Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Italian Wars wargame (pt 2)


In part 1 I talked about the game I set up, along with the army lists.  This was a game, set in the 1490s, between a rather generic French force, and a rather generic Italian force.  In looking at the history a little closer, and also looking at the units in the armies (from the lists by Neil Thomas, in Wargaming: An Introduction) I think it is fair to say that a good inspiration for the army lists that I settled on could have been representative of the Battle of Fornovo (July 6 1495, near the city of Parma).
Battle of Fornovo

The Battle of Fornovo was fought between the forces of Charles VIII (of France) and the Republic of Venice, with help from the Duchy of Milan and the Margravate of Mantua.

In my case, rather than having a river extend between the two armies, I had it run down the table, from the Italian side of the battle field to the French.  The battlefield looked something like this:
The battlefield, using new Terrainguy tiles, purchased from Hal
With a couple of hills, and a cross roads.  There are some small patches of woodlands, and the villa to the right side of the table.  In the image, the Italian army is set up at top, and the French army at the bottom of the picture.

The battle opened up, with a turn of maneuver, and then the two battle lines were within artillery range of each other.  The French army had two modern (for 1495) pieces of artillery, and the Italians had an older, mid 15th century, bombard.  The French artillery was used, to good effect, against one of the units of Italian Gendarmes.  The Italian Bombard blew up.  Yes, the first time it was attempted to be fired, the Italian bombard exploded.

The Neil Thomas rules play very fast, and since there is no order writing, or maneuver planning, it is pretty well suited for solo play.  With the very simple army list and troop type structure, and no points values, I don't think it would make for a great basis for a solo campaign.
The Swiss Pike - 2 units, 6 stands each
The Swiss, in this period, are fierce - they have to advance towards the enemy each turn, but do not have to take morale checks while in melee combat (which means they fight to the slow, terrifying death). In these rules, morale checks for losing a base reflect the dwindling resolve of the unit - for each failed morale check, another base goes away.  Since infantry units have only 6 bases, taking a loss of one base to Melee casualties, and then failing a morale check to lose another, means you've lost 1/3 of your combat effectiveness.  It is worse if you take more than one stand loss in a turn.

The Italian Shot, armed with crossbow, inbetween the swordsmen and the Italian pike
The French cavalry in this army are divided up between two types - Gendarmes (typical, high morale, and extremely well armored in plate mail and metal barding for the warhorses), and also a cavalry type known as Mounted Bow.  Evidently, following the Hobilars of the earlier (100 Years War) period, the French still experimented with mounted archers. But by the time of the Italian Wars, the units still existed within the army, but they no longer carried their bows into combat, preferring instead to fight as second rate Gendarmes (something akin to a medieval Sergent).  The French Army, according to Mr Thomas' rules, can also include some mounted crossbow, but I did not include them in this battle.

French cavalry, to left, encounter Italian Gendarmes. Swiss Pike, at bottom, still approaching
The battle saw the French Gendarmes split up.  One unit went in to the Italian line, avoiding the pike, and attempted to engage the Swordsmen and the Crossbow.  They were partially successful against the Swordsmen (mauling them), but were eventually swarmed by the Italian Crossbow, and the Italian Pike.
Mercenary Italian Crossbowman, in French Service
As mentioned in Part 1, I have a wide variety of renaissance figures, although I recently acquired a good many of the Late 15th/Early 16th century variety from a friend - thanks Mark.  Where I needed to, however, I filled in for this fight.  The Mercenary Italian Crossbow, for instance, are actually about 50-100 years out of period (they are early figures, I believe originally sold by Mikes Models as Early Swiss?).

French Gendarmes encounter Italian Swordsmen
One thing about the Neil Thomas rules for this period - they were written in reaction to his own Medieval (and Ancient) rules.  Those rules featured all units (except artillery - which have only 1 stand) to be comprised of four stands - in a 2x2 formation.  That holds true of the renaissance rules with regards to cavalry, but infantry is typically a 6 stand unit.  To make the rules work without a lot of fuss about multi-unit combats, lanes of advance, flank definitions, etc - he kept the units to a simple 2 stand frontage, but now infantry is three ranks deep.  When the unit has to engage, it rolls combat dice for all stands, making the Renaissance infantry twice as tough as the earlier infantry.

Used as French Mounted Archers, without their bows
The cavalry in these rules, hit pretty hard, against everyone except fellow cavalry of the same grade (i.e. Gendarmes v Gendarmes, or Stradiots v Stradiots), and against Pike (to be understood).  However, against everyone else they hit pretty hard.  For instance, Gendarmes roll 2d6 per stand vs. Swordsmen, and 3d6 vs Shot (either arquebus or crossbow).  But only 1d6 vs other Gendarmes, or vs Pikemen.

Mercenary Crossbow preparing to cross the river
The terrain tiles I recently acquired from Hal are very nice to put under a game.  Other than the persistent pattern of the surface of the foam rubber tile, the paint and grass coating are very nice, and the color is great.  The tiles are thick enough to provide a nice surface on top of the table, and they lock together well.  If there is a complaint I have it is that the pattern of the rubber DOES show through (not a big deal), and also that the seam where the jigsaw edges lock together is apparent.  But that isn't too big a deal for a nice, portable surface.

In the picture above, you can see some of the terrain elements I used.  Of course, I used felt for the road, which is always serviceable.  I used my commercial river, which looked good on the tile surface.  I also used a painted bridge and villa, both in resin originally.  And woodland scenics trees, mounted on fender washers.  The hills are beadboard, with paint and grass applied.  I did not make the hills, but I do have a series in the works - they are awaiting final finishing, and I hope to feature them in a game later on this spring or summer.

Mounted Crossbow in the Italian army
I am not sure of all the newly acquired figures, but many of the figures I had that I merged together for this battle were Table Top Games (TTG), Minifigs, and Mike's Models.  They all look great on the tabletop, but the Minifigs and TTG look really good together.  Mike's Models always look a bit squatty, although I love the look.  It is like merging together the squatty Essex figures together with the old series 1 Minifigs.  Yeah, they are both ~15mm, but they might be of a different species - even though they both look great separately.

During the game, I only had painted one unit of mounted crossbow available, and the Italian army called for two.  The army also had a unit of foot crossbow, so I made the decision to dismount one of the mounted crossbow units, and field it (for the battle) as a foot unit.  I actually have (recently dug out, and based for priming) enough Minifigs mounted crossbow (in the 15mm Renaissance line) to complete a unit.  Pictures to follow, as they get completed.

I use nylon upholstery rings for casualty markers
The ruleset from Mr Thomas has a variety of different figures per base, and used basing sizes to make it fully compliant with the typical WRG style basing (used in everything from WRG, DBA, Might of Arms, to more modern things, not to mention Armati, Impetus, etc etc etc).  So that means that a stand will have anywhere between 2 figures (for light infantry, and light cavalry) to 3 or 4 figures (for denser, heavier formations of troops).  An artillery piece has a gun and the crew.  In the rules, each stand (regardless of type) takes four hits.  So your 2 figure light infantry stand takes four hits, and my 3 figure arquebus, and my 4 figure halberdiers all take four hits.  I mark the casualties with plastic upholstery rings, and there is no paperwork.  Casualties carry over - if I have three hits on my unit, and I take two more hits (total of five), that is one removed stand, and one hit carried over.

Stands come right off the unit.  The rules allow for mixed units (halberd/bow, and pike/shot, for instance).  The rules are, when a unit loses a stand in melee combat it is always either a pike or halberd stand.  When it loses a stand from fire combat, it is always either a bow or shot stand.  When you lose a stand to shooting, that is all. But when you lose a stand to Melee combat, then you have to pass a morale test (the only morale tests in the game) - for instance, Levy troops require a 5 or 6 on a D6 roll.  No such rolls are required for losing a stand to Fire combat.

French Gendarmes ride past an Italian Villa
One thing I don't have, that I would like to, for further Italian Wars wargaming, or campaigning, and that is additional suitable Italian wargames terrain.  Most of what I have works just fine, but I feel like to get that Italian countryside feel, I need some stone/brick buildings with roundtile roofs (like the white building above, but that might be more Mediterranean or Iberian (or Mexican).  I have a few more like that, and they'll do, but more is better.  Oh, and poplar trees.  All the paintings I have ever seen of the Italian countryside, always feature Poplar trees - either manicured groups of them in farm country, or growing along roads, around farm buildings, etc.

The Italian Condottieri leading the Gendarmes
One of the things I really like about this time period, is the preponderance of really, heavy hitting cavalry.  There were certainly a LOT of different types of light cavalry during the period (mounted crossbows proliferate through the Italian Wars, as well as Stradiot, Genitors, and others).  The introduction of gunpowder is the peeling of the death knell of the bells of history, as far as formed cavalry is concerned, but it will take military science four more centuries to lose its love affair with the deadly effective massive cavalry charge.

Charles VIII Enter
For the purposes of developing scenarios, the fact that the Imperialists, the French, and to a certain extent the Spanish all viewed the wealthy Italian cities as plump ripe prizes for the taking, it is a great time and a great place to set wargames.  There have been many folks who observed and commented, over the years, that pike and shot wargaming is rather rare, considering it is a colorful period, and has a unique (identifiable) combat style with strong, distinctive combat arms in each army.  One of the reasons I think it is rare is this - many people view Renaissance warfare (tactically) as one of Rock-Paper-Scissors (I even had a dealer at a convention remark that to me, many many years ago, as I was buying some figures from him).  If you have Pike, they automatically defeat Shot and Horse.  If you have Horse, they beat lesser Horse, and Shot.  If you have Shot, they can defend your Pike from flank attacks. Etc etc etc.  But I think it is more subtle of a period than that.
The Situation in Italy
The game was immensely satisfying, and I have been looking for a historical situation to base a solo campaign on.  Ideally it would be based on a situation where there were multiple independent political units, with armies of roughly the same technology,  in a confined geographic space.  Italy at the end of the 15th century is almost perfect.  Time to consult with my Machiavelli map.

Great images of soldiery from the time, in this set of German prints showing city flags and heraldry.


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