Saturday 18 March 2023

What Would Gonsalvo Do?

A long time ago I bought the board game Machiavelli. This turned out to be the first Avalon Hill edition. The second, which a friend of mine bought, had a slightly different map layout. We, as a group of friends, played it quite a lot both face to face and via mail (this was before the days of email, which shows how old I am), and a good deal of fun it was too.

Recently I have, for reasons I will not go into just now, been rather overwhelmed by onrushing deadlines and stuff to do. While the deadlines are a fair distance off, I have been slogging away at a computer screen not achieving very much. The Estimable Mrs. P, whose husband managerial skills are legendary, noticed this and demanded a change, that is doing some wargaming rather than just thinking about it or painting.

Having recently excavated Machiavelli from its storage box, and having been thinking a bit about campaigns and strategy, as the recent blog posts will aver, the pressure to indulge in some wargaming, a campaign and a bit of strategy all came together, and so an Italian Wars campaign was born.

After the inevitable humm-ing and aaah-ing, I decided on the 1499 scenario, with some changes, both because the scenario really needed some, because I have a few logistical issues, and partly to make the game suitable for solo use.

As for the modifications to the scenario, the province labeled Swiss is neutral in my game. The Swiss, of course, were integral in the French armies, but Switzerland was not really part of France. Additionally, so far as I know, the French and ‘Austrians’ (really the Holy Roman Empire) never invaded each other through Switzerland. Another change was to split the Austrians and Neapolitan Spanish in the scenario. This was because, well, they did operate separately at the time with different troop types, and the aim here was to fight out the battles, not use the game’s combat resolution system.

I also turned the Turks into neutrals. This was mainly because I do not have all that many Ottoman troops. Probably just enough, in fact, but I was not confident. At the time, anyway, the Ottoman interests were elsewhere, after all.

As just mentioned, the idea was to wargame the combats. I have had the idea for years of using my Italian Wars armies to do this. Originally these were 100 AP DBR forces; they have only morphed a little in the meantime. I also have, you might recall, suitable galleys for the naval forces. A fleet was arbitrarily defined as consisting of 12 galleys. The armies ranged between 11 and 15 bases.

In Machiavelli, a force in a neighbouring area can support another force advancing into it or being attacked. I have for a long time had the means of dealing with this. Each force consists of a 100 AP army, as mentioned. The first support contributes another 50 AP (or, in the cash values of this game, half an army), the second support 25 AP, and so on. I used this method in 1618-Something years ago, and it seemed to work nicely, although in this game I did not include train and siege extras, which in 1618-Something could double or more the size of an army.

I also decided to use only the basic game. The number of units is determined by the number of cities held – the black squares and circles on the map above. In a solo game, I have not figured out how to manage finances as well, at least, not yet, so I decided to test the diplomacy mechanics I had invented rather than include ducats as well.

There are also autonomous garrisons in the game. These hold cities that are not (or are trying not to be) committed to one of the sides. In Machiavelli, they have to be besieged or bribed (in the advanced game) out. In my game, I adjusted this to a 2D6 roll if a force enters the province. At a low roll, the city surrenders, at a high roll the garrison comes out and fights, and in the middle, the most likely roll, after all, the garrison stands siege as per the rules.

The diplomacy was handled via a system I saw years ago in Lone Warrior, the reference for which I have lost. Basically, you have a table of the countries and each cell gives the relationship between countries A and B, from 1, at war, to 6 friendly and possibly allied. I have adapted this to include the internal relations of the countries, as often they were factionalised and coups, rebellions, and civil wars were not unknown, and also the relationship the other way, as it were, between country B and A. This is because sometimes a country or ruler could be desperate not to upset another which might be about to invade them, for example.

Diplomatic relations are adjusted after the three campaign seasons that make up a year. For this I roll matched average dice, so the swings are not too wild, although having read a bit about the Italian Wars matched d10 might be more appropriate. Side-switching was really a hobby of some of the states.

I also introduced an activation system. Each turn (season) each power would turn a card, and could only move on a heart. Bitter experience has demonstrated that there can be simply too many battles in a turn to wargame in a sensible time frame unless some such system is involved. If that happens often the campaign grinds to a halt in frustration, so hopefully the activation system will slow things down to an acceptable rate. Things in Renaissance Europe did not happen that quickly, I think.

The picture above shows the Spring 1499 turn partially completed. The French have been activated and moved their fleets into the Gulf of Lyons (I think it should be Lions; Lyons is a fair bit inland), armies into Turin and Savoy, and are about to move into Pavia as well. I debated this internally for a bit because it leaves Milan open to the Imperialists, so it is taking a risk and after JWH’s post on possible solo wargamer’s bias I don’t want to be seen to be pushing the French too hard.

The Venetians have moved into Mantua and also into the Upper Adriatic, while the Spanish Neapolitans have also put to sea. On the autonomous garrison rolls, Manuta surrendered, Turin and Savoy stood siege and the garrison of Pavia came out to fight. So that will be the next post, together with some poor photographs.


  1. Looks intriguing. Looking forward to seeing how this unfolds.
    And a useful reminder of how good a helpful partner can be to a wargamer!

    1. Ah, yes, the EMP has always been on hand to correct her husband's course, even as a non-wargamer.
      The Machiavelli has been in my mind for ages. I've wondered if it would work....

  2. Looks very interesting! I am busy playing TYW: Europe in Agony again as preparation for a campaign, in similar vein.

    1. Thank you. The TYW is my next goal. If Renaissance Italy is complex, C17 Germany is fiendish....