The Italian Wars, Pike & Shotte, 28mm
Our League of Gentlemen Wargamers games are always large-scale affairs, but this one put most of them in the shade. Effectively, we spent the weekend fighting all across Italy – or rather most of it – from the Alps in the north to Naples in the south. The whole thing was the brainchild of James Roach (Olicalalad on his wargaming blog), and his plan was to portray a “bathtub Italy”, split over five tables. These were from 12 to 20 feet long, and 6 feet wide, each covering a cross-section of the Italian peninsula.So, Venice (above) and Milan were on the northern table, Bologna and Modena on the next one, Florence on the one beyond that, while further south lay a table with Rome on it, and another with Naples and its hinterland. Italy was pretty stylised, with the Adriatic forming one side, and the Tryrrhenian Sea the other. In between these major cities were smaller ones, as well as rivers, mountain ranges and other tabletop clutter. The aim of the game was to raise revenue from cities you controlled, and to thrash your opponents.I was paired up with Kieron to play Venice, while other individuals or pairs took control of Milan, Ferrara, Bologna (above), Parma, Mantua, Florence and the Papal States. There were also two interventionist forces – the French divided between the French border and Naples, and the Spanish appearing in the far south. As umpire, James also threatened the possible appearance of the Turks … just to keep us on our toes!The whole thing was played over a weekend – we set up on Friday night, then played for all of Saturday and much of Sunday, until mid – afternoon. The way James organisations used it, the game was divided into “sessions” of indeterminate length, but usually lasting a couple of hours of gaming time, or about 4-5 turns. At the start of each session players got to raise revenue from the cities they controlled, recruit more troops, and rally those they had back to winter quarters in a friendly city.We started with a land grab, expanding the Venetian Tierra Firma west towards the Adige River. Unfortunately Charles as the Duke of Ferrara grabbed Padua – a city we saw as in our “sphere”, while Milan grabbed Mantua and Verona. I saw the Adige River as being our natural border, and so set about manouvering the Milanese vipers out of Verona. We did this pretty niftily with a double-switchback of troops, outnumbering him three to one, and forcing the Duke – Steve – to give up the city.After that though, he turned all aggressive, bought four Swiss pike blocks and tried to claim it back. We did the same with Landsknechts and guns, and after a failed assault the Milanese pulled back, encouraged by a bribe. So, Verona stayed in Venetian hands, and the Adigi became our frontier, apart from the Milanese enclave at Mantua.Charles’ possession of Vicenza was also dealt with by another coup-de-main, this time a sudden massed bombardment and assault. We made peace with Charles the next turn, and despite our treachery Ferrara remained closely allied with Venice for the rest of the weekend.So, we began raking in the profits from our territories, while Kieran sparred with Bologna to the south. Meanwhile, down to the south, the French and Milanese made no headway towards Parma, Modena and points south, while in the centre Charlie – playing Cesare Borgia and Perter – Pope Alexander – spent the day expanding the borders of the Papal State. The real losers at the end of day 1 were the French in the south, who lost pretty much all their possessions, and the Spanish (played by Colin and Chris), who seemed to be trounced by everybody. By the end of the day they were barely holding on to Naples, and in now position to make any headway against the now all-powerful Papacy.In the middle Dale as the Medicis in Florence sided with the French, and didn’t switch sides all day. He’s not one for Machiavellian intrigue, and his soul-crushing slowness at playing guaranteed that his potential opponents kept their distance. So, by Saturday evening it was still all to play for, with Venice and the Papacy emerging as the most powerful Italian factions, and the Spanish rather reduced. We all trooped off for a splendid meal and a night on the pub, and resumed play the next day.This time we did things differently. Up in the north, the Venetians, Ferrarans, Milanese and French factions all agreed to a demilitarisation of the northern Italian plains, and so we all left garrisons behind, and headed south, for fresh adventures. Frankly the first day had been rather dull for Venice, and so Kieron and I hatched a plan.We decided to march south, with no real plan, other than to cause trouble, and to pick fights with whoever we could – preferably the Papacy. There was also a rather strange desire to fight on all five tables – a prospect heightened when James allowed us a small amphibious capability. So, we headed south, passing through Ferrara, and bypassing Bologna as we marched down the Adriatic coast.The French and their clingy Milanese allies were on the march too, heading past Parma, and sparring ineffectually with the Florentines. In fact the whole French military mission rather came to nothing on the Sunday, but at least it kept Bill and Steve entertained. Down in the south the Spanish actually re-invented themselves by rather amazingly allying with the Turks, and they pushed north towards the Papal state. Meanwhile Kieron’s Venetian amphibious landing near Termoli was spearheaded by our “wonder weapon” – a Da Vinci tank! Actually, it proved rather useless -it was rated as two heavy guns – but it looked great!Then, in the next session – in other words just at the wrong time – Bologna, Modena and the Papacy changed sides. So did Parma, and while they held up the French for the rest of the game, Kieron and I almost got our wish, and landed up fighting on four of the five tables. ironically there still wasn’t any fighting up north, as we and the French and Milanese were theoretically all allies.Inevitably, our over-extended army suffered – badly. First, the amphibious force got wiped out – together with the tank – and Termoli remained a Papal fiefdom. In the nexyt table up we never made it closer to Rome, as the Venetians and Cesare Borgia ended up locked in a straggling battle, with them picking off our guns and baggage, and then us rallying and counter-attacking, with the help of the Duke of Ferrara.This led to two things. First, as seen above, was Cesare (Charlie) – the son of the Pope – slaughtering the priests accompanying the Venetian carrocio. Then came Charles and Charlie – father and son – fighting each other in a succession of swirling cavalry clashes.Meanwhile I was fighting the same rearguard action against the treacherous Bolognese. They got a “Pearl Harbor” moment when they attacked first, but all they managed was to drive back a pike block, and eventually to wipe it out. We rallied quickly though, and slaughtered the Bolognese troops in Ravenna, thereby securing a useful hold on the middle table. We spent the rest of the game working our way north to Bologna, while fending off Bolognese and Modenan attacks on our strong garrison at Argenta.When the game ended at 3pm on Sunday we counted our revenue, and surprisingly Venice came out on top. This was largely due to some nifty book-keeping – troops coming from Kieron’s “military” budget, while the other budget just piled up with city revenues. I actually thought the Papal States would have done better, but it seems they blew too much on troops. So ended a memorable weekend of gaming. It was certainly a spectacle, with lovely-looking troops, interesting terrain and a great “bathtub” Italy to fight over. Thanks, James, for making it happen, and to my other Leaguers for providing such an entertaining weekend.