Saturday, 1 April 2023

The Battle of Ferrara

The Machiavelli campaign proceeds apace, sort of. The invented system of activation is certainly slowing things down rather, which it was designed to do, but I have still come to a second, and much larger, wargame, set in Spring 1500.

The picture shows the situation, and the focus is on the northeast of Italy, where the Papal army has entered the state of Ferrara. The garrison has not surrendered, which the Pope found a little irksome, but the Venetians have also gathered around to see off the forces of Peter and take Ferrara for themselves.

Counting up the forces, the Papal States have one army in Ferrara and one supporting, for a total of one-and-a-half armies. The Papal fleet in the Lower Adriatic cannot intervene as the Papal forces are not active at present (in the original game they could have advanced on the Upper Adriatic and removed the support from the Venetian fleet, I think). Given that, the Venetians have one army advancing on Ferrara, one in Mantua, supporting it, and the fleet in the Upper Adriatic also as a support. This then totals one and three-quarters armies.

Looking over the army lists, I managed to juggle them into an order which I could both manage in terms of figures (more or less) and which reflected the original lists scaled up. The deployments are in the next photograph.

The Papal army, defending, is nearest the camera, holding two hills and the road to Ferrara. During the game, the hills, incidentally, were named ‘Sinister’ and ‘Dexter’. The Papal infantry holds the hills, the cavalry the gap, with the heavily outnumbered light horse to the fore. The plan was to hold the hills and use the cavalry advantage of one base to ride down the Venetian heavies.

The Venetian plan was more or less the opposite. The aim was to brush away the Papal light cavalry with their own and then disrupt the Papal heavies before sending in the gendarmes. The Papal left wing was to be masked by the crossbowmen while the right was assaulted by arquebusiers and sword and buckler men.

You might consider that the terrain is a bit sparse. This is due to the vagaries of the generation system. I rolled low on the first pass, such that the battlefield would have been a featureless plain. Fortunately, I had gone for a dense terrain, which allowed for a second roll, and got the above. The low rolling was a sign of things to come, at least for the Venetians.

On consideration of the armies, I permitted each side a sub-general. These make no contribution to the tempo rolling, but have a point of their own to reorganise their forces or get them moving. As it happened, this was crucial in the game.

Mostly, the game went to the plans of both sides. The Papal mounted crossbowmen fought like, um, demons (Really? Angels, surely?) and in a swirling cavalry skirmish held off the Venetian light cavalry. You can sort of see what was going on in the next picture, taken during the coffee break.

The scone, incidentally, was locally produced and cheese. The Papal light horse were surviving and even prospering through careful management and good dice rolling. The Venetians had, in some exasperation, permitted some stradoits to stray within charge distance of the Papal gendarmes. These had gone in. This was a calculated risk, of course, as it would have left the Papal army outnumbered in cavalry if they had rushed off the table or gone too far out of position. As it happened, they declined to charge on after disposing of the immediate threat, withdrew, and rallied before the Venetian cavalry got into range.

The next shot shows the Venetian left-wing assault on Dexter Hill going in. The clouds of smoke are from these new-fangled arquebus devices, which were present in some numbers on both sides. In the distance, you can see the Venetian centre and right shuffling across to line up with their own objectives. What the picture does not show is that the Venetian left has lost its sub-general, who had been key in getting the wing moving at all, and whose loss would be heavily felt as the assault proceeded. The Papal sub-general is just visible bottom left, moving up some sword and buckler man.

The Papal right stood firm against the assault, just about. The main crunch came in the centre a few moves later, where the heavy cavalry clashed. The result is in the next photograph.

The Venetian general did everything right, honestly. He skirmished up to the right range and got his gendarmes lined up and ready to roll. It was just that they refused to charge. Not his fault, just bad dice rolling. The Papal cavalry had no such problem and immediately counter-charged, with the results shown above. Most of the Venetian gendarmes are fleeing; the still intact ones are heavily disrupted and the rest of the Papal gendarmes are going to pursue.

Even the loss, next move, of the remaining gendarmes did not break the Venetian army, but the pursuing Papal gendarmes crashed into Venetian light horse and, after a bit of a struggle (the gendarmes being disordered) put them to flight, which did break the Venetian army. The Venetian general, whom you can see in the midst of the fray above, had a charmed life and survived about three risk rolls. However, he now has to face the wrath of the Doge.

This was a good action, brought on by the campaign, and a lot of fun. Both sides got their skirmishers organised and active, which was nice, and the final cavalry clash was pretty close – it really came down to which line would charge first. Without the sub-general on their left the Venetian assault on the hill stalled rather, while the Papal army could bring its units back into line.

In the wider context, Venetian army A3 has been removed, while the Papal army is now free to besiege Ferrara. As with creating rules for sub-generals, necessity is the mother of invention, and I have decreed that, upon losing a battle, the same frontier cannot be crossed again in the same year, so unless the Venetian army in Mantua chances its arm the Papal States should be safe until 1501, at least.


  1. This is hotting up nicely! What do the empty bases in the last picture represent?

    1. It is indeed. The empty bases are shaken and / or recoil markers (I only have so many braincells), which show the status of the various bases behind which they are. Thus, in the centre of the picture, the leftmost French gendarme bases has two levels of shaken-ness and a recoil. It would only take another recoil result in combat to rout (which it did). The other French gendarme base has one shaken and one recoil, so is a little further from running away.

  2. Are you using Wars of the Counter-Reformation for this?

    1. I am indeed, probably because they are the only rules I really understand these days.....