Following our game of Jugula (see last post) Ian and I decided to try a first play of the newly released De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA) version 3.0 by Phil Barker and Sue Laflin-Barker (WRG, 2014). I have a strong affection for DBA because they were the rules that got me back into ancient wargaming after many years away. I first played ancients using the WRG 2nd edition rules but I found as subsequent versions came out my enthusiasm declined. I did not even buy my own copy of 6th edition and the 7th edition finally finished me off. In the early 1990’s I joined the Scimitar club in Coventry and they were heavily into playing the recently released DBAv1.0 rules and they drew me into the games. The club was unusual (?) because they used 28mm figures (rather than 15mm) on a 4’x4’ board, and their modelling skills were excellent, turning each base into a beautiful vignette. I regularly played DBA for a couple of years before moving up to playing DBM with 15mm armies. I found that I lost touch with DBA and the regular release (official or otherwise) of updated versions was confusing and annoying. Some rules authors seem to have a need to constantly ‘tinker’ with their work and this is maybe driven by pressure from critics and ‘experts’ in the historical field. Anyway, in the end I was never sure if I was playing the latest version and I was frequently pulled up because I was using rules remembered from previous versions. Incidentally, this ‘version-creep’ syndrome also eventually drove me from playing DBM, so I plead with the Barkers not to give in to pressure this time. Stick to version 3.0! Don’t tinker or update! Have confidence in the rules and the play testing they have been put through. If some players have modifications in mind then they should remain as ‘house’ rules only.
Enough ranting! When DBAv3 was published I immediately bought a copy and wanted to revive my 6 Dark Age 15mm DBA armies based on the 1066AD period (English, Welsh, Scots, Irish, Viking and Norman). The new lists did have some changes which I could address by reassigning some elements and painting/basing some additional figures. I have not changed the number of figures per base, so for example my Scots 3Pk elements have 4 figures, and many of my Wb and Bd elements have the wrong number of figures. To make the ‘Fast’ foot elements clearly distinguishable from other ‘Solid’ foot elements, I have painted the rear corners of all ‘Fast’ elements in all my armies. This has taken a few weeks to do, but I now have all 6 armies again, with all options available. Ian and I diced to randomly determine the armies we would use (Ian was Welsh and I took the Anglo-Danish).
Figure 1: Welsh Army: 10 elements of Wb (Fast) and 2 elements of Ps.
Ian diced again and was determined to be the aggressor, so I sent up the terrain, which was ‘Arable’ in nature. The set up and deployment rules were clear and caused no problems. We then started to play the game. It now became clear that rules had changed considerably since either of us had last played DBA and a simple scan reading of the new version was not truly sufficient to allow a satisfactory game to develop. I will not attempt to go through an itemised account of the changes because it is so long ago since I last played, but the use of base widths as the unit of distance was new (making my nice set of brass measuring sticks redundant), and the importance of flanking support elements (rather than just rear support) was very different. Neither of us had enough knowledge of the rules to attempt any complex tactics, so we basically both went for a simple head-to-head clash. We found that we did frequently need to refer to the rule book. For example, when I destroyed an element of Wb that had a rear support Wb, both of us initially thought the rear support element would also be destroyed. After checking the rules neither of us could find any rule that supported this view, and we were not sure whether this was confusion resulting from previous DBA versions, or whether it was due to a vaguely, half-remembered DBM rule. We did play the game to a conclusion after roughly 45 minutes and the result was a narrow Welsh win (but if rear support elements should have been lost, then the Anglo-Danish would have won).
Figure 2: Anglo-Danish Army: 4 elements of Hd, 4 elements of Sp, 3 elements of Bd and 1 element of Ps.To finish, we both felt that the rules were well worth persisting with; we definitely needed to study them in more depth before the next game; the ‘Barkerese’ style of writing was still a major hindrance to achieving a clear understanding of the rules; the new hardback publication was good; and the lists were worth studying in greater detail for the armies we both could field. In conclusion, DBAv3 has a thumbs-up from both of us (for now) and has inspired us to play further games with other armies. When this will be I’m not sure, because our next game (in 2015) is going to be American Civil War using Longstreet rules.