The Italian Wars, Pike & Shotte, 28mm
This week, German Michael unveiled his new “thing”. For weeks now we’d heard rumours that he’d been painting up peasants. This is where his new project first appeared on the tabletop. I’ve labelled this as an Italian Wars game, but in fact it belongs firmly on the far side of the Alps, in the heart of the Swabian countryside, midway between Ulm and Augsburg. Don’t be fooled by the Italian-looking buildings – I think Michael just grabbed the wrong box when he was setting up. Nope, this game was German through and through, and was a fictional encounter set during the Peasants War of 1525. Michael’s scenarios are often intriguing – some may even say baffling – and this was no exception. On one side were the forces of the Swabian League, led by Georg von Waldburg, played by Peter. I was given the role of the Bürgermeister of Günsburg, who commanded the local Swabian garrison, while Bill, as the radical cleric Thomas Müntzer, took charge of the Peasant army. this though, was no ordinary set-piece battle. Oh no. This was the sort of bonkers scenario which Michael excels at creating. So, the 8×6 foot table was dominated by a road running along it – the main highway between Ulm and Augsburg. It passed through the little hamlet of Burgau, while off to the north was the peasant army’s encampment, perched on the top of a hill, known locally as the Greifvogel. Our forces were split between two places. On the eastern able edge, Peter’s force was coming on to the table along the road. My garrison occupied Burgau, where it was presumably keeping a close eye on the rebel encampment. Scattered in each of the four corners of the table was a wood, where groups of peasants were encamped. I suppose they were the outlying forces of the main army. Also in each of the four corners was a unit of proper troops – mercenaries who could join either side. In fact, in the north-east corner this wasn’t just a unit – it was a whole brigade-sized mercenary contingent, led by Götz von Berlichingen. The aim of the rather crazy game was to negotiate with these mercenary contingents, before moving against the enemy. In the process though, we could slaughter any peasants we encountered in the woods.That seemed straightforward enough. So, Peter rode off with a unit into the nearest wood to negotiate with von Berlichingen, while my Bürgermeister led his men into the woods to the south-west. That’s when we learned that the peasants actually had leaders of their won, who were busy negotiating with the mercenaries. peter got to von Berlichingen first though, and managed to secure an alliance. So, the following turn, this substantial band of mercenaries appeared on the western tabletop. I wasn’t having such a straightforward time of it. I found the peasants were already in negotiation with my local mercenary gang, and a truce was declared within 24″ of the negotiating spot. That meant the only peasant-bashing I could do was on the very edge of the wood. I made the most of it, as my landsknecht two-handed swordsmen slaughtered the peasants ranged against them. When the peasant leader failed to convince the mercenaries, my Bürgermeister joined in, and soon persuaded the mercenaries to join me. We then slaughtered the rest of the peasants in the wood, including their leader, and set off for the next trouble spot – the wood to the north-west. Meanwhile, Peter had already sent Götz von Berlichingen into that same wood, and he immediately ran into trouble. The unit of mercenaries there – sword and bucklermen – had joined the peasant ranks, and they charged into von Berlichingen’s leading unit of two-handed swordsmen. Götz’s mercenaries got the worst of it, and were forced back out of the trees. This though, was merely a local setback. The rest of von Berlichingen’s force were now surrounding the wood, and my own brigade led by the Bürgermeister were moving up in support. It was pretty clear that these peasants’ days were numbered.Back on the road, the rebel cavalry clashed with the Swabian League’s men-at-arms, and both sides charged, counter-charged, retired, rallied and cavorted, without achieving very much. However, seizing the opportunity, Bill and Michael (as the umpire was also playing the peasants) pulled off a minor coup. In the south-east wood a unit of mercenary light cavalry had sided with the peasants, and it duly charged out of the trees, and straight into the back of Peter’s undefended guns. The mercenary gunners broke and ran, leaving a cackling Michael to rally his horsemen back towards their peasant supporters. This though, was a fairly minor setback, as we still had as many guns again, and by now we outnumbered the peasant army on the hill. The main battle though, wasn’t p[art of the scenario – or rather it might have been, if we had another evening to play the game to its conclusion. The battle though, would have been a rather one-sided affair. The peasants had been flushed out of the woods, or penned into the one in the north-west corner of the table. We now had an almost two to one advantage in numbers, and despite the loss of our guns we would be hard-pressed to lose.So, the game was duly ended there, and Michael called it as a victory for the Swabian League. Presumably his remaining peasants slipped away into the woods, ready to emerge the next time Michael decided to stage a Peasants War game. It was a fun game, albeit rather crazy, and it certainly looked nice. So, I suspect that some time in early 2018 these peasants will make another appearance – and this time we’ll be ready for them.