Saturday 30 December 2023


I was reading a book almost totally unconnected from wargaming. I know, I know, but it does happen and is encouraged by the Estimable Mrs P., who, for reasons I do not understand, does not wish to talk about the finer details of Alexander’s phalanx, Cromwell’s deployment at Naseby and similar subjects. At least, not all the time.

So, there I was, innocently reading a book about the history of libraries, when I came across a reference to do with the Jesuits creating a college in Poland. This was noted in the book as being geopolitically significant. It just did not say why.

I could think of a few reasons why Poland was geopolitically significant in the late 16th Century. To start off with there were Protestant enclaves around in Poland and the surrounding region – Scandinavia, for example. It was also next door to Muscovy, which probably had some sort of missionary interest for the Jesuits. After all, they were busy getting into China, Japan, and South America at the time.

But still, I was slightly intrigued. Why was a college in northern Poland determined, even a book about the history of libraries, to be deemed geopolitically significant? Anyway, what is geopolitics?

Those who know me will also know that I do not like such questions. A quick search on Google did not satisfy my quest for understanding, and so a book was purchased:

Dodds, K. (2019), Geopolitics: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, OUP).

As the attentive reader of this blog might be aware, I rather like these Very Short Introductions. They do what they say on the tin and are usually quite up to date, or at least give a good launch pad into further literature. This one is reassuringly in its third edition, which means that other people must like it as well.

Geopolitics is not quite what I expected, I confess, at least on Dodds’ account. It is not that far away, admittedly, but when I worked at a university I noticed that geographers were trying not only to colonise the geographical world but also the intellectual world. I once worked with a student whose research, as a geographer, was on madness and not the spatial distribution of mental health problems either. It is probably a good job she never found out I was a wargamer.

Anyway, geopolitics is defined (p. 3) as involving three qualities. These are questions of influence and power over space and territory. Secondly, geographical frames are used to make sense of world affairs. Thirdly, it is future oriented, trying to guess the future activity of states, assuming that their interests are basically unchanging.

All of these are questionable assumptions and positions, of course, and, this being the postmodern academy, they are certainly questioned. There is a strand of thought called ‘critical’ geopolitics which asks questions which most people do not, such as ‘why are most economic migrants male?’ and ‘what were the routes used in extraordinary rendition?’. A section is devoted to these sorts of awkward questions, and they keep coming up. Any quick perusal of a news website today shows the relevance of these questions, even if most media outlets do not wish to ask them, let alone get any answers.

Geopolitics, as future-oriented, is not, on the face of it, terribly helpful to a wargamer. I mean that, given the term is more or less confined to the Twentieth Century as a subject, and that it was for many years after 1945 a sort of academic poison due to perceived links with the politics of Nazi Germany, particularly the idea of lebensraum, it has not been much applied, so far as I can tell, to historical issues. Nevertheless, I think it does have some concepts and ideas which might make us pause to consider our wargaming, especially those of us who create a play campaign games.

For example, have you ever wondered why countries down the centuries have spent so much money on prestige projects? Even in the midst of a crisis, plague, and civil war world leaders have found the time to pose for portraits, and send them to allies or friends (or hoped for allies). Again, states have built large buildings, or thrown parties for visiting dignitaries. Siena, for example, stopped work on updating its defences in the early 1550s to welcome some posh dude who might help in the future. These activities may seem to be vanity or a distraction from the main event, the military, but the argument is that they were worth doing, to show off.

A lot depends on our senses of identity. As an example Dodds uses the Falkland Islands, noting that Argentina still regards them as Argentine in spite of recent history, and that maps of the Islands adorn monuments and school books. In parallel, of course, British maps mark the Falklands differently. Similarly, recent Chinese maps with dotted lines around the South China Sea have upset and worried countries around that area. The point is that objects – maps, books, memorials, buildings – are statements of some sort of identity, whether that identity is present or aspired to.

There are lots of other issues (did I mention that geography seems to aspire to academic hegemony?). Social media, for example, not only allows international terrorists to communicate, but world wide protest movements to take off. The example given is the Occupy movement of 2010, but others could be adduced. After all, without social media would we have heard of Greta Thurnburg?

So there is an awful lot in this little book. Not much, admittedly, is directly applicable to wargaming per se, although for anyone who is running a campaign based around competing nations it might be worth pondering if you should build in some vanity projects to build a nation’s reputation without it having to go to war and win battles and sieges. It would be an interesting exercise, but would not, of course, get toy soldiers on the wargame table.

On the other hand, building a military force in a peaceful world could also be thought be be a vanity project. Like a gun on the table in a play, sooner or later you know it will be used. Now, where is the nearest bunker?

Saturday 23 December 2023

The Raiders

Well, after my success at Arezzo, my personal rating took off. The city, of course, surrendered and so I was +2 for the move, to the heady heights of PR of 9. Italy lay at my feet (sort of). Certainly, Florence, as an independent political entity had, for the moment, evaporated. Cheers all round, and I am considering inviting a certain Niccolo Machiavelli, an experienced diplomat, to run the place for me. After all, I have new worlds, or new bits of Italy at least, to conquer.

Anyway, more prosaically, I had to deal with the random event in the second half of the year. This turned up some raiders who had to be dealt with. In the original version of the game, these were Chichimec tribes, who were almost entirely psiloi. As you probably know, in DBA these are hard to beat while being difficult to lose to. Here, I envisage them being a sort of free company of deserters, disillusioned and unemployed mercenaries and bandits clubbing together.

The raiders mustered a 12 base army, of 2 mounted crossbowmen, 6 skirmishing crossbowmen and 4 bases of crossbowmen. As you can see, there were a lot of crossbows and not much else. Light raiders, as I said above, out for loot and not really for hard fighting, I hope.

Again, in the original game the raiders, as a random event, was aimed at being an easier wargame with less at stake than the attacks on cities and so on. The aim was to minimise any losses which would impede further expansion while getting a fairly easy win. It should be similar here.

My own forces, mercifully still at current full strength after the fight against Arezzo, consisted of 4 gendarmes, 1 mounted crossbows, 2 crossbows, 2 arquebusiers, 2 sword and buckler men, for a total of 11 bases. Pondering this I reckoned that the best tactics would be to get the gendarmes and the swordsmen into action as soon as possible. The gendarmes, at least, should be pretty safe against anything the enemy can throw at them.

In the picture, the raiders are on the right. Their left, nearest the camera, is held by skirmishers on a hill, with more skirmishers in the wood next to them. The centre infantry are nearly engaged with mine, while on their right the mounted crossbowmen try to hold up my gendarmes, who are shielded by mounted crossbowmen themselves. The playing cards you can see are potential ambushes. As it turned out, there were none, which was a bit of a relief.

My own plan was to get the gendarmes into action. On my right that is going ahead as you can see with half of the heavies aiming for the hill. On the far side, my gendarmes are advancing against their light horse (which are backed up by crossbowmen). In the centre my firepower is advancing, backed by the swordsmen.

It all went rather pear-shaped for the raiders, as you might expect. A bad tempo roll meant that my left wing gendarmes, with yours truly at the helm, trotted gently into the mounted crossbowmen and routed them. They then ambled into the supporting crossbowmen and routed them as well. Admitted this did take a few moves (about three, I think) but it was a bit of a crushing blow, especially as because these gendarmes had not charged I still had them in hand.

In the centre, my shot exchanged fire with the two available crossbowmen on the other side. This was pretty much a draw as not all my shot were yet in range. On the other side of the field, my gendarmes took advantage of the raider’s tempo famine and charged home up the hill. This was not exactly what I had planned – I was trying to flank the skirmishers first – but the opportunity presented itself. The skirmishers only resisted briefly (although they did not immediately flee – some good rolling saw them hold out for a turn or so) and then fled.

When the mounted crossbowmen fled the raiders went into waver mode. Then the skirmishers fled and they went to fall back. Finally, the crossbowmen ran for it, so the raiders routed.

As my right-wing gendarmes charged, they are now busy pursuing the routing enemy, but that hardly matters. It seems, using my rules, that the key factor is to keep the gendarmes under close control and only let them rip when you need to. After all, the non-charging gendarmes routed four enemy bases, the chargers only routed two. It was enough, however, and finished the battle quickly and without losses, which was part of the point.

So, now, having won the battle and dispersed the raiders, my personal rating stands at the heady heights of 10. The domination of the centre of Italy is at hand, and I am starting to wonder if I could make myself Pope, so long as my wife doesn’t mind. It is quite possible, at the moment, but the cards may have a different opinion.

I have been thinking of further developments of this campaign process, and I think it could work for some very different periods and sizes of campaigns. For example, two ECW garrisons attempting to capture and hold villages, or two North American Indians attempting to grab hunting grounds to supply the Europeans with furs. These are aside from the more obvious ones such as German states grabbing each other (oooh-errr missus) in the early Seventeenth Century, South-East Asians scrapping in what is now Myanmar and Thailand and I am sure that my noble reader can think of a few more that would work nicely, aside from the original Aztec context.

Still, as this is the blog post nearest Christmas I shall wish you all a Merry one. I usually have some sort of offering as a Christmas present but, due to circumstances which hopefully will soon become clear, I do not have anything quite yet, so you will have to anticipate...

Saturday 16 December 2023

Siena Expands

After my not-quite-a-victory at Piombino in the new Italian Wars campaign, I still had my own 1501 move to effect, even though my army was down three bases and my personal rating was at four. Many more setbacks and my nobility would recall their manners an assassinate me. Still, I had to do something and so, Piombino being inaccessible to me at present, I invited Perugia, in the Papal States, to join my republic. Unfortunately, they declined, leaving my personal rating at three, and the Siennese nobles wheting their knives and attempting to source poisons.

In the firm belief that things could turn around, I entered 1502 as full of optimism as a rat in a maze with poison down every turn. The good news was that a unit of gendarmes rejoined my army, making good a little of the damage inflicted by the dastardly Piombinese. Careful consideration of the strategic situation led me to advance to Pisa (Florentine territory) and invite that august tower to lean in my direction. To my slight surprise, they did.

Having gained one city, the surrounding ones can be invited to yield as well. Lucca declined but Pistoia (also Florentine) surrendered. My personal rating soared again to the heady heights of 5. Florence then decided that my form of republicanism was better than her own, but Piombino continued to defy my benevolent rule. I really will have to go and sort that lot out properly soon.

So, my rating was now 6, and further glory awaited, especially as there was no random event this year. In 1503 my move was first, and so I decided to complete my conquest of Florence by taking Arezzo. Not that I come as a conqueror, of course. It really is in the best interests of these cities that they join with me for our mutual benefit.

Still, my forces further augmented by the return of a unit of crossbowmen, I advanced in great humility to Arezzo and invited them to join their brethren from the rest of the former Florentine territories in the shiny new super-soar-away republic of Siena. They declined, meaning that I had to crush them in battle instead. So much for humility.

For this action the Florentines, for I suspect that the resistance was orchestrated by renegades from Florence itself, obtained an allied contingent of 3 shot bases, in addition to the normal Florentine army of 4 gendarmes, 2 mounted crossbowmen, 2 shot, 2 crossbows, 1 sword and buckler men, 1 skirmisher base and 2 pike.

My own contingent was not of 4 gendarmes, 1 mounted crossbow, 2 shot, 2 crossbows, 2 sword and bucker men, and, in order not to be totally outnumbered, 3 shot from my new allies in Pisa. I was still outnumbered by 17 bases to 14, but I find that as the solo player, being outnumbered evens up the pitch a little, as it were.

A few moves in and you can see my cunning plan evolving. The Sienese are to the left and the Florentines to the right. The infantry and Florentine light cavalry on on a hill, and my plan was to attack them in force while holding the rest of the army back, ready to strike once the Florentines were wobbling. You can see in the right foreground that half the Florentine gendarmes have just arrived as reinforcement for this flank.

On the far side, my left has started to advance, although at this point I was concerned that I would not be able to stop the gendarmes in time. I have also advanced my centre to cover the flank of the forces aiming for the hill, and they have hit the pesky Florentine mounted crossbows and stopped them from annoying everyone.

My plan worked, just about. I had to divert my gendarmes to try to march across the battlefield to threaten the Florentine gendarmes who had just arrived on my right. This failed as my gendarmes were threatened by the rest of the Florentine heavies, who were also looking dangerously at my central infantry.

As it turned out, my mounted crossbowmen on my right performed heroically (or luckily, if you want to be prosaic) preventing the gendarmes from interfering in the fight on the hill. My sword and buckler men made short work of the enemy mounted crossbowmen. The rightmost Florentine crossbowmen on the hill resisted for a while but were heavily outnumbered and wilted and ran eventually.

The end of the game is above. Nearest the camera my brave troops have captured the hill on my right, while the mounted crossbowmen are leading the Florentine gendarmes a merry dance. On the far side, my left, the second line of gendarmes, noting the battle going in my favour, charged the Florentine infantry and routed them – the action is still in process, but the second Florentine base is looking dodgy. This, together with the losses on the Florentine left (who can be seen fleeing bottom right) caused the army to go into withdraw mode.

A victory!

A lot of the glory has to go to my right-wing mounted crossbowmen who disrupted two bases of Florentine and kept them occupied while the infantry stormed the hill. As in the previous battle, my sword and buckler men performed magnificently, and the gendarmes did a good job of blocking the Florentine heavies in the centre and then administering the coup-de-grace on my left. Medals all round, I think.

I have yet to work out the implications of this action on the campaign. My personal rating will increase by 2, and Perugia and Umbria are in line to be tested for surrendering. Florence has also been wiped off the map (snigger), although there is still the possibility of a random event disrupting everything in the second half of the turn.

I think I learned quite a bit about how to handle the army after the last outing. The sword and buckler men can be quite devastating if they get into combat, but gendarmes need careful husbanding if they are to have a positive impact. For the Florentines, I think I rather messed up their deployment. The pikes and two bases of shot never got a sniff of action; nor did their sword and buckler men. Still, I am not complaining.

Saturday 9 December 2023

The Bigger…

You hopefully will not have noticed it, but there has been rather a dearth of posts hereabouts recently. I tend to write in advance, and my backlog, so to speak, has diminished to the point of practically vanishing. So, what has been happening?

Looking around the wargame blogosphere, I detect that this state of affairs is not uncommon. Referred to in different ways the wargaming mojo comes and goes, it seems, for reasons that the wargamers themselves are not really aware of. Usually, for me, the answer comes from my nearest and dearest who point to stress, anxiety, and tiredness as being the major culprits, followed by focusing too much on one aspect of the hobby, usually painting, which I do not like that much.

This has been somewhat the case for your correspondent. Not the painting, actually, as I have not been doing very much of that, but the anxiety and so on. Not that this is clinical or anything, so please save your sympathy for those who do suffer in this way, but just that state of uncertainty about what to do and how to do it, combined with external factors which make, to misquote St Thomas Aquinas, ones wargaming taste like straw.

Still, not to worry. Usually the answer to this is to get some toys out and play a game which, as evidence shows, has been being done. I prefer, these days, campaign-related games, even if these campaigns are vague ideas of narratives rather than anything else. These take a bit more setting up and effort. We might also see my latest project, Sienna, being conquered before I really get going, but that is, of course, my fault.

Another thing that has sidetracked me is my efforts to create a village for my 28 mm plus ECW-era figures. Those with a long memory might recall a campaign focussed on getting the English Ambassador to Calais in 1635, along the lines of the Three Musketeers. This then requires a village for them to pass through and be ambushed from, as well as some buildings to give a representation of Calais itself. Card buildings are being assembled in copious numbers, alongside many paper cuts. Never let it be said that I am not willing to shed blood for the hobby.

The card buildings were bought many years ago (they are now out of print) for a different project, of 20 mm medieval forces. In the remaining box of shame (or at least, the only other B. o. S. that I am willing to admit to my consciousness) there are about 6 or 8 boxes of medieval figures from various manufacturers, which were also bought over 20 years ago. I also rooted out the figures that I had painted (not many of them) and tried to work out what my younger self had been planning.

I also noted that this was clearly a project that had not fared well. I pulled out of the box a number of figures which had been partially painted but not finished. As you do, to go along with the buildings, I decided to finish what I had and then decide what they were. Eight archers down the line I could deploy the following:

This is, of course, a non-DBA twelve-base medieval army. Some head-scratching ensued, but eventually, I decided that they were based for a War of the Roses English army. You can see, incidentally, a variety of Revell, HaT, and Italeri figures (I think). If you were looking really closely, or at the figures in real life, you would find that some were rather dull. I think this is because of the way I was experimenting at the time with painting, basing, and final coating – I think about 2/3 of these bases were overpainted with undiluted PVA glue.

Now I have realised why the project ground to a halt at this stage: I do not have sufficient archers in stock, in spite of all the boxes of troops, to create another 6 bases of them for the other side. This is a little disappointing but is explanatory not only of the incomplete state of the armies but also the reason why I have a sample pack of 20 mm metal figures in the same box. I was evidently trying to fix the problem but then got sidelined into something else.

That something else probably has to do with the equivalent army I deployed at the same time, just for fun:

This is, of course, a 6 mm army of the Wars of the Roses. Here, there is a mix of Irregular, Baccus, and Heroics and Ros figures and, by comparison with the above, a lot more figures (128 against 24) and a host more flags.

I am not about to launch into the aesthetics of 20 mm against 6 mm figures and armies, or anything, so you can put those cudgels down. Both are scales that land up being looked down upon a little by some ‘proper’ wargamers. Nevertheless, there are some observations I can make.

Firstly, painting the little chaps is a lot easier than the bigger figures. I find this with the 28+ mm figures as well – there is a lot of surface area to cover with the big figures. Progress is, or feels slow. Plus you do have to think differently. In 6 mm I think by the strip of figures. In the bigger figures, I think by the figure, or even by part of a figure.

This may, of course, just be me. After all, in the last few years, I have painted 3000 or so 6 mm figures and about 30 big ones, and so the former have had a lot more practice. However, the experience of finishing these 20 mm figures has not really endeared me to the scale, and the difficulty of completing the armies is a bit of a turn-off. I might have to revert to buying metal archers just so I can justify the effort and investment of time, and then consider a small battle with big figures.

Saturday 2 December 2023

Back to Italy

I am not sure why, but the Italian Wars seem to be a bit like an addictive drug. No sooner had I decided that the Machiavelli campaign was more or less deadlocked than I started to read a book about Siena.

Stevenson, J., Siena: The Life and Afterlife of a Medieval City, 2023 (Head of Zeus, London)

To be fair, this book, which was a rather late birthday present, was bought for me by the Estimable Mrs P. on the strict understanding that it was not a book about wargaming, military history, battles, or campaigns. And, indeed, it is not. Siena, after all, was a more regional power in Italy, overshadowed from the 13th Century or so by Florence. There are a few interesting military incidents described, such as the Battle of Porta Camollia (1526) where the Sienese, besieged by a joint Florentine and Papal army with cannon that were destroying the unreinforced medieval walls, simply sallied out and captured them, thus securing the city until the 1550s when the big boys got involved for an 18-month horrific siege.

Anyway, the book has a lot of art history in it and so it does fit the brief about having little military about it. But, well, you know what wargamer’s minds are like, as does the Estimable Mrs P. When she inquired what the next wargame was and I replied ‘Italian Wars’ she sort of sighted and asked ‘Siena?’ I could not deny it.

Anyway, this is an idea that has been brewing for a while. Astute readers with long memories might recall a campaign with Aztecs where the idea was to take over the whole of the Valley of Mexico, fighting DBA battles along the way. This is very similar but set in the Italy of 1500 or so. The random elements are much the same, except I have added a chance of assassination. After all, you never know when you are going to be invited to supper with the Borgias.

So, Siena in 1500 faced the world alone and was desperate for some friends, whether real or coerced. This being a wargame campaign, of course, the latter was the preferred option, so long as I won. Not everything wished for, however, comes about. Still, my first move (as there were no random events) was on the port of Piombino which submitted and joined the greater Sienese co-prosperity zone. My personal reputation soared to a heady 8.

The next turn, 1501 saw a random event, however, and that event was that a random vassal city revolted. At least I did not have to spend much time wondering which of my possessions had the temerity to reject my gentle rule. Piombino, obviously the victim of deluded factions and outside forces, rebelled.

A few more dice rolls established the facts. The army of Piombino, augmented by some skirmishing crossbowmen from an unnamed ally, was going to fight. This gave them 16 bases to my 12; the Aztec game had established that outnumbering the solo player made the game more equitable. The terrain rolling made things a bit worse for me (I’m getting my excuses in first, you understand) with the rebels defending a stream.

The rebel centre was held by their light troops, with crossbows and shot on either wing. Their left had their mounted crossbowmen and half their gendarmes. My plan was to attack gently on my right and smash their centre with my sword and buckler-armed troops. This, well, sort of worked.

On my right, the mounted crossbowmen clashed, but that allowed my gendarmes to sneak up on their troops and amble into them at a trot, routing them (snigger). It did, however, leave my gendarmes exposed to a charge by the rebel heavies, and a tempo drought meant I was very concerned for their welfare for a few turns. As shown I managed to infiltrate some mounted crossbows between my gallant men and the scurvy rebel rabble.

In the centre my brave troops were crossing the stream and, even though disordered, were sticking it the skirmishers there and routing them, only slightly disturbed by incoming rebel fire from the flanks (which in fact did for one of my crossbow bases). On the far side (my left) however, my lack of tempo allowed my gendarmes to stray too close to the stream and they got advanced into by the rebel sword and buckler men and driven back. Eventually, these gendarmes would break.

Eventually, it went a bit pear-shaped for both sides. The rebel gendarmes on my right charged but hit the mounted crossbowmen. They routed them, but then cantered on into my waiting gendarmes and were recoiled. As they had the general with them, he had to roll for survival – anything but a six. Oh, well, another dead general. My gendarmes, following up, put both bases to flight. You can just see, by the way, an ambush of even more enemy skirmishers who have just jumped out of the rough ground in the far right corner.

On the other wing, my own gendarmes have been put to flight, causing a morale test which my army failed, going into withdraw mode. As my gendarmes were still in combat, however, I permitted them to finish routing the rebels before disengaging. The rebel army also failed it morale test, withdrawing.

In spite of the carnage, then, I can claim a tactical draw. However, as these pesky rebels were exactly pesky rebels, and my army, three bases down, is a bit small to retake Piombino, it has to count as a strategic defeat. My personal rating has dropped by four points, two for the defeat and two for the city rebelling and not being brought to heel.

All this was, as you will recall, from a random event. I still have to take my own move in 1501. With a much-weakened army, I am not sure what, exactly I can do and, unless I am really lucky with my dice rolling and card drawing, I cannot really see much success in bullying others into submission given my paltry personal rating.

When the Sienese were defeated, sold to Florence, and subjected to a controlling citadel they turned to culture to express their independence. Perhaps I should take up painting instead of aggrandisement in Italy.