Saturday, 17 September 2011

DBAction at last

Thursday night saw our local DBA evening. It didn't go as smoothly as it could have done, but fun none the less.

Firstly, and most importantly in a way, I succeeded in taking my copy of DBA v1 with me, rather than the v2.2 I'd printed out and left behind on the coffee table. Our host for the evening hadn't printed a copy and when he went to do so found his PC in one of those Microsoft "loading 16 updates" things that locked it up. No worries as our third player then turned up but he'd left his copy on his desk at work.

Next, I set up a terrain board in accordance with a straight reading of the DBA v1 rules. Apparently when they say put a terrain piece in each quarter they mean in the corners where it won't get in the way. So our first game (me v Ian, Normans v Saxons) degenerated into a slogging match across a medium difficulty river.

Normans at the bottom, Saxons at the top. Obviously.
You can just make out my new 2'x2' DBA board under the terrain pieces. It's two bits of wardrobe back, joined by gaffer tape to make a folding game board (like Monopoly). You can also see my two newly made DBA hills and my usual rivers & roads sections.

This game descended into a stand off along the river line, but I managed to kill a couple of elements as Ian tried to force his way over the bridge. I then turned his left flank with some knights under William the Bastard and seized his camp. Game over.

Phil arrived part way through this game (and made the observation about overloaded terrain boards). He also brought along his Sub Roman Arthurian, and some deserty-type armies (Auxumites? Pre-Moslem Arabs??? I get lost in all the DBx army minutiae). He also brought a terrain board, but no rules. So we sent Ian off to check if he could at last print out (yes!), made some tea & coffee and had some early birthday cake for me.

I next took on Chris with those desert things. I got the army with lots of camels, not the one with warband and an elephant. Ian was now fighting the Arthurians, again with the Saxons.

Me in the foreground. Chris in darkness
I quickly demonstrated that I had no idea how to use this army. My only success was, again, sacking the camp with my General and light horse. Alas having done this thanks to a stunning 1 on the PiP dice two goes in a row Chris was able to pin me in place which meant commanding the rest of the army and harrying Chris' rear became difficult. Chris succeeded in doing a very professional number on my centre. They'll be eating camel meat for months.

In the other game Ian won really quickly through the superior tactics of rolling 6's when your opponent rolls 1's repeatedly. So they reset that game and Phil got his revenge.

Ian's left flank about to be turned
So in the end everyone won a game, and only Chris didn't lose. It's a pleasant way to pass the evening and we'll probably do it again. After all I put together DBA armies from all of my other 15mm ancient collections and never got to use them.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

DBArmy choice

There is a Peter Cook and Dudley Moore sketch in which Peter Cook plays a wealthy man who wants to learn to play the piano for his wife’s birthday. The joke is that he wants to play the most complicated piece imaginable (a Beethoven piano sonata, I think) and that he wants to be able to do it the following day. He is unable to understand why this isn’t possible.

My wargaming armies are a bit like this. I chose armies because they interest me, not because they are easy to handle or are winners. And I normally want to use them the next day (or rather as soon as they’re painted). They don’t tend to be that exotic (well, mostly) as I find what I want to game with through general reading not through trawling army lists looking for something sexy.

So when looking at beginner’s guides to DBA I have a problem. Everyone assumes you are yet to pick an army and so recommend you chose one of a range of simple ones to be getting on with. Me, I want to play Beethoven. Besides, I’ve got my Anglo-Danish Saxon “loser” army already painted up and sitting in the box, alongside my “in with a chance but awkward to handle” Normans. I’m not going to go out and buy a Sea Peoples army just out of the blue. (Although to be perfectly fair this article is a really good summary of the different reasons for choosing an army, and most of mine are in there). 

Of course I can always put together DBA armies from my existing armies, so it isn't like I haven't got troops to experiment with.

Harold & His Huscarls, about to put his "Fyrd" into it.

William the Bastard & his Papal Banner.

Monday, 12 September 2011

DBAven’t got a clue

I don’t think I’d ever claim to be a tactical genius. I win some of my games, lose some of them and umpire the majority. I struggle with the difference between historical or game driven tactics. I also have a view that tactical finesse on the battlefield, historically, is more apparent by its absence than its ubiquity.

Particularly in the pre-modern era, where controlling large bodies of troops over any form of distance is quite hard, my view is that Generals try to get as much stuff in one place as possible and then throw it at their enemies mostly all at once.

I’m quite good at that type of tactics. It basically is quite simple, but the great Generals normally have one extra Great Idea that will make the difference in the battle. This might be:

  • Attacking a weak point in the line (Alexander)
  • Offset deployment (That Theban bloke)
  • Tempting your opponent into a pocket (Hannibal)
  • Sit back and wait for the key moment to throw in reserves. If you’ve got any (various).

I can normally count on having about one good idea an evening. If I’m lucky I’ll have it early on.

Once you get on the table top this sort of approach can pay dividends. Phil Barker is keen to stress that historical tactics win battles under the rules he has written. I found when I was younger that deploying heavily offset was quite disconcerting to an opponent and I used it as a tactic almost to death.

The other type of tactics is that which derives from the way that rules work and require you to understand the rules rather than the historical prototype warfare which they are attempting to model. If the designer has got this completely right then the two are the same. If not then it becomes a case of exploiting the rules, or at least understanding them really thoroughly. At which point I sort of start to unravel a bit as I’ve never really cared enough about any set of rules to study them that much (except perhaps the original AK47 Republic and that’s because they were so all over the place but I loved them any way as there was a really good game hidden away in there).

This musing is brought about by my attempt to refresh my DBA knowledge after many years of not even knowing where my, now out of date, rule book was. The on-line information is excellent with explanations of how it all works and so on. It is amusing that the guides on how to play run to over 70 pages for a set of rules that covers barely 2 sides of A4 even allowing for Barker-ese.

(Although in fairness the rules for chess cover one side of A4 probably, and the literature is enormous)

So…Blades are best unless they’re in bad going fighting troops that aren’t blades unless they’re on horses (that’s the opponent not the blades) or something like that. And being caught in the flank is bad. And being uphill is good if you’re anyone except artillery. But most of all, roll lots of sixes.

I can do that.

Sunday, 11 September 2011


DBA has to be the most popular set of rules ever. The armies are easy to assemble and you can play two or three games in an evening to a clear result.

I have to confess that actually I've probably only ever played 2 or 3 games of DBA in my life, which I guess might make me a bit of a wargaming oddity. I have two DBA armies - Normans & "Anglo-Danish" - which I assembled after a trip to Hastings. I think that honestly speaking they've done more service in a matrix game of Dorylaeum than they ever did as DBA armies.

Anyhow my friend Phil has been waxing lyrical about his beautiful new DBA army (well, it does look nice, - take a look at it here: Phil's Brilliant DBA Arthurian Army) so I thought it might be nice to become more closely acquainted with the game. Especially as you can download v2.2 from the Barkers' website for free (sans Army Lists, admittedly, but you can get enough data from the Fanaticus website to put armies together). So this Thursday we're going to have a DBA evening.

The v2+ of the rules has a few changes compared to the v1 copy I've got and have previously played so I'll need to read up on them at some point this week and sort out the terrain rules as well.

I note that I'll need a camp and that they have to be a certain size and so on (smaller than an 80mm x 80mm total area for 15mm but big enough to hold an element. I've knocked up a pait of basic camps stuck on old credit cards which are approximately 9cm x 5cm so I hope they'll do. I think the photo more than does justice to them, and I feel that if I used if at a competition I'd be roundly mocked. My aim is to be able to use them for Normans, Saxons, Romans, Parthians, Ancient Germans, Yorkists & Lancastrians so simplicity is the answer. I've not put any camp followers in as the only spare figures I've got lying around are some WW2 British XIVth Army and some dervishes.
DBA camp. Stockade from matchsticks, campfire is a Peter Pig PITS marker

I've never understood Phil Barker's obsession with camps. I know from many ancient battle accounts that both sides often have a camp close by, and they form a place to rally in the event of a disaster and the sacking of them is an event of note but how significant should they be?

In DBA loss of your camp counts as 2 elements lost in a game where if you lose 4 it's game over. This has always seemed to me to be a bit off. After all, if you've completely stuffed your opponent's field army do you really mind that much if a few light horse got in amongst your baggage? I've never been good at covering things like camps, - my view has always been that the aim of a field army is to destroy the opponent's field army. Once you've done that you control the field and you can pretty much do what you want.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Loose Ends & New Beginnings

Whilst I wait for the arrival of my new, surprise, army (which I suspect Mrs T may have intercepted and be holding back as a birthday present) I’ve been working of some loose ends from some older armies. Currently I’m painting up three Peter Pig tchankas. I love the look of these on the table top, but honestly I hate painting them. They don’t fit well into my painting system as they have too many nooks and crannies. I can’t work out the best way to do them, so I’ve got them stuck to sticks at the moment and I’m just trying to do the best I can with them.

After them I’ve got a few 25pdrs and jeep tows to go with my XIVth Army, and there’s always my 16th century Irish (which I named checked this time last year as needing completion) and also some Crusaders and Turks that I won at an SoA games day a few years ago. Those last two are 28mm, so they really don’t fit with my current painting system.

I’ve been filling the painting gap in other ways. I know I should be typing up some rules or working up some new scenarios but I’m a little bit unfocussed on this point at the moment. I’m looking at co-ordinating the SoA’s incentive game for 2012 but despite getting an early go ahead the project has stalled for a couple of reasons. So I’ve been making some extra roads instead and may also do some extra river/stream sections. My original sets were made from hardboard retrieved from broken up furniture and these still serve very well. They have a slight tendency to warp so my new bits are being made from plywood. This in turn gives them a slightly different colour as the plywood is quite bit lighter, but I think they’ll be okay to use together.

For figure painting I’m thinking I’ll use a different method for the new army. I normally undercoat in black as it is more forgiving as a background colour if you miss a bit when painting. The main problem with this is that it does make colours a bit dull, especially when I then varnish with the Ronseal woodstain. I’ve been wondering about moving to a grey undercoat, using vehicle paint primer in a spray can as a compromise. I used to use it years ago when I got several cans cheap in a sale, and I’ve also done the same with white. On the other hand I saw on another site (Madaxeman, I think) the idea of undercoating in black, then drybrushing in white before painting. This might be the best compromise if I water the paint down enough, - otherwise using my normal thickness I’ll end up with even more shapeless blobs than usual.

My other new beginning is a new Peter Pig army. I was recently given a PP gift voucher to the tune of £100, - pretty much as soon as I placed my recent order for the mystery army. What to spend it on? A few ideas spring to mind:

Extra SCW units (which could be):
•    Carlists,
•    Civil Guard
•    Cavalry
•    Italians

ECW Additions (for example)
•    Montrose Army
•    NMA Regiments

Africa (oh, yes, have loads of this already)
•    Humvees & US Marines

•    Early War Brits

Problems with these ideas? Firstly as Mr Pig is currently remoulding stuff in the SCW range now is a bad time to buy. Plus most of these boost my Nationalist forces and both sides are pretty much balanced at the moment, so I’d need to buy some more Republicans.

As for the ECW, - I sort of despise the adulation for Montrose and his hairy highland super troops. On the other hand I have several packets of highland command that I bought by mistake. The NMA gives me the same problem as I have with the SCW, - it boosts one side when I don’t need to.

Africa, - well AK47 Republic was one of my favourite rule sets and I badgered Martin to make Humvees so I sort of owe it to him to buy them, although we rarely if ever play the game these days.

So, early war Brits for PBI then…except the packs aren’t that numerous so a lot of repeated poses. And that’s only half the cash. Hmm.

Of course, I can put this off until I’ve finished my next project, so that’ll be in the New Year, probably. So perhaps I’ll have developed a new obsession by then.

What a problem to have!