After a long hard struggle Paul Hodson, member or the Amsterdam6shooters, was crowned champion of the Unofficial Dutch DBA International Outdoor Wargaming Tournament in Amsterdam. He won with two Roman armies against three Caledonian commands.
The Dutch Unofficial DBA Outdoor Open is a wargame tournament that takes place every year when the 18th of June falls on a Saturday, for a select group of international elite players, in the garden of Eden backyard of one of our super rich sponsors who was on his yacht in Monaco this weekend.
We played one game which was also the final. We had a player from Portugal who was born in Angola (Henrique), a Dutch player (me) who has spent holidays in the USA and Japan, and Paul; born in the British Empire and now a soon-to-be-retired employee of the European Commission. So the whole world was present.
The all-important final was a replay of the Mons Graupius Battle, 83 AD. Again, civilization won and barbarians were chased back “deep down to Caledonia back to Aberdeen/ Way back up in the woods among the evergreens/ There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood/ Where lived a country boy named Calgalus B. Goode/ Who never ever learned to read or write so well/ But he could play bagpipes just like a-ringin’ a bell“
Roman soldiers cheered to their triumphant general.
Paul and this game will get ‘Legendary’ status from the International Association of Amateur Outdoor Wargame Players and get an automatic invitation for the second edition, in the backyard of a certain Calgalus near Aberdeen. Better be good, then!
These are a great introduction to Ancients wargaming, especially if you want a fun game with not too many figures, They also offer a lot to the more experienced Ancients player: the mechanics are solid and you can increase army size for some truly satisfying big battles.
Last week Harry, Dan and I played a game of Wars of the Republic by Eric Farrington, published by Osprey in their ‘blue’ series. Harry had picked them up after reading an encouraging review in Wargames Illustrated, along with his first instalment of 28mm figures for a Republican Roman Legion. While waiting for his 21st century miniatures to be painted, we used my 25mm Minifigs Romans from the 1970s. The rules are basing agnostic as all the factors, including losses, are dealt with at the unit level. The author describes using ten-figure units on individual bases but the photos throughout the rulebook are of some lovely Aventine Miniatures, mostly based in two ranks of four. My ancients are on 60mm wide bases, so we used two of these bases per unit, giving 8, 12 or 16 infantry and 6 or 8 cavalry figures depending on type. The only requirement is to be able to show when certain units are out of their optimal fighting formation, which we did by putting the bases out of kilter. The mechanics are mostly tried and tested, with shooting and combat resolved by throwing a number of dice, succeeding on 4s and above. Declining fighting power is represented by loss of Courage points. Morale is handled through discipline tests which, if failed, can cause a unit to waver, which worsens its fighting power and puts it out of formation, – particularly bad news for legionaries and phalangites. The stand-out feature of the rules for me is Commander’s Gaze, a pool of points that can be spent each turn to perform special actions, which include the adoption of optimal formations (e.g. legion and phalanx) and, perhaps controversially, the throwing of pila.
How the game went
For our first game, Harry gave us the battle of the Bagrades River from the first Punic War. Dan took the Romans while I had the Carthaginians, under the Spartan Xanthippus. Dan had a river at his back but the terrain was otherwise featureless, save a bit of undulating ground. Both armies conformed to the army list in the rulebook, which gave quite small armies: Dan had 8 units and I had 7. I’ll come back to army size later. Dan put his Cavalry on his left and his main infantry in a single line with velites in front. I had Punic cavalry on the right, Numidians on the left, elephants in the centre and the main infantry behind the elephants. The game moved smoothly and the result was certainly emphatic. After an initial, inconclusive clash between our main cavalry on one flank and some mostly ineffective javelin throwing by my Numidians on the other, attention focussed on the centre, where my elephants clashed with Dan’s velites, drawing both of our infantry lines into the fight thanks to the support rules. As this was a learning exercise, we rewound the action a couple of times, once we realised how the rules impact on play. For example, we learned that it isn’t sensible to support light infantry with heavy, since the heavies only contribute 2 dice to the outcome and are at risk of immediate destruction: when the elephants destroyed the velites facing them, this would have also removed the supporting hastati. We agreed to rerun the combat without the support of the hastati, – and to remember that it is far preferable to support heavies with lights! Our game ended with a Carthaginian victory, thanks above all to the elephants, who punched their way through the Roman centre with barely a scratch.
First impressions: a lot of positives…
There is a lot to like about Wars of the Republic. I especially enjoy the Commander’s Gaze system, which gives the players interesting choices and keeps both involved throughout the turn. The factors used to describe each troop type work together well and allow the game to reflect a broad range of troop types. The combat mechanism feels right for an ancient battle. A front line heavy infantry body is more likely to crumble under pressure than to break suddenly, so frontal clashes are liable to drag on unless/until one side’s flanks or rear are threatened. Then, once things start to go wrong, collapse can spread quite rapidly. All good stuff and great fun.
…and a few reservations. Can we fix it?
The rules could be better laid out but that comes as standard with Osprey rules. For the price tag, I’ll accept that. But I do have two main issues. First, the army lists. I have seen a few criticisms of these rules in hobby chatrooms and media for using too few figures. The author wants players to be able to fight ancient battles without having to collect masses of figures. I absolutely get the appeal of recreating biggish battles with small armies, both to those with less space and to attract people over from skirmish games like ‘Infamy! Infamy!’ or ‘SPQR’. It is certainly possible to have a fun game with 7 or 8 units in an army. However, it strikes me that a consequence of keeping army size small is that some support troop types take on disproportionate significance. For example, my one unit of slingers had a far bigger effect on the game than they would have had in history. Look at the armies in the the scenarios offered in the rulebook: they are far too small to give a convincing impression of history! My second reservation with the rules as written is with some of the unit statistics. Some units are over-, and some under-powered. Had we not made an in-game adjustment of the armour of Roman Equites, they would have been wiped out by the first hail of slingshots from my Balearic islanders. Also, I love my elephants but even I felt guilty that they were basically unstoppable, with no downsides to their use.
Yes we can!
Both the cramped army lists and occasional wonky unit stats can easily be fixed to satisfy self-important Ancients players like me. If unit minima and maxima in the army lists were adapted and recommended army sizes were increased, support troops could become a smaller proportion of the total and the emphasis would focus more properly on the troop types that really influenced the outcome of a battle. And unit stats can be fine-tuned by changing a factor here and there, without in any way breaking the game’s basic mechanics. Why bother when so many other Ancient rules sets are available? Because these rules work very well as a game and are fun to play. In conclusion, I think they could become an ideal entry point into Ancients gaming.
At our very, very first club meeting in March 2014 I organized a big 15mm Romans vs Barbarians battle. Here’s Brabo visitor Koen on a shady picture. How young he looked, compared with those ancient Romans!
As always, I wanted a bigger army so I bought more. Other projects prevailed but last month I finally cleaned a Roman shelf and painted my legionaries. I also played a Roman battle, more to come. Here’s the thin red line.
No Roman army is complete without a testudo. I found a 15mm testudo from Warrior Miniatures (link). Online examples of painted models looked fine.
And re-enactor pictures are inspiring.
Here’s my own painted testudo
Eight units equites cavalry will finish the job.
The grand strategy is to playtest several wargame rules (Age of Hannibal, AdlG, M&G, Hail Caesar, good old big battle DBA), compare and select ’the best’, and get really proficient in it so that I can easily referee and run big battle multiplayer games. Below a recent Age of Hannibal game against Maarten.
Wanna join? I need opponents, big bloody barbarians or rough red Romans. Ave Caesar! Morituri te salutant.
Yesterday Maarten, Paul, Huub, new players Carlos& Ruben and me played a game of Mortem & Gloriam. We replayed Chareoneia, 338 BC, an antique battle between Filippus and his son the young Alexander the Great vs Allied Greek city states.
Paul introduced the game to us and was an excellent host, with Huub as his steward. I think that we’re the first gamers in Holland who have played this game. Haven’t seen battle reports from fellow Dutch wargamers so far. So this was a first.
The game was introduced in 2016. Recently writer Simon Hall struck a deal with the Plastic Soldier Company and a polished 2nd edition was published this year. As a ruleset it’s slowly gaining ground. The combination with PSC Ultracast 15mm cheap plastic miniatures from excellent Xyston and Corvus Belli white metal molds might make Ancients cheap and fashionable again.
I like ancients and play mostly De Bellis Antiquitatis so I’m interested in the more advanced variants. I have ambitious plans to compare M&G, DBA, FoG and AdlG some time. So I will probably write a full review. Not now. A first tryout is not enough for a serious review. I will share my first impressions.
The battle we played: Chareoneia
In our club archives we found a 2300 year old documentary, made by the great Macedonian kínematoon Quentintarantinotos, about this great battle. He enscribed stone tablets with pictures of the battle, 24 per minute, and by moving them quickly near a candle we were able to watch an incredible théatron. Check the live pictures!
Meeples & Miniatures reviewed the game. Writer Simon Hall was previously a co-author of the Field of Glory rules, which were published by Osprey Publishing. I regard Field of Glory as a descendant of Phil Barkers DBA. Hall writes in his preface that he is standing ‘on the shoulders of giants’, that he played every version of DBA and DBMM and he thanks Phil Barker. Of course – what would he Ancients hobby be without him?
Hall wants to bring to hobby to new generations – modernize it. In my opinion, M&G is a nicer, more modern version of DBx.
For those who don’t know DBA: DBA is an ancients wargame with 12 units per side. All units have a standard simple movement rate, measured in basewidths, and combat modifier. Units are (often) strong vs unit A (horse vs skirmish troops) but weak vs unit B, C or D (horse vs pike): very rock, paper, scissors. Combat is simple, a D6 + modifier + side or back supporting unit. A player moves 1-6 ‘groups’ each turn, depending on a dice roll. Games can be played in one hour on a small table and the game is very well suited for a competion or a tournament. Athough out of fashion I consider it a superior game, a kind of wargame chess, simple rules, fast, but subtle and complex.
Because players wanted larger, longer and more complex battles Barker designed DBM and DBMM as more ‘advanced’ variants. These games lost followers and fail to attract new gamers. In the past 15 years, Bodley-Scott, Hall and others developed FoG and French designer Caille wrote Art de la Guerre.
I regard all these new rules as Next Generation DBA. Old giant Barker and his wife Sue, both in their eighties, will not reach teenagers or twentysomethings with their rules. The twentyfirst century wargamer wants a hardcover bling-bling book and a phone app. Barker’s English is formal, not casual like many modern rule designers.
The basic Dbx system, a combat results table, a limited number of groups that can be moved per turn and a modifier for side/back support is still the core of the M&G-system. However Hall made some important changes:
he designed a pre-battle-game (that we didn’t use in our introductory game)
instead of a combat results table with higher/ lower modifiers, M&G has a system with coloured dice. Black dice are the worst and have many blank sides. Red dice are the best and have many instant kills. In combat, the unit with an advantage will use higher graded dice than the opponent.
instead of a fixed number of groups that a player can move, decided by a dice roll, a player draws command cards and can discard them, like poker. If he has bad cards he can only order a few or simple movements or less groups.
How we played the game
The game was phalanx like phalanx games should be. With a large phalanx. The Macedonians allowed themselves to be overlapped so their flanks were vulnerable. The Allied Greeks (my Allied Greeks) fought courageously. However, when we stopped (after 5 hours) the game was still a draw, but it was close and if we had played another 30 minutes one of the phalanxes had collapsed.
What I thought of this game
I liked it. Still I love the simplicity of DBA. Big Battle DBA (36 units, 3 players per side) will often meet my needs.
Rulebook looks good. Glamrock, the ancient way.
The coloured dice and cards might be ‘better’ than DBA. No need to check tables.
Instead, however, we often needed to check movement tables. Can my drilled pikes with these green cards wheel twice or just once?
Instead of a DBA combat modifier and quick calculations based on a combat results table we calculated the ‘better’ or the ‘worse’-graded dice. Not less simple or less complex than Barkers DBx-system, only different and more tangible.
The result was ‘historical’ and ‘believable’. I regard battles between a phalanx of riot police and hooligans as modern variants of these old Greek phalanx battles. Storm the line until one of the groups is exhausted.
The scenario was probably too slow and the rules too complex for Ancient-starters Carlos and Ruben. If you introduce new players, give them the quick and the dead, not the slow and the persistent.