Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life, featuring small skirmishes and big battles from many historical periods (and some in the mythic past or the far future too). The focus is on battle reports using a wide variety of rules, with the occasional rules review, book review and odd musing about the gaming and history. Most of the battles use 6mm-sized figures and vehicles, but occasionally 15mm and 28mm figures appear too.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Novara 1513: A DBA refight

Next up on the list of old magazine scenarios to resurrect is this one from the Great Italian Wars, Novara, which was featured in Miniature Wargames 4 as part of a series on the battles of the Sixteenth Century in Europe (I suspect it was largely based on Oman's work).   For the time, these articles were great: a perfect blend of history and gaming.

This battle features a Swiss-Milanese force fighting against the French.  I used DBA for this one, since I want to do some slight modifications to the Neil Thomas Pike and Shot rules before I bring those out again.

The scenario gives an order of battle which isn't entirely compatible with the army lists in the DBA rulebook.  For this refight, I followed the scenario, which gave forces as follows:

8 bases of Pikemen (4Pk)
1 base of Arquebusiers (Ps)
1 base of Men-at-Arms (3Kn)
Breakpoint: 4 bases

5 bases of Landsknechts (4Pk)
2 bases of Crossbowmen (4Cb)
3 bases of Arquebusiers (Ps)
3 bases of Gendarmes (3Kn)
3 bases of Light Horse (LH)
1 base of Artillery
Breakpoint: 5 bases

Most rulesets give bonuses to the Swiss for being Swiss but this is counter to the spirit of DBA, so I didn't feel the need to add anything in!  There is an argument for giving the Swiss pikemen an additional +1 in close combat, or a re-roll per turn or similar.  If so, I might consider extending the same courtesy to the French knights.

The Swiss-Milanese army had acheived surprise, so gets a free turn, and then moves first.

The Set-Up:

The French are bottom, with the cavalry and artillery on the left, the French infantry (crossbowmen and skirmishers) in the centre and the Landsknecht pikemen and skirmishers on the right; the Swiss main pike block is on their left (top-right), with smaller pike blocks in the centre and left; the Milanese men-at-arms are on their right flank (top-left)

A closer look at the French gendarmes and infantry around Novara

The Landsknechts on the French right

The pike blocks on the Swiss left

A smaller pike element and the Milanese men-at -arms
The Battle:
The Swiss laugh in the face of subtlety and chuck their main pike blocks forward!

French arquebusiers occupy the village

The Landsknechts, not to be overawed, charge into the Swiss...

A wider shot: the Landsknecht arquebusiers are noticeably hanging back! (bottom-right)

The impetus of the Landsknecht charge pushes the Swiss back, but breaks up their formation somewhat

But the Landsknechts manage to get fully back into the action

The centre Swiss pike block ignores the village and plunges straight on into the French crossbowmen...

The push-of-pike continues back-and-forth on the Swiss left

Surprisingly, the Landsknechts are having the better of it: around a quarter of the Swiss have already gone down, although the Landskecht pike block is once again losing cohesion...

The French missilemen can hardly resist the Swiss pikemen, although they have managed to manouvre around a flank (left) to break up the Swiss formation somewhat

The Swiss commanders ignore this, reform, and plough straight on...

The to-and-fro of pike continues...

The French crossbowmen run off

But the Swiss main pike body is slowly being pushed back

Finally the Swiss right (centre) makes some threatening action, although to be fair, they had been quite delayed by the French artillery fire

The centre Swiss pikeblock reforms and attacks

The Swiss and the Landsknechts cannot reach a conclusion...

The French Light Horse try swarm the Milanese knights

A superb charge of the French knights eliminates half the centre block's pikemen!

...but the Swiss main pike block is starting to push back the Landsknechts

The third Swiss pike block charges the French guns!

More of the Landsknechts go down on the French right...

Whilst the French gunners run off and the guns are captured!  The French Army begins to flee, despite its success in the centre (bottom-right)

The French right at the end of the battle...
Game Notes: The deployment was as per the article rather than what I would have liked if I had to choose myself.  DBA's marmite PIP rolls do definitely create interesting battle narratives: here, the French were forced to fight the way the Swiss wanted to because they initially just couldn't afford to spend the effort on activating their left when everything was needed on the right.
This battle, as a clash between opposing pike blocks, shows a very interesting dynamic in the way that the combats are likely to play out (if I have got the mechanism correct).  One side, gaining the advantage, will likely get a recoil result.  The enemy will recoil and the winner will pursue - but the act of pursuit breaks the lead element from the front element; depending on which side has the following turn, this is the chance for the recoiled element to pounce and actually destroy the lead element of the opposing pike (typically D6+6 against D6+3, one side needs double or better than the other to destroy it as opposed to just push it back).  This was what was creating that ebb-and-flow between the Swiss and Landsknecht pikemen: on the key rolls, both sides were tending to push back rather than destroy the enemy.  The difference with pre-DBA rules, or say Neil Thomas' rules, are obvious and stark -the attritional element rules out this kind of effect.
Anyway, all good stuff: figures by Baccus 6mm, buildings by Total Battle Miniatures.


  1. Interesting refight, nice figs. I've never been a DBA fan, just doesn't seem like a battle to me but you made it entertaining enough.
    Pity the French gendarmes didn't do more, they might have swung it around for the French.

    1. Many thanks Joseph. I have done Bicocca too, where the gendarmes got another chance to show what they are made of...AAR soon.

  2. I think the Neil Thomas rules give a better game than DBA and are a hell of a lot easier to understand! I'm due to give a sort of Burgundian runout soon with his rules from his A&MW book, so will be interested to see how you tweak his Introduction rules.

    1. Thanks Steve. My intention is to merge them with his Simplicity in Practice rules, since the latter suits my basing and table a bit better. Plus in some ways I just like the design better. I promise there is some more NT stuff on the way soon, after I get this backlog of DBx reports done!

  3. "(if I have got the mechanism correct)"

    I think you missed a crucial sentence. On page 12, under "Pursuing", it states, referring to a winning element "(and all elements in a column behind such an element)". So whether the stand(s) behind support the front one or not, the whole mob advances.

    "The enemy will recoil and the winner will pursue - but the act of pursuit breaks the lead element from the front element; "

    Sadly, that sort of negates your whole push of pike combat.

    But your whole fight was quite well written and entertaining, and that's the important thing! Personally I like DBA far more than NT's rules. While I like simplicity in rules, I think Mr Thomas went a trifle too far. Still, whether I like them or not, one cannot argue that they are indeed far easier to understand!

    1. Hi Tony, many thanks for that correction and I appreciate the kind words.

    2. Double ranked pike vs double ranked pike will be a huge push fest anyway. Both are 6 vs 6 and it is impossible for one to destroy the other. You need an overlap, and even then you need a 6:1 at the right time. If you can't shoot them from a distance, then getting a Ps on the flank will destroy both ranks.

    3. Yes, as you say. I'm looking forward to doing Flodden soon, to test out lots of double-ranked pike versus plenty of billmen blades and archer bows.

  4. Nice battle. I shall give it a try with my Italian Wars figures. Thanks for posting.

    1. Thanks very much Playpus, I appreciate it.