The Italian Wars, Pike & Shotte, 28mm
Have you ever seen a game set out and your heart sinks, because you know you’re in for a turkey shoot? Well, this was one of those games! This week we were refighting the Battle of Agnadello, fought in Lombardy between the French and the Venetians. The real battle didn’t end well for La Serenissima – the Venetian left wing got overrun, the centre sneaked away and the right quit the battle before it had even begun. I was sort of hoping history wouldn’t repeat itself, but the sight of all those French gendarmes didn’t fill me with much hope.In Pike & Shotte they’re pretty much unstoppable – and there were a lot of them on the table. Apart from that, in theory the two armies were fairly evenly matched. The French had more high quality cavalry, but we had more stradiots – or “Balkan rats” as “German Michael” calls them. We also had rough parity in infantry numbers, but while ours included raw militia, over half the French infantry were Swiss. Still, a lot can change on the roll of a dice…The battle began with a general French advance. In the picture above German Michael looks glowering while Donald simply looks bored. Don’t let it fool you – both were out for blood. On the right Bart’s cavalry advanced against mine, supported by Michael’s large pike block and guns. Over on the French left the Swiss plodded forward, led by the gendarmes and archers of the ordnance, who started the ball rolling by launching an all-out charge against their Venetian counterparts. On our right the infantry were run by “MDF Michael”, while Campbell as the Count of Pitigliano had the cavalry. That’s the count below.The two cavalry forces clashed, with the French household gendarmes (even more elite than elite) in the lead, led by Francis I himself (played by Donald). The result was fairly predictable. The Count of Pitigliano’s mixed bag of Venetian horse were swept from the field, while the Swiss kept plodding forward to pin down the remaining Italian foot. In the centre the stadiots – five units of them – burst into the centre of the plain under Jack’s guidance, and then fanned out, splitting the French army in two. These stradiots did me the good service of forcing Michael’s big French pike block into hedgehog formation, which meant it couldn’t advance, and was stopped in front of my guns. By then though, I had other problems – serious ones. Over on the French right a mass of French cavalry advanced towards my force. I was playing the Venetian commander, Bartolomeo d’Alviano (who happened to be Pitigliano’s cousin). While my cavalry were outnumbered three to one, and Bart had elite gendarmes, I had the advantage of a spare pike block. With luck it could help break the inevitable French charge while my Italian men-at-arms countercharged. That’s when the whole plan unravelled. Beside the big French pike block was a battery of light guns. They disordered by pikemen, which put them in mortal danger. Fortunately Bart failed to charge their disorganised ranks. They rallied and the crisis passed. However the next turn while the french guns missed again, the crossbowmen sheltering in the hedgehog had one die roll worth of firing. Michael rolled a “6”, and my pikes were disordered again. This time, Bart made sure not to miss his big chance. The six French cavalry units swept forward, my two horse countercharged, and the disordered pikes sort of milled about. The pikemen were hit by French men-at-arms who eviscerated them, causing six hits, and prompting a morale test with a lot of minuses. They broke and ran. In the centre my best cavalry – the Venetian lanze spezzate – faced Bart’s best unit of gendarmes. Here the odds were a little more even, and I even won the combat, but Bart’s guys then got lots of support points, and a morale edge for being super troopers. So, I actually lost, and had to take a morale check. Once again my unit fled the field.That left my lighter cavalry, who actually did best of all, pushing back the charging enemy gendarmes, and then whacking into the French archers behind them. Both French units were disordered and pushed back, but it was too little too late. The next turn my now shaken men-at-arms (elemeti) were swept from the table by a French counter-charge from their archers d’ordnance. Meanwhile my last unit – a small unit of militia crossbowmen – actually held the gendarmes for a turn, before they too failed their test, and were packed back into their box. So, on the Venetian left there wasn’t anything left to stem the French tide. Jack had control of the militia and the guns in the centre left of our line, but they wouldn’t be able to do much against the victorious French cavalry. The only respite from the assault was that first they had to redress their ranks and rally off any excess hit points. Bart had handled his cavalry like a pro, and now the chastened d’Alviano was galloping away, to rejoin what little remained of the Venetian army.The only bright spot in our left and centre was that our stadiots were continuing to harass the big French pike block, and also the French units on their enemy’s left flank. I rather hoped they’d ride down the French artillery, but Jack felt that wouldn’t work in the rules as the stradiots were classed as skirmish troops, so that didn’t happen. Peppering the enemy with javelins was as good as it got. That though, wasn’t going to save what was clearly turning out to be a rather cataclysmic day. On the French left Donald had pressed forward with his pikes, and met tone of the Venetian pike blocks, who had edged forward to support what remained of Pitigliano’s cavalry. The Venetians (actually landsknechts as we lacked enough Italian foot) were pushed back, and the Swiss advance continued. Soon the French horse and the Swiss infantry were set to roll up what remained of the Venetian right flank, which had taken refuge on a hill on their table edge. In Pike & Shotte hills don’t really offer any benefit, so the end was pretty much inevitable.That though, is where we packed up.All in all it was a pretty comprehensive French win, and the Venetians were sent back to their lagoon to lick their wounds, and plot revenge. Despite the outcome it was a pretty enjoyable game – fast paced and fast-moving, and above all it looked splendid. This is arguably the most colourful period you can wargame, and every time we stage one of these games I’m blown away by just how pretty the figures look.