So I’ve missed a few of my Megagame write-ups while thoroughly engrossed in writing my own.
It was a relief to chill out and play in the “Popes, Poison & Perfidy” megagame, run by Paul Howarth and Pennine Megagames in Manchester.
(Apologies for the quality of some of the images, my phone was in for repair and my old phone didn’t have the best camera).
Setting of Popes, Poison & Perfidy
The year was 1494, the location was Italy. It was a hot bed of drama, since Pope Alexander VI was not exactly popular. Firstly, he was Spanish. Secondly, he spent a lot of time appointing his family members to positions of power – and considering he was allegedly celibate, he had a lot of children!
And King Charles VIII of France had chosen this moment to claim his right to the throne of Naples. Italy becomes a powder keg… and the battle for the prettiest artwork and control of trade only added fuel to the fire.
I was to be Queen Isabella of Spain, probably one of the most kickass queens in the history of queendom. She was queen regnant of Castile and married the reigning king of Aragon, Ferdinand, bringing about the first united Spain. She’s mother to both Catherine of Aragon (yes, that Catherine of Aragon) and Joanna the Mad (who carted her dead husband’s body across most of Spain). She and Ferdinand kicked the Moors out of Grenada, creating a hyper-Catholic Spain. And she supported a certain Christopher Columbus, leading to his discovery and settlement of the New World.
Also on my team were my courtiers, Gonzalvo de Cordoba and Pedro Navarro. And of course there was my husband Ferdinand. I had slimly avoided marrying the guy playing him, Jaap, when I was Queen Elizabeth in Spanish Road – finally he’d pinned me down to a wedding!
Also in the game were the other Major Powers of France and the Holy Roman Empire. There were the minor city states of Genoa, Milan, Vencie, Florence, and Naples. And the Papal team – mostly comprising the family of the current Pope, the Borgias. And then there were Condotierre, (in)famous mercenary generals.
I began the game in the way I love to begin a political historical megagame – with lots of unmarried children! Four to be precise – John, Joanna, Maria and Catherine. Historically the John and Joanna were married to the Holy Roman Empire (oh, let’s just call it Austria for short), while Maria went to Portugal and Catherine to England. So that’s where I started, by sending letters off to each of them.
One of the interesting (and infuriating) aspects of the game for me was my lack of movement. I was one of the five most powerful people in the game – equal only to my King, the King of France, the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope. But the monarchs of the major powers (i.e. all except the Pope) were only allowed to leave when visiting a place on the map in person. Though we snuck out on voyages to the New World (i.e. to get tea and coffee).
So I busied myself with letter writing, and visited the Austrians in person. Meanwhile my husband planned our expedition to the New World. The noble Navarro visited Naples and the Pope to cement our alliances there. And de Cordoba went to the trade table to make us some money.
Getting into the Spirit
It was a-marrying time! Austria had agreed to one of my proposed matches – their heir to my daughter Joanna. This was great as a) it meant our heir was still available to make an awesome alliance with and b) she’s the one that goes nuts so it’s good to have her married off before that happened. They didn’t even ask for a dowry. Their only condition was that I help them persuade the Pope to finally crown Emperor Maximilian.
After receiving a stick-figure portrait labeled “really beautiful 12-year-old”, England had agreed to the betrothal of Catherine to their heir Arthur (yes, not Henry – in case you didn’t know, Catherine was originally betrothed to Henry’s older brother before his death). They wouldn’t marry until she turned 16 later in the game – marriage before that age required dispensation from the Pope! Luckily that meant her dowry – agreed at 3 florins – didn’t need to be paid until then either.
And we already had a sufficient treaty in place with Portugal. This meant my son John and daughter Maria were still available as chess pieces.
The Rest of Spain
Meanwhile, my team was doing well. De Cordoba had started to make a bundle on his trade game (who knew he’d be so good at flicking ships along a board).
And Navarro had seized upon the power vacuum in Florence (caused by a couple of players being missing) to get a seat of nobility there. This was essentially locking our teams together, for better or for worse.
Meanwhile, my husband was busying himself with the upcoming war… which for some reason hadn’t started much yet. Rather than charging all the way to Naples to press his claim, the French army had stopped in Savoy to wreak havoc. This meant that he was pretty unpopular with most of Italy.
Most of our ships were tied up in the New World, and we didn’t particularly want to involve our own Spanish forces… And most of our money was tied up in trade too. We cemented the Florentine alliance by sitting a ship off the coast of Italy, and that was our grand contribution to the war effort at the start of the game.
Avoiding Bad Marriages
My chance came to intercede with the Pope on the side of the Emperor. I didn’t have to, since the marriage had already taken place, but I am a queen of my word.
I met the Pope’s daughter Lucrezia during these negotiations. She had a prize in mind for herself – marriage to the heir to Spain! We danced around for a while, demanding an incredibly high dowry. All a ruse. I would never let my son marry a bastard who would, after the Pope stopped being the Pope, be little more than a commoner from a fallen family. The Borgias are hardly noble enough to marry into a royal house!
We also had interest from a Milanese noble who was about to marry the French King. She wanted her son to marry my daughter Maria, claiming that he was in line to the French throne. I pointed out that if she bore the King any children, they would be in line, but that a child by her first marriage had no claim to the French throne. Honestly, the things some people will say to marry off their kids!
Anyway. Luckily the Pope heard my plea and agreed, due to our shared Spanish blood, to crown Maximilian.
Going to Italy
So Ferdinand and I set off on a great journey to Rome for his coronation. Our first legitimate trip into the main room was interesting. It turned out we’d turned up a touch early, but the Pope wasn’t upset about this. In fact, he wanted to take this opportunity to talk to us about the disgraceful actions done by the Holy Roman Empire! They had apparently raised troops and marched them into Trent, and started attacking!
My tone of shocked indignation is probably a familiar sound at Megagames these days. I am practiced at exclaiming with horror that I had no idea that my ally/my team mate had done something so disgraceful. Occasionally I have no idea about it (due to the hectic Megagame atmosphere). More often I’m bullshitting.
But this time I genuinely didn’t have any idea that the Austrians had done it. When they arrived it seemed they didn’t actually know about it either, and they promisedoto rectify the mistake as soon as possible. Popey crowned Maximilian. We’d just settled down for a chat when the news came in that unpaid Austrian mercenaries were looting the streets of Rome. We hot-tailed it back to the side room while the Austrians made their excuses and apologies.
On Top of the World
Lucrezia was continuing to press her interest in my son (and a strapping young man he was). But luckily during our time in Italy, we’d finalised a deal with the King of Naples to marry my son John to his… niece? Great niece? Something like that. And the King of Naples was himself nephew to my husband. Nobility is so incestuous.
In lieu of a dowry, they offered to build twin chapels to Saint John in both Naples and Spain. We used this as an excuse to Lucrezia, who then went off and got betrothed to Henry of England, of all people. Well, fine, wife to a second son seemed about right for the bastard of a Pope.
The Condotierre whom the Austrians had been paying to fight the French in Savoy started coming to us for payment as well. We were happy to pay alongside the Austrians to support the war! Dutifully my husband contributed 2 or 3 florins a turn, though he always argued down contributing any more. This Condotierre seemed to be doing well, and came back every turn with news of his latest victory.
Sometime around now, the King of France managed to get himself excommunicated. I don’t know what finally drove the Pope to it, but I’m sure it was something dreadful. I was keen to press our position as the most Catholic monarchs in the world, and root out this evil.
It was also around this time that our first bounty came in from the New World. We earned 6 florins or so a turn from gold taken from the Americas. Sadly Christopher Columbus died on one of those voyages, and we held a grand state funeral to honour him. And on top of that, de Cordoba was maxing out on the trade game, bringing back 20+ florins a turn.
We felt were were on a high.
Sowing and Reaping
Now it was time to invest in the culture game, I thought. We’d bought a couple of smaller items, but now I wanted da Vinci. I sent de Cordoba off with a heavy handful of Florins and instructions to pay out as much as he needed to. I wanted a grand cathedral, to rival the one recently completed by the Milanese.
Unfortunately, buying the best architect and paying the most money is no indication of quality. We had the dubious honour of erecting the “most okay” cathedral in Christendom. The best we could say was “it looked expensive”. I think we spent over 20 florins on it, and it was such a waste of money.
We had set up a museum to house the artifacts brought back from the New World. Unfortunately, somehow this was communicated to people as “a shrine to pagan artifacts”. It took some fast thinking to get out of it, whereby we got a cardinal to come and bless the museum. We also agreed to pay some of the profits from the museum to the Papacy. It was set at 1 florin per turn, I believe, though I can’t recall ever actually paying it.
The main person spreading these rumours was the French Cardinal. So I went on the offensive: how could a man of god, such as he, spend so much time with a man excommunicated by the Pope? Didn’t we, as good Catholic monarchs, have a duty to remove such a false king from the throne of France? I went as far as asking who should be his replacement… when to my disappointment the French King was un-excommunicated. I have no idea what he did to achieve that, either.
A New Kingdom
Meanwhile, a noble from Naples had been visiting us. Naples were our friends and relatives, and he told me that he was trying to establish the Kingdom of Ragusa, taking that land back from the Moors. There were few unmarried royals left, and I didn’t want to marry my Maria (how do you solve a problem like Maria?) to a petty noble. We agreed that if he successfully established the Kingdom, we would offer her as his bride. Though hell if we were going to travel all that way for the wedding.
But he succeeded, and off went Maria, along with our spy network to ensure she came to no harm. Next turn, Catherine would be turning 16, meaning we would be able to formally ally with the English and push them to attack France for us.
This was when the tide began to turn. The first disaster was the death of Prince Arthur of England while travelling to his brother’s wedding to Lucrezia Borgia. This meant that little papal bastard was no longer marrying a second son, but the heir to the English throne. And since the Pope had agreed to support their claims in Brittany, there was no way they’d break that alliance. Blast.
Secondly, the new Kingdom of Ragusa was in trouble. We discovered that he’d actually been plotting against our friend, the King of Naples. Pretty openly, in fact, it’s just no one had bothered to tell us. We’d forgotten that just because they were both on the Naples team, it didn’t mean they were actually on the same team. My Maria was half a world away and in danger. We ramped up the protection for her – and made it explicit that we were only protecting her, not her husband.
It Never Rains…
Meanwhile, Navarro, who had been making progress in Florence, had finally made his move to seize control of the city… And failed. He was a single influence point shy of winning. This close defeat didn’t exactly reflect well on Spain.
And the French King came over to demand why we were attacking him. We weren’t, we said, not a single Spanish soldier has been on Italian soil. Well, you’re paying the condotierre, they argued! Actually, it was the King of Naples who’s the majority sponsor for that condotierre, we retorted. Happily, this was actually true! Our favourite condotierre had come round asking for his fee, and saying that he needed 4 florins to be successful this turn. And the King of Naples, visiting our table, had turned round and generously given 5 florins with no preamble. We ourselves gave our usual 2 florins, and sent him on his way.
Luckily, at that moment the Pope announced a Crusade! Who doesn’t love a good Crusade to distract everyone?
Our first step was to sow dissent in Tunis… not against the Pope, or against the Moors, but instead against France. We didn’t want them put in charge when the Crusade succeeded.
Next we rallied our forces and headed to our vassal on Sardinia… only to discover that the French had seized it. In a rage, we confronted them, and discovered that apparently they had just put some troops there and hadn’t intended to take it. We accepted this, hoping that this would put us in a better position to begin ingratiating ourselves with them later on.
Especially since it was seeming like staying allied to Austria may not be the smartest plan…
Because the Austrians had decided to hold the Pope hostage. They insisted that they weren’t actually keeping him hostage, they were just keeping him safe. After all, there had been numerous attempts on his life… I don’t really know what the truth was. Either way they didn’t do it successfully, as he managed to swap himself out for his son, who later escaped while the Emperor was in the loo.
Meanwhile the Crusade was stalling. We decided to send in our Condotierre, as well as bribe the guards to open the gates. The crusade was finished before the Pope realised it had started, and we won tons of papal favour for it. We appointed the impressive Condotierre as Duke (or something) of Tunis.
To cement our new alliance with France, we began negotiations to betroth the newly free Catherine to the Dauphin of France. He demanded a ludicrous dowry at first – something like 15 florins – which I refused. He ended up coming and speaking to both me and my husband, and managed to squeeze 4 florins and a ton of influence cards out of us. We also agreed to a non-aggression pact, though we made clear that we were closely allied to Naples. The marriage took place… only for us to discover that his son was TWO YEARS OLD!
Offended, I went and demanded my money and cards back – happy to keep the betrothal, but saying that such a premature marriage was ungodly! He kept putting me off, saying he’d used them, and paid some of the money back but not all. It turned out later that the French were utterly skint.
The tides were turning again, and it seemed that being friends with France may not be in our interests for much longer…
It seemed the Pope was in trouble. He’d lost a lot of ground when he’d been imprisoned, and those attempts on his life were true enough. A good friend came over asking for church influence cards, and, having no use for them ourselves, we decided to throw ourselves in with them. There was a French cardinal who we definitely didn’t want to get in, so we were happy to support anyone working against him.
At this moment, France had finally remembered the reason we were all there, and headed for Naples. The time had come. We knew we would have to fight against the French to support our kin. We hoped only that we would be able to get the final couple of florins from the King before having to betray him openly.
Then the verdict came from the Sistine Chapel – the French Cardinal had become Pope. It turned out that my contact in the Vatican had been on his side all along – and thought we were fine with it as we were openly in an alliance with the French. Blast.
And France seemed to be winning the battle in Naples. We were miles away, having delayed too long waiting for that final payment. Double blast.
Luckily, the game ended right at that point, before Spain had begun to fall. We ended up pretty high on the list for Power and Prestige.
Tons came out in the debrief that we’d had no idea about – as with any good Megagame. It turned out one man had survived eight assassination attempts. Spain had completely overlooked the idea of sending assassins ourselves. But the day of nuanced and intense political machinations was exactly what I’d needed.
PPP was a great game. I only wish I’d been able to spend more time in the main room. Everything felt like it was somewhat handed to me on a plate, probably because I didn’t see how hard my team were working. But overall it was a great example of a political military historical Megagame.
And Spain rules 4eva.
This is my last Megagame of 2016, and I’m already looking forward to the Pennine calendar for next year…