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You will have your war, but it will be fought the French way.

I downloaded a Campaign, in this case being a trio of battles from the First and Second Italian Wars. It is entitled Furia Francese and covers the same battle played through earlier. These are user-designed battles intended to improve upon the representation in the stock game (or in the case of Cerignola, an earlier user-made version). The scenarios have no ranged weapons and very restricted (as the author describes them cut-to-the-chase) setups.

Unit movement is greatly restricted in a combination of seeking more realistic movement and counter as well as modifying the units to include command and control considerations. The set-up puts units pretty much in contact, and further restricts movement to funnel units into the historically-correct attacks.

furia

The dark rectangles are impassible terrain, representing either literally impassible terrain (e.g. hills) or perhaps just command issues. Very minimalistic. But there are rain effects!

Looking at the above screenshot, from the Battle of Fornovo illustrates a few points. The units are restricted from crossing to ahistorical parts of the battle by the dark gray rectangles (impassible terrain). Movement is further restricted by very low movement allowances on each unit plus, in some cases, further restricted terrain. In the upper-left corner of the screen, the small blue units are immovable. They exist, apparently, to delay the combat between the larger pike units on both sides. Note also the baggage train. After pushing aside some French resistance, the AI is going to go after those baggage units. This simulates the feature of the battle where victorious Italian cavalry was essentially taken out of the fight while they looted the baggage train.

With little choice in movement, there isn’t much strategy. It becomes a game of waiting to see which die rolling will prevail. Each wing is like like a timer with random properties, and if X breaks before Y the player will win, if Y before X the computer. Furthermore, the outcome of the matchups rarely seems to be in question. Most fights are fairly one-sided, the only question being one of timing. The scenario designer also uses a trick common to Field of Glory user scenarios, inserting unusable and unreachable units in to game the engine. Jarringly, they are picked for there stats and no other reason so, the Italians might find themselves with some Ottoman infantry on their side.

From a scenario design perspective, there is some merit in this approach. The game engine is forced to execute the battle according to reality. From a gameplay perspective, however, this is a way of taking away everything that is fun from the game a leaving only what is not.

Court Intrigue

The quote at the beginning is a line delivered by a fictional King Charles VIII. He is foreshadowing what we all know will happen when France invades Italy. It will bring destruction and terror, even to some of those who helped engineer the invasion. Was Charles actually so circumspect?

That story, as told by The Borgias, has advanced to a point where the narrative in the show matches the games I’ve been playing and the battles that I am reading about. I’ve finished with the first season, which ends with Charles’ capture of Naples. It really makes a great counterpoint for my gaming.

Obviously, a detailed drama has got to make much of the detail up out of whole cloth. The historical record is nowhere near complete enough to recreate accurate interpersonal interactions in the public sphere, much less recreate what may have gone on in private. Naturally, when one is creating a story to suit the needs of its telling, it becomes easy to stray away from even the known facts into more appealing fiction. It probably grates on some to see history bent to serve the ratings. I’m fine with enjoying the show while not taking anything on face value.

Another writing detail that may bother some is the mixing of the modern with the historical. Obviously, we need the characters speaking 21st century English, not 14th century Italian, just so we can follow along. But how far is too far? I suspect that the music used is sometimes way ahead of the times, while at other times closer. I suspect similar mixed-performance in costume, sets and, especially, the behavior. However this, done right, can (in my mind) improve a performance. The sensibilities of 500+ years ago, played accurately, would often be foreign to us, where as “translating” them to a more modern situation helps immerse the modern viewer in the situation.

The scene of the (first) wedding of Lucrezia is a case in point. The scenery is very impressive and I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that it wasn’t too far of the historical. The wedding music is probably close enough to historically accurate, but it has some modernity hidden within. Dance club for the 1490s. The dance is similar. It is a formal dance (again, benefit of the doubt) suitable to the period but it is infused with modern flirtatiousness. As I said, I personally find this mix compelling.

A friend was reading a biography of the reformation period and was struck by the similarities between modern “social media” and the methods used to communicate the religious/political ideas of the day. The new technology of the printing press and armies of zealous students were a potent vector for change, and one that has remarkable parallels to today. I was reminded of this when The Borgias presented the 15th century version of Tinder. As various houses present suitors for the children of the Pope, they send a delegation to talk up the proposition and then unveil a portrait. The Pope e famiglia are then left to swipe left or right at their leisure. Accurate? I have no idea, but it all reminds us that people have always been people, even five centuries ago. Framed in the right way, the events of the past can have remarkable parallels to the present and this has been the kind of drama to do it.

My other favorite bit in this show has been the armor. In particular, I love the armor of Giovanni Borgia, Gonfalonier and Captain General of the Papal armed forces. It is a mix between late medieval, Renaissance, and Roman Empire. I am not aware of any contemporary depiction that would support such a style. It’s just a cool (and probably a modern) idea.

The depiction of the armies overall is well done, particularly for a TV series. There are no battles depicted, which is accurate. Except for a couple of lootings, there wasn’t much in the way of fighting during the invasion. But the armies arrayed have a nice combination of period costumes and CGI to portray both the detail and the vastness of the French forces.

Season 2 is queued up.

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