Sunday, 18 March 2012

Never say "never."

     In years past, I'd go to gaming conventions and watch some gamers play tournaments using a small number of figures on a tiny field, oh, say the size of a briefcase, as they intently and intensely battled it out with their opponents. They were playing DBA ("De Bellis Antiquitatis") and I couldn't understand the allure. If I was gonna play a war game, I was gonna play a real war game, with a real field and a real number of troops. So let it be written; so let it be done.
    Until Saturday... ...when I agreed to play DBA under Martin's tutoring. Martin and I with Hittites (or neo-Hittites) played Robby and Bear with Alexandrian Macedonians. I fully expected to be skewred, filleted, and sauteed over a low flame by masses of pikemen, but I was surprised; utterly and completely. In the interest of full disclosure, we played DBA Grand Battle (my term) which had 4 commands and almost any number of elements in each command. The one base = one element/no-units-of-historical-note took me quite a while to get used to. To me, 8 stands of pikemen would be a Macedonian Taxis (singular), but in DBA, it's 8 elements of pikes. I still don't quite get it.
     When the game started, we advanced aggressively toward each other. I had a command of heavy chariots ("knights") with some foot skirmishers and a command of  spearmen and skirmishers. Martin had a command of heavy chariots and one of light chariots. Robby had a command of skirmishers and Argyaspids/hypaspists, and a command of pikes and skirmishers, while Bear let a command of pikes and skirmishers and a command of light, medium, and heavy cavalry and foot skirmishers. Tom joined later and took Bear's pikes. I expected the pikes to tear apart my spears so I decided to slow them down with "speed-bump" skirmishers. (Skirmisher vs. skirmisher is like watching two squirrels having a slap-fight.) Bear led with his light cavalry with the cavalry and Companions coming up behind. When the heavy chariots met the light cavalry, it was gruesome. Then the heavier cavalry came up and we hammered each other until the game ended.

Martin supplied all the figures. These pikemen are a fine example.

Light Cavalry, Companions, the command's general, and heavy cavalry
begin to menace my innocent chariots.

Two lines of Hittite spears led by a line of "Psiloi" as DBA calls skirmishers.

Martin's commands - Heavy Chariots near and light chariots and Psiloi far.

Skirmishers are hard to kill! Here some of mine dance around in front of
Bear's Companions as my heavy chariots sneak up.

It took a while for us to actually get into combat, but it got bloody once it did. Martin's light chariots scrimaged with Robby's Hypaspists for a long time and everybody became splintered, which makes a mess of command and control in DBA. The heavy chariots and the pike exchanged evil looks until they closed to the attack. I was able to slow down Bear/Tom's pikes with my Psiloi and I slowly brought the spears up. They would still be no match for the Taxis, but they didn't melt like an icecube on the sidewalk when they fought.

Martin's heavy chariots confront Robby's pikes and mercenary hoplites,

Here my chariots are gleefully taking Bear's light cavalry apart. It took
longer than I'd thought.

The situation on the Hittite right at the end of hostilities. I've got Bear's
general in a mousetrap while the rest of my heavy chariot elements are
scattered... which doesn't matter for morale in DBA but it means a LOT for
command and control. 

Martin's light chariots and Robby's Hypaspists were both in bad morale
shape and Martin's heavies were in worse morale shape. The pikes were
shaky but still in good order.

     I must admit the game surprised me. It was tough right down to the wire. Everyone's morale was teetering and a lot of stands had been lost. As your command loses cohesion and troops get scattered, it's harder to get them to do what you want. Every turn each command rolls a d6 and that's how many actions you can do. One action can move 10 stands or more if they are in base to base contact. If they are scattered, it take one PIP (or action) to move ONE stand. If you're morale is compromised, it takes a PIP to have a stand or a group of contacted stands stay put! Command and control becames primary and very tough as the game goes on. THIS was the real surprise to me. Players/generals have to make some serious decisons as to what is a priority, especially if a one is rolled.
     I apologize to James Bond film lovers everywhere for the title of this entry, but I surprised myself with this game and that's the only title that made sense. I think I'd prefer the Grand Battle DBA for it's visual impact, but the mechanics make the game interesting. Of course, armoured phalangites vs. men in bathrobes with spears still does not seem to be a fair match, but this is the oddness of the game play and something that just has to be swallowed cum grano salis. There is not allowance for armour, training, or morale in any of the troop types... unless it can be found in the subsequent DB...'s that have come out since.
     I'm hooked.

The Hittite spears and skirmishers begin to get the dirty end of the stick
from the pikes.

Robby's pikes and mercenary hoplites face down Martin's chariots.
("Do you feel lucky, punk? Do ya?")

The Macedonian view of my end of the table.
That many chariots are impressive.


  1. I have three armies that need painting and extra figs to make more (or larger) armies. It looks like I have a reason to do so.

    1. I don't think that even Buckley's will help this virus... only paint!

  2. For the record, the troops we used were Hittites. I think the confusion is due to me saying that the Hittites on the table are not the Hittites of the Old Testament, since those are the Neo-Hittites. (Confusing, but blame the early 20th century German archeologists who thought that they found the biblical Hittites in northern Turkey, only to discover later on that the biblical Hittites are a successor State of the Hittites they found)

    Glad to see I've made another convert ;)

    1. Potayto/potahto... Byzantine/really late Roman... they shouldn't have been fighting Macedonians anyway.

      Yeah, I'm hooked... Maybe I should hate you for it.

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