Sunday, June 24, 2012

DBA 3.0 - Even Less DBA - And That's . . . Now That's Just Weird

So more DBA 3.0 playtesting, and things are beginning to feel a little silly. I don't mind trying out new ideas. I think that every rule set needs some experimentation, but I don't get the feeling as though these rules are settling down yet.

Things I've noticed so far:

"Solid" and "Fast" 

Yes, these are silly choices for names. No, in no universe is "Solid" the opposite of "Fast". I found myself referring to them as "Heavy" and "Medium", which begins to sound like WRG 6, which may be why Phil didn't use those terms, but does at least sound understandable. "Close Order" and "Open Order" would work as well, with identical objections.

All that said, the concept is intriguing. It brings back a distinction between deep-based elements and shallow-based elements that was otherwise ignored when 3.0 was first proposed. It makes the distinction much more noticeable, but I'm willing to give it a try.

Fast Pike Are Awesome (But Silly)

Needs to be remodeled with roller-skates and jet-packs
My Ghurid Fast Pike had a field day, mostly because my opponent clearly thought "auxilia" when looking at them, so opposed them with his own auxilia in the open. Even so, the way that fast pike can exploit a hole is something that would make most modern armored units envious. Welsh and Later Samurai now have deep pike formations that can fly into contact and then keep moving if they destroy what's in front of them. That's not as good news for those armies that get a single element of fast pike. It also doesn't strike me as being at all historically accurate.

Offhand, I think it would look a little better if the Fast Pike went back to the 2.0 concept of being Fast Spear, which would still make them effective against mounted while being only so-so against foot. Of course, I get the feeling Phil is trying to get all DBA troop types to be identical to the type in DBMM, so there may be resistance to that.

Another minor point is that pike now get depth bonus against psiloi and bow, which doesn't feel right, even with bow's longer range and psiloi's ability to avoid overlaps, but I'll need to playtest those matchups a bit more to see whether that's a legitimate concern. I'm not certain how I would put together an Ipsus scenario, in which peltasts managed to grind down pike.

Let Us Mourn For Spartacus

Also hosed by this change are all armies using 5Wb, which have now become Fast Horde. Spartacus Rebellion and Aztecs don't look as fun as they used to. Sure, Aztecs can replace their deep-based elements with Auxilia, but then they just look like any other Mesoamerican army. I admit this is just a personal peeve. I always liked the ability to field massed warband armies with Spartacus Revolt, Aztecs, or French Jacquerie, but precisely because these were so incongruous. Now they cost an extra pip to move, fear bowfire and artillery, and have no reason to deploy in awe-inspiring ten-figure deep formations that seem to scream "Fear me!" to any opposing line of blade.

So Where's DBA 3.0 Going?

As fun as all the playtesting has been, I don't see where this is leading. In any design process, there has to be a point where you stop brainstorming and start cutting away everything to the essentials. So far, for every cut, such as removing extra moves for warband or psiloi rear support, I see many more new ideas that need a lot of playtesting and consideration.

This isn't done yet. It isn't even close. But I'm having fun playing it for now, so I'll try not to complain too much.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

DBA 3.0 - It's Not DBA - And That's Good ... Maybe

This Friday, we played several games of DBA using the latest 3.0 playtest rules downloaded from the DBA Yahoo! group. I have given up following most of the forum discussion there or on Fanaticus, even before the debates became overheated. For the most part, I felt unqualified to comment since I hadn't played more than a few games using earlier drafts of the 3.0 rules.

As someone who regularly takes the contrarian view, my chief complaint about the 3.0 rules was that they don't change enough. This is not because I think that 2.2 is broken. Far from it. It's just that I see the rules as a way to try new and interesting models of what went on in a battle. There is no one way to view history, so there should be no one perfect set of rules. With that in mind, a full version change in the DBA rules should, in my admittedly odd view, provide a fresh perspective on the historical model.
Why are the auxilia smiling?

So like many other people, I looked at the rules and realized that they are basically the old rules with some changes sprinkled through them. Or so it at first seemed. In this latest version, people were debating the change to remove psiloi support of heavier infantry and increasing auxilia combat strength against cavalry.

I could go through all of the major changes, but the one change everyone was arguing over the most when I stopped following the forums was changing movement to base-widths instead of inches. I'm still not sure this change works, but after three games on Friday, I came away with an important insight into 3.0. It intrigues me enough to make me want to follow the forums again. Because it now looks as though 3.0 may be the type of change I was hoping for. In short, this is not DBA.

DBA as I know it is a game of maneuver. On a 2 foot square board, you have twenty-four by twenty-four movement units overall. Armies start no closer than twelve movement units from each other. Two lines of heavy infantry moving toward each other over open ground will take at least three turns or six bounds to make contact. Most games I have played have a chess-like quality of threatening an attack without necessarily making it, waiting for the right moment to commit everything.

In 3.0, I am unable to do this. The board is now about sixteen movement units square. Armies start six movement units from each other and heavy infantry can contact each other within three bounds or one and a half turns. There is no time to threaten an attack, because your opponent will almost certainly move to counter that threat in one turn. Perhaps I'm over-analyzing. Maybe after playing it a little more, the opportunity for subtle play will return, but I feel as though my options are much more constrained.

This is not necessarily bad. Perhaps more work will go into terrain selection and set-up than to maneuver. Perhaps DBA 3.0 will inspire ploys that don't normally work in 2.2, such as deploying in depth. Perhaps games will be guaranteed to be much quicker. I don't know. The rules still need work, even after all the design that went into them so far, but I think I might just enjoy trying out more of 3.0 as it evolves.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

More DBA Painting

An army I picked up at the local gaming store (Game Kastle) has something of a Holiday theme, or did once I got done with it:

Early Slav - Bohemians (III/1b)
 The holiday theme comes from this being the army of Svatý Václav, aka Good King Wenceslaus.

I was kind of forced into this rather fanciful vision of the 10th century Bohemian duke by the fact that Essex chose to make the command stand a group of knights. The stand is supposed to be cavalry. As a result, I went with the iconography of St. Wenceslaus, giving him a shield bearing the Premysl arms (heraldry being about one hundred years later than the real Wenceslaus), a similar banner on his lance (the real Wenceslaus probably used spear and sword), and a dagger and crown (the real Wenceslaus was a duke, and only made a king postumously). It does make for a nice stand, though, and obviously, the snow was almost essential.

Spear, spear, and more spear
Bow or Psiloi for some variety
 Eight spear make up the bulk of this whole army, supported by two stands of bow or psiloi. If the shields are a little more colorful than they probably would have been in real life, well, it's Christmasy that way.

 The remaining cavalry consists of either some traditional Bohemian cavalry (well, Essex provided early Russian cavalry, but in a pinch it will do), or else Swabian knights.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

DBA painting

Well this has certainly been a long delay in postings.

Here's my latest painting project, consisting of a collection of generally unrelated DBA armies.

First up, the
Commagene (III/44)
The entire army in array
 Commagene broke off from the Seleucid Empire in 163 BC, holding territory in modern eastern Turkey. At times paying tribute to the Parthians, the Armenians, the Pontic Empire, and Rome, they remained independent through a combination of diplomacy and an isolated location. It was a generally Hellenized society, but with a strongly Parthian/Persian background.

I chose to paint up this army because it provides a nice link between my Successor armies and my Marian Romans, and because it was on sale from Wargames, who have been selling off all their Essex lead.

Persian-influence slingers
Hellenistic slingers
Actually, there are only supposed to be two stands of psiloi in the army, but Essex provided both Persian and Greek style slingers, so I based them both. Another Hellenistic influence - mercenary peltasts:

The pike are really the remnants of the Seleucid pike. Being bored with the Macedonian sun symbols I've painted on most of my Successor pike, I chose to go with some Zoroastrian symbols on these, notably the Faravahar on the captain, and the flames on the rest of the pike. This has absolutely no basis in history, but it looks cool.

Tarantine light horse
Similarly, the Tarantine light horse carry shields with Sol Invictus on it, which may have some connection to eastern religions. Again, no historical reason for this, but it looks nice.

The cataphracts and commander are basically variants of the later Seleucid cavalry.

Finally, the majority of the infantry is made up of hillmen archers. In DBA, this is not a bad pike and bow army, though in DBMM, all of the pike and bow are inferior, making it a rather poor match against Roman blades!

Next: A DBA army with a belated Christmas theme!

Monday, June 14, 2010

DBR French Wars of Religion

Our gaming group got together to celebrate our fifth year anniversary and the birthday of Mark, the group's founder. Mark requested something Renaissance-era. I happened to have some figures put together for a demo scenario of a hypothetical Wars of Religion battle, so we ended up playing this using DBR.

The game highlighted some of the players' difficulties with DBR. I'd have to say that this rule set is not entirely my favorite. The period from 1500-1700 is difficult to cover with one set of rules, and the result is a little odd at times. Despite my concerns, I'd probably defend some of the odder problems we had. We saw two, in particular.

Overeffective Shot
There's no denying that in DBR, shot is king. Bruce, the player leading the Huguenot forces was feeling very frustrated watching his Swiss being held off and slowly destroyed by shot elements, most of whom were arquebusiers, for that matter. In general, I agree with the contention that the shot vs. foot factors are too powerful in DBR. Historically, shot could hold their own only if behind fortifications. I think this can be solved, perhaps by adjusting factors, or more likely be adjusting combat outcomes to make shot more fragile in the open against other foot.

Separation Anxiety
I'm not certain, but I think that members of our group actually first coined this term for this rule in DBR 2.0. Because the DB* system works with ad hoc groups of elements, and not predefined units, the rules had to come up with a way to avoid having individual elements spinning off in odd directions. In short, the rule says that it costs extra effort to separate any smaller group of elements from a larger group, unless the larger group is staying where it is or the smaller group is moving into combat.

The problem is that although we have been playing the rules since they were first released, we had been misreading the definition of "smaller group," allowing it to be a single element. In fact, it has to be two or more elements. This led to a lot of clumsy maneuvering and frustration, but here I'm willing to put up with the rules as is, without any modifications.

There are other problems with the rules. The game seems to be skewed to work better in Condensed Scale, which we don't normally use. It doesn't seem to scale up well to large battles. There are more issues. But after Friday's game, I may have been the only player coming away thinking that the system might still be salvageable.

Still, that won't stop me from trying out the anticipated Field of Glory Renaissance rules when they're released.

Monday, May 31, 2010

KublaCon 2010 - Saturday Night - Towton

Note to self - do not sign up for two nights in a row running games expected to last up to midnight.

As I've mentioned in the past, I like Field of Glory as a rules set for conventions, because the mechanics are easier to follow than DBMM or others for the average newcomer, while still providing something approaching a historically accurate game. Since I have a large collection of 15mm Wars of the Roses figures, I decided to try something large with the Battle of Towton. The first problem came up when I finally got around to gathering together all my figures and set them up.
"It's a little small for the largest battle ever fought in England, isn't it?" a friend asked.

And it was, since my collection was designed to provide two Big-Battle DBA-sized armies, and not a complete pair of oversized opponents. After begging, borrowing, and even stealing a few extra longbows (I think he'll forgive me once I return them), I was sort of able to put something together.

First thing I learned here - FoG scales up pretty nicely, but the player who has to try to keep track of everything going on is going to be a little confused. Also, in a large battle, it's likely that some players will be doing everything during one phase, such as the Melee phase, and will be sitting around waiting for everyone else to get through Impact, Maneuver, and Shooting before they can do their thing. Despite that, I liked the way the battle progressed, which caught the historical chaos without my creating special weather rules. (The historical battle involved heavy snow and wind that favored the Yorkists.)

 Somerset's longbowmen (bottom) look out at the Yorkist forces (top). Even with all the extra longbow figures, I had to use blank stands for the rear center of some of the battlegroups.

On the first turn, the Yorkists rolled for Norfolk's flank assault showing up early, only to discover that it had become lost and would not make it to the battle in time at all. This was a severe blow to the Yorkists, though not overwhelming. The player commanding Northumberland's forces on the Lancastrian left saw this as an opportunity to use his otherwise worthless Northern Border Horse to outflank the Yorkists and hit some of their troops in the rear. This was a good plan, if it hadn't turned into something of an obsession, but these things happen when playing unfamiliar rules late at night on the second day of a gaming convention . . . More on how that turned out later.

The Lancastrian mounted spear in ambush on their right did not fare well, being hit by heavy longbow fire before they could get into open ground. This did give the Lancastrians the slight advantage that it diverted a battlegroup of longbow and of men-at-arms for a while. In the center, the Yorkist forces under Edward advanced on Somerset's forces.

On the Lancastrian Right, a battlegroup of militia longbowmen were ordered to throw down their bows, draw swords, and charge into the liveried longbowmen in front of them, mainly to make room for the Border Horse's flanking maneuver. To their credit, the militia longbow caused one stand of damage and passed all of their cohesion tests before succumbing to autobreak. Then things got really weird.
 We had to stop briefly to determine whether longbowmen who had just won a melee would then pursue into fresh longbowmen rather than standing an shooting. The answer is apparently that they do. Now committed to a melee, the Yorkist player on that flank sent his bill forward to help the combat, about-facing the remaining longbow who weren't in combat to threaten the Border Horse who now had to turn around to catch up with the pursuing longbow. I'd need to draw a picture to explain it all. The photo gives some idea of how confused things got, without adding the Border Horse overshooting their mark.

At this point, the Yorkist center commander suffered from a terrible run of luck in shooting.
Taking advantage of the general confusion, the Lancastrian commander ordered all of his billmen to march through his longbow and engage the Yorkist forces. He routed the longbow, followed up into the men-at-arms and routed them. Compare the picture to the right to the picture of the center commands above. The red crystals were being used to mark routing forces.

Despite the fact that the Yorkists were winning on the two flanks, this was a serious setback. The Border Horse finally managed to make their charge into the rear of the advancing Lancastrian longbow, with devastating effects, though at the cost of losing all of his militia troops.

I'm afraid to say we ended the game there. Things looked grim for the Yorkists at that point, but the two forces were nearly equally close to breaking.

In the future, I'm going to refrain from running big games like this late at night.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

KublaCon 2010 - Friday Night - Chaeronea

OK, so I haven't been updating since the last convention. But here's the latest from KublaCon, where I just finished a Big Battle DBA scenario of Chaeronea (Macedonians vs. Greeks). I like to do something simple for a Friday night game, and DBA works well for that. One thing I did learn is that 25mm figures are MUCH better at gaining attention than 15s.

The Greek Commanders

The Macedonian Commanders
I was pleased with the way the game went. We had about half new players and half experienced DB* people. The scenario isn't even necessarily the most interesting, since it's mainly a contest between spear and pike. Despite that, there was enough interesting stuff going on, and it stayed exciting to the end.

I let the players set up their sides, but forced them to keep the relative positions of the commands.
The game started looking good for the Greeks. Alexander charged the Theban cavalry, and failed to break through. The Greek allied peltasts in the center managed to drive off the Agrianian slingers facing them. Philip sent his Thracians (they were supposed to be hypaspists, but I didn't get around to painting enough) on a flanking maneuver through the hills, and suffered initial setbacks against the Athenians.

Things went from bad to worse for Alexander's command, as some of the Companions were destroyed as Theban cavalry and skirmishers trapped them against the river. Alexander only barely managed to escape, withdrawing from the position. At this point, the Macedonian pike charged in.

There were some tense moments for Philip, as his Companions were in danger of getting surrounded by the Athenians. However, the pike managed to save the day, breaking first the Greek allied command, and then the Athenians, decisively winning the day for the Macedonians.

Definitely a fun game, and it's convinced me to focus on getting more 25mm lead painted. Incidentally, the figures are all true 25s. In fact, most of the hoplites are really 1/72nd plastic figures from HaT and Zvezda. 

DBA tournament tomorrow. (Just to be weird, I'm showing up with Ghurids.) Then I have a massive Field of Glory scenario for Towton in the evening.