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.


  1. A very interesting game - thanks for writing it up. The 'low tempo environment' of your set for this period make it a very interesting experience!

    1. It was a good game, one of those which had me both laughing and banging my head on the table (not literally, but nearly). I think low tempo is quite good for these games, as I suspect that things happened rather slowly rather than all in a rush, as some rule sets might have us believe.