Thursday 29 April 2021

Fornovo, 6 July 1495

War clouds gathered over the Burrow last Saturday when I put on an early Italian Wars game, based loosely on the Battle of Fornovo where the army of the  League of Venice lay in wait to intercept the French of Charles VIII on their march back to France having conquered Naples and filled their pockets with lots of plunder and stuff not nailed down from the length of the Italian peninsular. Click here to see what Wiki says about the battle. It has its challenges, such as the torrential rain, swollen river, and washed out fords to name but a few. It’s also a battle of quantity (the League) versus quality (the French). We used Pike and Shot with my Italian Wars house rules. When we get back to face-to-face gaming I want to try out Furioso, but they don’t (imho) lend themselves to a game being played remotely as unit activation is by throwing a dice to see which order each unit moves. Anyway, here’s a picture of the battlefield at the start of the game.

It’s very bare. Just the river running the length of the board. It isn’t easily crossable thanks to the weather. The width of the river incorporates the bad going that ran along each bank of the river. French on the left, League on the right.

As was the case last time I was ably assisted by Conrad and Richard who came to help move the figures as well as play. Richard, with John as the King and Paul were the French while Conrad, Nigel and Mark led by Neil were the Venetians and their chums. In the narrative that follows all the League men at arms will be described as gendarmes for ease as in the game there were a mix of Casa Famiglia, Lanze Spezzia, Condottieri and German mercenaries. It rained heavily in the real battle so each turn I threw 1D6, with a 1 meaning the rain had turned into a downpour. A further 1 would make the downpour permanent for the remainder of the game. Any units crossing the river had to beat a 1 to cross (at half speed). Units following immediately behind had to beat a 3. They would become disordered on leaving the river on throw of a 6. A permanent downpour halted all gunpowder weapon shooting and deducted 1 from scores when testing to cross. 

The League of Venice army from the left wing.

The LoV had several units of Stradiots and mounted crossbowmen already on the other side of the river harassing the head of the French column.

The French on the march. The rear guard has turned to face the threat on the army's flank.

The League camp.

So, with the players mustered the game began. I suspect some of the photos are out of sequence but I doubt it will spoil the narrative. Thanks to Richard for some of the photos.

The busy League camp again.

The rear of the French army, including the precious baggage train.

League gendarmes crossing the river in the centre.

While more League gendarmes began to cross opposite the French rear guard.

The French army inexplicably seemed to ignore the threat to their right flank and continued marching along the road.  Some units did turn to face as the League troops got closer. This led to the column becoming strung out.
The League Stradiots try to outflank the French vanguard or at least slow it down.

The Stradiots still playing with the very annoyed French vanguard.

The main Swiss pike block still ignoring the threat across the river.  Mind you the block contained 144 figures so why should they be bothered?

The League employed a smaller block of just 96 Landsknechts to counter the
The French are now paying attention and are countering the League army as it crosses the river.
The cannon failed to halt the League gendarmes with closing fire.

League gendarmes then hit the French cannon and rode over them.

The League army is now crossing the river en masse.

Back at the French rearguard League gendarmes charged and defeated a large unit of French crossbows.

At the head of the French column, Stradiots were being slowly driven back by the advancing gendarmes. Oh, and that’s me in the background at Mission Control.

The annoying Stradiots  again.

Papal pikes crossing the river.
LoV gendarmes take their chance when the Swiss become disordered and charge them.
The League Gendarmes are taking their time crossing towards the enemy rear guard.

Paul was in command of the League left and his gendarmes splashed across the river and charged a company of French gendarmes. Richard threw some terrible dice and was pushed back but the League declined to follow up.

Another view of the fight in the previous photo.

Back at the vanguard the Stradiots were still being driven back but were causing some damage to the French gendarmes.

A unit of dodgy French pikemen face two large blocks of League pikemen as they cross the river.

League gendarmes crossing in the centre.

The League gendarmes on the left pulled back. One unit was shaken and disordered after pushing the French back.

Esmerelda di Catti looks on.

Another company of League gendarmes.

Landsknechts in the League army are across the river.

The League left was very slow in continuing to advance over the river.

When they did they supported an attack on a large unit of French crossbowmen by League gendarmes. The crossbowmen were crushed.

The Landsknechts bearing down on the French baggage train.

At that point we called it a day. It was clear that the League had won. I’m sure there was a photo of the disordered Swiss fighting a loosing battle against League gendarmes but it seems to have been ‘lost’. The French conceded and that was that. They (the French) had tried to escape without paying enough attention to the enemy, and ignored them for several turns as they tried to march off the table. It was part of their ‘master plan’ but back to the drawing board messieurs. The army became strung out and vulnerable to the League attack.

As always the rules, with my amendments and stats, worked ok. If I’d not forgotten the rule about large units being allowed to convert a disorder into a casualty the outcome would have been very difficult I reckon, but who will ever know? Overall, an excellent days gaming. I enjoyed it as did the others, although we lost Mark early due to a tech issue at his end in Adelaide. It was great to get this collection out on the table again, a year after its first appearance. Many thanks to all who took part, and especially to Conrad and Richard for helping with the figure moving; I couldn’t have done it on my own.

I’m bobbing around in boats on Wednesday courtesy of Richard then I’m preparing a game for 8 May.  


  1. A splendid and colourful tussle there Colin! Your gaming energy leaves me feeling tired just reading through your AARs.

  2. A wonderful looking game! I do wonder how they kept track of units in a battle as with all those flags and colours, it must have been a multi-coloured riot when on the field of battle.

  3. Tremendous, colourful, spectacular and an interesting battle to boot.
    Unlike your post this comment is dull - just a list of superlatives.

  4. Very, very impressive Colin, well done!

  5. Fantastic looking game. The sheer density of flags is astounding ;)

  6. Great game Colin, as always. A couple of the captions had me scratching my head. Paul was definitely on the French side as I recall with Conrad and I in charge of the League gendarmes. Never mind, all that plate armour splashing about in the river got very confusing.

  7. Great report and inspirational display!

    I’d be interested in you Pike and Shot house rules for Italian Wars as I will be using those rules for 15mm games

  8. Wow, an amazing display of eye candy! And all those flags. Love it!
    I played in a convention game of Fornovo and the French smashed the League with ease. I can't believe the French players ignored their flank for so long.
    I truly think that is your finest collection, Colin. Though all of yours are impressive.

  9. Hi,the game looks fantastic.We're thinking of doing the battle at our club. Is there any we could have the Oob.