Sunday, 29 March 2015

Italian Wars (final)

This version of Italian Wars (a Diplomacy variant) is as final as an untested variant can be (if at testing reforms are found to be needed, it will be reformed, else it should remain as it is). 

As I said in the previous entries, the variant is inspired by Rinascimento, a variant that I have played to reluctant draw results three times in the last months (as Turkey, the Pope and Genoa). I love the concept and I have come to hate the result because it is so imbalanced that, if you get one of the bad powers (Siena, France, Pisa or Ferrara particularly) you have almost no hope. In standard Diplomacy and most other variants powers are roughly equal at start: they have to negotiate but they also have teeth.

Another thing I came to dislike are historical and geographical inconsistencies. Examples: Trento, Chambéry and Domodossola are wrongly placed, the Turkish-Venetian conflict was still focused on the Aegean and only reached Italy in the 1480s, the House of Este (Ferrara) already owned Modena, Pisa did not exist anymore as an independent state, France intervened in Naples and Milan, not against Savoy, Aragon (not represented) owned already the two large islands of Sicily and Sardinia.

In the end I also decided that 1461 was a much better date to begin the game, because it was the very beginning of the real Italian Wars, an early phase of them, and not 1454, which is actually after a key peace treaty (treaty of Lodi). In this year Jean of Valois-Anjou, son of René the Good (Earl of Provence and former King of Naples deposed by Aragon) had just won key battles against Ferrante of Naples, after an overseas operation which used the Genoese Navy (Genoa had been also liberated by Milan just before the beginning of the game, allowing it to play as independent power). This gives an initial leit motif to the game and allows the House of Valois-Anjou (Provence rather than France, which did not intervene directly until much later) to play a complex but interesting role in the game. How it will play out will vary, of course.

So this is the final map with province names and starting units:

(click to enlarge)

Rules (core): 

Unless stated otherwise normal Diplomacy rules apply.

Builds: all powers can build in any unoccupied center they own. There are no "home centers" ("Chaos" building rule).

Victory is achieved when a power owns more than half of the centers, which is 22 centers (total 43). An optional rule allows for a faster victory if certain conditions are met. For reference, the Northern Mainland (including Ferrara and Bologna but excluding Ravenna and Forli) has 19 centers, while the Southern Mainland plus Sicily also has 19 centers, the remaining 5 centers are in the periphery (Corsica, Sardinia, Tunis, Spoleto and Ragusa).

Venice (V. in the map) includes the Venetian Lagoon and therefore is separated by sea from adjacent land provinces (Treviso, Padova, Rovigo). This means that armies cannot move from or to Venice unless convoyed and any convoy must include the use of the Gulf of Venice sea province. Fleets in Venice are considered to be in coast, and hence cannot convoy. (Note: while in practical terms it will surely be most rare to see armies in Venice, they are indeed a possibility, either because they have been convoyed to the city or built in it).

Padova has a coast but it does not border any sea province, only the especial "canal-like" province of Venice. Hence convoys cannot happen in or outside Padova but fleets can enter it from adjacent coastal provinces (Venice, Treviso, Rovigo) or exit from Padova to them.

Basilicata has two coasts: the east coast borders the Gulf of Taranto, Taranto and Reggio di Calabria, the west coast borders Eastern Tyrrhenian Sea, Salerno and Reggio di Calabria. Standard rules for provinces with two coasts apply. 

Piombino is a regular coastal province between Pisa and Grossetto that just happens to include the island of Elbe, for this reason and because its mainland area is so small, it is drawn to include a small nearby sea area as well.

Dark grey provinces are impassable. These are: Burgundy, Dauphiné, Swiss Confederates, Habsburg Domains, Kingdom of Hungary and Ottoman Empire. There is however a partial exception if some of the optional rules below are used.

Armed neutrals: unless certain optional rules are used, the armies and fleets of the armed neutrals (representing minor states, de facto independent Papal vassals and the Neapolitan rebels) just hold. If dislodged they are removed forever from the game. Their main role is make early expansion a bit more complex, slow and nuanced. Spoleto and Ravenna are the only unarmed neutrals.

Units that begin anomalously: the deployment is as per the map above. There are two units that are anomalously but correctly placed in sea provinces: 
  1. Venice begins with a fleet in Gulf of Venice instead of Padova, which is empty. It represents its peculiar naval might and game-wise helps Venice to attempt some Adriatic intervention already in 1461.
  2. Valois-Anjou begins with an unsupported fleet in Eastern Tyrrhenian Sea, representing the effort of porting the nearby army to Naples. Once 1461 is over the fleet will need support like any other unit, naturally.
Names of the powers (and shortening variants):
  • House of Valois-Anjou (Provence)
  • Duchy of Savoy (Savoy)
  • Republic of Genoa (Genoa)
  • Duchy of Milan (Milan)
  • Republic of Venice (Venice)
  • House of Este (Este or Ferrara)
  • Republic of Florence (Florence)
  • State of the Church (Papacy)
  • Kingdom of Naples (Naples)
  • Crown of Aragon (Aragon)
Full name of provinces abbreviated in the map:
  • V. - Venice
  • RdP - Riviera di Ponente
  • RdL - Riviera di Levante
  • RnE - Reggio nella Emilia
  • Com - Commachio
  • Pis - Pistoia
  • Pio - Piombino
  • Rav - Ravenna
  • Rim - Rimini
  • Rag - Ragusa

Optional rules:

The following rules are optional and meant for face-to-face or by-email gameplay. Each rule can be chosen separately of the rest but, unless they are mutually incompatible, several optional rules can be used together.

1. Fast victory: Venice, Milan, Rome and Naples are considered key cities. If one player controls two of these key cities he or she is considered hegemon. If there is only one hegemon and the hegemon owns at least 15 centers (just above 1/3 of the total), then the hegemon wins the game. Victory can also be achieved by the basic rule of conquering 22 centers, regardless of the key cities owned.

Notice that, with this optional rule, it is possible that a power owns more centers than the winner hegemon, no matter: that player also loses. It is also possible that two players fulfill the hegemon requirements simultaneously (for example one controls Milan and Venice and the other Rome and Naples), while that situation exists fast victory is no possible but regular victory (22 centers) is.

2. Influence points (applied to several optional rules listed below): each power has influence points (IPs) according to the golden rule (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21). This means that:
  • Single-center power: 1 IP
  • 2 center power: 2 IPs
  • 3-4 center power: 3 IPs
  • 5-7 center power: 4 IPs
  • 8-12 center power: 5 IPs
  • 13-20 center power: 6 IPs
  • 21 center power: 7 IPs (22 centers is victory, so no need to extend)
At the beginning of the game Ferrara has 2 IPs, Venice 4 IPs and all other powers have 3 IPs each. 

All IP votes are cast in the Winter (builds) season, which will therefore be longer than usual in order to allow for negotiations. Partial exception: rule 2.3, which also requires of vote in the Fall season. All votes are secret so a Game Master is required for these optional rules.

2.1. Semi-active neutrals:

With this rule armed neutrals can be voted to be allied to (under the command of) a player for a game-year's length. Their units are still not allowed to move or attack but they can issue supports.

Players can allocate their IPs to one or various influence actions at their discretion. The syntaxis is: <neutral> allied to <power>: X IPs. A plurality of IPs for each neutral wins the influence action, highest bid ties make the neutral to remain uncompromised.

As neutrals are unevenly deployed through the map, this rule is probably best used in combination with either one of the following two.

2.2. Random foreign interventions:

With this rule, each Autumn (Fall) season, the Game Master throws a dice, and, if the result is 5-6, a foreign intervention takes place. To determine which foreign intervention is it, the GM throws the die again, with the following results:
  1. French intervention (French army is placed in Dauphiné)
  2. Swiss raid (Swiss army is placed in Swiss Confederates)
  3. Imperial intervention (Habsburg army is placed in Habsburg Domains)
  4. Hungarian raid (Hungarian army is placed in Kingdom of Hungary)
  5. Turkish raid (see below)
  6. Two simultaneous interventions (see below)
On the event of a 6, the die is thrown twice to determine which two interventions occur, however now 6 means: major Turkish raid (see below). If the number is the same, repeat the second throw. Notice that (5) Turkish raid and (6) major Turkish raid can both happen and in this case it is considered a Turkish invasion, and treated as single event after all but with major proportions.

In the event of a Turkish raid, a Turkish fleet is placed in the Southern Adriatic, if occupied, then in the Central Mediterranean Sea, if also occupied, then in the Eastern Ionian Sea. If all three Turkish raid seas are occupied, then place an army in the province labeled Ottoman Empire.

In the event of a major Turkish raid, two Turkish fleets are placed following the same preference order as with a regular Turkish raid. If only one of the sea provinces is available, then deploy also an army in Ottoman Empire. If all three sea provinces are occupied, then deploy only the army.

In the event of a Turkish invasion (raid + major raid), the procedures mentioned above are applied sequentially, however the whole Turkish force is a single entity allied to a single player for the year.

Unlike armed neutrals (optional rule 2.1), intervention forces can move and attack, they can also conquer centers, which remain under their control passively (as an armed neutral) until another intervention from the same origin takes place or are dislodged by an attack. Intervention armies or fleets without support are removed from the map when the intervention is over, however those with support remain and if not in the center, they fall back to it automatically in Winter (in this case: fleets have precedence over armies if the support center is coastal).

Intervention armies are assigned exactly the same way as armed neutrals in optional rule 2.1, by IP votes, are but they are assigned as whole intervention forces, per national affiliation (i.e. French force, Turkish force, etc.) and never as separate individual armies and fleets. Even if there is no active intervention but there are remaining units from a previous one on some centers, these are assigned always in bulk if rule 2.1 is active (else they are passive as other armed neutrals are).

2.3. Non-random foreign interventions:

This rule is based on 2.2 and is therefore incompatible with it. A game can take place with rule 2.2 or rule 2.3 but not with both.

The possible interventions are the same as above but these are voted in Autumn. At least 15 IPs are required to trigger an intervention and therefore a maximum of 2 interventions can take place simultaneously. A major Turkish raid needs 22 IPs. In theory a Turkish invasion can happen if a Turkish raid gets 15 votes and a major Turkish raid gets 22 but doesn't seem likely.

In the Winter control of the intervention force or forces is voted as per 2.2.

Notice that it is perfectly possible that you help trigger an intervention expecting that you or an ally will control it and that it ends up being controlled by your enemy.

Historical notes:

HOUSE OF VALOIS-ANJOU: René the Good, Earl of Provence and former King of Naples, and his son Jean II of Valois-Anjou, Duke of Lorraine and claimant King of Naples.

John of Anjou hoped to regain the regnal title of Naples, lost by his father René, organizing a campaign with the support of Genoa that was initially successful thanks to the support of many rebellious Neapolitan nobles but which he failed to bring to success eventually.

The game begins when the claimant is able to take Naples after defeating King Ferrante with the support of local nobles.

René of Provence, father of Jean and former King of Naples was also in 1466 elected to rule Catalonia, in the context of the popular uprising against John II. Jean of Lorraine was murdered in Barcelona, apparently poisoned by agency of his arch-rival John of Aragon, in 1470.

The House of Valois-Anjou also controlled the city of Asti in the Piamonte.

CROWN OF ARAGON: Joan II the Faithless

 John of Aragon is believed by some to have inspired Machiavelli's The Prince more than Cesare Borgia or any other ruler. He is the merciless forger of the Trastamara (later Habsburg) megalomaniac pan-European crown. In order to achieve his goals, for example in Navarre, he had no qualm in murdering all his first marriage children one after the other.

His ruthless ambition eventually paid him badly, having to fence a revolt at home in favor of the French and Anjou.

DUCHY OF SAVOY: Louis (Ludovico) I, after 1464 Amadeus (Amadeo) IX the Happy.

In 1450 Louis had unsuccessfully tried to conquer Milan, while it was under republican government. He received the Holy Shroud from his Cypriot in-laws. His son Amadeus was epileptic and did not effectively rule the realm, leaving it in the hands of his wife Yolande of Valois, who in 1476 took part in the Burgundian Wars in France, being disputed which side she was actually with.

Historically Savoy was always a transit point for French forces to enter Italy, not having played any major role before the unification of Italy in the late 19th century, when that coy attitude of centuries finally paid the house with the Italian crown.


Genoa was a republic led by doges elected for terms of two years. At the beginning of the game the title was held by Paolo Batista Giudice Calvi, who died soon after, then Batista Cicala Zoaglio, etc. (see: Wikipedia: Doge of Genoa).

Genoa was already in decline, having lost most of its overseas possessions to the Ottomans. Just before our game, it had been ruled as a French dependency by John of Anjou, who used it to reach Naples with his army, but the Republic was restored with support of Milan. However in 1464 Milan changed sides and invaded Genoa, holding it as French fief. It was held by either Milan or France for the rest of the century until it was captured by the Old Nobility with Aragonese support in 1522, which later arranged a formal independence under the Habsburgs.

Anecdotally, somewhere in the streets of Genoa in this year of 1461 there is kid, aged 9 or 10, named Cristoforo Colombo. When he grows up he wants to be a sailor...

DUCHY OF MILAN: Francesco I Sforza (until 1466), then his son Galeazzo Maria.

Francesco I, a Milanese condottiero raised in Naples, as famous for his brawn as for his brains, fought many campaigns for various masters, notably the House of Valois-Anjou, before successfully plotting against the Ambrosian Republic of Milan, becoming the new Duke by decision of the city's Senate. He was never recognized as such by the Emperor.

Once in power he established strong alliances with Florence and Naples, switching sides in the dynastic dispute and becoming an enemy of the Valois-Anjou. He restored the Republic of Genoa in 1461 but invaded again in 1464 as French vassal, keeping it under his control since then.

His son Galeazzo is better known for his patronage of musical art and very especially for his cruelty and womanizing tendencies. He was murdered in 1476. He was nominally succeeded by his son Gian Galeazzo but in practice by his brother Ludovico il Moro, another famed Milanese strongman.


Pasquale Malipiero (-1462), Cristoforo Moro (1462-71), etc.

Unlike the doges Genoa those of Venice ruled for longer time. In our game the main one is Cristoforo Moro, who was largely busy with campaigns against Turkey in the Aegean and Albania. He also had to face challenges from Italian neighbors who ambitioned Venetian lands in Terra Ferma (NE Italy).

In 1483 Venice and the Pope formed an alliance against Milan. This put an end to the Treaty of Lodi.

HOUSE OF ESTE: Borso (-1471), then Ercole I (1471-1505)

Borso was mostly allied with Venice and enemy of Milan and Florence. He was a patron of the arts mostly for political reasons. 

He was succeeded (by means of a Venetian supported coup) by his half-brother Ercole, known as the North Wind or the Diamond, who married with Eleanora of Naples, establishing a long lasting alliance with the Trastamaras/Habsburgs. In 1482-84 he fought a war against the alliance of Venice and the Pope, who claimed Ferrara, which he ended by diplomatic means, ceding border lands to Venice (Rovigo in the current version of the map, which I may need to repaint brown for the sake of historicity).

REPUBLIC OF FLORENCE: Cosimo de Medici (-1464), then Piero il Gotoso (1464-67), then Lorenzo il Magnifico (1469-92).

The Republic begins the game still in life of the founder of the Medici powerhouse, who was allied to the Francesco I of Milan. Upon the death of this one, Ferrara supported a military attempt against Piero, but the coup failed for lack of popular support. Another attempt was led by Venice in 1467, when Piero sought the help of the Duke of Urbino.

The reign of Lorenzo is best known for his patronage of the arts, being a key figure of the Renaissance. After executing the Bishop of Pisa for taking part in a murderous conspiracy, he had to face the rage of the Pope and his Neapolitan ally. Lorenzo solved the conflict by risking his life going in personal visit to Naples, where he patiently turned Ferrante to his side.

STATE OF THE CHURCH: Pius II (-1464), Paulus II (1464-71), Sixtus IV (1471-84)

Pius wrote an erotic novel and condemned slavery on newly baptized Christians. Paul was a Venetian who lived in Venice even as Pope and felt trapped by the conditions imposed to his power by the cardinals on his election. He was a populist anti-humanist who did nothing of relevance.

Sixtus IV however was a very strong man. Native of Liguria, he was the most able cardinal appointed by his predecessor, having led the Franciscan Order before being crowned as Pope. His right hand was his nephew Girolamo Riario, Lord of Forli and Imola and Captain General of the Church, who plotted unsuccessfully once and again against Lorenzo de Medici, in the hope of becoming Lord of Florence. 

Besides attempting to expand the Papacy at the expense of Florence and Ferrara, Sixtus also sanctioned the African slave trade, although he kept his predecessors' demand of respecting the freedom of those who had converted. He also developed Rome and patronized the arts.

KINGDOM OF NAPLES:  Ferdinand I, also know as Ferrante.

 Historical notes: Ferrante faced a major revolt that almost cost him the throne. Later, in 1478, he allied with the Papacy against Florence. But Lorenzo de Medici traveled to Naples and managed to gradually persuade Ferrante to abandon such alliance.

In 1482 he joined Milan and Ferrara against the Pope and Venice. In 1985 he faced a second rebellion, this time aided by the Pope.

In 1493, a year before his death, he realized that France plotting a renewed and more vigourous attack against Naples and tried to warn other Italian rulers of the danger such campaign, trying to rally them in a united front but failed.

Preliminary impressions on early strategy for each power:

Provence has a scatter of troops and its main immediate goal is almost certainly to secure Naples. While Marseilles is rather protected, Asti is quite under threat, but an army is an army and Provence can surely find a way to put it to good use with proper diplomacy and a bit of luck.

In Naples, Provence's main goal is to prevent Naples from getting any help, be it from Aragon, the Pope or maybe Genoa, and instead get some help for itself that is not too expensive (same three powers plus Venice probably). Of course a deal with Ferrante is a theoretical possibility too but not so much a practical one.

In Northwest Italy and its Provençal stronghold, the greatest challenge is probably Savoy: a deal is always possible, I guess (the name of the game is Diplomacy for a reason) but there is clear friction in Asti and surely also Nizza. Maybe a swap can fix that?

Genoa and Milan are also in friction around Asti and may want the center for themselves. Milan has huge land forces but hopefully is more concerned about Venice. Genoa's play may be affected by deals with Savoy re. the Ligurian Sea and possible by-effects of the Neapolitan war. Genoa is actually the only power able to reach, in pure theory, most of the initial Valois-Anjou centers (incl. Naples but excluding Salerno), so getting Genoa in Provence's good side is probably important for the claimant.

Naples has a difficult start and must also care their initial diplomacy. If no power intervenes for either side, Naples can easily fall-back to Benevento and take Taranto, getting a build in the first Winter, an army of course, that may be decisive to expel the claimant from the Kingdom.

Aragon was historically Naples' dynastic ally but there's no obvious in-game reason that prevents Aragon from siding with Provence. Surely two fleets will try to get Tunis but beware that the third fleet doesn't go to Calabria. Naples should provide a good narrative to make the Aragonese player understand that, if he plays that way, he will probably only make Provence and Venice grow, challenging his natural naval supremacy. But will this be enough?

The Pope is another possibly interested actor. His Roman army can only initially intervene in Tuscany or Naples and much of the same can be said of the army of Spoleto. Is it a good idea to offer Naples to the Pope in order to weaken Provence of is it just replacing one evil by another?

Genoa will probably focus first in securing the Ligurian Sea but it's Corsican fleet can easily intervene in Naples or also in Marseilles or help another actor like the Pope, Aragon or either of the contenders for the Neapolitan throne.

Venice won't arrive early on but surely he's spying the Neapolitan war for a sign of weakness on Naple's side in order to capture Bari or Taranto or both.

So careful diplomacy along with correct execution seems essential for Naples' survival, being surely one of the most challenging initial positions.

Aragon seems relatively easy to begin with: Tunis is a cheap shot but important decisions must be taken regarding Naples and the overall strategy. Possibly Aragon must look forward to a second moment when Venice and maybe other powers grow a naval threat. If Naples falls, Venice will most likely take both Apulian centers, while Provence will need to keep some sort of naval lifeline between Marseilles and Naples.

For these reasons Aragon may want to stay allied with Naples but limiting its naval might to the East and maybe claiming Calabria not as loot but as well-deserved prize for a critical help. Another key ally if Provence is felt like a threat is surely Genoa.

Sure, Aragon may choose to ally with Provence and Venice but in the long term it surely means that Joan will only get Calabria and Tunis and will have a hard time getting anything else.

The Pope's early focus is clearly grabbing some of those too-independent vassals. Rimini seems rip for the taking, Ravenna is surely a possibility and another one is Urbino. Getting two dots in 1461 is surely possible for the Bishop of Rome but notice that Venetian fleet drooling at Ravenna (or is it Ancona better?), that Florentine army with nothing better to do that supporting Urbino in the Fall (or did they choose to take it in the Spring while ordering F Pisa to Piombino?, that's rather aggressive!) and do not forget little Ferrara and their needs.

In short: getting two dots in 1461 requires of all the skill of our game's Pope. Also, if relations with Florence are good (not likely but everything is possible), the Pope may want to meddle in Naples. But that's a risky move that will probably end up with a cocky and stabbing Florence getting the Church in serious trouble.

So it's probably safest for the Pope to order everything North and then negotiate with Florence in force. Ravenna? Similarly bouncing Venice in WAS early on seems advisable. Ferrara is probably not such a threat and most likely will be happy with a friendly Pope (although the truce is unlikely to last for long).

Florence's apparent cheap shot is invading Siena. However A Florence can't risk leaving the capital because the Pope has a nephew (or is it his son?) with an army right there at Forli. So what about taking Urbino? It risks to find it supported by a cautious Pope, who may also order his other armies North. If so, bye-bye Siena, bye-bye Urbino... back to square one but worse: with a quite stronger Pope at the gates.

And no allies nearby other than little Ferrara and possibly an hostile Genoa. Delicate. Impeding that Genoa takes Ligurian Sea is not very likely: it requires aid from Savoy, who is probably thinking in something else, namely Provence. Getting Lucca could be an alternative but would leave the rear a bit undefended and there's no guarantee that Genoa will not support it anyhow.

So I'd say that Florence is one of the most challenging starting positions, requiring a very creative player (or being lucky with the neighbors) and almost certainly wants to bounce Genoa in LiS in Spring 1461 and very possibly the Pope in Umbria as well. It has no cheap shots and it may end 1461 in a rather precarious position. But if it manages to get a build, an army no doubt, it still has options.

Genoa wants to secure Ligurian Sea and make a deal with everyone around, except possibly Florence. It has no easy shots but maybe at some point it becomes possible to capture Pisa or Asti. However Provence is surely a natural ally early on, if nothing else, as buffer against possible Milanese or Savoyard hostility. If you're not going to get Asti, there's no reason why you should allow it to fall to anyone else.

You probably want Savoy and Provence at odds (an Asti-Nizza swap is bad for you) but don't want to support either one. You want Milan mostly focused on Venice but keeping an eye on Savoy-Asti (and definitely not aiming for you as harbor). And you want Florence weak, so you can hope to grab at some point Pisa and/or Lucca. Therefore the Pope is a natural ally.

Savoy: Much has already been said when dealing with Provence and Genoa. Savoy wants a third army so it can safely march against Genève, what means a fourth army and possibly military parity with Milan. Hence it's reasonable to offer a swap to Provence but this swap is full of risks, because while Provence can surely guarantee the capture of Nizza by marching via Saluzzo, Savoy can't guarantee the capture of Asti unless some sort of trick is used. So... maybe not after all?

Leaving Torino undefended to march against Genève is an option: you will march back southwards later if attacked and the various contenders around Asti guarantee some sort of leverage that you can hopefully exploit to your advantage with due wisdom. If so, moving to NWMS (bounce or threat against Marseilles) is an option but Genoa will likely be allied to Provence, so maybe you want to help little Florence for the sake of balance. Hard choices.

Milan: Unlike in Rinascimiento, here Milan carries a big stick. Asti is a point of interest, as is Genoa for a later stage, where it may serve as harbor. But another key interest is to weaken cocky Venice and get a dot or two at their expense. For this purpose you can maybe get Este's support and take Brescia if they are offered also something (Mantova for example) but frictions will arise then surely. Milan can't use more than two armies in the East in the first year, so it's probable that it also wants to use two armies in the West and make an attempt at Asti. The problem of this two-front strategy is that you can be easily blocked if Ferrara doesn't help you actively and Genoa

There's no safe fifth dot for Milan but others will no doubt grow (Venice almost certainly), so you really want a dot and you want it preferably at the expense of Venice. So cuddle Ferrara.

Venice's safe shot is Ragusa: even if Naples moves to South Adriatic, they will almost certainly attack Taranto rather than waste energies in helping poor little Ragusa. Northern Adriatic looks promising but there is a good chance that the Pope will bounce you, so maybe not unless you have a very solid deal there.

Much more delicate is Terra Ferma: Venice is big and Ferrara-Modena small but on land they are initially equal. And both have good reasons to fear each other. Este will probably delay your capture of Mantova to the Fall and then you may find the Milanese armies much more of a concern. So maybe you don't get anything else than Ragusa early on. Still, if there are no loses, you can then build an army and face 1462 from a quite strong position.

Ideally you want to persuade Milan to go East and leave you alone but that's a very slow and rather risky strategy for Sforza. Nothing lost in trying though.

Ferrara is the small guy. The first issue is not to get stabbed by Venice or an alliance of this one with the Pope. Sandwiched between these two big guys, you surely need Milan and Florence as main allies (Naples intervening in the Adriatic is also good but less of your concern, as you don't have harbors).

Definitely you want Bologna but if you take it in Spring, you risk a stab from Venice, so a reasonable tactic is to support Mantova, delaying Venice's capture of this town a bit.

Probably Venice and the Pope won't get along, what is good because Ferrara is vulnerable to such alliance. But you are the glue that may get them together so be most cautious with your diplomacy, particularly with the Pope.

You also want Milan marching against Venice but Milan will probably ask for your guaranteed backing and if you fail to help him, he may turn back or worse (Modena is close to Parma).

Dealing with Florence may also be profitable (say support in Lucca in exchange for support in Forli or even Bologna itself) but any of those combos will only make the border between the two states longer and therefore both states may easily be tempted to fail their promises or even directly stab.

In brief: everything regarding Ferrara is extremely complicated but if you play well the "small guy" card and the natural rivalries between your larger neighbors there's no reason you can't grow and hope for the best. This is no "Siena" at all.

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