Wednesday 14 August 2013

Pavia: Climax of the Italian Wars

After trying out an unusual, for me, game in Nuklear Winter '68 recently, I wanted to try out something similar.  To be honest, I've always been slightly snooty about some kinds of board games, all those token/card driven, hex-maps, tables and charts kind of turned me off them, despite never actually playing one.  Nuklear Winter was something I never would have considered buying myself, so it was a bit of an eye-opener to find out how enjoyable and accessible it was to play.  Not sure exactly what I was looking for, I went online to see what was available.

 Pavia, the French in white, the Imperials in Orange, deployed ready to begin.
Reinforcements are off to one side. The white lines in the centre are the hunting park walls. 

It turns out (not news to a lot of you, I know) that there's a hell of a choice when it comes to board-war-games.  Plenty of recurring company and designer names crop up in the genre and there are some decent guides on good games over on Boardgame Geek.  In the end, I chose something from Decision Games Folio Series, Pavia: Climax of the Italian Wars.
The generic Pike & Shot rules.

What prompted this choice over others?  Well, from my Italian Wars project, I know a fair bit (for a layman) about the battle of Pavia, which would help when it came to understand any scenarios on offer.  Secondly, the Folio Series is described as on the "entry level" to this kind of game; not necessarily simple, but a relatively small scope and a tight, compact set of rules. Thirdly, Infinity Games had one left on sale for a tenner - a tenner, you don't get three pints for that any more!
The specific Pavia scenario booklet.

So, after that modest outlay, what came in the post?  A slim, brightly-coloured folio (duh) containing an impressive map, a cardboard sheet of 100 counters, two booklets of rules and two plastic bags to hold the punched-out counters.  Just fyi, you need to provide your own D6 for this series, but that's hardly a hardship for gamers!

The Folio Series each come with two rule booklets; the first is a set of generic rules and the second provides the specific scenario and terrain rules for the specific game it comes with. For instance, Pavia uses Decision Games' Pike and Shotte generic rules (also used in the Breitenfeld game) and the specific Pavia rulebook.  Unfold the map, popout the counters, set up according to the scenario and that's you good to get playing.

The Battle of Pavia was fought between the French army under Francis I and Charles V's Spanish/Habsburg army commanded by de Lannoy.  The French were half-heartedly besieging the Italian town of Pavia, camped comfortably enough in a large hunting park, when they were surprised early in the morning by the sudden arrival of the Imperial army.  Penned in by the forests and hedgerows, and unable to coordinate themselves against the enemy due to the heavy mist, the French were badly mauled and King Francis captured.

The main Imperial force and the French siege lines.

The game Pavia is fought mainly in and around the hunting preserve.  Set up is dictated by the scenario, drawn from historical sources, but there are optional, less restricted deployment rules should players want to experiment.

In terms of actual mechanics, the rules are very tight, very specific and, although it took me a good three or four read throughs to finally grasp them, very quick to play and really, really entertaining!  The movement and c&c rules are very slick, your light troops can freely move on their own (subject to the terrain they are in,) while your Tercios and Gendarmes are much more restricted except when near a commander.  This gives you some splendid tactical options; rush in with your shotte to disrupt the enemy and wait for your infantry to trudge up behind, or keep your leaders back and move the whole line forward steadily.
Some tokens from Pavia, a Tercio, Loose Shotte, Gendarmes and two commanders

Combat is handled by comparing the difference in a specific melee or firepower stat and rolling on a D6 table.  Although there are some modifiers to take into account, the combat mechanic is streamlined and efficient.  One gripe, the lower the dice roll, the better - come on, I like to roll high!!!

Some artillery pieces are in the game, although they aren't really up to much, as are light cavalry and some midgame reinforcements.  Victory is on a sliding scale of degrees of success, but this can be offset by accomplishing certain objectives in the game (capturing artillery, looting camps etc.)  All in all, I'm hugely impressed by the scope and competence of this very modest game.  Pavia has certainly helped open my eyes to an area of wargaming I really haven't explored before.  I've had one and a bit games so far, on my own, but I'm looking forward to trying it out against a human opponent.  There's quite a strong board game scene at the club, so getting a game in shouldn't be a problem.
The Imperial vanguard and Francis' camp

There is a fair old selection in the same range from Decision Games, using different core rules for the different periods, 19th century, WW1, WW2 and Medieval warfare.  I'll probably pick up something else from their selection, but I'm quite drawn to a couple other publishers, GMT Games in particular, so we'll see what grabs my attention.


  1. If you find any games seem to take too long to get in at the club you can always try VASSL which allows you to play via computer and save your games without all that writing down of locations etc.


  2. You might try DG's reprint of the original SPI Thirty Years War quad for a similar system, although I think it works better.