I can safely say that I have not won a game of DBM within memory but have pulled a draw or 2 and not always lost 10 points to 0. So why do I play a game at which I am routinely hammered?
There is a good chance of getting a game as plenty of people are willing to hammer me.
Games are over relatively fast (2 ˝ hours for 400 points, often less). This is because competition gamers need to win in a set time or they will walk off with a draw. I am most happy with this having suffered too many long pauses in board games where my opponent thinks too long about what to do.
The luck element gives even a no-hoper like myself an outside chance.
There is a good sense of sportsmanship (in Halifax anyway) with an opponent willing to give tips.
I have had no problems with rules disputes or measuring problems. Most of the how far you can go or expand situations are well known and the solution does not need arguing out again.
I should point out the odd drawback in DBM:
Many players are GOOD making a beginners’ win unlikely.
The choice of army is essential; some have no hope at all. Sometimes a game between 2 duff armies can be arranged.
You can get wupped by the terrain layout and division of commands. Commands are deployed sequentially starting with the largest defender. There is some scope here for lining up troops against the enemy that they will destroy most easily. You can find yourself way behind before the first element moves. I can live with this as it does reflect the spirit of Ancient warfare where good armies are outfoxed.
Barker has issued another update sheet for DBM, it is free but you have to write off for it. This means that those of you who shelled out for a brand new version 1.1 copy to avoid writing in the original booklet will have to scribble away anyway because there are no plans for a squeaky clean new 1.2 issue. Rumour has it that there will be no new editions until late '96. The best way to update DBM is to photocopy the WRG sheets with a slight size reduction so that the amendments and rules have the same font size, then glue the new bits in place. Needless to say this is not what I did and I made a real mess of it having had to amend the amendments in some places.
The amendments appeared as if by magic at Halifax and were immediately respected as gospel, if this is the general attitude to barker's latest I would advise even solo gamers to upgrade to 1.2 to avoid being left behind. The last upgrade was pretty minor and scarcely deserved reprinting the whole book, most of the changes came about to accommodate the army list books. These new changes are pretty serious, blades have changed from +2 to +3 versus mounted albeit with reduced rear support abilities. This is a pretty serious change, bow X are also improved, movement rules tightened (again) and there is a serious effort to tidy up Barker's grammar. Baggage has also become more important, it used to get hacked to shreds with little affect on the game. Baggage no longer counts in the army element count for break levels or defeat but counts double when destroyed. Previously an army of 60 elements including 6 baggage would lose on 30 destroyed elements. That same army is now counted as 54 elements plus 6 baggage, it will lose on 27 destroyed of which any baggage lost counts as 2. The smaller the army the bigger the problem.
I play DBM because there is always a good chance of a game at Halifax, usually against competition wallas who hammer me every single time. The most recent army to be feared are Sassanid Persians, no finesse all Superior Cavalry. I have a Sassanid army but not big enough to field it all Cavalry needing Elephants and Cataphracts to make up the points. My previous best plan was to field the maximum number of Levy stands and use these to increase the army break point. This worked until I saw my Levy and Elephants get trashed leading to a defeat with the loss of only 1 Cavalry element.
Competition games are now frequently 450 points, which means big and often too long to finish in 3 hours (I can lose in 1 1/2). It is hard to justify how some armies could ever raise this size of force although the DBM lists allow just about every nation to go up to 500. I can field Visigoths who require over 120 stands of Warband to reach this point level. At 250 men per element this comes out at 30,000 Visigoths and incidentally will fill a 6' wide table edge to edge. Give or take 10,000 men this would be the total military potential for the entire Visigoth nation. Other armies such as Late Roman clearly had the military potential to field 500 point armies but logistics and lack of money prevented them often getting that sort of sized army together.
With armies of this size on the table DBM games clearly represent not small skirmishes between advanced forces or clashes during raids but some of the largest battles of ancient times. Few generals ever fought more than 1 such battle so there is a certain inaccuracy that even an inexperienced DBM general will be fighting far more battles than his historical army ever did. The difference between ancients minatures and boardgames is that the minatures gamer takes an army and sticks with it There is some leeway in that armies are often changed a little to represent different nations in different games, an Arab host can turn up as quite a range of nations on the tabletop. Games such as PRESTAGS, Ancients and Men At Arms use a limited countermix to show a large number of battles, the general moving through time but keeping to historical situations.
"Our wargames club has played a number of DBM games and they have all gone off well without too many arguments. The game is still dice determined but seems more like a battle with lines of troops rather than a mass of units"
DBM, worth an aside here, there are always games of this at the Halifax club and it is not too hard to rope in an opponent by bringing along 2 armies, although carrying both up the stairs is some task. As a result I have played a few more games and even won one and pulled off a draw when the time ran out, I usually get trounced. Second thoughts on the system is that it is still worth the effort but the die rolling is getting to be pain. Elements pair off, both roll a D6 and then onto the next pair. The result of 1 pair of die rolls is likely to affect the next so rolling is slow and deliberate. This conflicts with Tactica where figures are organized into units and a fistfull of dice are rolled for each unit, more dice but fewer net rolls. The number of elements per side will affect the number of combats making armies between loads of infantry much longer than those involving elite horse. 400 points is the accepted level but for infantry heavy battles 300 is more suitable for a 3 hour game.
DBM is now slightly revised, WRG supply an update sheet and considerable crossing out is required for some very minor changes, some points are usefully clarified. Games still involve periods of intense rules reading as players try to workout exactly what old Barker means. He means what he says but has not got the literary ability to write it down ion such a way that everybody else can understand him. The army list books include hidden changes to the rules particularly in the area of which troops can count as supporting which others and in the definition of troop types. How accurate these lists are varies considerably, the many Warband only armies have nothing to fault them although some barbarian types have the luxury of Auxilia rather than Warband elements. Other lists are clearly based on the last book that Barker has read, the Book 3 Italian Ostrogoth is clearly based on Justinain's Wars as it provides the Goths with infantry to support their archers. These are not available to the Early Ostrogoth army from Book 2, considering that the native Italians did not contribute to Ostrogoth armies it is not clear where these infantry came from unless they were there all along in which case the Book 2 list is wrong.
Some tactical hints from the man who usually loses. The best way to win is to choose a well hard army having carefully studied all 4 books of lists before buying a single figure. Some armies are strong against certain opponents but weak against others, solution keep 2 or 3 show stopping armies in the cupboard. Huns (Light Horse superior) will always trounce Ostrogoths (Knights fast-Irregular) but are at the mercy of Sassanids (Cavalry superior). My historically matched Romans, Persians, Huns and Germans (all c. 350 A.D) will never make it on this front. With many ancient figures being much the same from a distance, the prudent general will assume his troops to be the best he can get. Ssssanid Cavalry can be superior or ordinary, why go for 2nnd best? Tribal types can be crummy Goths or totally superior Franks with the same figures.
Superior troops are always worth the extra points, they are no more likely to win than ordinaries but a +1 on the die when losing will bring them up from elimination results to retreats and enable them to hang on in for another bound. I have even had Cavalry held up by superior Psiloi (the shame). As a bonus superior troops cost more points so you do not need so many to build up an army. Watch out for Psiloi who get used as throwaway troops, you march up to a line of Psiloi and have to stop to fight. Maybe some Psiloi die but the others force your battle line to stop or break up and go round them (unthinkable). Psiloi are cheap and only count as 1/2 an element lost when destroyed, as a bonus slowing down the enemy is a historical role for them. A final warning on Generals, I often lose because my General gets into the front line which doubles PIP costs for the whole command (slowing it up) and puts the command at risk of demoralization on his loss. Even if the command does not demoralize it will still be paying double PIP because it is all out of range of the commander. Best place for generals is with the reserve or right in the centre of a battle line where they cannot be outflanked.
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D.B.M. (WRG minatures rules)
Swift history lesson. Long ago there was the Wargames Research Group Ancient rules. Ancient gamers bought armies from WRG lists published for these rules. The lists were in turn based on Armies and Enemies books (also by WRG) and made up from figures also based on those books. Phil Barker did not publish all of these but was heavily involved. He is a man of strong views, which he has been known to change.
Phil Barker may have done a great deal to put ancient gaming on the map but riddles your editor by publishing interpretive sketches rather than drawings from monuments in his Armies books. How am I to know how much of it he has made up? The shield patterns are reliable enough, probably mediaeval copies but still half way there. As for the pictures of soldiers, the line between fact and filling-in needs to be stated. Consider the picture of a late Sassanid Clibanarius in Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome. This is based on a fully round larger-than-life-sculpture of a Sassanid Emperor. It is accurate to that sculpture but alas very many wargames figures are accurate to the Barker illustration. Phil Barker cannot be blamed for lack of research by figure designers yet it is a reflection of ancients gaming that most Sassanid cavalry troopers are based on a single picture. The Sassanid Persians were a proto-feudal society most of whose army consisted of irregular cavalry provided by nobles and their hired thugs. These would not all look alike (or all dress alike but in different colours), many would be subject peoples rather than Persians nor all possess such good kit as the Emperor. Irregular have some nice 25mm Clibanarii ranging from the Barker special to poorer types in sharp trousers but only a tin lid on top. I have yet to find a 15mm Clibanarius that did not appear too shy to reveal his face. In the same way we have a generic Hun, Goth and so on. Throwing in a few figures that are wrong but simillar-at-a-distance tones down the rent a clone look. As a last resort, stick to Romans.
The famous WRG ancient rules are now in their 7th edition, the latest I have seen are 6th although I have not played this system since the 5th. Substantial changes occurred between editions, the rules becoming relatively simpler but remaining hard to understand, a positive nest of + and - factors. Some brave souls are well versed in these rules, choosing armies which reflect their strengths. Tactics and fun have been replaced by cunning ploys and factor counting. Sheffield Triples this year included a room of gamers hard at it with 6th edition rules but some of us have seen the light and I'm forced to say that Phil Barker is the illuminator.
DBM rules are straight forward, involve tactics and can be played in 2 to 3 hours with 200 odd 25mm troops each side on a table 9' wide. They inspired me to buy 25mm Romans, paint therm up fast, play with them and sell them for a quick profit then buy even more little metal men. My DBM experience is with these Romans and Sassanids pulled out of mothballs after 10 years, played solo, face to face and umpiring. I cannot comment on weapon types that did not crop up such as warbands or pikes. The closest rules that are widely available is Tactica, a glossy American set which I have only played while leaving all decisions to an umpire. Clearest difference is in the number of dice used. DBM will never require more than 3 per side in movement but 1 each in combat. Tactica has strict rules in who can move where, directions and formation changes but the die is not involved. Combat may induce wrist cramp, 1 rolled per eligible figure in the unit, the number to hit depending on the troop type. 16 dice per unit on each side would be a low average. Both Tactica and DBM are designed for use with equal points armies drawn up from the relevant lists. Despite Tactica's claims to have all you need in the book, a 2nd book also exists if you wish to field some ancient armies. The points system does give balanced armies by making "better" troops appear in smaller numbers. To the gamer having to buy and paint these armies, some involve a lot more buying and painting than others, Hunnic is the cheapest 4th century A.D. army in DBM coming in at half the price of a Visigoth army. Smaller "quality" armies are more likely to turn up on the table than larger horde organisations which tend to get in the way of each other and die (the exact reason why I sold my Picts, over 200 of them barely scraping 1,000 points).
Tactica armies are organised into units, 1st, 2nd, 3rd foot and the like. The units move and fight together, they also run away together exposing the flanks of the next unit along. A loss of 1 core unit loses the battle. Hoplites and legions would be core troops, skirmishers and some cavalry do not count. The unit system is close to universal in gaming, Napoleonic battalions, companies of tanks, troops that set up together, stick together. Not so with DBM, figures are based together in 2s, 3s or 4s, each figure being about 65 real men. These bases, elements, are units in DBM, they can be joined together into or pulled apart from larger groups without restriction. Loss of an element in a group will leave a hole if the group is less than 2 elements deep but will not have any effect on the morale of other elements in the group. It will reduce the fighting ability of now exposed elements.
The only permanent organisation in DBM apart from elements is the division of the entire army into 2 or 3 commands. All elements must be assigned to a command before the game starts and no transfers are allowed. Movement is sequential, a die is rolled for each command and that number of elements or groups may be moved. Regular generals roll dice of the same colour and may assign scores before moving, irregulars specify where dice will be spent before rolling. A good sized army will have around 50 elements or 12,000 troops, the maximum 3D6 will never shift this lot as elements in a single turn. Putting each command in a single group guarantees moving everyone on rolls of 1. If a group keeps its distance from the enemy (16 cm in 25mm), multiple die points can be used to warp a command forwards, this cuts down the early game shuffle and ensures some hacking by turn 3. A group moves at the rate of its slowest element, sticking with 1 big group is slow and only of use in the clear. Groups can only enter difficult terrain in columns of 1, any group stretching across the table is bound to hit some of this and grind to a halt. A small number of groups must be balanced with enough to take advantage of faster troops and going around terrain. It is better to have a left right and centre command rather than front middle and back because distant or out of sight groups will cost double points to move. If all the generals are in the centre, neither wing will move fast and elements brought up to reinforce the front line will be under the command of the 2nd line, breaking the front group into 2 and only moving on points from the 2nd line.
Combat is straight out of DBA with a few new troop types and the addition of grading. Elements must line up with the front of a defending element, if caught in flank they will turn to face unless already fighting to the front. The phasing player may roll for attacks in any order, preferably starting where he has best chance of success and rolling along from any gaps created. Combat is compulsory but elements can back out during their own move. Both sides roll D6 adding a factor depending on the rolling element type and whether the opposition is on foot or mounted. There is a list of tactical factors and rank bonuses some of these will either be in constant use but most are rarely used during a game. If an element scores more but not double after all factors the loser is generally pushed back. Double or better tends to destroy. Some situations will destroy elements on a losing roll alone. Archers or psiloi ridden down by cavalry. Grading classifies all elements as superior, ordinary or inferior. Superior troops add 1 to their score after all other factors but only if it is lower than the enemy total. Inferior troops subtract 1 in the same situation. Superiors can be relied on to give that little extra, inferiors tend to let you down.
Some troop types do not fit neatly into DBM compartments and are classed as X (exception), imitating the class they are squeezed into but ranking as superior, ordinary or inferior depending upon who they are fighting. Cataphracts are X knights, probably due to their heavy armour. This causes irregular cataphracts to advance without a die point, mimicking impetuous feudal knights. Considering the amount of armour on cataphracts any sort of advance would be pretty slow. Sassanid cataphracts require care (extra die points) to control but their majority cousins (cavalry class) do not, nor do the regular Roman cataphracts. There is no cavalry X class, if one were created cataphracts could sit in this, losing impetuously perhaps at some loss of manoeuvrability.
DBM games are won or lost by the knocking lumps out of the enemy, although it is not necessary to kill them all to win. When half an army's elements are destroyed or demoralised its all over. When 1/3rd of a command's elements are destroyed, the whole command counts as demoralised, it can do little except stand around and get hacked about or run away. In either case, its total size counts towards defeat. Hordes (who are rubbish fighters) and psiloi count as 1/2 elements for defeat. Each command must have 2 baggage elements which count for army defeat but not demoralisation of commands. The baggage idea sounds neat but in practice they sit out of the way and are rarely attacked unless the attacker has already sliced through the opponent's main line. If an army consists of 3 equal size commands, loss of 1/9th of the total elements all from the same command will demoralise that whole command and put the whole shebang 1/2 - 1/3, 1/6 losses away from total defeat. Loss of the general in a command can demoralise the whole command if his next D6 roll (only) is not more than the number of elements lost by that command. General's elements gain +1 in combat so tend to mix it with the boys, risking total defeat on a 1 to 6 die roll difference.
Having sung the praises of DBM, certain things that it cannot do must be pointed out. The need to speed up play has factored out a lot of the weapon differentials often thought hallowed ground in ancients gaming. Only artillery and bows can shoot, other troops cannot regardless of whether their counterparts on the table have missile weapons or not. Missile skirmishers are lumped into psiloi, other missile men are classed by their drill, legionaries forget their pila and become blades, horse archers become light horse (fast). Multiple armed troops are easier to use, one factor covers all blades. Some of the interaction between weapons can no longer be represented. Consider a Sassanid clibanarius armed (in theory) with bow and lance. He should be able to fire his bow at a distance or charge with the lance, Byzantine troopers practiced advancing while firing the bow, sheathing it then levelling the lance, this would require a level of unit training absent in Persia.. In DBM the clibanarius can only charge, any close range bow fire is lumped into the combat roll, any long range fire is assumed to be so weak as not to be worth rolling the die for.
An element in combat is disadvantaged if its flank is overlapped by an opposing element that is not fighting. This encourages elements that are moving to melee to do so as long lines, there being but 2 flanks to overlap however long the line but more elements in between with a long line. The defenders are also likely to be in a single line to prevent exposed elements being chipped away. A common melee is 2 long lines bashing away at each other. If evenly matched some elements in both lines will be pushed back, only knights are forced to pursue, giving other units adjacent to pushed back units an overlap. If one side well outclasses the other it can scythe through the line and look for the next, clibanarii make easy meat of border auxilia (inferior troops) in the open. Otherwise both battlelines will be more or less intact in the defender's next phase. Groups in melee must be given orders as individual elements, pulling the whole line back in 1 turn is unlikely. Die points can be spent to shuffle pushed back units back into the line or fill up gaps from the 2nd line (if you have one). If they are not spent any exposed units still in contact will be forced to fight with overlap disadvantages. One line or the other will disintegrate or both will hold until 1 side gains the advantage elsewhere on the field. Roman legions (blades) can hold clibanarii if they are 2 deep but not for long, both are +3 but the Persians are superior, Romans ordinary. The 2 deep Romans lose 2 elements on an elimination, the single rank Persians 1, standing in a line in the clear does not work for the Romans.
The general back and forth action of an even combat strains credibility. It holds best for light troops who would rush up, throw missiles or have a quick hack and then pull back for a quick drag. Hoplites are less flexible, prodding each other at sarrissa point will not have much effect, when you go in you go in. The figure bases are way too deep compared to the width of historical ranks. Boardganmers would see the push back results as disruptions and consider the 1 point spent to get back into line as recovery from disruption. Moving elements back and forth has to be balanced against the escape from dreaded disruption markers.
Although there are factors that DBM cannot cope with it does put the player in the role of a general who would be more interested in winning and losing than who was fighting with what against whom. The very fact that it got me to set up figures and play with them is testament to a playable system. Much is abstract but the effect does not appear simplistic in action. When an element is destroyed by combat or being unable to retire, the opposing unit is not affected. Figure games commonly use a layers of the onion effect where units become gradually weaker until they fall apart. A DBM weak line may force a stronger to stop while it hacks its way through but will not affect the further fighting ability of the winning force. Success leads to lost units, moving an army towards defeat and exposing flanks of units that have yet to be destroyed. Battles will always end up with the loser completely disordered, the winner might achieve this with as little as 10% losses. This sort of ratio is often quoted in texts, rarer in wargames which tend to allow the tattered remnants of both armies to crawl back into combat until 1 finally routs.
Boardgames purists could try out DBM by using Men at Arms, better to use a blank sheet than the square grid which renders wheels of long lines very hard. Imperium Romanum is a rich source of suitable markers. DBM would stand up well as a tactical system for Imperium Romanum (oh for a new strategic system). Counters could also be cribbed from the ancient boardgames that turn up in S&T from time to time. Note that it is best to buy the relevant book of lists as well as the rules. This is needed to define exactly what represents all the ancient troop types in DBM, the data in the rules booklet is well lacking. The lists are for armies of 300 to 500 points, I usually use about 400 but did try a satisfying game with as little as 180. They aim to produce average armies, proportions may be right but higher unit strengths can suffer. Romans must have 1 or 2 horse archer elements, I would estimate a 500 strong unit as 3 of these bases but no chance of fielding it here. Barbarians get lumped together, it is not important who came from where. Jemmying elements into historical units (to get the shields right) is not so easy for Romans. Mathematically this is the closest possible for Romans around 360 A.D. A legion was composed of 6 units, an auxilia 3. You could have 3 blade (each representing 2 units) and 2 psiloi (thrown out from the above 3) for the legion together with 2 auxilia (representing 1 1/2 units), 1,000 to 500. That 's 12 legionary figures and 4 archers for a legion with 8 auxiliaries to a unit. In earlier WRG rules a unit of auxilia would be 24 figures. Purists will need to do a lot of shield repainting to accurately transfer some armies to DBM. In practice elements of like type are lined up together, whose shields are what colour will not affect the game.
Philip Ashworth writes. Having played DBM 2.0 recently I can't say that I'm really impressed. The terrain system has been made simpler and there are a few minor changes. The zone of death has been reduced, you can now wheel infantry on to a flank easier, warband fast can now kill on terrain they regard as good and impetuosity has been reduced for certain troops.
However there are still problems of solid lines being held up by light troops especially if these are at an angle so they can't be contacted without breaking the line. The writers hint at this problem suggesting using cavalry to clear them off but it doesn't help infantry armies like Vikings. The rules give exciting games of a sort but fighting players who use kinked lines does rather strike me as gamesmanship of the worst type. I have also come to the conclusion that impetuous irregular armies tend to lose, as the impetuous troops will launch themselves at the enemy till they become demoralised. My beloved Sarmatians in various guises seem unable to defeat the cursed Romans on a straight die roll. The game rules also favour larger armies as despite playing many campaign games small armies rarely defeat big ones. Looking at the success rates of armies in Slingshot it is sad to see how rarely irregular armies feature. It is also too easily to tailor your army to defeat enemies. I tend to work out an army before hand and bring it along then an enemy who knows what he is fighting brings out the troops to beat mine. I suppose competitions get round this point but I never see a Roman army without the maximum cavalry. In DBM you can win on the wings with cavalry and forget the centre as infantry centres rarely come to blows.
I don't mean to be too critical of WRG or the rules but there still seems to me to be so many anomalies in the rules. I may be in a minority by not adopting these gaming ploys but I like to think we are playing games that reflect History. I don't want to win by using diagonal lines of psiloi. It is a pity because I still love the Ancient period. I have bought Eric McGeers book on 10th Century Byzantine warfare, which had been recommended in Slingshot - Sowing the Dragons teeth (ordered via
Caliver books and it is very good).
The 2nd edition of DBM is out, Philip Ashworth has a copy. I have skimmed through my brand new booklet, this is the 4th from WRG all with basically the same rules. The terrain set up has changed and some other bits and pieces but this is still the same animal as always. Hard to understand with a rubbish index, there are no major changes. I was expecting some of the lessons learnt from DBR to be used but the two still treat the same things in different ways. Why the rules of who can fire at what are so different between two rules using the same basic idea is a mystery.