About two weeks ago, I came across an interesting looking wargame Kickstarter set in Medieval Italy called Ventura Battle System: The Fall of the King that focused on the Battle of Fossalta in 1249. I was immediately interested and reached out to the company to see if I could get an interview with the designers to bring this interesting looking game to the attention of our readers. I was able to get an interview with a developer and manager of the game Antonio Romano and he was very willing to help me in answering my questions and turned them around in about 3 days.
You can check out the Kickstarter campaign page, which currently has 9 days remaining, at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tophatgames/the-fall-of-the-kingtm
Grant: Tell us a little about the design team of Aldo Ghetti and Gianluca Raccagni. What games have they each previously designed? How did they come to work together?
Antonio: Aldo Ghetti has been a wargamer since 1973; he published his first rulebook in 1977 in the Italian magazine Modelli Militari (Military Models). Among the latest games he has designed, we can find the Napoleonic wargames Waterloo Enemy Mistakes in 2015 and Su le Teste! in 2019.
Gianluca Raccagni is currently working as a Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Edinburgh. Besides History (and not just Medieval History), games are one of his biggest passions, especially board games and wargames. Gianluca has combined these two passions by creating and contributing to the creation of games with a historical setting, and by incorporating the world of games into his teaching and academic research. The two designers met on the “tabletop battlefield” and decided to create a whole new system to play Italian Medieval battles that they felt were not recreated accurately and enticingly enough in the world of wargaming. And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship!
Grant: What period of history does The Fall of the King cover?
Antonio: The Fall of the King reconstructs, through 4 different Historical Scenarios, the stages of the terrible Battle of Fossalta of 1249, one of the many in the conflict between the Guelphs (who supported the Papacy) and the Ghibellines (who were supporters of the Empire). In this particular battle, the Imperial Ghibelline troops of Modena, led by King Enzius, faced the Guelph militias of Bologna in the countryside of the Po Valley. Enzius, son of the Emperor Frederick II was eventually captured (sorry for the spoilers! b but that’s the reason behind the title) and spent the following years of his life imprisoned in a palace in Bologna.
Grant: What was important to model in the design from the period?
Antonio: Historical accuracy was of the utmost importance (having a History professor as a game designer has its side effects), so we tried to incorporate details such as period-appropriate equipment in the gameplay as well. We also tried to make the art style reminiscent of medieval miniatures (not the models we’re used to playing with today, but the small illustrations found in ancient manuscripts) to give it an old-time look while still keeping it truthful and colorful.
Grant: What are the different factions included and how are they different?
Antonio: Ideologically, Guelphs sided with the Pope and tried to limit the Holy Roman Empire’s grasp on the autonomy of Italian City-States, while Ghibellines supported the Emperor (Frederick II in the period our game covers) as the only true power on Earth, leaving the Papacy (and God) to rule over the afterlife. This led to a true crusade, a political one, launched by Pope Innocent IV against the Empire, which was seen as blasphemous. In terms of gameplay, we did our best to keep the two factions balanced: e.g., throughout the four Scenarios included in the game, a faction will start with a different number of Formations or Groups on the battlefield, but they will receive initiative in the first round to compensate. A faction might be armed with long-range Crossbow (meaning more dice to roll in ranged combat), while the other has Compound Bows, which compensate with more precision (the Ability to choose which target you attack, something usually left up to the opponent).
Grant: What is the Ventura Battle System and why is it a fit for this historical campaign and the intent of the designers?
Antonio: The Ventura Battle System, introduced for The Fall of the King, was designed to cover the Italian Middle Ages from the appearance of Communes to the Renaissance. Its objective is attracting newcomers to wargaming by offering a rulebook that is easy to learn but challenging to master, as well as the option of saving some money by using tiles instead of miniatures until they’re sure this wonderful hobby suits them. At the same time, we believe that the system can be a breath of fresh air for seasoned veterans, which will find this simple-yet-profound system very versatile. We also suggest they use their own miniatures to turn the game into a true three-dimensional experience, as it was always meant to be.
Grant: How are cards used in the design to represent soldiers?
Antonio: Cards are the core of the Ventura Battle System. Round (an economical yet versatile alternative to miniatures we adopted to keep the price accessible) tiles are used to represent a Soldier’s position on the battlefield, but cards control almost everything else, from a Soldier’s statistics to its military organization (either acting alone or in a pile of cards, which reflects a Group of Soldiers touching each other on the battlefield).
Moreover, each card is double-sided to easily represent both “classes” (which can change during combat) of a certain Soldier: mounted (as a Milites, Latin for Knight, corresponding to a 40mm round tile) or dismounted (Pedites, Latin for Footman, using 25mm tiles).
Grant: It seems that presence and influence are important factors on the battlefield that follow closely the concepts of command and control. How are these elements used to manage the Soldiers?
Antonio: Presence is a value found on every Soldier card, but it is most useful for the two types of commanders, Condottiere (one for each faction in each Scenario) and Constables. If a Group of Soldiers satisfies certain characteristics, most important of which is being in the range of influence (expressed by Presence as a number of 1-inch segments around the tile) of a Commander, they become a Formation, enjoying certain benefits derived from military discipline. One benefit is being immune to the shock of seeing one of your brothers-in-arms die on the battlefield, which brings us to why every Soldier has a Presence value: a Fallen Soldier influences every Soldier in its range of influence, inflicting Shaken status which affects their Morale leading them to retreat or even die if they are already wounded.
Grant: What are the differences between the Commanders including Condottiere and Constables?
Antonio: It goes without saying that each Commander will be more than a “nameless” Soldier and will be based on real (if virtually unknown) historical figures, with the slightly unbalanced statistics this might cause (you wouldn’t want mighty King Enzius to perform just like your everyday infantryman, would you?). As for the difference between Condottiere and Constables, the former receive a good number of blue markers at the start of each round: these are used to bid for initiative and even steal it away at a key moment, besides giving orders (i.e. making Soldiers perform Actions) on every Soldier or Formation on the battlefield, even if the Condottiere is not directly influencing them. However, every unused blue marker is returned to the supply at the end of each round. Constables, on the other hand, while receiving far less purple markers, can store them over several rounds to use for performing actions or augmenting them (e.g. turning a normal Attack in a Charge attack).
Grant: What different types of Soldiers do players control? What abilities does each have?
Antonio: We already mentioned Milites and Pedites: mounted Soldiers obviously have a wider Movement range and usually use Spears, which give them certain Abilities in Melee combat (e.g. a Long Spear can strike and even kill your enemy before they can do any damage in return). Other Soldiers are designed for Ranged combat (like Crossbowmen and Mounted Saracen Archers), fighting from a distance and slowly picking away at distant Soldiers, possibly felling their horse and moving in for the kill when the Knights are stuck beneath their mount.
Grant: What role do Civilians play in the design and how are they used?
Antonio: Civilians were introduced to faithfully recreate an event in the battle, where Guelph Soldiers had to defend engineers that were repairing the bridge while the battle raged around them. Having no military training, they are mostly there to provide the opposing faction with an objective: killing them before the end of the battle, so the enemy won’t have a bridge to cross. But beware, they are not completely hapless: if you’re scared, even a hacksaw can become an improvised weapon and injure a mighty Condottiere!
Grant: What different types of Vehicles are included in the game and what can they bring to the battle?
Antonio: This first installment sees the introduction of the Bolognese Carroccio, a large wagon pulled by oxen and carrying an altar. In battle, the Carroccio was surrounded by the bravest warriors in the army as the Carroccio guard, and it served both as a rallying-point and as the symbol of the city’s honour; its capture by the enemy was regarded as an irretrievable defeat and humiliation. Thus, the Guelphs’ objective is to get their Carroccio to the other side of the battlefield for a great amount of points, while Ghibellines seek to destroy it as their own mission.
Grant: How does the process of combat play out on the board?
Antonio: Melee combat ensues when enemy tiles are in contact, either as a consequence of an Attack Action (which allows Soldiers to move into contact with enemies and immediately start a combat) or a Confront Action (when tiles are already in contact). Each faction adds up the amount of dice they will roll according to their Melee Combat Skill and usually inflicts wounds to their enemy simultaneously. If dice results are good enough to generate a certain number of successes (more on that in the next question), wounds and even deaths are then calculated. However, many factors such as military organization (in Formations, even Soldiers not in contact with enemy tiles can provide Support through re-rolls) and Weapon Abilities (as stated before, having a long or short weapon can mean striking your attack before or after your enemy can wound you) can have a great impact on combat, so don’t just charge blindly into the enemy because you outnumber them!
Grant: It appears that you have rules for different armor types and their protective values. How does this play into the game? Why did you want such detail included with the different types of armor?
Antonio: First of all, historical accuracy: armies could not afford to give their best armor to every one of their Soldiers (and horses!). Protective values consist of a formula, e.g. 4×2. The first number represents the Threshold, while the second indicates the number of Successes needed. In order to wound, dice results must be equal or greater than the Protection Threshold of enemy targets and total a sufficient number of Successes to inflict wounds. For example, if you roll 6 dice, you need at least two 4’s (or higher) to wound a Soldier with Chain Mail.
However, we also wanted to highlight that wearing Heavy Armor does not make you invincible. For example, Heavy Chain Mail Armor (only worn by the most important Knights) has the drawback of limiting agility, making it more likely to get stuck under a felled horse.
Grant: What are the different types of wounds and conditions that come as a result of combat?
Antonio: First of all, we should say that once you are wounded, a second wound is fatal. This is the same for all Soldiers in the game, from the lowest archer to the noblest Condottiere. What changes are Protection Values, which depend on Armor and personal skills (as we said, seasoned Commanders can bear more than simple Soldiers). Being wounded (i.e. receiving a red indicator on your tile) also has other drawbacks, such as limiting your Combat Skills with a penalty (rolling one less die). Colored indicators are also used to indicate other battle situations. A shooter bearing a white indicator needs to reload their weapon (thus, they need to perform that Action before shooting again), while any Soldier not in a Formation who witnesses the death of a fellow Soldier becomes Shaken (receiving a yellow indicator).
Grant: Initiative seems to be an important part of battle. How do players vie for control of initiative? What advantage does it give the owning player?
Antonio: At the start of each round, each faction’s Condottiere receives blue markers, which can be used to bid for Initiative with a secret and simultaneous offer. Whoever wins, chooses which player should be the first to act (sometimes, the best strategy is to wait and see what the opponent is planning). However, initiative can be stolen away (effectively interrupting your opponent’s turn) by spending a number of markers greater than what’s left on the opponent’s Priority dashboard.
Grant: What is the difference between Short and Long Actions? How do players manage these actions?
Antonio: Each activated pile of cards (i.e. Soldiers on the battlefield) can perform up to two different Short Actions or one Long Action. For each performed Action, the player spends 1 blue marker from their Priority dashboard, plus +1 (for short Actions) or +2 (for long Actions) from Commanders if a Formation is performing it. That’s the price to pay for the benefit of having many soldiers act as one well-oiled machine! Actions also have two degrees of complexity (i.e. Simple and Complex) which affect the Action’s efficiency and cost.
Grant: What actions can players take?
Antonio: In this installment, there are six Short Actions available in the Historical Scenarios of The Fall of the King: March (moving on the battlefield according to March value), Bypass (jumping over certain terrain elements), Shoot (initiating ranged combat with a far-away enemy target), Reload (reloading your weapon before you can shoot again), Mount/Dismount (switching your Soldier tiles and flipping their cards to represent their change), and Interact (needed for a variety of situations, such as opening church doors in Scenario IV).
Moreover, Soldiers can perform six Long Actions: Run (moving on the battlefield according to March value), Cross (moving across certain difficult terrains you can’t Run or March across), Aim (a more precise version of Shoot), Attack (moving and initiating a Melee Combat), Confront (initiating a Melee Combat with enemy tiles already in combat) and Capture (initiating a Melee Combat where enemy Soldiers who should be killed, are instead removed for double points).
Grant: How does morale effect the game? How is a morale check carried out?
Antonio: Any Soldier who was Shaken (bearing a yellow indicator) by a traumatic event needs to go through a Morale Check before they can perform any action, possibly putting their whole Formation in jeopardy. When a pile of cards containing a Shaken Soldier is activated, a die is rolled and certain modifiers are applied. The result is checked against a Morale Table: possible consequences are soldiers retreating (and dying, if they’re wounded), marching away or shrugging off their shock and keep fighting on!
Grant: How are victory points scored at the end of battle?
Antonio: Each Scenario has a different series of objectives, which can vary according to your faction, such as capturing King Enzius (will History repeat itself?), destroying your opponent’s Carroccio or killing Engineers. However, players also receive Points on the cards of the Soldiers they eliminated, double points for captured Soldiers and half points for routed Soldiers, plus +1 point for each enemy wounded Soldier still on the battlefield.
Grant: What different scenarios are included in the game?
Antonio: The four Historical Scenarios included in The Fall of the King recreate different moments in the Battle of Fossalta. The first Scenario is named Reconnaissance, and is perfect for assimilating the rules of movement and combat of the Ventura Battle System. It has a very short duration, only four rounds, and you will learn the basic concepts of Single Soldiers, Groups and Formations. You’ll become familiar with bidding for Initiative and managing your blue markers.
The second Scenario named Sant’Ambrogio, recreates the fight for the bridge over the Panaro River, with the introduction of ranged combat and more ambitious and challenging tactical objectives. In six rounds, the Ghibelline player must take swift and resolute action against a prepared and well organized opponent.
The third Historical Scenario is played out in Fossalta: the Ghibellines of King Enzius are retreating towards Modena by skirting the impetuous Tiepido Creek. Eight rounds that will seem even longer if you don’t quickly solve the dilemma: destroy the Carroccio or ford the creek and reach your goal?
The battle of the Fossalta of 1249 reaches its climax near the church of San Lazzaro. In the last eight rounds of the fourth and final scenario, King Enzius must escape capture and find refuge inside the church. Will you rewrite history or has its course been repeated again? Share your experiences and feedback with us.
Grant: What does the design do well?
Antonio: Well, we feel that we’re not really qualified to answer this! I mean, we may be biased, so we feel external players should say what our game’s strong points are! We just received a quite thorough review by an enthusiastic fan who has already gone ahead and used our system to create his own soldiers and battles! This fills us with joy, as we strive to instill such passion into new and veteran players alike. You can find the review on our Board Game Geek page! https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2465147/worthy-successor-cry-havoc
Grant: How long do the different scenarios take to play?
Antonio: Each Scenario has a different number of rounds, and the duration obviously depends on how experienced the players are in the game’s mechanics and wargames in general. However, one of our main goals was having a game duration that would not put new players off. So, we estimate 60 minutes for the first introductory scenario, and 90-120 minutes for the advanced ones.
Grant: What stretch goals are included with the campaign?
Antonio: Oh, we have a long list of those! We started from scratch in order to deliver the basics, but our dream is collecting enough funds to be able to deliver everyone a better game for the same price. Stretch goals include higher quality components, translations in other languages, extra Soldiers and extra Scenarios!
Grant: When can backers expect fulfillment of the game?
Antonio: We expect to receive the finished product in October and then start the delivery process. Ideally, by November 2020, everybody will be able to travel back in time and try to challenge fate on the battlefield! If you can’t wait that long, all four Scenarios are available for you to try out in the Tabletop Simulator’s Workshop! Find out how to play here https://tophat.games/blog/tabletop-simulator-guide
Thank you Antonio so much for your time in answering our questions about the game and its ongoing Kickstarter campaign. I also appreciate the fact that you were able to turn this around in about 2 days so I could get this posted this week before the campaign ends.
You can check out the Kickstarter campaign page, which currently has 9 days remaining, at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tophatgames/the-fall-of-the-kingtm