Game report: Double DBA

DBA, or De Bellis Antiquitatis, is a miniature wargame for recreating battles from the ancient through medieval periods (aorund 3000BC-1400AD). Each player chooses an army of 12 elements from the list of 300 or so armies in the book. It takes only about an hour to complete a game. The rules are easy (though the rule book is unintelligible), but the tactics can be subtle.

The Double DBA variation allows playing larger games: two 12-element armies are used per side, and it facilitates more than 2 players a lot better than normal DBA. The rules don’t change, but the additional tactical complication can make the game take a lot longer.

Last night, 3 of us played a game of Double DBA for the first time. I played the Skythians (I/43a) and Later Achaemenid Persians (II/7) against Frank playing the Alexendrian Macedonians (II/12) and Andy playing Later Spartans (II/5a). These are all historically contemporary armies: Alexander was the enemy of all three of the others, and Persia and Scythia were allies at some times. I don’t have Alexander’s only ally army, so we faked it with the Spartans.

I chose the most infantry possible with my armies: only 10 out of 24 elements. In contrast they had as much cavalry as possible, which is only 4 out of 24. So they were very different armies: theirs was a long, slow, strong infantry line, and mine was mostly highly maneuverable light horse lacking any real punch.

My other big choice in army composition was whether to use Auxilia or Spear for my Persian infantry block. The rest of my foot is Auxilia and Psiloi, which are both good in bad terrain. Spear wouldn’t be good in bad terrain, and with such a short infantry line, they’d be easy to outflank and kill out the open. So, I chose the Auxilia, since I could probably hide them in some bad going to keep them safe.

I ended up rolling as the defender, and setting up terrain. I put bad going in the middle front of each deployment zone, and some on each flank. This allowed me to guarantee hiding my infantry, while putting a hole in the enemy line. The terrain on the flanks wasn’t that big of a problem, but they did constrain deployment more than I thought. I shouldn’t have put the bad going in the middle of the table on both sides: this caused their army to gap exactly where my infantry was placed, instead of encouraging them to confront me in the bad going.

The bigger mistake I made was in deployment. I put my light horse too close to the center, with no efficient way to move them out to the flank. That wasted a lot of PIPs and caused trouble.

The Spartans are almost entirely spear, and Alexander’s primary infantry is Pikes. Those cannot kill my Light Horse or Cavalry at all, without flanking them. Their other option for killing my elements was to go into the terrain to push out my light infantry. They’re easier to kill, but it would require a lot more commands to get into combat because of the bad going. On the other hand, I had to set up some really useful combats in order to get any chance of killing any of his elements with my weak Light Horse.

For a while, the lines approached each other uneventfully, and I tried to extract a few light horse from the center around to the flank. I lost many combats, as I expected, with my light horse fleeing. Eventually Andy and Frank exploited gaps in my line to flank my elements that hadn’t fled yet, and I started losing some units. However, exploiting a hole with a pike block means breaking your line, and this helped me get into a much better position against them.

8 elements or both generals dead means you lose. I lost about 4 elements before I killed anything. It got pretty grim: I was behind by about 6-3 at the worst. But then things started turning around when they stopped getting any PIPs (commands) for a while, and I was able to more effectively fold Frank’s flank. I eventually caught up, killing 8 (including a general) to their 6.

Overall, it was very enjoyable, but it took closer to 4 hours than 1. I admit, a lot of this was involved in not actually playing the game, and we could be a lot faster with more experience. I’d certainly play again if everyone was interested, but I’d be almost as happy playing a few ordinary DBA games, since they’ll make everyone better at playing more quickly.

I liked the very different feel of the armies, but I think this particular matchup created a quite slow game, since most of the combats were numerically very unlikely for me to win, but also impossible for them to kill me. Clearly I need to paint a few more armies so we can have more double DBA options!

DBA Army II/7: Later Achaemenid Persians

Here is the Later Achaemenid Persian army, finished. These are Essex 15mm figures from their DBA army pack. The only optional elements I didn’t paint are the scythed chariot and the cavalry general.

The color schemes are all based on images in the Osprey book on the Achaemenid Persians, which are taken from the Alexander Sarcophagus and the Alexander Mosaic. “Yes, they really did wear that much purple and (saffron) yellow.” But also notice that almost everyone is wearing expensively dyed fabric instead of armor.

Here is the general on his light chariot. Since this army will be playing primarily against Alexander the Great, I consider him to be Darius III, king of Persia. I almost displayed him facing backwards, since he always seems to be fleeing from Alexander in historical images.

Two Cavalry elements. I’m least happy with the shading on these guys’ hoods. I should’ve used a lighter ink, but I didn’t. It’s not as obvious in pictures. I’m also not sure about the armor; it doesn’t match anything I’ve seen in books.

These are the two elements of Light Horse.

Here are four elements of spearmen. I’m not very happy with the choice of figures here, because I’m intending to use this for a very late army. These “Dipylon” shields are a hundred or more years out of date by Alexander’s time. The rear ranks are “immortals” from earlier Perisan armies, and it’s kind of weird that they’re carrying bows as well as spears and shields. They’re shown wearing older long Persian robes instead of the shorter Median style tunics and pants they adopted later. The front ranks are painted like Darius’ spear bearers (bodyguard).

They look nice, and work the same way on the table, but they aren’t likely the spearmen faced by Alexander.

In the front are 4 elements of Auxilia, Takabara. These are fairly good figures, but I think the shields are too small. I made an attempt at adding a few shield designs, but it didn’t work very well. In the rear are three elements of Psiloi: Persian slingers and javilenmen. I’d rather have bows tha javelins.

Overall, I’m happy with the way it turned out. I can’t bring myself to spend a lot more time on 15mm figures, but with only rudimentary shading.

Persians, almost done

Here’s an in-progress picture of my latest painting projects. This is another DBA army, II/7: Later Achaemenid Persians. There are also three frigates from Uncharted Seas in there, they aren’t Persian ships.

This shows how I hold the figures for painting. Similar figures are hot glued onto a stick, far enough apart that I can reach all parts of the figure. Horses are primed in brown or grey since that’s the primary color they’ll be when they’re done. The rest are primed in white, grey, or black depending on which color I think is best that day (and somewhat depending on what color is going over the primer).

For cavalry, sometimes I glue the riders on before painting, but sometimes I stake the riders on pins and paint them separately before epoxying them onto the horses.

These figures have just come in from being sprayed with matte varnish. After that, they’re removed from the sticks, and glued to bases. Then I paint and decorate the bases. These will fill 16 stands of figures (4 cavalry, 1 chariot, and 11 infantry elements).

I’ll have pictures of the finished army soon. This looks like it’ll be a fun army to play with, except for the fact that they’ll always have to lose against Alexander the Great.

New Elements

I painted up a few extra elements to augment my existing DBA/HotT armies.

First is two elements of Greek cavalry. This is intended for use with my later Spartan DBA army. It turns out I may have needed some allied cavalry instead of greeks, to be strictly correct; and I really only need one of these. But they’ll help me fake a non-Spartan later greek hoplite army. These are 15mm Essex figures. I got one pack of medium cavalry and a few packs of light horse, so there is one unarmored cavalry figure per element. The rest of the light horse figures would eventually let me paint up 3 2LH elements.

The other recent additions are 10mm Dwarven cannons. These are Citadel Warmaster figures, based as Hordes of the Things artillery elements.
I based these up years ago when I painted the rest of the Dwarf army, but only got around to painting them now. I think I still have a few elements of blades to paint, but that’s not on the schedule yet.

I’m making some progress on my Later Achaemenid Persian DBA army, but not enough to take pictures of yet.

DBA Army I/43a: Skythians

I finished painting another DBA army. This is a 15mm Skythian army, DBA I/43a, with all options.

These Skythians portray a skill that definitely falls outside the realm of the Jack: riding a horse with only a horse blanket, before stirrups were invented, while using both hands to fire your bow, and simultaneously avoiding being killed by your enemy.

The bulk of these figures are from a Falcon Figures DBA v1 army pack. The two stands of light horse with riders facing forward and the Auxilia are Essex. The Falcon metal was very brittle, so I mounted these on thick Litko Aerosystems plywood bases with plasteel on the bottom, to pick them up without touching the figures. I’m not that happy with the base edges, I’m more of a thin base sort of guy.

The general can be either cavalry (3Cv) or one of the light horse (2LH) elements. Just like in real life, it’s hard to tell who the general is. Skythians were famed for their hit and run horse archers, and in DBA the army can be fielded with all 12 elements as light horse. This can make them very difficult to control. I think they might also work better on a 30″ board instead of 24″, for extra room on the flanks to avoid the “end of the world” phenomenon.

Here, the Essex light horse figures are in the rightmost column. The Falcon horses were separate from their riders, which made them easier to paint and then assemble later. I epoxied the riders on, after clearing a spot down to bare metal on both parts. The epoxy is transparent, and not really visible even where there’s too much. In fact, I used epoxy on some of the bows to help prvent them from snapping off as well.

I used Essex figures to fill in the figures missing from the DBA v1 army list, to bring it up to DBA v2 standards. I was surprised to see the skins on the backs of the Essex light horse: I thought they all rode with saddle blankets. Reading about them in the Osprey book, it turns out those are “the flayed skins of their enemies,” thus the general lack of hair. On the other side of the horse, there’s also a scalp. The Falcon figures were portrayed as much more civilized.

Here is one element of auxilia (3Ax, Skythian javelins) and two elements of psiloi (2Ps, the archers). The auxilia are Essex figures.

Unfortunately I didn’t get any female horse archers. Apparently they rode side by side with the men, which would be wonderful to portray if the figures were more readily available. Skythians wore colorful tunics, with decorative stripes down their arm and leg seams, and around their necks, and goofy Smurf hats. I might have preferred to see more different horse and rider poses for the Falcon light horse, but they’re so colorful that it hardly matters.

I had fun painting this army, and I’m quite happy with how well it turned out. When I finished, I decided not to paint another DBA army for a while, but I think I’ve already changed my mind.

But after I finish painting a few DBA camps, I’ll most likely be painting fantasy naval vessels for Uncharted Seas.

DBA Army II/12: Alexandrian Macedonians

Several years ago, I bought a 15mm Essex Miniatures Alexandrian Macedonian army for DBA. This is the army Alexander the Great used to conquer “the known world.” I wasn’t particularly interested in Alexander the Great, but he was a contemporary enemy of the Later Spartan army I already had. Conquering the known world tends to accumulate enemies, so there would be plenty of options for fighting reasonably historically matched battles with these guys.

Except for one thing: no one else actually plays DBA. At the very least I’d need to paint all the armies and bring all the terrain. So when it actually came down to painting the army, I basically finished the two Psiloi elements (two foot bowmen each, on the flanks) and stopped.

Now, years later, I’ve started painting again. I decided to sneak a few of Alexander’s troops in while I was painting my Middenheimers, but then I ran out of Middenheimers to paint, so I just finished these instead.

Alexander leads the cavalry charge from his right flank. Light troops link the cavalry to the pike block in the center, and prevent them from being encircled.

Wargamers tend to be pretty picky people. You can’t paint your American Revolutionary War British troops yellow without being ridiculed, for example. So I spent a lot of time researching what color Alexander’s troops should be painted. But I discovered something interesting: this happened so long ago, no one really knows. In the Ancients period, people don’t seem to be all that picky about getting the uniform colors perfect.

Alexander was a successful conqueror, so many of his documents survived long enough for historians to write about him in the following centuries. We know where he went, how many troops he had, and how they fought. But apparently no one bothered to write down what color the uniforms were. There are a few sources useful to extrapolate uniform colors, but there are only a handful of examples, and their pigments have surely changed color in the last 2300 years.

So, it’s impossible to tell whether all of Alexander’s pikemen were dressed in lavender with yellow stripes, or whether this was reserved for only certain troops, or special occasions. In any case, everyone seems to agree that Alexander’s uniforms were quite ugly.

The pike block in the center was the backbone of Alexander’s army. It formed the anvil against which the Cavalry’s hammer slammed the enemy.

While researching uniforms, I’ve learned a lot more about Alexander the Great’s major battles and overall conquests than I intended. It has been interesting.

On the left flank, more cavalry prevents the enemy from encircling the pike block in the center.

Alexander’s recurring major enemy seems to be Darius II, king of the Persian empire. He had huge numbers of troops, and almost always outnumbered Alexander (sometimes by more than a factor of 10). But Alexander always won because of Daruius’ weakness: he was very eager to run away whenever he saw Alexander anywhere near him, and the rest of his troops followed him even when the battle was going well.

This makes it difficult to accurately wargame battles between Alexander and the Persians, without making it seem contrived and broken. “Roll a die to see if Darius runs away this turn” isn’t very fun. DBA sacrifices numerical accuracy for playability: all armies are represented by exactly 12 elements (my army above contains a few different options that I’d choose 12 from before I started a game).

Hopefully I can convince some unsuspecting newcomers to play a game or two of DBA. In the mean time, I’ll start painting another of Alexander’s enemies: the Scythians. Horse archers, anyone?