I became intrigued by DBA after visiting NATCON and seeing the DBA competition in action. The players were relaxed and friendly – even answering some of my silly questions mid-game. They also managed to play 5 games a day and still have plenty of time to view all the other games. That appealed a lot because most of the FoG games I have played and certainly many of the games I saw at the convention took 4-5 hours to get a result. That’s a lot of work for a game. Also, my RSI/OOS has severely limited how much I can paint miniatures pain free and possessing matching armies has always been a dream of mine and is very possible with DBA even if the visual spectacle is much reduced.
I have enjoyed Field of Glory because it reminded me of WRG 7th edition and I like the fun of thinking about army lists and researching armaments and tactics, but I have always been in search of the gamers Holy Grail; a simple set of wargame rules that simulates ancient battles. Would DBA 3.0 be it? Antony and I decided to playtest the system using Later Carthaginians versus their traditional opponents Polybian Roman. The results of our two battles are described below.
DBA 15mm is played on a 600mm x 600mm board or in this case my dining room table. One positive tick! I marked off the area of the board using terrain pieces to add further visual interest.
One player is the Invader and the other the Defender. This is determined by the aggressiveness rating of each army plus a die six roll. My Later Carthaginians were the Invaders in the first battle which meant that the Romans choose the terrain and I choose which base edge I would deploy from. The defenders deployed all of their army and camp first. Antony choose my newly painted waterway on one side edge, a small village (BUA built up area) and a very straight Roman road finished the terrain. This road definitely led to Rome and the Carthaginians were determined to force their way through the consular army that blocked their way!
The two armies drawn up for battle. Troops are classified by their function and tactics in battles (listed in brackets when necessary) rather than their armaments. The Roman army deployed with their hastati and principes (blades) to the front, covered by their velites (psiloi). Their veteran triarii (spears) and equites (cavalry) covered their right flank/rear and left flank respectively.
The Later Carthaginans are a polyglot army of native troops, allies and mercenaries. The War Elephants are a visually prominent part of their army. These are supported by Gallic mercenaries to their left (warbands) two deep, to help bolster their brittleness against the Romans, and to their right by Libyan javelinmen (psiloi) and the infamous Numidian light horse. The disciplined Africans (Spear) hold the road whilst the Spanish allies (Auxilia) and Balearic Slingers (psiloi) defend the captured Roman village.
The Romans being the defenders had to move first. Movement is determined by a single die six. Each PIP allows the army to move a group or a single element of troops. Some troops cost more to move e.g. Elephants, whilst moving on a road costs nothing in most cases. The Romans velites advanced rapidly to neutralize the Elephants outstripping the consular legions which followed behind.
The Numidian light horse took advantage of Roman boldness by flanking the velites and being unable to recoil from the elephants first blood went to Hannibal and his Carthaginians. Note: The game is won by destroying four of the opposing army’s elements. An element is a single base of troops and there are 12 elements in each army. First lesson – don’t outstrip your supports or advance into a situation with vulnerable flanks if you can help it. I found this out the hard way when playtesting the rules by myself a few weeks ago.
The Romans are undetered by the loss of their velites and advance rapidly towards the Carthaginian centre. I cheekily attack their exposed flank with my victorious elephants driving the Roman legions onto their own flank. It’s a risky move on my part, but it’s a playtest.
The Roman cavalry respond to my attack by charging the elephants in the flank dispersing them! One lost element each. My other elephants drive the remaining velites back on their supporting heavy troops. Hannibal moves towards the right sensing an opportunity to turn the Romans on both their left and right flanks.
The Carthaginians advance closer and the elephants destroy the last velites and maddened by battle break upon the main Roman line. Two/one for Carthage.
Battle is joined along the line and the Roman Triarii advance close enough to the main battle line to prevent my overlapping African Spearmen from flanking the Roman right. On the Roman left, however, Hannibal interpenetrates the Libyan javelinmen and engages the Roman Cavalry – this unit is also flanked by the Numidian light horse and is destroyed! The Romans advance forward in the centre pushing back all before them, but it is still three/one to Carthage.
That’s when the Republic strikes back! The Roman principes advance against the Numidian light horse despite being flanked by Hannibal, and the Roman cavalry charge against the exposed flank of the African horse. I didn’t see that coming! If the Romans are defeated in the combat they will lose the game and their army will flee.
But they don’t lose. Bottom! It’s still three/two in favour of the Carthaginians. The pushing back and forth continues in the centre with the Romans making the most in roads.
My Libyan javelinmen are forced to shore up my right flank after the loss of the Numidian light horse. This is less than ideal for them facing armoured cavalry, commanded by the Roman Consul, in the open. My Gallic mercenaries in the centre have a good chance to outscore their Roman opponents, which would result in a rout, but are instead pushed back with the African spear once again.
The Roman Triarii finally commit and my Spanish allies are recoiled back towards the village.
Then suddenly the battle is over. Two consecutive combat die rolls of one and the Carthaginian centre evaporates as the African Spear and an element of Gallic warriors are outscored by double and routed/destroyed! Rome four, Carthage three. Game over man!
Both Antony and I committed a number of fatal mistakes, but that’s to be expected when play testing a new system for the first time. In retrospect I think that victory was there for the taking for the Carthaginians, but I hesitated on my left flank and allowed the Triarii to pin three units down. Audentes fortuna iuvat, and the Romans were certainly bold. Well played Antony 🙂
And DBA? The highlight for me was the unexpected narrative quality of the battle. The starkness of the rules encourages players to engage their imaginations to describe and make sense of what they are seeing unfold before them. The PIP die system was frustrating at times, but captured that sense of momentum, or lack of it, described in some accounts of ancient battles. There were also a lot of difficult moments where key decisions had to be made by the respective commanders. It felt like an exciting battle, as rewarding as a FoG wargame, but condensed into a much shorter time frame. Overall a rewarding experience.
In our second game the Carthaginians were the defenders and I opted for a waterway, a compulsory terrain piece for littorial armies, and two woods, because I have some painted trees. It may be DBA but the field of battle can still look good.
The Romans deployed as I suspected using the wood to anchor one of their flanks. I deployed with deep formations to maximise my options as I advanced.
My plan was to defeat the velites in the forest and work their flank from that position, but the dice had other plans. For my first three moves I rolled a 1 on my movement die. I managed to expand my light troops on the right and advance them a little towards their objective. I had been caught napping much like Hasdrubal at Metaurus.
The Romans, in contrast, wasted no time in rapidly advancing towards the Carthaginian lines hoping to take advantage of my tardiness. This is how the battle looked three turns into the game. I have just managed to expand my African spear on my right.
Hasdrubal sounds a belated general advance and the Carthaginian army lurches forward. My Iberians and Balearics push back the velites on the right and my Numidian light troops try to break up the advance on my left where I am most vulnerable.
The Roman Triarii join the main battle line forcing my Numidian light horse to flee. On my right the Spanish double the velites in combat. First blood to Carthage again! The Romans respond by expanding their legions.
With no room to maneuver and poor movement dice I decide to commit to battle along the whole line. At least I will be able to pick where to fight. I also make the most important decision of the game and my general moves towards my right flank to exploit the Roman left. Would l regret not trying to bolster my own weak left flank?
The view from both sides after the first contact. My light troops flee on the left, as expected, and one of my elephants are repulsed. In the centre the ferocious Gauls roll higher than their opponents and the Roman Hastati are swept away. On my right the Romans have their revenge and destroy the Spanish allies. Carthage two, Rome one. I am surprised at my good fortune.
The Romans advance quickly on my left and the Roman equites plug the gap in the line. A great use of a mobile reserve. The Gauls fight poorly against mounted and will receive no help from their supporting element. My elephants push the Romans back but this exposes their flank to attack.
Poor pip dice again meant that I could only move my general into an overlap position on my right whilst my Libyan javelin are rallied and move up to guard the flank of the elephants. My enraged elephants continue to push dangerously forward and the inconsequential pushing match continues between the heavy foot on the centre right. I did learn that having spear two bases deep has the advantage of offering flank support to spear whether you recoil your opponents or your supports are pushed back.
My elephants exposed flank is finally exploited by the Romans, but their attack, led by their blades, is repulsed. On my left, my light troops slowly give ground.
Hasdrudal and the Balearic slingers flank the Romans velites on my right and rout them. Carthage three, Rome one. My light troops rally on the left flank.
My elephants on the left, however, are in a spot of bother and I suggest to Antony, in a moment of good sportsmanship, that his best option is to attack first with his Triarii spearmen and flank with his blades. The elephants will have to turn to face the first unit that contacts them, which will be the spears, which have a better combat factor against elephants.
Even if I draw, which is the result displayed, the elephants will be forced to recoil and elephants destroy all opponents they recoil into! 2 elephants are consequently wiped out. Not only that but the Roman cavalry cause an element of my Gauls to rout on the same turn. That’s four to Rome and three to Carthage – victory to the Romans once again. That is until I realised one last combat had to be resolved before the end of the bound.
My African spearmen have yet to fight a combat against one of Antony’s princep units. The result – I double his unit’s score and rout them. It’s a miracle (Zulu movie quote). Carthage four, Rome four! Play continues until one of us loses one more element than his opponent.
And as luck would have it – it is my turn next. I roll 2 on my movement die which gives me just enough points to flank the legionary maniple on my left flank with my general Hasdrubal’s cavalry. I win the combat and the Romans are destroyed. There are no other combats elsewhere and so I manage to survive the turn without further losses. Carthage five, Rome four. Carthage carries the day, but it was an extraordinary battle with high casualties.
The losses of the battles – a Pyrrhic victory to the Carthaginians.
In summary, Antony’s choice to advance boldly and attack with the Roman centre almost carried the day, and had it not been for a spot of good luck, the Romans would have won. My choice to attack, rather than defend, with my general Hasdrubal and his cavalry element made all the difference to the outcome of a very close battle. These battles have inspired me to finish painting my Republican Romans.
All in all, a sterling start to my rediscovery of DBA and two very pleasant and exciting battles. I am already looking forward to our next engagement which will be the Macedonian/Italian army of Pyrrhus versus the Camilian Romans – that will prove to be an interesting match up.