Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life; currently concentrating on a re-fight of the entire Peninsular War, but with the odd foray into ancient, medieval and WW2 battles.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

My First Ever Games of DBA

I have finally got round to playing Phil Barker's DBA (there is a good summary of its philosophy here).  I know that there is a new version out v.3, but I played the original version, which until recently was available as a free download from WRG's History Page.

I really enjoyed it, I thought it was very cleverly designed.  I used it to-refight Degastan c.606 AD, with a Bernician army taking on a Scots confederation, based on an article written by Guy Halsall for Miniature Wargames #3. The Scots confederation consisted of 10 Spearmen elements, plus an element of Psiloi (skirmishers) and Light Horse.  The Bernician army consisted of 7 elements of Warband plus an element of Psiloi.  In accordance with the suggestion of the article, I gave a +1 bonus to all the Bernician rolls to reflect their better morale and equipment.  I can see that there is a lot of subtlety to the system which only more experience in using all the different troop types can give.  I didn't find it that hard to understand the rules, although I did have to concentrate properly upon a couple of sentences.

The initial set-up: Bernicians to the south (bottom), Scots' Confederation to the north of the stream.

Initial position with different angle, to include the last Scots' spearmen and some Bernician archers.

The battle was mainly fought out on the Bernician right, as the rest of the Scots didn't manage to close before being defeated (the Bernician archery being given a stiff ignoring by the Scottish warriors to the left of the photo).  The Scots managed to break the right-hand base of the Bernicians (you can just make out the red flag of the the Bernician warriors in the stream), but the defeat of the two Spearmen elements opposite the Bernicians with the yellow flag in the centre will end the game.

Interestingly, it played out a lot more quickly than Neil Thomas' One Hour Wargames, probably because of the attritional combat system he uses, whereas in DBA all the results are essentially either retreats or destruction.  I liked the simple 'command pips' system, I thought it gives interesting choices (especially as both sides were rolling very low scores!) but I'm familiar with the idea from Horse, Foot and Guns and in slightly different form, the Polemos system (pips plus bidding).

My initial reaction is that DBA is the (slightly) better game by having more period richness, but I need to play more of both games to be sure.  The design idea is different anyway, with OHW being firmly aimed at beginners, who will appreciate the more conversational writing style, the wide variety of periods covered, the extra simplicity and all the scenarios.  More experienced wargamers might prefer the extra substance and detail in DBA,


  1. I vacillate between liking and indifference to DBA. I do like the elegance of V1 - I do not think there is a better thought out and tightly integrated system than V1 of DBA. Over the years I have learnt to appreciate the design decisions that lie behind the game and tend to lean towards the liking more and more. The jury is out on the one hour wargames rules for me. I love the scenarios that came with the book, and my first thought was to actually write some completely different simple rules for 4-6 units. I do need to play some games with the actual rules it in book, just in case they are better than what I have in mind!

  2. I enjoyed both in different ways although I do wonder about the replay value of the rules in One Hour Wargames. Obviously not a worry until I've played more games, and as you say, the collection of simple scenarios is really good, but it just seems a little more crackable. I am looking forward to getting some more games of both in, trying out some different periods and armies in DBA.