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.

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