUSKET & PIKE: Tactical Combat 1550-1680 (1973)

MUSKET & PIKE: Tactical Combat 1550-1680 is a tactical-level simulation of the evolution of ground combat from the appearance of the individually-operated firearm to the introduction of the socket bayonet in the late 17th Century. MUSKET & PIKE was designed by John Michael Young and published in 1973 by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI).


MUSKET & PIKE is a wide-ranging examination of European warfare during the period of sometimes muddled transition from edged weapons to firearms. This change would, besides completely overturning the traditional tactics and useages of European warfare, also fundamentally transform the way in which western society both viewed and organized itself for war; not surprisingly, it was a long and often bloody period of adjustment. To understand just how truly revolutionary was this transition from edged weapons to man-portable firearms, it is only necessary to briefly examine European history, starting with the Dark Ages.

During virtually the entire span of centuries that marked the Middle Ages, the mounted, armored knight was the dominant influence on warfare in Europe. In the period following the Middle Ages, the disciplined professional pikeman supplanted the mounted knight as the decisive force on the battlefield. The pikeman’s time, however, like that of the knight before him would also pass. By the late 17th century the individually-manageable firearm would finally bring to a close the infantry tradition of massed, well-trained spearmen that stretched back to the hoplites of Classical Greece. This is the central problem confronting the players in MUSKET & PIKE: finding the correct balance, during this awkward period of transition, between the shock power of massed professional pikeman, and the firepower of trained musketeers.

The game turn sequence in MUSKET & PIKE is simple, logical and easy to follow, although a “turn phase track” would have been handy. The turn sequence proceeds as follows: the first player executes fire combat, then moves his units, and finally executes mêlée combat; the second player then repeats the same sequence, after which the turn marker is advanced to the next game turn. The simple game mechanics and clearly-written rules make MUSKET & PIKE easy for new players to learn and play. The interesting and frustrating challenge posed to the player by the game’s design is finding the right balance between the firepower of musketeers and artillery, and the shock power of pikemen and cavalry. Players will find, I think, that no matter what deployment they try, it will never quite work out the way they hoped.

MUSKET & PIKE offers eighteen scenarios that depict actions from the Spanish-Dutch War (1568-1609), the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598), the English Civil Wars (1641-1651), the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), the Franco-Spanish Wars (1635-1658), the Austro-Turkish War (1663-1664), and the War of the English Succession (1688-1691). Among the many battles depicted in the scenarios are the following:

  1. Mookerheyde (14 April 1574)
  2. Coutras (20 October 1587)
  3. Nieuport (2 July 1600)
  4. Lutzen (18 November 1632)
  5. Nordlingen (6 September 1634)
  6. Dunkirk Dunes (3 June 1658)
  7. Brentford (12 November 1642)
  8. Grantham (13 May 1643)
  9. Staverton (4 July 1643)
  10. Marston Moor (1 July 1644)
  11. Aberdeen (15 September 1644)
  12. Nasby (14 June 1645)
  13. Dunbar (3 September 1650)
  14. White Mountain (8 November 1620)
  15. Fleurus (29 August 1622)
  16. Breitenfeld (17 September 1631)
  17. Szentgotthard (1 August 1664)
  18. Killiecrankie (27 July 1689)

In addition to the numerous scenarios, MUSKET & PIKE also includes a set of optional advanced rules that really should be used as soon as players become familiar with the game system. These optional rules add to the historical feel and excitement of the game, without introducing undue complexity. These rules include, among other things: cavalry caracolla; infantry squares; advanced road movement; dismounting cavalry; and artillery capture.


MUSKET & PIKE is one of a number of games designed by John Young that spanned the period from the Napoleonic Wars, through the American Civil War, up to and including the Franco-Prussian War and beyond. I confess that I remain a big fan of Young’s many games, even after all these years. His designs are almost always innovative, interesting, playable, and fun. And despite his tragic and untimely death many, many years ago, John Young leaves behind a library of some of the best game designs that, in my opinion, SPI ever published.

Finally, MUSKET & PIKE is probably not the most sophisticated or colorful tactical game that a player is likely to encounter in today's marketplace. Certainly, there are a number of newer tactical offerings that are both more detailed in their simulation architecture and much more attractive in their presentation. Nonetheless, this is still a title that is quick to dive into and fun to play; for that reason, old as it is, I believe that it is hard to find a better, more exciting game than MUSKET & PIKE!

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 5 minutes per game turn
  • Map Scale: 50 meters per hex
  • Unit Size: each infantry or cavalry unit represents 100-125 men; each gun unit represents 4-6 artillery pieces
  • Unit Types: militia pikemen/professional pikemen/elite pikemen, militia muskets/professional muskets, light cavalry/ heavy cavalry/Swedish cavalry/Reiter cavalry, dragoons, light artillery/medium artillery/early heavy artillery/late heavy artillery and information markers
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: low/average
  • Solitaire Suitability: above average
  • Average Playing Time: 2-3 hours

Game Components:

  • One 22” x 28” hexagonal grid Map Sheet
  • 400 ½” Cardboard Counters
  • One 6” x 11½” map-fold style Set of Rules and Scenario Instructions
  • One 8½ ” x 11” combined Turn Record Chart and Errata (30 April 1973)
  • One 6” x 14” Fire and Melee Combat Resolution Table
  • One 6” x 9¼” Terrain Effects Chart
  • One 8½” x 11” back-printed Scenario Historical Background Sheet
  • One 3¾” x 8½” SPI Customer Complaint Card
  • One small six-sided Die
  • One SPI 12” x 15” x 1” flat 24 compartment plastic Game Box (with clear compartment tray covers) and clear plastic game cover with Title Sheet

Related Map and Counters Blog Post



  • Oh how I love this game! I even made a bunch of scenario's and posted them on Consim along with Steven Guy who loves it also.

    One of the best of the SPI Tac games

  • Greetings Kim:

    I also liked this title, but I had and still have one beef with it: no leader counters. I understand that the decision was made to dump the widely-unpopular leader units from GRENADIER in order to free-up additional counters, but it still bothers me to this day.

    On the other hand, one of the most lop-sided victories I ever achieved was in this game when I won the White Mountain scenario despite being both out-numbered and out-classed in everyway!

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Joe, its 50 metres per hex per the errata.

    There was a further set of suggested optional rules in Phoenix magazine - adding in cavalry charge rules, facing, and some other stuff reminiscent of the earlier tacticalo series games.

    I looked at those recently and decided not to use them in a solitaire run through - John Young explained his reasons for leaving some things out in the design notes, so I played it the way he intended.

  • Greetings IanR:

    Thank you for commenting, and thanks also for the "heads up" on the hex scale.

    It has been a long time since I played this old John Young design, but in its day, it was one of my wargame groups favorite titles. And yes, as you note, there were a number of additional scenarios and rules variants that showed up in the hobby press (including, as I recall, a scenario or two in "Moves" magazine), but, for the most part, my group all tended to stick with the "standard" game.

    Certainly, 'MUSKET & PIKE' wasn't perfect: the absence of leaders (and command and control); and the comparative paucity of tactical formations (and of unit facing) were all issues with some players, I know. Nonetheless, in my view at least, it represented a huge improvement over the earlier "Presstags" Series (either generation) of SPI tactical games.

    Thanks again for visiting and
    Best Regards, Joe

  • Question, can you flank a unit if he is adjacent to a friendly unit?

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