Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life, featuring small skirmishes and big battles from many historical periods (and some in the mythic past or the far future too). The focus is on battle reports using a wide variety of rules, with the occasional rules review, book review and odd musing about the gaming and history. Most of the battles use 6mm-sized figures and vehicles, but occasionally 15mm and 28mm figures appear too.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

DBA: Gallic War Battle 2

After the first Roman-Gaul clash (detailed here) using Polemos: SPQR, I went for a similar set-up using DBA, on a slightly smaller board.  The aim of this was to see how I felt about using DBA for the forthcoming campaign battles, instead of Polemos: SPQR.

The Forces:

5 bases of Blades (Legionaries)
2 bases of Psiloi (Skirmishers)
1 base of Cavalry

5 bases of Warband (Warriors)
1 base of Psiloi (Skirmishers)
3 bases of Cavalry

These forces seem a bit on the small side, even for DBA.  I honestly can't remember why exactly I chose these strengths...

The Set-Up:

As in the Polemos: SPQR version of the battle, the Helvetii defend a hill and a small settlement from the advancing legionaries

Romans approach from the bottom, the Gallic contingents are on the hill (right), around the enclosures (centre) and on the plain (top-left)

The main might of the legions is deployed opposite the settlement

A closer view of the Helvetii defending the farmland, plus the Horse along the road
The Battle:

The Roman left (centre) advances towards the settlement, whilst the Gallic cavalry advances to attack them in turn (top-left); on the Roman Right, the Gallic warriors advance down the hill to attack (right)

The Helvetii advancing from the hill make contact first, although the odds do not look that great...

Meanwhile, the Roman attack on the enclosures begins.

On the Roman Right, the legionaries start to gain the upper hand, as one element of Gallic warriors is eliminated and the remaining element is being outflanked (centre)

The attack on the enclosures is also going well, as the Roman legionaries push through the boundaries (centre)

Judging this as the right moment, the Helvetic leader launches his horsemen into the attack on the Roman left

Another element of Gallic warriors goes down on the Roman Right to the might of the legionaries!  Only the strangely static element in the lee of the hill remains here (top-right)

The Romans continue to make steady progress around the enclosures

The legionaries appear to have withheld the cavalry attack succesfully (centre) but the the Gauls have pushed back their opponents on the Roman flank (bottom-left)

More success for the Romans around the settlement, although the Roman light troops can make little progress against the main bodies of Gallic warrior (centre-right)

The fight on the Roman left continues to develop, almost swinging through ninety degrees

The last Gallic foot on the Roman Right is trapped and attacked, whilst more Romans occupy the high ground

...and the inevitable happens

The Gallic cavalry continue to press home their advantage against their Roman counterparts

The remaining Gauls in the enclosures are not going anywhere!

The Roman light troops make a hasty withdrawal to safety.

But the hole in the Helvetic line is large

The Gallic warriors attack the legionaries up the hill, hoping to leverage their superior numbers

Meanwhile, the Gallic cavalry has eliminated its Roman opponents and has thus turned the Roman left flank

The general position; the Romans are entirely victorious on their Right and in the Left-Centre; but the Heveltii are around the Roman Left flank

Moving round the flank, the battle then moves to the Roman centre rear

Another cavalry clash ensues

The melee in the Roman rear gets larger and more involved; some Legionaries return to try and help (left)

The remaining Gauls are surrounded...

...and eliminated

Position at the end of the battle - only in the centre do the Helvetii retain some formed troops
Game Notes: Fun enough and simple enough - DBA always produces a fairly good game.  DBA veterans will realize I had switched off the automatic victory conditions for this one as  I wanted to reach a more natural conclusion, although appreciating that the army break point is a good if simplistic way of simulating army morale effects, as compared to the more involved and complicated Polemos: SPQR method.  Whilst playing it I felt that the events of the battle, although within the bounds of plausibility, felt less likely than the way the SPQR game did.  Now that I have written it up - I am not sure that is true.  I'd be interested in any comments from blog readers on this point.
The limitations of DBA were also present.  Commanding the different armies just doesn't feel that different.  There is the logic of troop types - since "Blades" (i.e. Roman Legionaries) have different factors to "Warbands" (i.e. Gallic Warriors) or whatever, the ruleset encourages systematically different decisions, but it doesn't have quite the same feel as Polemos: SPQR, which encourages a more direct feeling of difference.  I'd note that the logic of troop types is a bit less strong in DBA than it is in Neil Thomas' rules for example, which increases the "flavour" of the latter, although my brain is telling me that that is because Neil Thomas' rules exaggerate differences in effectiveness and Phil Barker's numbers produce a more realistic outcome.  It is also a lot smoother and quicker to play than Polemos: SPQR.

A note on the terrain: I have found that my home-made mat doesn't do relief as well on 3'x2' or smaller battlefields, so I went back to an older set-up with standalone hills for this battle.  I don't think it looks quite as good, but is "okay".

Figures and buildings by Baccus 6mm.


  1. That looked a nicely played out game, the scale and basing made it look less sparse than I think concerned you and also, I find that a table with terrain on top helps much more with the photography and story telling as hills are so much better defined for the camera.

    I take it that DBA ‘felt less than’ Polemos, to the point that you have already chosen your campaign set :-)

    1. Thanks very much Norm. That is a very interesting point about the stand-alone hills helping with the story-telling, I hadn't considered that at all. I do like the continuous visual effect of the single mat, but it is harder to make clear, both for myself and for readers, where slopes begin and end.
      I thought I had decided upon Polemos: SPQR but I find myself wavering again. The fundamental simplicity, speed and neatness of DBA never fails to appeal to me!

  2. I feel the same way about Armati II as you do about Polemos. I find the difference in the armies is highlighted by the differences in command and control and then secondarily the units. I find it hard to play DBA as the focus is on the difference in units that then drives the difference in command and control.

    1. Yes, absolutely, it is a (the?) key difference.

      In DBA, this creates the situation in which similarly composed armies should be played and commanded the same way, which creates some interesting effects: there is a good deal of similarity between a Marian Roman army and a later Viking army, for example.

  3. If playing Romans v Warband type armies, you could add a bit of Armati Command and control type differences by giving the Romans +1 Pip and the Warbands -1 or something like that.


    1. Thanks very much Simon. You are right, in that there are some simple things that one could add to make a more nuanced PIP score in DBx; but I will say that these things are more hardwired into Polemos: SPQR. To some extent, manipulating Tempo points *is* the game.

  4. Another good looking game. I tried to like BDA but aside from trying to understand the convoluted text, felt the games all felt the same, despite varied armies played. Perfect for quick games but not much more I'm afraid. I think the Polemos rules appear to give a better game.

    1. I think DBA has four great virtues: it is a tight, well-constructed ruleset; it gives a 'good' game over a wide variety of periods so it can be used when starting new periods or for occasional battles (and in some cases, where there is no specific ruleset available); it is designed for small armies and short time periods and in the past especially, rules were often short on this kind of playability; and once you get the hang of them, they can be internalized almost as well as chess. But these things that make them generically 'good' make it impossible for them to be specifically 'brilliant'.