Saturday 29 April 2023

The Battle of Lucca

As noted (or threatened) last time, the next Machiavelli campaign battle was in Lucca. Here, a French army had been transported from Avignon to the province of Lucca, supported by the lurking French army in Modena. The transport by the fleet in the Eastern Gulf of Lyons meant that the French in Lucca had one-and-a-half armies. As before, a dice roll decided that the Luccan army would come out and fight.

You can see a few other things going on in the turn in the picture, with the Papal army in Piombino, but French expansion is the main name of the game. Off shot there is not much else going on, neither the Austians nor Neapolitan Spanish are up to a great deal. French diplomacy has, in fact, ensured that they are friends or better with most of Italy, and what they are doing is picking off the autonomous garrisons. So far as I recall, this is more or less what would happen in a face-to-face multi-player game. The only difference is that by this time, those players who could count would realise that France is one city away from winning the game, and would probably agree to gang up on them and relieve them of a few cities.

Anyway, the Luccans decided to fight, and deployed their infantry on two hills with their cavalry, split also on the hills, behind. The French split into four columns, two of cavalry and two of pikes. The plan was for the infantry to storm the leftmost Luccan hill while the cavalry broke through the Luccan light horse in the centre. While the Luccan plan was reasonably sound, as French commander I thought the hills were a bit too far apart for mutual support.

Above you can see the game after the first few moves. The Luccan light horse have driven off a base of French mounted crossbowmen, but they are starting to return to the fray. The infantry columns, of Swiss fronted by skirmishing crossbows, are aiming towards the hill nearest the camera, which is crowned by arquebusiers and some sword and buckler men. In fact, behind them, there are two bases of gendarmes as well. On the far hill the gendarmes are starting to reposition themselves to challenge in the centre.

The above photograph shows the developing carnage in the centre. The Luccan gendarmes made it to block the French take over after the Luccan mounted crossbowmen had fled. The resulting clash was not pretty for either side. It led, in fact, to more than half the French gendarmes fleeing, some other changing Luccan gendarmes and some really bitter fighting between the remaining Luccans and a couple of French gendarme bases. Meanwhile, as you can see, the French infantry columns steadily approached the Luccan left (which is standing on a hill even if you can barely see it in the photograph) and the Luccan right is starting to chance its arm towards the centre.

It only got more complex and confusing in the centre, with charges and counter-charges against smaller and smaller groups of elements as the fight fragmented. In spite of their losses the French slowly gained the upper hand, but had lost a sufficient number of bases to cause an army morale check, which resulted in the army wavering and hence delayed the assault on the Luccan left. Not that the Luccans were unscathed, having lost their light horse (the remnants of which are fleeing off the top of the picture) but also some gendarmes, which put their morale in a fairly parlous state as well.

Eventually, the French got moving again and, just about, won the cavalry contest in the centre. While the remaining Luccan gendarmes rallied from their successful charges, the French general and another base charged again and this time won their combats, while the Swiss pike finally hit home on the elevated Luccan left. The Luccan sword and buckler men tried to intervene but were pushed back behind the arquebusiers who, even uphill, had no reply to the long pointy sticks (and, in fact, imposing deep formation) of the Swiss pike. The fleeing arquebusiers swept away their own sword and buckler men and the Luccan morale dropped to withdraw, and, in fact, only just above rout. Their general, who had been heavily involved in the cavalry combat in the centre and then in the infantry contest on his left, just about survived. If he had not it would have turned into a rout.

Still, it was a good game. The Luccan positions on the hills were reasonably strong although, as I have said before, Italian armies have no realistic answer to the Swiss in hand-to-hand combat. I did wonder if one of the recovering Luccan gendarmes could charge a Swiss column in the flank and what would happen if it did, but the angles, as it turned out, were wrong. The French had a tough fight of it indeed, although their tactics seemed to be correct.

Perhaps the Luccans should have had the courage of their defensive convictions and kept their gendarmes on the hills, inviting French charges, but uphill, and with the support of the Luccan firepower. Maybe, but the French are a two hit army, the gendarmes and the Swiss. Not contesting the centre would certainly have let the French focus on one or other of the hills with, probably, devastating results.

I cannot really blame the dice for this result. Both sides had good rolls and bad rolls. The French gendarmes fared poorly to start off with, better as the fight continued. Three deep Swiss pike, even uphill, are a handful, to say the least. No wonder that the Spanish answer, eventually, was to defend a ditch and wall against them using arquebusiers.

There are two turns left this year to see whether the other powers notice that France is on the verge of gaining twelve cities (they have, with Lucca which is now theirs, but the formal count is not until the winter turn). Once there the question is whether I finish the campaign then or carry on to see if the more advanced victory condition (18 cities, I think the next one is) is possible. On the other hand, this has beena rather successful game and I think it is transferable to other campaigns. We shall see.

Saturday 22 April 2023

The Battle of Mantua

Spring, as we all know, rapidly turns to autumn. The campaign season, started with so many hopes at the start of the year when the forage is coming and the young men are getting feet itchy with the urge to visit new places, join up with the mercenaries and see the world, is now turning to the time when grizzled veterans grimly hold on to a few shreds of dignity and clothing, waiting for the deliverance of winter quarters and, perhaps, a little pay to tide them over the closed season for warfare.

Ah, yes, sorry, as you were. Autumn 1500 has come around in the Machiavelli campaign, and with it another Venetians verses the Papacy clash, this time in Mantta. The history, briefly, is that the Papacy attempted to seize Ferrara while the Venetians had already taken Mantua, with no resistance from the autonomous garrison. The Venetians invaded Ferrara in the last game and were rather rudely given their marching orders. Now, in the Autumn turn the Papal armies, safely ensconced in Ferrara and Bologna are assaulting the isolated Venetians in Mantua.

The situation is shown in the photograph of central Italy. While the French lurk rather suspiciously in Mantua, the Austrians are poised to do something in either Terns or Milan, Florence lies rather supinelty between the advancing French and rampant Pope (erm, yes) the latter having taken Sienna and now about to besiege Piombino. As I recall from playing the game years ago, Piombino is rather vital to the interests of the survival of Florence, but they have yet to draw and activation in the game.

Anyway, the Papal armies are getting about a bit. Say what you like about those Borgias, they did throw themselves at any given project. And the conquest of Mantua was a logical extension after their victory over the Venetians in Ferrara and the subsequent surrender of the city to the Pope’s safe keeping. As the Venetian armies were now split, there was just one army against the might of one-and-a-half of the Papal forces.

The picture sees the action several moves in. The Venetians to the left have anchored their infantry on two vineyards, leaving their outnumbered cavalry to disrupt and delay the Papal heavies, in association with the stradoits. The Papal idea is, of course, to smash up anything and everything with the gendarmes before the final assault on the vineyards. Incidentally, the figures are a mix of Baccus, Irregular and Heroics and Ros.

You can see to the rear of the Papal army that their mounted crossbowmen have already been driven off, leaving their right flank infantry of arquebusiers and pike exposed to the skirmishing Venetian mounted crossbows. In the foreground the Papal crossbowmen are establishing themselves in another vineyard.

It is possible that the quanities of vineyards around impaired the judegment of various of the commanders. In fact, this time, the Venetian general did absolutely nothing wrong, again. He got his gendarmes into position and they charged home. A relief, I thought, after the debacle last time.

Unfortunately, that is as far as the Venetian success went. They lost almost every cavalry combat, even with the advantage of charging. Sometimes, as every wise wargamer knows, the dice just do not cooperate.

The photo above shows the situation a couple of moves later. The Papal army have reorganised its light horse and they are now facing off the Venetian mounted crossbowmen. The Venetian cavalry attack has stalled. One base has been routed, one is looking very rocky and another has won its combat (you can see the doubly shaken Papal gendarmes behind the crossbowmen) and has then run into withering fire from the said crossbowmen. With the disruption already caused by winning the charge combat, this base of gendarmes really did not cope well with being shot at by three bases of bows, and decided that a canter back to beyond the base line was in order.

With that, and the similar routing of the remaining Venetian gendarme base, the battle was more or less over. The Venetians attempted to resist further using the stradoit line you can see in the centre, but given that the Papal gendarmes had not charged into combat they quickly succumbed to the heavy cavalry and it really was game over.

So, another win for the Papal States over Venice. The Papacy, at year end, has added two cities to its total and, two victories over Venice. Venice is now looking rather weak, although, in the game, Venice itself is more or less impregnable. The other thing that has happened, of course, is the inexorable expansion of France. The army in Mantua was transported there by sea, supported by the Genoa army, although there was nothing to stop it. This was a strategic decision by yours truly, to get more French armies into the fray in northern and central Italy as quickly as possible.

As it is, the French now control eleven cities out of the twelve they need to win the basic Machiavelli game. Their diplomacy is going well; they are practically in alliance with the Neapolitan Spanish which removes any serious threat to their position in southern Italy. The Papal States are distracted by the war with Venice. Florence, as we noted, has not got moving yet. The only fly in the ointment is that the Neapolitan army from Sicily has just landed in Tivoli and is threatening Rome, which could start another war.

The winter turn saw the armies being reinforced, of course. The Papacy placed an army to protect Rome, while the French gained another in Avignon. The Spring 1501 turn saw the Papacy besiege Piombino while the French transported an army to Lucca, supported by their army in Modena. The plucky Luccans decided to come out and fight, so the next battle is 1.5 armies of French against an ‘Other’ Italian army.

Even the simple map and movement is causing me some strategic thought moments to pause. ‘Do I place an army here to block that, or there to attack there?’ sorts of questions. Similarly, I wonder during the battles whether the side apparently losing should withdraw intact to protect the city. None have so far, but that is because of the decisive nature of the heavy cavalry charges. We shall see.

Saturday 15 April 2023

A Phenomenology of Wargame Figures

After a bit of a philosophical bruising recently, I have started reading a little again, and have run across phenomenology again. Now, phenomenology is not everyone’s cup of tea, and I would certainly not claim to be any sort of expert in the subject, but something caught my eye in an erudite essay about the difference between a Christian icon and an idol.

Now, those of you of a nervous and/or atheist disposition might have stopped reading at the end of the last paragraph, which would be a shame because I promise not to start ranting about theology, but it just happened that the point about images and their representation was contained an essay about Husserl and icons and idols. I do not know any other way of approaching the subject, but there you go.

The point is that there are, according to Husserl (or at least the writer’s interpretation of Husserl, you cannot be too careful here) three constituent objects in an experience of an object (which may not be present – the imagination works as well) which are intertwined by ‘two different constitutive moments’. Now, as ever when reading philosophical gobbledegook I start wondering how this applies to wargaming. The examples given are of art, so it should be straightforward enough.

The first thing is a physical image, in the example think about a painting. The physical object is canvas, paint, brush strokes, a frame, and so on. In wargaming terms this would, I suppose, be a wargame figure, painted and based. It is metal (or plastic), painted with acrylics (often, these days anyway; does anyone still use oil paints or even enamels?), placed on a base that is itself of a certain dimension, possibly textured and painted itself. That seems fine to me – a physical object.

Secondly, there is an image-object. When looking at a painting a lot more than the paint and canvas appears to us – we recognise an image, a picture of something (something else, usually, I suppose it is not infrequent to have a picture of a picture, but even then something appears to us as other than brush strokes and paint). The image-object is not reducible to its constituent paint and canvas, and so on. In terms of our wargaming figure, the image-object is what we see when we observe, say, an Eighteenth Century fusilier or a Sherman tank. We have no access to the original fusilier, but we have representations of the real people who were those and have reproduced them in the figure, in metal, paint, and so on. This image-object is related to the original image but is not reducible to it. In a similar way, we do not have the canvas of Da Vinci’s Leda and the Swan, but we do have a copy of it.

There is then what the image shows to us. A painting of a woman and child is viewed differently when we know something about it. We do not see something resembling a woman holding a child, we see a woman holding a child, in the example, the Madonna and Jesus. Thus in the wargaming example, we see a fusilier of the 13th Foot (or whatever: I am making this up), not a figure that resembles the original.

So far, I hope, so good. We have an original fusilier of the Eighteenth Century and an image of that. That image is then transferred to a physical object in our world, painted and based as a wargame figure. But we do not see the metal and paint, we see the original, a fusilier in our wargame. The wargame figure resists, somehow, being reduced to a bit of metal and paint. On the other hand, our nice toy solider, with bright colours and varnish, may not really resemble the original muddy, washed-out tunic of a fusilier. This too is termed a resistance: our figure is not the original, now lost to us.

We are not inclined to take are wargame figure to be just a pile of metal and paint. The figure aims at being apprehended as a fusilier, somehow, or at least we, the wargamer, aim at the figure being apprehended as a fusilier, just not an actually existing one at the present time. We perceive a metal object of a certain size and shape, painted in a certain way. But then our imagination kicks in and somehow claims the object as a fusilier.

The image-object is the impression we get when we see a painted wargame figure. The image-subject is the final stage when we recognise it as a fusilier. There is a tension here: we are representing, somewhere along the line, something that does not exist. The original object of our image object does not exist, in that Eighteenth Century fusiliers do not currently exist (if you argue that re-enactors of fusiliers exist, I would agree, but they are still image-objects, not the originals).

There is something of a puzzle here, and the usual word is ‘transcendence’. Now before palpitations set in, I am not suggesting that our wargame figures are gods or even god-like, but that they do represent something beyond themselves, that is, an Eighteenth Century fusilier, not a lump of cast metal painted in a certain way. Even if the scales are different and the animation is absent, we still take the figure as a fusilier, not just a lump, or even an image of a fusilier. We take the figure as a fusilier, even if at another level of consciousness (or whatever) we recognise that this fusilier has attributes that tell us what it is, even though some of them also tell us that it is not that at all.

This works its way up, as well. A bunch of wargame figures represent, somehow, a unit. A load of units give us an army. We operate in a world of image-objects and image subjects, what the things present to us, and what we see them as. And this is even before we get to a phenomenological account of wargame rules….

Saturday 8 April 2023

The Lead Hillock

Those of you with patience and long memories may recall my struggles to reduce the pile of lead in the cupboard. This is the latest report from the front, and I am reasonably pleased with the progress. After all, perfection is for the gods alone. Us mere mortals can only expect to be somewhere in the environs of good enough.

Still, the starting position was not too bad, with nearly 900 figures in the lead pile. This is, of course, way down from the over 2500 I started with three years ago, so I must have painted a fair number of little men over the period. A rough calculation suggests I have, in fact, painted 2129 figures in the period of interest. The reason the numbers do not match up, of course, is because, like most people, I have been buying a few along the way, which, somehow inevitably, find their way to the top of the waiting pile.

Still, the starting position is this:

You can see here the 885 figures to paint this year, which should, I thought, easily be achievable. After all, in the last two years I have painted over 1000 each. It does include Christmas-related acquisitions, to wit: 45 WSS cavalry and 8 big ECW cavalry. The former are Baccus, of course, the latter are Irregular.

Now, some of the painting to-do list was a bit of a no-brainer. The plan with the WSS figures was to heavily reinforce the French army, more than doubling it in size, for a WSS campaign in a day. I already have standard-sized Anglo-Dutch, Bavarian, and Austrians, but the French were, firstly, by far the biggest army and secondly, had the most defending to do.

The next most obvious painting was the Germans, Spanish, and Dacians. The first and the last have graced the wargame table, as you might have seen recently. I am still pondering the Spanish, not only because I am not sure what to do with them (‘Fight the Romans’ of course) but because the reinforcements overflowed the current storage capacity, meaning they are split over two boxes. Bother.

The big figures are for my role-paying or skirmish games, the mixed-scale campaigns I referred to in a recent post. This has sort of stalled at the moment as I have gone back to the Italian Wars, but I dare say it will come around again as the treaty gets towards the Channel ports and attempts to stop it grow in intensity. I have to say that painting big figures is a lot slower than 6 mm figure painting. I managed 5 foot and 2 mounted 25+ mm scale figures in the same time it took me to do 45 6 mm French WSS cavalry. It might be that I am just not very practised with the big ones, I don’t know. I’m not planning to paint any more than I have in stock, and some of the foot figures have been in stock for many years.

Anyway, March sort of represents the midpoint of my painting year, so a bit of stock-taking is on the cards. The painting for the year so far looks fairly good.

The Dacians, Germans, and Spanish ancient figures have been completed, which gives a good boost to the numbers, of course. I am not sure that the style of painting is the same as their older colleagues. I think I slipped up on the shields (or got bored) so instead of a stand having multi-coloured shields they are all the same. Ho hum. Never mind.

As you might have noticed, recently I have been trying out a few wargames. These have nothing to do with what I have just painted, of course. Normal human perversity applies, after all. Mind you, I have been thinking of the Machiavelli campaign for a long time, possibly nearly as long as some of these figures have been in stock. At the current rate, I shall be looking for some more gendarmes, at least. Still, as the Estimable Mrs. P is fond of quoting: ‘All work and no play…’. I have painted now 56% of the total number of unpainted soldiers available (ignoring the plastic medievals for the moment), so I think I need a rest or at least a few wargames.

Actually, I keep promising myself more wargames when the painting is done. The problem is, of course, that the painting is never done. Even if the remaining 380 or so figures get done this year, I am sure I will find some more stowed away in a box somewhere, and then there are 500 or so plastic medieval figures of various origins, let alone being tempted by extra figures to flesh out what I have, or even, the horror, starting a new period.

When I do return to the painting effort, I think the ancient civilians and the ECW generals are probably next up. They should, at least, be manageable. After that, I am not sure. My need for extra Persians is rather limited, as it is for Companions. The Thessalians might get the application of a brush if they are lucky. I am not sure about the Moorish foot. I will have to look at them. Some, I think, date back to the times when Moorish foot were classified as auxilia in DBM, and I am not sure if this is suitable for the current views of ancient Moors. I think some of them are skirmisher foot, though, but again, there are limits as to how many you really need.

It is a similar story with the 25+mm figures. Some more of the cavalry will probably be assaulted with acrylics, and probably some of the foot. I have just finished the peasants (one of which is armed with a pitchfork and shouting ‘Grrr’), but I have a barmaid and a forester to do, as well as a whole raft more of dismounted cavalry. I suppose I shall get to them, eventually.

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.