Category Archives: Ancient

BBDBA Comparisons

Last night we managed another Big Battle DBA game. As I mentioned previously I was particularly interested as it came just two days after a 300 point game of DBMM creating an opportunity to compare the two rule sets. In addition, as we used similar armies, both based on Hellenic Successor states, comparing the two games was even easier.

As to the specific armies, for this latest encounter I deployed a Lysimachid Successor army while my opponent deployed Graeco-Indians. Both armies of course had a core of phalangites and similar mix of supporting troops to our MM game. That said there were some differences as the DBMM lists allow more army composition while DBA armies are generally more restrictive.


For BBDBA we used a table that was 1.2m wide by 0.6m in depth, which was of a similar width, though narrower, to that we used for DBMM. The most obvious difference was the deployment width of our troops. My phalanx for example while being only five stands wide in MM, though four deep, was now nine stands wide but only two deep. It’s worth noting that the figure scale had changed. While DBMM has a nominal troop scale of 250 men per stand DBA suggests a scale of around 500-600 men per stand. As a result my pike phalanx alone had grown from 5000 men to around 10,000 men. Now to the battle…

The Lysimachus was determined to be the invader, and invading Bactria. We used a slightly modified deployment system with the players recording the relationship of commands to each other after camps were placed but before any troops were placed. The armies deployed symmetrically with heavy foot in the centre and cavalry on each wing, but the Bactrians maintained an advantage in cavalry and elephants, the Lysimachid in heavy foot.

The battle started with the Bactrians, not surprisingly, sweeping forward against the Lysimachid right flank with their Iranian lancers destroying all before them. However, before they could exploit the success the centre and other wings were engaged.

On the Lysimachid left the advancing Thracians and Greek hoplites overcome the Bactrian foot and mounted breaking the Bactrian right flank. A factor here was the smaller Bactrian wing and the higher PIP allocation to the Lysimachid left flank.

Meanwhile the clash continued in the centre. Here, Graeco-Bactrian elephants caused much disorder to friends and foe alike while phalangites pressed forward, each army ebbing and flowing. It was in the centre that the second Graeco-Bactrian general fell, a casualty to the Lysimachid silver shields who surged forward. Yet it was too much, while both armies were nearing exhaustion the Lysimachid centre finally buckled. With it the Lysimachid army broke.

So how did the two games compare. DBMM, without doubt has much greater detail, but this detail comes at a cost of increased complexity. I feel the same aspects are modelled adequtely in DBA. Let’s consider some examples. The Graeco-Bactrian thureophoroi were still superior in combat to the Thracian auxilia and the Bactrian horse still outnumbered the Lysimachids with deadly results. Psiloi played an important part in front of the main phalanx. They disrupted enemy main line or attempted to counter elephants. Yet, they eventually retired through the lines as the phalangites pressed their attacks, just as in DBMM. Then there is the phalangites who swirled back and forth for some time each gaining an advantage, but nothing massive, with the possible exception of the loss of a Graeco-Bactrian general and on the flank of the Lysimachid phalanx which was eventually turned. As casualties mounted command break and demoralisation set in, just as with DBMM. As commands broke commanders struggled to find troops to exploiting success.

From my perspective it was an outstanding game. From turn one I was on the edge of my seat. Clearly out deployed, my army seemed doomed but the game evened out and soon the Graeco-Bactrian commander, who had victory in his grasp one moment was starting to consider defeat as a real possibility.

DBMM has some real strengths, certainly it has significant detail which can be ideal for players seeking this. I will occasionally play DBMM, but the rules are more complex. In contrast the larger DBA 3.0 games capture enough extra challenges and provide further visual spectacle for those players seeking that. I think BBDBA will work well in historical settings which is my main interest, but less well in a competition.

I don’t see BBDBA replacing standard DBA which remains my preferred Ancients game. However, I can see it supplementing it. Of course your requirements or preferences may be different. Either way, we are spoilt for choice.

Empire – A Macedonian & Punic War Campaign

Over the years I’ve run a number of campaigns with the intent of proving tabletop games a strategic backdrop. Some have been very successful, while others have unfortunately been far from optimal. Generally the greater the campaign detail the poorer the tabletop games. Not surprisingly large campaigns, involving a number of players, are the hardest to run.

Perhaps the most frustrating situation is one where a very successful strategic campaign can result in less than optimal table top battles due to unequal forces. For this reason the strategic elements of a campaign can be interesting with the battles resolved by a simple series of die rolls.

In 2009 the Society of Ancients published a boardgame by Phil Sabin called “Empire”. It was released again a few years later with much enhanced graphics as part of the Lost Battles board game package. The maps in this article are from the enhanced boardgame version. During the week I finally managed to play the game. With our game all battles were resolved as part of the game without placing any figures on the table.

So how does the system work? Firstly the board stretches from Spain to India and comprises 22 provinces. The games starts with the rise of Macedonia in 350BC and runs to 150 BC. Each turn, of which there are twenty, represents ten years. There are four player countries. Persia and Carthage which comprise several provinces, while Macedonia and Rome consist of only one province each. The combat mechanics are extremely simple. Each country conducts an attack per turn in random order. The exception is three great commanders who for a short period may conduct five attacks in specified turns. The first is of course Alexander, who in time is followed by Hannibal and finally Scipio Africanus. All attacks are resolved with one or two die rolls modified by a few simple modifiers.

Very briefly in our game Phillip, and then Alexander, were slow to expand Macedonia with multiple attempts to subdue Greece before embarking east in a campaign of conquest. Indeed, Alexander failed to secure Egypt and Bactria never mind advancing to India before his death. His Successors however, despite a number of revolts, did secure Bactria and Egypt over the following decades.

In the east Carthage also struggled to expand into Sicily and Southern Italy, as can be seen below at the end of turn five, around 300BC.


Revolts in Numidia slowing things further. However Rome was itself slow to grow its influence. This changed around 220BC when first Hannibal the Scipio Africanus appeared on the scene. Yet revolts continued to play their part causing delays at various times. Carthage eventually fell, but recovered and rebuilt its empire. Rome, was now torn between destroying Carthage again, or crossing into Greece to attack the Macedonian Successors who had for 150 years spent most of their military effort subduing revolts, by other Successors, or by the Persian/Parthian rump.

Above, a section of the campaign map in 150BC showing the Carthaginian Empire and the slowly expanding Roman Republic. Rome has recently secured Greece and Macedonia while the Successor States hold Thrace and Illyria. Sicily is independent, again.

From a victory point perspective the Macedonians were a clear winner, in second place was Carthage, who while smaller had grown, lost and regained their empire. Rome was clearly on the rise, but its position in 150BC, was far from where it was historically. An interesting trip through 200 years of history from the conquests of Alexander, the 1st and 2nd Punic Wars and to the Macedonian Wars. and all within two hours.

The Society of Ancients have recently released the original Empire boardgame, which has very basic graphics, unlike the deluxe version I have. Should you be interested in a copy you can find the basic game at the  Society of Ancients website.

Slingshot 296

It has been two weeks since the latest copy of the Society of Ancients journal “Slingshot” arrived in my mailbox. After a series of editors, along with a series of publication delays, the current editor and his team seem to be getting the publication back on track with one journal being published every two months. I take my hat off to these stalwarts that pour so much time into the society.

IMG_0023.JPG The latest journal has a focus on the Society’s “Battle Day”, with several reports on one battle refought with different rulesets. The Battle Day is a Society meeting held each March where players gather to refight an Ancient or Medieval battle with different rulesets supported by one or more guest speakers. On one hand I find these post battle reports fascinating, while on the other hard going as the rules discussed are not always familiar to me. The authors of course try and explain the rules, but throw in a battle I’m not familiar with and I need to concentrate to understand the dynamics of each game and how they replicate, or not the battle in question. This time the battle was Montaperti. I should be on more solid ground next year when the Battle Day will cover Hydaspes…

Battle day reports aside there were two other articles that caught my interest.

First, was that by Justin Swanton and comprised eleven pages with illustrations and solid references. In his article Mr Swanton explored the Macedonian cavalry wedge using historical textural references across five battles. He then explored the dynamics through theory and scale diagrams. An interesting article especially as I’m catching up on painting some long overdue Greeks and Macedonians at the moment.

The second was that by Richard Taylor who in this issue completed his four part series on wargaming. In this article he looked at troop classifications, units and victory in various wargames rules. We all have some views on rules, Mr Taylor provided some considered thoughts which I suspect would provide most wargamers with some points to ponder.

All up, an interesting issue.

Conquest DBA – Matched Pairs

I have had the pleasure of orgainsng the Conquest DBA competition for several years now. Over this time I have run a couple of formats. Of these formats I have found the single day format works best allowing those with less time to attend. Yet this means I either have a narrow theme, or a full open. Of these the last option I am certainly not so keen on. Now while my main Ancient wargaming interest is in the Classical period I also want to support players that have a different interest.


Over the years I have read with much interest of matched pair formats run in United Kingdom. So for 2013 I have decided to use this format. As a result for Conquest 2013 players will be required to bring two armies which are historical opponents. They will the use this pair of armies in half of their games and they will use their opponents pair in the other half. Which army that the players are to use will however be selected from the player not providing the specific pair. This should provide some real interest as the player will need to consider carefully which army his opponent will likely select and the strengths and weakness of both armies. These strengths and weaknesses are not always obvious.


I also hope this format will result in a range of different armies being used. Indeed, there are several armies that never make the wargames table, at least at competitions, as they are not considered effective. As an example many biblical armies or even classical armies gather dust while the more balanced armies are fielded. As an example how often are Classical Greeks or Persians deployed? Likewise Dark Age armies often languish in storage despite having some fascinating historical backgrounds. Finally, this format will allow players to experiment with armies they may not normally get to use.

Full details on the format of the Conquest 15mm DBA Competition can be found here. Hopefully you will consider joining us for some Ancient and Medieval gaming at Conquest in October.

DBA Matched Pairs

With my son visiting from Auckland a call went out for some DBA games at the Christchurch Wargames Club for last Sunday. In answer some seven players gathered for an afternoon of DBA gaming.

Locally most events have themes which typically see some armies being being used repeatedly. I wanted to organise something different and therefore suggested a matched pairs event, having read of such events in several UK competitions over the years. As a result players were requested to bring a pair of historical armies along. Players would then use one of these pairs, either their pair or their opponents pair, in each game played.

The supplied matched pairs were as follows:

  • Colin: Later Hoplite Greek Thessalian and “Others”
  • Joel: Marian Roman and Gauls
  • John: Wars of the Roses
  • Keith: Hellenic Successors – Demetrios the Besieger and Lysimachus
  • Brian: Classical Indian and Kushan
  • Andrew: Chariot Wars – Biblical armies

Once the pair was selected the player who did not “own” the army selected his preferred army of the pair and the game sequence began.

The resulting games seemed to be a great success with players frequently placed outside their comfort zone and experimenting with different armies and in some cases troop types. For example John, who mostly refights Medieval engagements seemed rather taken with the Hellenic conflicts, while Brian experimented with Gallic warbands. I hope in time we will see even more variety. As Stan pointed out this format really encourages the use of those armies that are not typically seen on the table as some are deemed non-competitive.

I am convinced this is an excellent format and will certainly be trying it again.