Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A horribly imbalanced game of DBA with 20mm soft plastic figures

I got together with a friend last week to play my first game of De Bellis Antiquitatis, the well-known ancient/medieval wargame commonly abbreviated as DBA. We liked the game, but we fielded very, very imbalanced armies consisting of the entirety of my 20mm-scale Hundred Years War collection, with each player using half of the figures...hardly a strategic army; more like a mishmash. Our game stagnated at some points for sure.

I've played a lot of wargames in my day, but they've mostly been single-figure affairs, where each guy stands on his own base and attacks separately, etc. DBA uses stands of figures representing hundreds of even thousands of combatants, enabling players to fight out some really big battles.

The problem with our game is that I had painted up way too many sword-and-shield infantry (known in the game as "blades"). These guys are elite troops, and most of the English and French army lists from the Hundred Years' War give each side no more than 2 or 3 of these units, because they represent dismounted knights. The bulk of the army is supposed to be composed of basic spearmen, longbowmen and mounted cavalry.

So we had waaay too many blades on each side, which resulted in the game turning into a massive slugfest in the center of the table. Again, this was because we were using only what I had painted up. I'm sure the next time we play, we'll be able to assemble much more balanced (and historical) armies from my collection.

I leave you with these two images, showing the downfall of a battalion of stalwart English longbowmen to a group of thundering knights. The game actually has rules that make longbowmen potent against mounted knights, but we misread them and the bows were slaughtered. That was the beginning of the end of the game for me, although I made my opponent pay dearly for his victory.


1d30 said...

I've always thought it was hilarious to claim that each figure on the table represented a hundred men, when it doesn't matter. Each figure could be one man, or a dozen, or a billion.

If every figure represents the same number, that is. How else would you track men per figure? A profusion of chits?

I guess what I'm saying is it seems like one man shooting a bow at another man will have the same game effects in terms of figures falling down, as a billion men firing at a billion men.

Am I missing something?

PatrickWR said...

Yeah, it matters to wargamers, many of whom like to have a nominal idea of how many dudes are in their army. Especially when trying to re-create a historical or semi-historical matchup.

It becomes even more important when you're trying to create a scale replica of a battlefield, placing terrain features, roads, rivers, etc. Does a stand represent a dozen men or a hundred? How close should the forest be to the city? These are the kinds of things that keep wargamers up at night. ;)

I used to absolutely despise the whole "one stand represents a regiment of soldiers" approach that mass combat games frequently take. But now I recognize that not only is it important, it also makes for a fun game.

1d30 said...

Well it does seem like morale and unit casualties make more sense if you're talking about a platoon instead of a single person. Same with the rules for turning your unit - I know it isn't that hard to turn around if it's just you!