DBA 3 – Improving the Simulation – Some Comments

Joe Collins has highlighted a number of problems with DBA 3.0 and suggested ways to address these problems. Collin’s was part of the group that developed DBA 3.0 so he is both a fan and on the inside team. I really like Collin’s attempt to tackle some big problems with DBA. It would be great if more people did this, starting with Phil Barker. Unfortunately, Collin’s particular suggestions mostly leave the problems unsolved. I do like his solution for Bow but even that needs more.


Auxilia is still a problem

I have a lot of Auxilia. For some reason DBA categorises many Spanish troops as Auxilia. And Auxilia is used to represent many troops that fought in the main battle line for example the Iberians at Cannae. But in DBA Auxilia lose quickly to Spear and very quickly to Blades or mounted. DBA 3.0 made solid foot slightly more resilient to mounted but reduced their effectiveness against Blade (impetus), Spear (side support and impetus) and Psiloi. So Cannae is going to be pretty miserable for the Carthaginians.

BBDBA Iberian Scutarii

BBDBA Iberian Scutarii

The only answer is to hide the Iberians in difficult terrain. Unfortunately the change to Psiloi in DBA 3.0, no corner to corner overlap, really hurts as difficult terrain was the only place that Auxilia were useful in DBA. Now they don’t even have that.

Collins suggests the solution is to give Auxilia a longer recoil from Pike and Blade, thus allowing them to break off. Personally I don’t think that solution fixes Cannae. The legionnaires are still going to cut through the Iberians without a pause. And it leaves the Auxilia impotent in difficult terrain against Psiloi.


Pike is still a problem

In DBA Pike has a weak combat factor in one rank and has to be two ranks deep to fight historical foes. That means pike has a short frontage. Historically the non-pike opponents would also go deep to give them a chance to face the pikes. DBA does not encourage this. Blades and Spears will stay wide and overlap the Pikes. Hoplites will beat Phalangites in DBA. And Roman legionnaires well … as Collins points out “Under DBA 3, Later Macedonian vs Early Imperial Roman is a slaughter” (p. 5).

Collins suggests the solution is to allow ‘Solid’ Pike to recoil non-Pike opponents if the melee totals are equal. He argues that this will make a single rank of Pikes more viable.

BBDBA Seluecid Pikes

BBDBA Seluecid Pikes

I can see the merit here. Pike blocks were steam rollers and this rule gives them some steam. But I do think the tweak misses the point. DBA needs to reflect historical practice where non-Pikes troops facing Pikes would go deep. In other words, all troops should get an advantage for being deep but Pikes should still be stronger.

And I completely disagree that Collin’s tweak makes single rank Pikes a real choice. They’ll get slaughtered.


Bow problem is partially solved

Collins points out that DBA Blades home in on Bow because they are an easy kill. This lead to the common DBA tactic of ‘dancing bows’ with wings of Bow skirmishing away from the enemy or hiding in woods. DBA 3 tried to address some of the problems. Bows got a longer range and Blades defend against shooting with a 4 not a 5. In melee Bows get side support from Blades (think Hundred Years War English) but lost their ability to kill knights on contact. As Collins points out these “improvements” still leave French knights rolling over English archers.

BBDBA Hundred Years War English Archers

BBDBA Hundred Years War English Archers

Collins goes on to say (p. 7) …

My goal was to reconcile the different opinions on troop interactions put forth with writing from original sources with dBA terms. Something seemed to be missing. In the historical writing and original sources, I found a number of accounts of mounted knights charging bowmen (and failing to close, or being destroyed, or heroically breaking through). I found a number of descriptions of knights and men at arms clashing both on foot and mounted. I found descriptions [of] Pike formations struggling mightily against bow fire to engage the men at arms in front of them. I found descriptions of bow fire fights where groups of bowmen engaged one another. I found descriptions of bowmen, out of arrows, forced (or perhaps eager) to charge men at arms and engage them with axe and hammer. Something however was still largely missing. I found few accounts of the most common DBA tactic … dismounted men-at-arms/Blades and other heavy infantry engaging and destroying bowmen.

Collins concludes “Quite simply put, infantry didn’t often close to engage in combat with bow armed opponents because they didn’t want to do so” (p. 8).

Collins suggests a controversial solution in DBA: foot that moves, individually or as a group, into frontal contact with Bow requires an extra Pip.

I think this is genius. Really genius.

But not enough.

I have often struggled with how to simulate the Battle of Taginae (552 AD) and Battle of Casilinum (554 AD). In both battles Narses deployed his troops in a crescent shape with close fighting infantry in the centre, with archers on each side of them, and cavalry beyond. In both battles the archers shot up the charging barbarians and funnelled them into the solid infantry of the centre. That isn’t possible in any wargaming rules I know.

Collin’s suggestion works for Casilinum, where it was Frankish infantry that attacked. But it would not help with Taginae where it was Gothic cavalry charging. But, in reality, the same thing happened.

So the tweak to DBA needs to go further. Perhaps make units contacting bowmen take the extra PIP, but for every single element or column, whether foot or mounted. Columns can charge Bowmen together but other groups cannot. Now that is a big change.


References

Collins, J. (2019, May/June). DBA 3 – Improving the Simulation. Slingshot, 324, 2-9.

12 comments to DBA 3 – Improving the Simulation – Some Comments

  • While some hope for DBA 3+, Barker’s age and health suggest 3.0 is the last edition. It seems that house rules are the way to go to balance specific periods. I have been introducing my group to DBA 3.0 but have trouble finding out the rules that apply in mid-game frustrating. Such a simple game has so many wrinkles. Is that rule something left over from 2.2 or is it 3.0? Later this year we may try Basic Impetus 2nd edition. Although translated from Italian, it is easier to read than DBA.

    • Steven Thomas

      Yes. DBA, whatever the version, is not written so well. Mind you, writing clear rules is, as I’m discovering, hard.

      Good luck with Impetus. Personally I love the bases and I don’t like the rules. And I struggled to understand the Impetus troop types.

      I have tried a bunch of rules for Ancients and Dark Ages, but end up going back to DBA.

  • Part of the problem with Impetus trop types is they are translated from Italian, so heavy cavalry = CP = cavalerie pesante, heavy infantry = FP = fanteria pesante, etc. It is difficult. There’s very little of the rock/paper/scissors of DBA.

  • Not my favourite period for gaming, but thanks for your analysis

  • Try limiting the number of turns with this:
    https://fanaticus-dba.fandom.com/wiki/File:TIME_OF_DAY_DISPLAY.pdf
    We us it all the time. It shifts the balance so faster light troops become much more effective.

  • Mark Flanagan

    Thanks for the comments I was hopeful that DBA plays better, it is better but again the “cheese” of wargamers wanting to win can ruin any system, but the points you have made are very valid. I think that a Lost Battles movement grid may be the answer for tactical geometrical cheese moves. Thanks again for your comments over winter I plan to get DBA 3 back on the table!

  • Julian Donohoe

    A good analysis and thanks for posting. I have given up on Version 3. None of what I found problematic 2.2 was fixed (much of which you covered above) and the added complexity defeated one of the chief attractions of the game.
    I do however enjoy the occasional game of Hordes of the Things with my nephews using historical armies. We allow Heroes, Paladins, Sneakers, Magicians, Clerics and even Gods to spice things up. Games are all set in the late republican or end of empire periods. Some day I hope to cover 100 Years War using HoTT.

    • Steven Thomas

      I’m also a big fan of HoTT. I feel, somehow, that it is a better simulation of ancient and medieval warfare than DBA. I’ve never quite figured out why. Perhaps because it doesn’t take itself so seriously. All our Dark Age games are HoTT. And it gives the guys the option to field Dark Age fantastical elements if they have a fancy. Personally I always play my Arthurian Welsh as straight historical. Well, as historical as we can get for that period.

  • Martin Smith

    How do you classify the different Welsh troop types, under Hott, Steve?

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