Sunday 18 October 2020

A battle loosely resembling the Battle of Novara, 16 June 1513. (Or, "There's something wrong with our bloody Swiss today!")

 An excellent day’s wargaming was had on Saturday. First I hosted a technologically trouble free live streamed Italian Wars game, based, as the title suggests, loosely on the Battle of Novara in the early part of the Italian Wars.  The city and walls played no part in the game. I’d left it out as a work in progress and also because I’ve not solved yet the question of where to store it. This was quite a small game compared with my usual ones, but it did leave some space for manoeuvring if needed. These photos from the previous post show the table and the deployment of both sides.

The French have been caught with their hose down by the Swiss, nominally under the command of Maximilian Sforza, the Duke of Milan as he was paying them.  The army had made a rapid early morning advance towards the French army, camped in and around a village. The Swiss were in three columns. From right to left, the first was made up of a block of 1000 pikemen and 200 ‘lances’ of Italian Gendarmes. The second contained a unit of crossbow-armed skirmishers and a block of 2000 pike. The third column on the left was 6000 strong, in two huge pike blocks and one unit of halbardiers and a couple of puny light guns. The French had approx 1000 assorted Stradiots and other light cavalry on their extreme left, four large units of gendarmes in and around the camp/village, 4000 Gascon crossbowmen in three units and on the right, facing the main Swiss column, 6000 Landsknechts in two huge pike blocks supported by some shot and two-handed swordsmen. There were also two medium guns. We used Pike and Shot, much fiddled with, and with more representative (ie a bit of thought, not all mine, went into them unlike the ones in the rules) unit stats. I class ‘huge’ units as ones with more than 64 figures, and step further up than ‘large’ units, giving them  extra melee dice and stamina. This was also the first time I fielded my gendarmes in units of 12 instead of six. They looked much better that way and I also gave them a little bit more in the way of stamina but not melee dice. 

A smaller than normal turnout this time. Conrad, Richard and Shaun were the French while Neil and Mark (beamed in all the way from Adelaide) were the Swiss. The French thought they would have a tough fight on their hands to win. How right they were. 

The French Commander, Louis de Tremouille.

The French gendarmes started the game dismounted and unarmed so would have to spend time getting their kit on.

The Swiss/Milanese commande Maximilian Sforza, Duke of Milan. In reality the only troops he had any real control over were the gendarmes.

The stradiots and mounted shot start to move around the flank of the Milanese gendarmes. 

Richard's gendarmes were quicker into the saddle than Conrad's.

The central Swiss pike block launched itself hell for leather against the French crossbowmen in the centre. They made short work of them.

The Stradiots ignored the Swiss pike and put all their efforts into neutralising the Milanese gendarmes.

On the Swiss right Maximilian Sforza led his gendarmes towards the French Stradiots and other light cavalry intent on driving them off. All they did was drive one unit away, become disordered in the process, and then got themselves surrounded.

The disordered Milanese were then, by virtue of their disorder, eligible targets for the Stradiots who hit them in the rear and flanks. This figure is pretending to be the Duke of Milan.

The gendarmes won the first round of melee and drove the Stradiots off, but were disordered still after taking more fire from the French argoulettes. The Stradiots attacked again the next turn.

The gendarmes held the Stradiots at bay for a couple of turns, and even managed a double six after having to take a break test (I always allow an automatic stand with double six). The following turn they again lost the melee and after the break test required them to retreat, they surrendered as there was nowhere to go. Ooops!

The victorious Swiss in the centre then drove off a second unit of French crossbowmen, and as a result that command became broken and out of the fight. 

On the French right the Landsnechts stood their ground while the massive Swiss column advanced towards them. Their medium guns caused a couple of hits on the right hand Swiss block, which were to become critical later in the game. In P&S large units can also convert a potential disorder into another hit, which Mark elected to do in order to maintain momentum.

The Landsnechts under Shaun charged the Swiss and held them, winning the first round of combat!
The Swiss block was slowly pushed back after it became shaken (those artillery hits etc early in the game came back to haunt Mark)

The central Swiss block then charged the other Landsnechts, but failed to destroy them as they passed their break test. Mark's Swiss halberd unit charged the Landsneckt two-handed swordsmen but lost the melee and were broken thanks to a rubbish dice roll!
With their opponents gone the swordsmen were ideally placed to charge the Swiss pike block in the flank.

The left hand Swiss pike block was being pushed back but hanging on thanks to a rule in P&S that allows Swiss pike to ignore any break results and just withdraw so long as all the other units in their command were not also shaken.

Then the other huge Swiss block broke after failing to fight off the Landsnechts to their front and flank, leaving the entire column shaken or in rout.

The French artillery only had one shot the whole game but it was a critical one.  Very old Hinchliffe cannon and powder cart crewed by TAG gunners. I made the design on the little flag up (a flaming bomb with sparks shooting out).

In the centre the Swiss pike block had advanced unhindered towards the French camp. The gendarmes had managed to arm and mount themselves fairly quickly but pulled back in the face of the Swiss. The other gendarmes had left the village on the other side and were positioning themselves to attack the Swiss rear.

I don't know why but the Swiss elected to charge the gendarmes! This immediately made them disordered and they lost any advantage they might have had against enemy cavalry! They'd have been better off forming a massive hedgehog as they were by now threatened in the rear as well.

Yep. Conrad's gendarmes swung round the village and charged the already engaged Swiss in the rear. It was a massacre and the Swiss were destroyed.

His army shattered and himself a prisoner, the Duke is taken into captivity. Chroniclers recall that he was heard to say "There's something wrong with our bloody Swiss today!" Admiral Jellico, maybe it was Admiral Beattie,was to say something similar during the Battle of Jutland 400 years later.

So, despite it not being as big a game as I'd normally offer on a Saturday it went rather well, with a complete and utter decisive victory for the French. The players had enough figures to play with and the French, despite thinking at the start that they were in for a good kicking, managed instead to give the Swiss the good news in a very dramatic victory. Thanks to everyone for taking part (and Mark especially for staying up way past cocoa time in Adelaide). The technology was faultless, the players managed to use it to good effect, switching between cameras, and the rules are Ok I suppose for games like this.  It was good to see that the Swiss are by no means invulnerable, but I'm not really sure the French light cavalry would really have been able to play Red Indians (sorry, Native Americans) with the Milanese. Oh well. 

The afternoon was rounded off with another hour and a half of banter and sharing of all things Wargames related with the Virtual (and global) Wargames Group run by Phil Olley. After the usual excellent ‘show and tell’, another Tidders’ Time from Alan Titchmarsh, a presentation of his new cavernous games room by American member Chris Bump that left us in awe, I rattled through a presentation on my refight of the Battle of Ferozeshah in the First Sikh War. 

Today’s bad bit of news came from Shaun. He told us that a former but previously long standing member of the Durham Club had passed away after a short fight with Covid. I’d first met Big Ron Emery back in 1975/76 when we were both in D Co. of the 5th Btn the Light Infantry, a TA unit with close links to the famous but by then disbanded/merged Durham Light Infantry. We’d only been in sporadic contact over the last couple of years but I was sad to hear of his passing. Ronnie was an inveterate terrain maker and DIY person, so I’m sure he’ll be knocking up some excellent terrain boards, shelving and gaming tables for the other Big Guy in no time at all. 


  1. This game looks simply superb.
    Words do not do it justice. Fantastic stuff.

  2. A splendid sight to raise the spirits in these strange times together with a fine AAR! Sorry to hear our number reduced by the passing of another gamer, victim of the virus sadly.

  3. Spectacular and gorgeous armies, what a pleasure!! Special mention to the impressive French artillery!

  4. Such a beautiful looking game!

  5. Quite a lot of prep went into this game, Colin: superb!

    'There's something wrong with our ships, Chatfield.' So said Admiral Beatty, commanding the Battlecruiser Squadron at Jutland.

    It certainly would apply to the Swiss on this occasion. Contrast the Swiss at one of the famous French Religious Wars battles. Twice overrun by cavalry they returned to the charge at the end of the day, defeated whomever they hit and retained their order. They might even have won the battle!

    1. Thanks Piccolo. The Swiss could perhaps have been better handled in this battle but it is only a game and stranger things have happened.

  6. Excellent AAR as usual. Glad to see the French win. Seems like you guys have this technology thing down pat.
    Sorry to hear about Ron Emery, damn Covid!

  7. Looks fantastic. What Stamina level did you have the Huge Swiss Pike Blocks at?

  8. The game looks fantastic. What Stamina level did you have the huge Swiss Pike Blocks at?

  9. Great looking battle Colin. Novara has several tactical problems that can make the French player struggle.They can win, but it would take some real luck.Shame about Ron, the last time I saw him he didnt look well but was still interested in wargaming and what was occurring.

    1. Thanks Robbie. The French thought they were going to be hammered but the Swiss were more than a little careless and the luck was with the French.

  10. Which part of the Pike and Shotte rules says that the Swiss Pike Blocks may disregard break results?

    1. It’s in my house rules, pinched off Olicanalad for pre-Bicocca Swiss “Treat all ‘break’ results as ‘retire’ until all units of Swiss pike in a battalia have been shaken. Once this has happened treat break tests as standard.”

  11. That is a beautiful, beautiful looking game Colin. A feast for the eyes.
    Regards, James