DBA: TEN YEARS AFTER AND BEYOND
by Bob Beattie
In March of 1990, a little booklet of ancient and medieval rules appeared on the market. This had the strange name of De Bellis Antiquitatis (and known ever since as just DBA). This was published by Wargames Research Group, and authored by the doyen of big, complex rules, Phil Barker and a new partner, Richard Bodley Scott. The dull kraft brown cover had an illustration of an ancient soldier, wrapped around with a long scroll and a subtitle: "Simple Fast Play Ancient Wargame and Campaign Rules with Army Lists." The full text had only 22 pages with only 3 dealing with the actual rules and 1 covering terrain. There were two pages of illustrations, one being a very cryptic web affair with black and white castles having something to do with campaigns; the other showing an example of combat outcomes. The rest of the text included a one page introduction, a page with both descriptions of needed equipment and the game scales plus design philosophy, three pages of troop definitions, three devoted to the campaign rules, plus a page with historical campaign options. Then there were five pages of army lists and two pages of game variations. A slim volume, at first glance not one to change the basic paradigm of gaming principles and breathe a new life into the hobby and from a person, perhaps, least expected to do so. After some 20 years of increasing complexity of ancients/medieval rules, Phil Barker was offering something supposed to be simple and fast play. It was truly the makings of an oxymoron: Phil Barker and Simple Rules.
What followed in the next ten years in the hobby is nothing short of amazing. Not just for the ancients/medieval area, but for the hobby as a whole. Truly a paradigm shift if there ever was one. Would I be going to far to say it was like the impact of Rock and Roll on popular music in the 50s!? Anyway, not since Little Wars has a rule set had such an impact on wargaming; changing the way people would hence forth think about wargame principles.
What follows here is a short overview of the influence of those rules, now just over 10 years later and a preview of the newest version - DBA 2.0. But first a personal reflection.
My Personal Voyage into DBA
I have always liked ancients as a gaming possibility. In the early 70s I was marooned in Ann Arbor with no opponents for other than Napoleonics. My best wargame friends were left behind in the Boston area. From them I heard of a (then) new, exciting game that went by the name of its publisher and edition number: WRG Nth edition -- e.g., WRG 4th Edition. (The last version was WRG 7th Edition.) I have never known what the first edition was called; a problem similar to knowing what the 100 Years War was called in its first year. Actually the full title of the last edition is simply War Games Rules, 3000BC to 1485 AD. No one ever called it WGR.
Anyway, my friends in Boston were having great fun with these rules. It even came with complete army lists so you could pick one you liked and play against any other army throughout history using equal points: Sumarians vs. Burgundians if you liked. Well, I got a copy and read it, reread a few times. Read it again. Looked at the army lists. Those I could understand. So over the next 20 years I collected armies based on the lists and bought new editions of the rules, thinking one day they would be revealed to me, or someone would come to town who could teach me.
In the meantime I saw folks at conventions, bent over tables filled with beautiful figures and colorful terrain, seeming to have much fun "discussing" the rules. They did not play all that much, mostly lots of discussion. On the sidelines a few onlookers chided the gamers for the "unhistorical match-ups." Those did seem strange, maybe bordering on fantasy. I would buy up new figures and try to read the rules again.
Then a breakthrough, for in 1989, Ray Koch moved into Ann Arbor. He almost bought a house across the street but ended up only a few blocks away. Like me, he was in the wargame life. He went to conventions, he subscribed to gaming magazines, he had many figures, he knew rules. He had even been in Larry Broms gaming group, which for me, at the time a real TSATF nut, gave him high status. Ray knew WGR so at last I would have a teacher. He did not however really like the game and there were other things to play so we did not seem to get to it. Then we discovered Tactica. That seemed much easier and we gave it a go. I tried to rebase my 1500 point WGR Roman and Carthaginian armies but only had about 75% of what I needed. Oh, well, at the next con I would get more. At that same con, Ray picked up a copy of DBA. That changed things.
He brought DBA out at a club game in early fall of 1990. He tried to teach us to play. Twelve stands to an army, that was pretty easy to do. Play with 15mm figures on a 2 by 2 foot square area. Not bad. Alternative moves in turns (called bounds) of stands (called elements) based on a die roll. I could play this. We did play 2-3 games that first night. We did lots of thing wrong, as I later would learn, but we were playing. Little did I know it would take me years to catch on to the subtleties!
There was in that original edition, a suggestion for doing one of the largest battles in ancient history -- Gaugamela -- with 40-52 elements per side. Hey I could put those numbers together. So for our second game, a few weeks later we did that biggest battle possible. From then on it was DBA every few weeks. We covered all the battles of Alexander the Great and Romans vs. Carthage in 15mm. In 25mm we did many successor battles including, as Dick Bryant would call it, The "Kursk" of ancients, Raphia with 20 elephant elements and over 100 total elements. We were making big battles . We did a campaign as suggested in the book, once, but never really like that.
We all went to Historicon the next year and played in a tournament, one of the group even had Phil as an opponent. We were doing "unhistorical" match-ups but it did not seem that bad. We were not discussing the rules that much, we were actually playing games; 4 in an hour! I put on a big battle of Hydaspes that was not even in the program but which filled up as soon as I set it out. There was a strange mood in the air at that con and for the next few years. Folks carried around their armies in a fishing tackle box and looked for pick up games in the hall. It reminded me of when Volkswagens first got popular in the US in the 1960s; drivers would always flash their lights or wave at other VWs. DBA players seemed to be a special fraternity who wanted to play a game whenever they could with a brother or to make a convert. Even to this day, at cons, there are always some pairs of guys playing after hours or in between other events, or behind the dealers area.
The game really took off. Moreover, Phil released a fantasy version -- Hordes of the Thing (HOTT) that our group took to for our first such games (please do not tell Dick B. that we play this). Then came the "big sibling" version for those who really liked the big "edition" games, De Bellis Multitudinis (DBM), and this had 4 books of armies. In early 1995 came DBA 1.1 -- up to 24 pages and some of the unclear aspects fixed. In late 1995 a Renaissance version was released, De Bellis Renationi ( DBR). This had 3 army lists books. These are collectively known as DBx games. DBM has gone through a half dozen editions and DBR through one. All told, with all revisions and editions, I count 20 books.
We now stand on the verge of a great leap forward with DBA 2.0. Next we hope Phil lives up to his promise to take the " DBx "concepts into the 18th century. (and beyond?)
I have played and continue to play all of these games. Just last week at the club game I said that we should be doing at least one DBA and one DBR game per month, and HOTT every couple of months. We have concluded that DBM is not conducive to large, social games of a club nature. We do, however, play many big battle DBA games with half a dozen players per side and as many as 120 elements on the table. We also play games based on DBA concepts for other historical episodes such as a 100 anniversary Boxer Rebellion game I ran.
I was there at "creation," well at least at the "unveiling" game in North America, of DBR at which Phil used my ECW figures. I got to meet the man of legends and found him to be just a regular guy who with his wife, Sue Laflin (now a DBA co-author), likes to read books of fantasy and mystery. He was a folksinger as a youth and can still sing the original Irish/English version of American Civil War songs. He knows ancient and medieval history like the back of his hand, is, indeed, fluent in all history. He was doing tank battles before Tony Bath, the father of ancients, got him into that era. He knows thousands of gamers around the world, but will take the time to send me a fridge magnet for my collection from odd places he visits.
I have been doing more than just playing DBA with the local group. I have been running tournaments since the fall of 1991. At the HMGS Cons, mostly the Duplicate Tournament but also an event for Teenagers (at the suggestion of teen DBA prodigy - Julie Ann Stannoch) and the National Invitational Tournament. I wrote about DBA Tournaments in The Courier. Moreover, I like to put on Big Battle scenario games (see my article in The Courier No. XXX.) My favorite such is the Parent-Child Team game. It is great fun to get fathers (no mothers yet) and sons or daughters to game together. Special was the game that 40-ish Dave Sweet showed up with 80-ish father, Charlie Sweet! I have played in many games done by others, especially those of the North American Society of Ancient and Medieval Wargamers events (and I have umpired a number of those too).
These activities have led me to keep up communications with Phil in order to ask for clarifications of situations that have come up in games. I helped Dennis Frank prepare a very useful 3 page clarification list. I also served as a consultant to help the developers of DBA On-line understand the nuances of the game. Since the summer of 1999 I have been playtesting DBA 2.0 prototypes and discussing proposed rules revisions with both Phil and the internet wargames community.
I also ran the first DBR Tournament at Cold Wars and Historicon and continued for some years and also ran tournaments and scenario games at those cons, as well as Michigan Cons and MigsCon.
I have enjoyed the DBx games for over 10 years now and plan to continue playing beyond my usual one decade per game limit. I have met, besides Phil and Sue, many great people through DBx, both in person and on the internet. Thats my personal DBA story. I know its much like many others around the world -- members of that DBA Fraternity. Next I discuss the world wide impact of this little book that has given such a big game to the hobby.
DBA in the Wargame World
Rules typically get reviewed when they are first published, maybe again if a major up-date is made. In some sense, that does a disservice as the review can rely on but one, or at best a couple of playtests. Much of a review deals with the format, the style, and the perception of the rules. Sometimes reviewers do not really catch on to the significance of new rules, especially if there is a paradigm change. Consider The Courier's review of Dungeons and Dragons
I think this scenario was true for DBA when it first came out in 1990. Some reviewers just did not catch on to what it was about. Practical Wargames, for example, did not seem to even notice it, carrying no review whatsoever that I could find. With a bit more coverage was Miniature Wargames with a 1/6th of a page review by Ian Dickie. He dismissed DBA with, " the rules are meant to be light relief and with a modicum of study they could provide just that." He also made the snide comment about the use of the rules after an initial game with his club. " That was a few weeks ago and no one has suggested getting them (the rules) out again."
On the other hand, Pete Duckworth of Wargames Illustrated had caught on to the potential, calling it " radically different in style and effect " and further notes, " In DBA, Phil Barker has come up with probably the most original thinking that wargaming has yet seen " He devotes half a page to his coverage, concluding with, "All ancients players should give them a try-out to blow away the cobwebs."
This time The Courier was right on with its review. Rod Burr, later to become winner of many USA DBA championships, spent two pages examining the rules, observing that "DBA is a completely different beast." He notes that "The only thing in common with the classic ancients rules are suggested but not required base size." He concludes, "Overall the DBA rules are an excellent alternative to the larger slower playing ancients games such as WRG 7th and Tactica." He certainly saw the paradigm shift in these rules.
Society of Ancients (SOA) reviewers presented a different out look. What rules had Matthew Bennet been playing to lead him to say, in The Slingshot's page and a third review, "There is nothing especially new about any aspect of the game: "? In a second review in that journal, Paul Szuscikiewicz does not see the paradigm shift. He says they are like the Bath Rules and have a feature in common with TSR's Classic Warfare. He says, " (he) would not consider risking championship points on such a dicey set. Nor do they provide a slow enough game for my tastes." (His colleague, by the way, had written, "The speed of the game is the most attractive thing for me ") Most of Szuscikiewic's page and a quarter review was devoted to recounting a game he and a friend played. Very little factual information about the rules in either of the Slingshot reviews, nor any notice of the potential for change it offered. Also much lack of imagination as Bennet devoted much space to being very critical of how many figures per base Phil had suggested. I wanted to yell, "hey, just use as many as you want, it has no effect on the game!" One of Szuscikiewics complaints focused on the inability of players to provide pre-battle oration.
So, five early reviews and only two caught on the significance of the little rules booklet. An interesting comparison, too, among them in terms of content. The Burr and the Duckworth pieces give an excellent overview of the actual content of the rules, i.e., how to play. Duckworth goes so far as to compliment the authors on clarity of presentation while Burr gives a negative mention to the "rules writing style for which WRG is so well known." Dickie's review is too short to give any space to the presentation. Both SOA writers refer to some aspect of the literary aspect. Szuscikiewic chides the authors in two paragraphs for not knowing how to use a semi-colon. Bennet comments about a lack of diagrams and the need to "re-read a paragraph to discern its sense."
In all fairness, Phil Barker has come to realize the need for better clarity. He wrote in an internet message in the first week of January, 2001, "The original concept of DBA was that it should be simple enough for a 7 year old to memorise. This worked well in the UK, but apparently not in the US, which likes to search the fine print for unlikely interpretations. V2.0 has accordingly much closer definitions to hopefully satisfy Bob Beattie if not Florida Democrat lawyers." Strange, isn't it that the UK reviewers commented on the lack of easily readable textJ
That is it for the critics, but what did the wargaming public think of this new contribution.
World Wide Acceptance of DBA in the 1990's
Many gamers took the break-through concepts of DBA to heart in the 1990's. There were many articles in UK and US glossy magazines with either game reports using DBA or suggestions for changes and variants. The Slingshot too had many articles with ideas for increasing complexity. Phil was moved to write in issue 171 of that journal a short piece entitled, "The Virtue of Simplicity" where he said, " Variations on DBA that now abound in both The Slingshot and the glossies all have one thing in common: they increase complexity." After a review of how he came to write the rules, he states further, "It is apparent that DBA's popularity must be due to its combination of acceptable realism with exceptional simplicity. This implies that any future changes must carefully conserve the simplicity."
Articles about DBA included doing campaigns, such as chariot wars, Roman Empire, Danes, Dark Ages, even solo campaigns in Lone Warrior, and especially popular was matching it to the Avalon Hill game, Kingmaker. Other articles covered suggestions for multi-player games, variations in types of generals, deployment options, combining with a Matrix game, "How to Win," and different ways of ending a game. Historical Gamer had an article on how to make a 6mm board and figure carrying case. Battle reports covered Lincoln, Hydaspes, Adrinople, the Battle of the Standard, Trebbia, Hastings and Stamford Bridge, The Crusades, Sekigahara.
The game became a standard tournament feature around the world. In an article in The Slingshot on the history of how he wrote DBA, Phil explains how the rules were originally for a tournament. The introduction section to the rules explicitly states that they are to provide for a tournament that can be played in a day. In the same issue of The Slingshot with the first two reviews, co-author Richard B. Scott proposes how to conduct a DBA tournament. These were quite common in UK and spread around the world.
At the large USA national conventions -- Cold Wars, Historicon, and later, Fall-In -- there were events with 60-70 players. The "Sunday Open" was the first to appear; a Swiss Chess style event with random pairings. Alan Spencer began this event in 1991 at Cold Wars. Alan wanted to keep armies within historical boundaries. Each player his brings own army, is placed in a pool of players with similar historical armies (e.g. "Dawn of War", "Phalanx to Cohort, "Return of the Barbarians", and "Of Knights and Causes) and fights against 4 others in the same pool. Points are awarded for destroying elements, destroying generals and for winning games. Player with most points after four rounds wins the pool. Phil came over to umpire the Historicon 1991 event. This event has continued ever since, falling to the also capable hands of Mike McVeigh. Mike added a category to allow the horse armies to compete against each other. His categories are Biblical, Classical, Early Medieval, Late Medieval, and Steppe. He also reduced the number of games to 3 using the strict Swiss Chess system of winners playing winners, this is enough to resolve the event and let folks finish within 4 hours. It is about the same at every convention, as Terry Gore noted in Saga, 99, "Sunday morning found a huge DBA tournament running. It seemed everyone was having a good time."
Early on a 25mm tournament was added. This has not had the high numbers of the Open but typically 10 to 12 players participate in a 4 hour slot. A few years ago, Dave Ray got crazy and added the "Midnight Madness" in a single elimination format. First starting at 12 midnight with 16 pairs going for an hour per game and ending around 3am L . The event has proved so popular that the time was moved back to 11pm so 32 players could enter. The quality of play at that time of night is not always the best and strange things happen. During the midnight start era, I recall Jeff Caruso winning two rounds with only 10 elements but losing when he added the missing 2!
Many aspects of the game might tend to favor certain armies so at the suggestion of our editor and named in his honor, since 1992, I have been running an event named "The Dick Bryant Duplicate Tournament." Dick ran the very first ancients tournament in the US, using the WRG Ancients Rules (then maybe 4th Edition!) back in the 1970's. I provide matched pairs of armies and players would place them as they saw fit. Recently, I have produced "Battle Problems" based on historical battles. The armies are set in pre-determined positions. These I see as akin to chess problems -- "White to move and win in 3." The games do not have to be "even" because all players take all sides. In 2000, I did Kadesh and a double event based on 1066 with Anglo-Danes fighting Vikings at Stamford Bridge and then Normans at Hastings.
Besides these events at national conventions in the US, there are many such events at regional cons. Dennis Frank and Mike Demena have done an excellent event with pre-set battle boards at the Great Lakes Historical Gaming Society annual convention in Ohio. In California, Marty Schmidt does one at Kublacon in Oakland and at ConQuest in Palo Alto . Manuel Ruiz at Fresno uses preset historically based layouts. Ed Dillon does a Midnight Madness at Nashcon, in Nashville, Tennessee. Other US events are held in a number of states including, Michigan, Texas, Illinois, Washington, Louisiana, and Kansas. Around the world, events are to be found in German (Stuhr Wargamers Convention), Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, and Canada (among others, a well-run event at Migscon put on by Brian Lewis), and of course, UK.
Temporal Spread of DBA
Besides spreading around the world for games and tournaments in the temporal domain of the rules, that is to say the ancient and medieval eras, DBA was converted by many players to other historical eras. A search of every issue of Wargames Illustrated, Miniature Warfare, The Courier, Practical Wargamer, and Historical Gamer between 1990 and 1998 yields some 30 articles involving DBA. At least 11 of these take DBA into an era past is nominal end date of 1500. The first jump was a short one, to the Renaissance. There were at least 3 of these including the English Civil War. Cliff Castle of the US Pike and Shot Society also wrote an extensive variation of DBA for that era that was distributed to all members.
Further variants in Wargames Illustrated took DBA concepts into the French and Indian War, the Napoleonic era, the Crimea, the War of Southern Succession, Victorian Era Colonial, and the Great War. The Courier had articles that included one by Nick Nasacti on DBA for the Franco-Prussian War and the 18th century. Duncan MacFarland wrote for the Midwest Wargamers Association Newsletter a variant for World War II as recently as 1999. Other articles converted it into both ancient and more modern naval games. To this day it continues. The Humberside Web page maintained by Tony Barr has many variant games, 1500-1900,
as does Chris Brantly at the DBA Resource Page (see below).
Has any other rules in the history of wargaming had such commitment from its followers that they want to play all games with it?
The Commercial Scene
The term "DBA-like" became almost a standard for describing other rules to covey the twin virtues of the original -- simplicity and elegance. DBA became the standard by which all rules, not just other attempts at ancient/medieval ones were judged.
Besides acceptance by players, the rules set a unique precedent among figure makers. They began to sell packs of figures designed to be complete armies for DBA. Essex began the trend, followed by Miniature Figurines with "double packs." Others following suit even Foundry for their 25mm figs. Phil Barker once had a range of figures named after him and Mini Figs, in the USA anyway, named their colonial series after The Sword and the Flame in the 1980s. Peter Sides published a series of scenario books for doing large historical DBA games. The Quartermaster, in Canada, sold DBA rulers with element movements on it. Has a set of rules determined the marketing strategy of so many companies.
Besides providing rules for so many tournaments, grist for so many articles, and influence for so many commercial ventures, DBA also provided the hobby with the first truly computerized miniatures game in the form of DBA On-Line programmed by Wargaming.Net in Belrus.
DBA might well be the first game to produce an impact on the internet. The first on-line discussion group I became aware of in the early-90s was The Electronic Hoplite. Much of the discussion there was devoted to DBA. DBM, the more complex version of DBA, was released about that time and it gained many on-line followers. Ed Allen in California set up one of the first hobby listservs for DBA and DBM.
In early 1998, Chris Brantley of Maryland set up one of the first game-fan web sites with the DBA Resource Page (http://fanaticus.org), which has evolved into an on-line community for DBA players known as "Fanaticus." As of January, 2002, Fanaticus averages around 500 visitors a day, and includes the following features:
Forum: 375 registered users with nearly 1300 topics and over 19,000
posts, including a special Forum for gamers of DBA On-Line.
De Bellis Bazaar: Suppliers to DBA Gamers
De Bellis Bookstore: A place to find your historical and uniform references
DBA Quizlet: Opinion poll on DBA-related topics
Promoting DBA: Helping Grow the Hobby
Newbies Guide: Introductory essays on DBA and ancient/medieval wargaming"
Rules Conundrums: Situations not resolved by the DBA rules
Themes: Topical resources for the DBA Gamer
Armies: Notes on the DBA Army lists and variants
Rules Variants: Various unofficial house rules and rules extensions;
Period Variants: Adapting DBA for alternative historical and fantasy settings
Campaigns: Scenarios for DBA campaigns
Battles: Scenarios for DBA games
Pictures: A DBA photo album with commentary
Historical Resources: Links to references for the historically minded
Gamers/Links: Ancient/Medieval Wargaming on the Web
The links section has about 80 links to peoples sites devoted to DBA and some to DBM and a couple of others for other rules.
De Bellis Antiquitatis has had quite an impact on all facets of the gaming life. Yet, it still suffers from some tricky language. I have often said that I can teach some one to play in 15 minutes but no one can read the rules and play correctly. Perhaps that is an overstatement. How have so many people around the world, even with English as their second language, been able to play? I suspect many came from the "Edition Number" rules, while others had tutors who grew up on those earlier rules. The wide interest in the rules and the vast tournament schedules served to spread correct interpretations. Phil has always been happy to respond to questions, by mail and at events.
Some issues were solved with the 1.1 release. When a flanked element turns to face, for example, was not clear in the original edition. Nevertheless, even recently, players with a long history of the game were asking questions about basic rules. One player was not sure that that bows shot at each other with a single die roll per player while another did not think Spears could move from behind a similar element to stand alongside that front one because there was not enough distance to slide sideways and then move ahead. He had not considered that element corners can move from point to point along a diagonal.
As the stocks of 1.1 were depleted, the publishers wanted to get a fresh edition rather than publish the older one. Phil wanted, at least, to add complete terrain rules, to institute some rules changes to keep DBA in line with DBM, and to make the army lists for the two games the same. So what happened?
A Preview of DBA 2.0
NOTE: this is being written before the final version of 2.0 has gone to press. It is intended to give an idea of what is to come but does not necessarily represent what is exactly in the final version. Hopefully, there will not be many changes. Whatsoever there are will be addressed in the next issue of The Courier. We hope this will be a satisfactory compromise among waiting months for the next magazine, getting a heads up before Cold Wars, and having the best possible DBA sent to the printer. In addition, the comments below assume some knowledge of DBA. After publication it might be appropriate to give a summary and review from scratch.
Since December of 1999, I have been helping with the development of 2.0 by doing playtesting. This was done by members of my local group amid frequent cries of "how do I do (fill in the blank) now?" The playtesting was also done by getting DBA fans to play with new rules at Conventions. Some at Cold Wars and many at Historicon. I ran a duplicate tournament and a national championship at the latter in which the players got to read the rules for a few minutes before they actually played. I have also posted certain parts of the rule on the internet and asked gamers to play with them.
Many suggestions were forwarded to Phil on the basis of these activities. I tried to capture all the ideas but knew some would not "fly." Going to a 3 foot by 2 foot board was a common request, and also Warband in Bad Going not getting a minus 2 factor, as were others that would lead to much complexity.. Many of the testers likes and dislikes were taken to heart by Phil. Perhaps not, however, adding more diagrams and explanations of basic concepts to make the game clearer, especially to newcomers. But the last version of the rules does have a tremendous amount of user input.
Take for example the new concept of a Built-Up Area (BUA). In the terrain rules, Phil wanted to add the idea of a city or fort in the battlefield area. He started with this anywhere on the board defended by any element, but early playtests showed that with an Artillery element in it would dominate the whole game if it were placed in the center of the board. A change put it in a position that it could be too easily captured by the enemy. Over the months, it was moved to the edge, not allowed to have Artillery, and made difficult to end up close to the enemy. It is now a quite interesting but not an over-powering aspect for either side.
So what is really new about 2.0? There are 5 important components of change: complete terrain rules, bringing DBA closer to DBM in some ways (but far from adding DBM complexity!), some specific rules changes unique to DBA, addition of Big Battle rules, and a fantastic new list of armies. There are as well, the tightening up of and clarification of some rules that posed problems before. Let me address each of these in a general way.
The original terrain rules left much to be desired. Phil was using a working assumption that players would make squares for boards with fixed terrain and then pick one for a particular game. There were some statements of terrain being placed in certain parts of the board but all terrain was pretty much the same, either bad going or good going.
Rod Burr noted this in his review and complained that, "I dont know of any clubs or individuals in the U.S. that use (this system)." He thought most players have flat squares on to which they place loose terrain pieces. Indeed this was common practice at US tournaments. The organizers would lay out 2 foot squares and place various sizes and colors of felt on them to represent the bad going, hills, roads, or rivers. At some regional cons, the hosts would make boards to represent historical battles, and sometimes even provided the appropriate armies.
The terrain rules for 2.0 are much more complete and better integrated to armies. Each army is given a topography. Romans, and most armies, are Arable. Some other examples have Athenians as Littoral, Classical Indians as Tropical while Germans are Forest. The possible topographies and what features they have is shown here:
Topography: Compulsory features: Optional features:
ARABLE BUA. River, Steep Hills, Gentle Hills, Woods, Road, Waterway.
FOREST Woods. River, Marsh, Gentle Hills.
HILLY Steep Hills. River, Woods, BUA, Road.
STEPPE Gentle Hills. River, Rough Ground, BUA.
DRY Rough Ground. Dunes, Steep Hills, Oasis, BUA
TROPICAL Woods. River, Marsh, Rough Ground, BUA, Road.
LITTORAL Waterway. River, Either Steep Hills or Marsh, either Woods or Dunes, BUA.
Each of the specific features is explained in detail in the text, including allowed numbers, size, shape, and impact on the game. An important aspect is that the player designated as the defender provides the terrain and sets it up. No longer at a tournaments, does one have to face the sparse and crude looking pieces of felt terrain. A player can either provide a pre-made board, as was expected in the original rules, now tailor made to suit the army; or place terrain on a board provided by the organizers. Each army has an aggression factor from 0 to 5 which is added to a die roll to determine who is the defender. Thus if you want to depend heavily on terrain, come to a tournament with a low aggression army. Phil likes small terrain, sizes are from a base width square to 3 base widths square but he likes quite a few. The last version allowed up to seven.
The Built-Up Area is a special feature. It replaces the defenders camp if used. It has a defensive factor of 4 plus a troop garrison or local inhabitants called denizens. If taken it is worth 2 elements. This is like a camp except a BUA may end up on any board edge, including the invaders, even with a defender element in it.
Phil commented to me in correspondence:
"My additions have been aimed at making wargaming more like the real world. For example, BUA are compulsory in Arable because Arable is defined by large scale agriculture and large populations exploited by and serviced by urban communities. Such countries have large and often standing armies with expensive troop types. They have a lot of flat farmland which has replaced most of the forest and marsh."
The effect of other features is well explained such as when Woods and Hills block shooting, or when an element is in or out of a feature. River crossing is well defined, as is defending a river bank. River types are determined when a player wants an element to cross. A die roll of 1 or 2 yields a "paltry" river" that has little effect on the game while a 6 gives a river difficult to cross. Many features take on a role in command and control distance. All in all terrain can now take an important part in the game. Phil says, "As generalship is definable as the skill with which generals adapt their troops movements to those of the enemy and to the battlefield, varied and realistic terrain is essential for interesting battles."
DBA and DBM Commonalties
A number of features of the new DBA make it compatible with DBM. It is a long way from the situation some commenters feared when suggested that there was getting to be no difference between the two. The place where most of the links are found is the troop types and basing. Hordes are now in DBA to facilitate the armies that need this type. They move like regular infantry, fight like Auxillia, but are destroyed if beaten by shooting. They do not, however, recoil, but do pursue like Warband.
A second tangent between the two games is the new similarity of base size. Phil hopes that DBM players will be able to use their armies to play DBA and DBA players can build up to DBM. It is my experience that that there are many DBA players will not be taking on DBM (especially with the advent of Big DBA). Most DBM players are not able to make the shift to the more simpler game, either. In either event, DBA 2.0 has parallel listing of DBM troop types and DBA troops types so players can make the transition. Most are a one to one match but certain esoteric DBM types need a special translation. The DBA Horde (7Hd) covers the DBM Horde (O) while the DBA 5Wb (Warband) represents the DBM Horde (F & S). The number in front of the DBA type is the recommended number of figures. DBM types have a suffix representing their "efficiency" as Ordinary, Superior, Fast, Inferior, and eXception of some sort; with the capital letter giving the key. The DBM Horde (I) is not needed for any DBA army. The DBM Auxilia(X) becomes a DBA Spear (3Sp). Certain types that are on double bases in DBM end up on deeper, but still single, bases in DBA. In DBM are the Bow(X), the Blade(X), and the double Kn(I) and Cv, where DBA has a Bow(8Bw) , Blade (6Bd) both on a square base and a Knight (6Kn) and Cavalry (6Cv) both on a base twice as deep as typical horse mounted troops.
The new rules, by the way, do not have different sizes of bases for figures smaller than 15mm but these are to go on the 15mm base with larger numbers. The only other major base size issue is that War Wagons are now on a base that is double the frontage deep so 40mm by 80mm in 15mm scale.
Besides some base changes there have been a few rules modifications to maintain compatibility between DBA and DBM. The most widely sought after by players is the destruction of Blades if beaten by Knights and the reduction of War Wagon combat factor against mounted to +4. This is still not as low as that factor is in DBM.
A change in language to match DBM, more than a rule change, is the use of term "Player Initiative Points" (PIPs) for what in 1.1 was called move points. These are the number on a die (or a dice as it is now called) that indicates how many tactical moves a player may take.
Other Rules Changes
Besides changes to keep DBA and DBM close, there are some unique to DBA. There are as well many changes of the text to make the rules very clear as to meaning. Dennis Frank once compiled a 3 page clarification sheet for DBA 1.1 to give complete meaning to many unclear aspects. For example, 1.1 did not make clear where an element faced if hit in both flank and rear while 2.0 clarifies it faces the first one that contacts. In 1.1, players were not sure if a second rank of Warband followed up a victory, 2.0 says they do. Many players thought an element could be the target of more than 3 shootings in a bound. DBA 2.0 clearly states the maximum is three. The new rules explicitly allow elements of a group to contact but not combat single elements, as long as some element in the group is in combat. Many such small points are addressed.
There are a few new additions. One of the biggest is the extra move options for some elements. Some elements can take second and subsequent moves. Psiloi (light infantry) in the first bound may make as many moves as a player has PIPs. Light Horse may do likewise in any bound as long as they do not start or go within an element base width of the enemy. Any element on road can also make multiple moves as long as not ending in combat with enemy. Warbands and Scythed Chariots may take one extra move as long as they DO end in combat or support thereof.
A second major change concerns the supporting ranks of certain elements. Pikes and Warband now do not get second rank support against types that the second rank would not help against -- Psiloi, Cavalry, Bows, and Light Horse or Scythed Chariot. Spears get second rank support from a like type only against other Spear and Knights. Auxilia have gained second rank support from Psiloi, like Spear and Blade, if fighting mounted. Also, a second rank of Pike is not lost if the first one is.
A third area of improvement concerns deployment. In the old rules, both players threw a die (or in the words of the game: "Both players dice.") The low scorer picked a terrain board. The high thrower got two chances out of 6 to pick either of two sides via another dice throw or got one of the other two. Then both players set out camps and the high one deployed all troops. Then the low thrower deployed and moved first. So in exchange for a slim chance of getting a preferred side, the higher score player got to set up first and let opponent see the layout and then move to attack it.
In 2.0 there are some interesting changes. First, each army has an aggression factor that is added to the dice score. The player with the low score (called the defender) sets out all of the terrain according to the army typography. The high score is the invader who can assign 1-2-3 each to three board edges and 4-5-6 one preferred edge, but not the one with a BUA. The number on a thrown dice is thus the invasion side. So, invader gets 50% chance for selection. It might still have the defenders BUA on it. The defender deploys first and may put an element in the BUA, then the invader sets up. Both are within 600 paces of their edge (100 paces = 1 inch for 15mm and -NEW- 40mm in 25mm scale) and -- also NEW-- inside 400paces of the side edges. The invader moves first but a very interesting suggestion in the last draft I saw was for the defender to be able to switch up to two pairs of elements after the invader has set on.
A number of points in Distant Shooting are changed or clarified. Artillery, which now takes two PIPs to move like Elephants and War Wagons, fires in its owners bound if the Artillery did not move. The target edge, order of fire, eligibility of target, and number of times an element can be shot at are clearer.
There are lots of fixes in close combat, river movement, actions in front of an enemy element, break-offs and interpenetration. You cannot get a tactical bonus for defending your enemys camp. You do not need to pursue off the board. Groups are defined independent of moving and must be in both corner and edge contact. Individual Psiloi and Light Horse must conform to a group that contacts them. There are perhaps a dozen more such small but important changes.
The combat outcome table has some useful changes too. A number of kills by Artillery are now limited to Artillery shooting. Camelry and Cavalry now flee when beaten or doubled to better reflect their non-impact function. Elephants destroy more foot types. No elements are destroyed by close combat with artillery, except maybe Scythed Chariots.
More types in general flee and that is now a recoil plus a normal move. Losing a game is not effected anymore by losing camp followers or Scythed Chariots.
These are most of the changes. There are many more minor language changes to make comprehension simpler. I still do not think it can be picked up and played by the average person anywhere, let alone that mythical 7-year old British school kid. We still need a "Beginners Guide to DBA" for him or her. I can still teach it to someone in 15 minutes and have them beating me in 30 minutes. Yet, terrific improvement has been made. Some complications are added that take the game from the realm of its previous simplicity, yet I would suggest it retains enough to still be classified as "DBA-like."
Big Battle DBA (BBDBA)
Enough of us were able to convince Phil that we want to play big games, even multi-payer games without going to DBM or some other non DB game. The first edition had some such options but by the second, Phil must have thought all big games were being done with DBM. Such was not the case as my article on Big Battle games in The Courier, No. XXXX showed.
By including specific rules in the text, Phil has now allowed for tournament and other style competition at conventions. A standard set of publicly available rules is what is needed for that sort of activity. In a single page, the BBDBA covers all that is needed. The text gives just the variance from the normal game. The game is played with the equivalent of 3 armies (36 stands), either all a main army or a main with an ally, on a two by four foot board. There are 3 commands of at least 6 elements, each getting a PIP dice. One is assigned the highest dice and one the lowest dice. If an ally army, it has its own PIP dice so the main army has only the high and low dice. Defender deploys 2 commands, then invader all, then defender one last one. Game proceeds as with the normal rules.
Certain losses cause commands to be demoralized and some elements must flee. Loss of half the army or demoralization of the commander-in-chiefs command end the game. Our groups has played this a number of time and all enjoy it. There is a further set of instruction for Giant DBA games that Phil envisions as multi-player, historical scenario driven games. I see no reason why a Big Battle game cannot be done with 2 or 3 players, except the one stuck with the low die gets frustrated :) At Cold Wars, 2001, and in future if successful, I will be running a BBDBA Doubles event - BBDBAD.
New Army Lists
One of the most excellent of additions to the book is the inclusion of DBA size armies based on all the armies in the four DBM army list books. This represents 63 from the first book - THE CHARIOT PERIOD 3000BC TO 500BC; 84 from the second book - THE CLASSICAL PERIOD - 500BC TO 476AD ; 79 from the third book - THE EARLY MEDIEVAL PERIOD 476AD TO 1071AD; and 84 from the fourth book - THE HIGH MEDIEVAL PERIOD - 1071AD to 1500AD
Some of the numbered armies have options so there is a total of over 300 different choices. A good example is the Greeks:
II/ 5. Later Hoplite Greek. 450BC-275BC (235BC if Italiot or Siciliot).
Littoral if (b), (g) or (h), Hilly if (e), Arable if others. Ag: (a) 3, (b) 2, others 1. E = (a) I/54, II/5bcdi, 6, 7, 12, 16b, 17, 27b. (b) I/48, 54, 60c, 62, II/5acefhi, 7, 9, 12, 15, 16b, 17, 18ac, 30a. (c) II/5abdefi, 12, 16b, 30a. (d) I/47, 54, II/5abcdef, 12, 15, 17, 30a. (e) I/47, II/5bcdi, 18abc, 30a, 33. (f) II/5bcd, 12, 30a. (g) II/5gh, 8ab, 9, 10, 13, 33. (h) I/61b, II/5bgh, 9, 33. (i) I/43a, 47, 48, 54, II/5abce, 12, 15, 16b, 18c, 27a. A= 0-2 of any II/5 except II/5a or II/5g or II/5h. Ref: AMPW.
(a) Spartan: 1x4Sp (Gen), 8x4Sp, 1x4Sp or 4Ax, 1x4Sp or 3Cv, 1x2Ps.
(b) Athenian: 1x4Sp (Gen), 1x3Cv, 1x2LH, 7x4Sp, 1x4Sp or 3/4Ax, 1x2Ps.
(c) Theban: 1x4Sp (Gen), 2x3Cv, 6x4Sp, 1x4Sp or 4Ax, 2x2Ps.
(d) Thessalian: 1x3Cv (Gen), 3x2LH or 3x3Cv, 6x4Sp, 2x2Ps or 4Ax.
(e) Aitolian or Akarnanian: 1x4Sp (Gen), 3x4Sp, 7x2Ps, 1x2LH.
(f) Phokian: 1x4Sp (Gen), 1x4Sp, 4x4Ax, 3x2Ps, 1x3Cv, 2xArt or 2Ps.
(g) Italiot: 1x4Sp (Gen), 1x3Cv or 2LH, 2x2LH, 7x4Sp, 1x2Ps.
(h) Siciliot: 1x4Sp (Gen), 1x3Cv, 7x4Sp, 3x2Ps.
(i) Others: 1x4Sp (Gen), 1x3Cv or 4Sp, 7x4Sp, 2x4Sp or 4Ax or 2Ps, 1x2Ps.
Besides giving the name and dates, topography and aggression and sometimes a reference (in this case Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars 359 - 146BC. by Duncan. Head), all historical enemies and allies are shown for each sub-listed army. Thus we find Spartans with Arable terrain, aggression of 3, enemies begin with I/54, Early Macedonian. 650BC-355BC. No allies for Sparta, but Athens, Littoral and aggression =2 could have 0, 1 or 2 allies from any but the Spartans or Italiot or Siciliot.
Players must look to other sources, such as the DBM list books for more detail as to what the historical referents of the various types are. Note that those DBM books do not include the enemy and ally components. Here in DBA 2.0 is the complete military history of 4 and a half millennia broken down into little 12 stand armies. The original rules had about 112 armies. Dickies short review of that set included reference to "an abbreviated army list" while Duckworths comment on this topic is "The army lists are too simple to follow unless you really know the army involved." Perhaps the new massive compendium of historical armies will meet those objections.
So there, you have a quick overview of the next generation of the rules of the 90s. Will these rules be as successful in the twenty first century. To coin a phrase, "only time will tell" but they are no longer the paradigm shifting set they were in 1990. They are now a grown-up version of that little rascal that gave ancients and medieval gaming such a good time. From the point of view of one who has played, watched or umpired at least thousand games and written untold commentary, I believe they are now so much better. The terrain was needed to make the game self-sufficient. The changes to facilitate DBM transition are harmless. The unique changes and clarifications should cut down on disputes. The Big Battle game and the massive army list open so many new opportunities. I think the time of fraternity among players has gone some, the additional complexities have taken off some of the close personal feeling the original game imparted. We are far from the tension of the big DBM tournament or the disputes of the old "edition games." These are still the best rules for a good historical based ancients game. I plan to continue to play, watch, and umpire games in the future and even continue to write stuff.
My one sadness is that they are not yet written for the novice to pick up and play. Is it time for a text based or maybe web-site "Beginners Guide to DBA" or even a How To Video?
I urge everyone who has not played DBA and who is at all interested in a good historical ancients or medieval large scale battle to get these rules when they come out and give a try. Old timers should also get a copy as they will find much revealed that will get them up for more games. They may be a little less simple but they are much more elegant.
If anyone has questions about 2.0, keep in mind that Phil gives his email address in the book. Also feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. So, let me end by giving you some sound tactical advice that has not changed since the first edition: throw sixes (except now, not for deployment!)