Monday, July 29, 2019

Lancashire 15mm Vendee rebels

I recently received my order of Lancashire’s Vendee rebels in the mail. I ordered 5 packs, 2 of rebels with pikes and farm implements and 3 with muskets. That should be 50 figures. I count 54. in the photos below they are next to GFI/Minifig’s Vendee rebels, which are conversions from Spanish Guerillas. I started painted them all in sabots when I noted that some (the figures wearing caps rather than hats) had toes. As a result some are painted with bare feet, though in 15mm it is hard to tell, since the sabots are yellowish tan. 

 Here are the musket-armed chaps, with bayonets. Some have a blunderbuss instead. 

 There was minimal flash, mostly on the bottoms of the bases. They are pretty nice figures. I didn’t care much for the rather stocky blunderbuss guys, with vague detail on the front and a truly large hat. The guys with the short sword and pistol have a frantic pose and vague detail. Fortunately both of these poses are rare in the packs. The advancing fellows are OK.

My idea for a painting scheme was 50 shades of brown with a few other colors. Perhaps 6 shades of brown resulted. Next comes varnish and basing.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

DBA, Rome vs. Gallic hordes, 4 battles

Thursday saw the largest conclave of Fencibles in a while, including a new recruit, Carl. The 1/72 plastic Romans and Gauls were on tap in introduce two players to DBA, and re-introduce the game to other Fencibles who haven’t played since 2014 or earlier. New players and rusty players both were shy about playing the first game, so Jay and I started the ball rolling. The story follows in pictures, with the odd misspelled text here and there. It’s irritating that they often don’t get caught until the picture has been saved. C’est la vie.

We shall assemble again in two weeks. There was talk of using the 15mm figures and changing the period to late Rome, with Huns, Franks, Goths and such. I’ll send a questionnaire around and see what is most popular. It looks like DBA has made a comeback with the Fencibles. We do have a lot of DBA armies. It’s good to dust them off.

Friday, July 19, 2019

DBA 3.0 Review

Some years back I posted a review of DBA 2.2 on Mark Severinson's web site of game reviews. It seemed like time to update the review for the latest version, some years after it was released. It seems Mark isn't maintaining the website (Deep Fried Happy Mice) any more, so I thought I'd post the new review here. With no further ado, here it is. 

TITLE: DBA (De Bellus Antiquitatus) 3.0

AUTHORS: Phil Barker and Sue Laflin-Barker
PUBLISHER: Wargames Research Group.
PUBLICATION DATE: 2014, 1990(Version 1.0), 1995(1.1), 2001 (2.0), 2004 (2.2)

This unofficial group supports DBA and a variety of variants. They are a friendly group and there’s a lot of information about miniatures and history, worth a look even if you don’t play DBA.  
PRICE: $18.42 (in 2019) from lulu DBA 3/0
REVIEWED BY: Vincent Tsao.
PERIOD COVERED: Biblical through late Medieval (~1500 AD)
THE BOOK: 142 pages, hard cover. It has a little color on the cover. Most of this is the army lists. The rules total 14 pages.
SCOPE: Each side consists of an army of indeterminate size.

ARMY SIZE: each army has 12 elements (bases). Elements may have anywhere from 2 to 4 figures, so an army will have 24 – 48 figures. A few armies may have some horde elements of 6-8 figures each and so might have even more. Armies also often deploy a thirteenth element of camp followers, which is useful for defending the camp. The numbers apply to 15mm or larger figures. Players using smaller figures can use these numbers on smaller bases, though most cram lots of figures onto bases designed for 15mm figures. Some cram up to 48 or more 6mm figures on bases for 25mm figures. Using Warmaster style basing could see up to 120 10mm figures in a Hoplite army. The number of figures per base is not counted for the rules and merely serves as an easy way to recognize the troop type.

BASE UNIT: Each element is a separate unit. Below are three recently re-based for the 3.0 army lists. They are old 1/72 plastic figures, Gallic warriors (4Wb) and whatever Auxilia came in the Hat Carthaginian box (4Ax).

1. Ground scale: at 15mm scale 40mm = 80 paces. At 25mm scale 60mm = 80 paces.
2. Time scale: about 15 minutes per bound (half turn).
3. Figure/Base Ratio: varies wildly. A stand may represent a few hundred, up to 1,500 or more. The armies could stand in for Dark Age forces of a couple thousand each up to classical battles of 20-30,000 each.
4. Recommended Figure size: 15mm or 25mm, but other sizes are easily used.
5. Table Size: 24” to 32” square for 15mm, 36” to 48” square for 25mm.
6. Game Length: 15-60 minutes, though an indecisive player can drag this out. Set up and take down is fast too.

BASING SIZES. Bases are the de-facto period standard set by Phil Barker’s WRG Ancients rules, which ran to 7 editions before being bought and converted to the Warrior rules. 15mm and smaller are on 40mm wide bases, with depth varying from 15, 20, 30 or more. 25mm and larger are mounted on 60mm wide bases with depths of 20, 30, 40 and more. The suggested number of figures per stand is 2 for skirmishers (called psiloi) and light horse, 3 for most cavalry and various types of infantry, 4 for most heavy infantry and some heavy cavalry such as cataphracts. You are free to ignore these since your figures may not fit on the bases or you can’t afford that many. Many other rules for this period use these sizes, so re-basing won’t be necessary to play them.

TURN SEQUENCE: IGO-UGO. The defender moves first, resolves ranged combat and then close combat. Each side checks to see if they have broken. Then the attacker does the same. Ranged and close combat are resolved using basically the same method.

Roles are determined by a pre-game die roll. Each side rolls a die and adds their army’s aggression factor. The high scorer attacks. The defender sets up the terrain from the list allowed their terrain type, with some restrictions decided by die rolls. The attacker then selects the table edge they wish to use. The defender deploys first, followed by the attacker. The defender takes the first move.

GAME MECHANICS: the game uses only six-sided dice. One is rolled at the start of a turn to determine how many pips that side has for the bound. Each pip may be used to move a single element or a group. Single elements may move in almost any fashion as long as they don’t exceed movement allowance. Groups are highly restricted. They may move straight forward or wheel in good going. Anything fancier must be by single element. First time players often roll a 6 for pips and split the army into as many groups, threatening the enemy everywhere. Then they roll a 1 next time and discover that only one group can move. It pays to keep the army massed in a few large groups. Combat will usually break up the formation and you will need every pip to recover.

Elements may be moved from 2 base widths (heavy infantry) to 4 (light horse) per turn in clear terrain (good going). Light horse can make second and third moves in a turn if they stay beyond a base-width of enemy elements and have enough pips. Psiloi (skirmishers) can make subsequent moves under certain circumstances, as can troops on a road. Otherwise most troops are restricted to a single move per turn.

Troops are divided into types based on tactical doctrine. There are foot skirmishers (annoyingly named psiloi after the ancient Greek term), auxilia (medium foot useful in rough terrain, termed bad going), spears, pikes, blades, warband, bows, war wagons and artillery. Mounted troops include light horse, cavalry (and light chariots), knights (and heavy chariots), camel mounted troops, elephants and scythed chariots.  Last is the camp follower element that is used to guard the camp if one of the 12 elements is not so used. I may have forgotten one or two types.

Combat is fought element vs. element with each side rolling a die, adding their factors and comparing scores. Each troop type has a factor against foot and another against mounted. There is a small list of tactical factors that may modify your scores, such as additional enemy elements, being uphill, etc. Doubling your opponent’s score usually kills the element, beating the score by less usually pushes it back (if it cannot retreat it is killed). But there are exceptions, called quick kills by many DBA gamers. For example, warbands quick kill spears, pikes or blades. Psiloi quick kill elephants. Bows (if longbows or crossbows) quick kill knights who tied them in close combat, but are quick killed by any mounted in contact. Knight vs. bow fights tend to be exciting, since the odds of one or the other dying is high. Sometimes elements flee – do an about face and make a full move away from the enemy.

The essence of the game is getting favorable match-ups vs. your opponent. Just as important is managing your pips. A plan that requires few pips is a good one.

The game is decided when an army breaks, usually by losing 4 elements. A looted camp counts as an element lost. If your general’s element is lost that counts as 2 elements. Even if you manage to stay in the game after losing the general, command penalties may ham-string your army. Any action requires an extra pip if your force is out of command.

ARMY LISTS/SCENARIOS: There are no scenarios in the rules, but the game is played with the impromptu set up. There are loads of army lists, related to the DBM army list books. The army lists run from Ancient Sumerians on up to Late Medieval Burgundians. The lists include many arcane and little known nations. All these armies are shoe-horned into the troop types available. So Roman legionaries and Viking Bondi alike are rated as blades.

REVIEWER’S COMMENTS: The battle rules are extremely concise, fitting in 8 pages. Folks refer to his writing as Barkerese. While his writing is sometimes difficult to follow, the rules system is ingenious. It’s worth the initial fuss. DBA set the bar for fast play rules, though Barker later returned to the dark side with more complex rules.

PLAYER’S COMMENTS: The game plays quickly. This is indeed the whole point of the game. Consider it the fast food of wargames. Sometimes a burger and fries is just what I want, and sometimes DBA. Most of the games have some period flavor and often teach tactical lessons. Of course, with the small number of elements and the opposed die-roll combat system, bad luck gets your knights murdered in open ground by lesser breeds. I suppose that’s what Maxentius thought happened at Milvian Bridge, just before he drowned in the Tiber.

I won’t make the argument that the game is very historical. It is a game, not a simulation. It varies wildly by period and match-up of enemies. Sometimes it gives a pretty close simulation of the actual armies and other times can be pretty much a fantasy game. Rome vs. Celts works fairly well, as it should. These rules started as extremely fast-play game of Rome vs. Celts. The Roman blades have a factor of 5 against the Celtic warband 3, but are quick-killed by the weaker Celts. It makes for an exciting contest. On the other hand, heavy infantry banging away at each other often sees groups shoving back and forth for a long time. You won’t see the rapid collapses recorded of actual hoplite battles.

Light horse armies are pretty wimpy. It’s hard to see how the Mongol Conquest army or Attila’s Huns conquered much of anything. They float like butterflies and sting like them too. But they are a lot of fun to play. You can drive your opponent to distraction with the fast moving light horse, just before they put your lights out. Every now and then the foe gets so confused you win.

The pip system rewards those who take the initiative. Good players can use a few pips and force their enemy to use more responding. It is rare to see that staple of many other rules, both sides’ strong wings swinging around like doors. If you don’t give attention to a collapsing flank you may lose that much sooner. Leaving your camp unguarded has a penalty too. Some players remark that low pip rolls lead you to make the sort of errors you swear never to make.

Some players prefer the older versions. I really like the newest version, 3.0. Movement increased about 50%. This means armies close faster than before. In earlier versions defending players would form up in several columns and re-deploy as the attacker came forward, seeking the best element to element match-up. It doesn’t sound like my reading of ancient battles. In 3.0 you may well not have time to do this. More troop types pursue when beating the enemy. This leads to a much more chaotic situation, making a less chess-like game. That appeals to me. Your mileage may vary.

Some folks remark that DBA looks like a couple of skirmish lines. Well, you rarely have more than 48 figures on the table per side (and often less) but it does produce a short and fun game. DBA fans can sample a large number of periods for a small investment in money and painting time. Losing a game you invested 30 minutes in hurts a lot less than spending all night losing. You can usually play a bunch of games in an evening.

There’s a lot of abstraction. Light horse quick kill knights. It is presumed the knights charged the evading light horse, pursued too far and were cut down. If that’s too much abstraction, stay away from these rules. If on the other hand you rather like the tense balance between factor 4 knights and factor 2 light horse that results, then DBA is the game for you.

I’ve been gaming since the mid 60’s. In that time I’ve been in a near-fantasy ancient campaign that faded away, a two year campaign of the American Revolution and one of Napoleon’s 1814 campaign. All involved more work than pleasure. I can’t count the number of DBA campaigns we have played and finished over the years. A little bit of work provided a lot of fun, mostly snake-pit diplomacy spiced with short, sharp battles.

Like fast food, it can leave you wanting something more substantial and formal. Staying in period means you have to beef up that DBA army, since most other games require more figures. You probably won’t have to remount the figures since this basing system is the de-facto standard. And when you lack the time and will to play that meatier set of rules DBA is always patiently waiting for you to come back and play. There is a larger version of DBA called Big-battle DBA or BBDBA. It’s basically three DBA armies per side and gives a slightly more textured, complicated and longer game. The rules for this are included in the rule book. It’s OK by me though some swear by it. Based on my reading of the Fanaticus Forum, even the fanatics are friendly folks. There are people who pore through the rules looking for ways to exploit the Barkerese, sometimes for tournament advantage, sometimes for the pleasure of finding a truly arcane interpretation alone, like Talmudic scholars.

The simple campaign system is in the older rules, unfortunately not in the new edition. Too bad.

I’ve thrown DBA over a couple times. When I came back after a couple years it didn’t ask me where I’d been or what other rules were played. It just let me play some fast, furious and fun games again. It’s rather tasty too. Like a good burger and fries.

Friday, July 12, 2019

DBA Intro, three battles

Last night Jay was introduced to the pleasures of DBA 3.0. I broke out my old plastic Romans and Gauls. We started with my handicap for new guys system, each rolling two dice for pips. The new guy takes the higher of his dice and I the lower of my dice. Jay generously discarded this part way into the first game. With that, let the photos tell the tale.

Was it the fool hardy tactics of the Gallic mobs or the steady dicing by the Roman rank and file that won the day? Perhaps a bit of both.

Here the award must go to the Roman troopers who fought so well out of command, just like I planned it. We broke for dinner, accompanied by the fine wine Jay brought over. And then it was time for the tie breaker.

This time victory can be credited to the poor Gallic plan and the brave Roman troops (and their high dice).

I had two games to Jay’s one, but the Romans won every battle. The two armies seem evenly matched in spite of that. Jay liked DBA a lot and is looking for a set of the rules. All is well. I noted that my plastic Carthaginians, Mongols and Teutonic Knights are all hoping for their time in the sun.