Saturday 13 January 2024

Siena Survives

Well, it had to happen. The ‘AI’ for the Italian city wars system occasionally throws up a battle that appears to be unwinnable by the solo wargamer. Not that this is a bad thing, of course. There is a certain amount of hubristic delight in designing a system which can beat you, or at least keep you very much on the hop.

Anyway, to summarise, Siena has had a good year or two, taken over Florence and its provinces and is now looking at gobbling up the Papal States, making the Pope a vassal and holding a string of territory across the centre of Italy. Hubris indeed, you might think. And you may well be right.

The year is 1504 and I rolled for the random event, which occurred before my move. The draw was the King of Clubs. Oh dear. I have been invaded. A die was rolled to establish which misguided power had dared to intervene in my territory. A six was rolled. The Spanish. Oh dear, oh dear.

As you can tell by my comments this was not good news. The Spanish are, in terms of the campaign, a large army and difficult to beat, although quite a few of their elements are skirmishers. My advantage is that they are a bit light in terms of gendarmes. If I could get my heavies among their crossbow skirmishers I could, I reckoned, win this one, or at least not lose.

Things got a bit worse when I drew for Spanish allies. They got two allied contingents, one of shot (ouch) and one of gendarmes (ouch ouch). My advantage in heavy cavalry had suddenly turned into a deficit. So too had my advantage, albeit slight, in shot. I called in some allies who, fortunately, turned out to be arquebusiers, so my equilibrium was somewhat restored. Nevertheless, I expected to lose this one, and the campaign to end forthwith. I determined to go down fighting.

The terrain rolling was kinder to me. The Spanish, being heavy on the skirmishers both mounted and foot, did not want an open board, and I, being outnumbered 15 bases to 23, did not either. So a fair bit of terrain (although oddly, no hills) was rolled up. A couple of settlements, some fields and two streams took their place. The die roll for the sides was also kind to me. I got the edge with the fields and settlements.

Being the defender I set up first with my shot in the fields and settlements, my light cavalry out front and my gendarmes hanging around, trying to look threatening in reserve. I was so worried about this battle that I allowed both sides to redeploy two bases. I brought some shot in from the farm on my right to the central village, while the Spanish moved some gendarmes out to their left flank.

A few moves in and things were hotting up. The Sienese are to the left, where you can see my arquebusiers lining the hedges and my mounted crossbowmen out front, backed by some gendarmes. At this point, and in fact, during most of the game, the Spanish have been suffering from a tempo point drought. The idea was to push their left flank skirmishers up, backed by the gendarmes you can see bottom right who would sail around my right flank and wreak carnage. Meanwhile, their superior light cavalry would see off mine while the foot advanced to assault the fields and then the central gendarmes would administer the coup de grace.

However, the Spanish centre has only just got moving under direct orders from their general, while the Spanish right flank is immobile, as are the gendarmes on their left. The dice rolling was awful, and they rarely held the tempo, let alone managed to do anything with it.

Things got rather complex in the centre. My gendarmes got stuck into the remains of theirs after my mounted crossbows had managed to disrupt them significantly. Not only that but a spare base of gendarmes went after their right flank shot and were busy chasing them off. You can see in the rear of the Spanish several bases without orders forming a second line. The cavalry combat in the centre also got rather more complex than I can describe and needed some thinking about bases being hit in the flank and rear. The upshot was that I managed to rout a couple of Spanish gendarme bases in exchange for one of mine, and then managed to bag the general.

This, however, did not finish off the Spanish. It is a resilient army. I had to dispose of another base of skirmishers (shot to bits by my now otherwise unengaged right) and charge another shot base in the flank, which took a turn or two to do the decent thing and flee. My dice-rolling touch was clearly starting to dwindle. At this point, the Spanish decided that the Pope could be Sienese for all they cared and withdrew. Somehow Siena had managed to survive.

That was a very fraught action, and neither the pictures nor the description do it justice. I kept winning tempo rolls and having sufficient to do what I wanted. For example, when the Spanish gendarmes came a bit close for comfort I could pull my infantry back into the village and move my mounted crossbowmen out of danger, while the Spanish did not manage to get all of their army moving forward.

There is some food for rule thought here. In part, the result was that of poor dice rolling for the Spanish. In part, as well, there is the fact that the defenders need fewer tempo points than an attacker anyway. I do not think I was biased; the Spanish plan still seems viable to me.

So, in the campaign, Siena has survived the biggest existential threat to its existence to date. Also, I still have my move this year and Rome lies at my feet. Plus, I have won a battle and only lost a single base of troops. Forwards!

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