Tuesday, June 7, 2011

De Bellis Antiquitatis and a Carthaginian Elephant

So I mentioned before that a friend and I have dipped our toes into the world of historical miniatures gaming (you can read his take over at On First).  We have opted to begin with De Bellis Antiquitatis and have managed to work in four games thus far.

If you aren't familiar with DBA, it is produced by Wargames Research Group and is written by Phil Barker.  It features a rules system that is simple but allows for a great deal of tactical thinking.  The old adage about "minutes to learn, a lifetime to master" seems pretty apt thus far.  We were attracted to this particular game primarily for its positive reputation and its low cost of entry.  All that is needed to play are 12 bases of 15mm minis per side.  I currently have two armies (Carthaginians and Parthians), and using Ebay, I have paid less than thirty dollars a piece for them.

Because painting my Warhammer armies dominates my hobby time, I haven't worked on my DBA figures as much as I would have liked.  However, I have finished one elephant, and my Carthaginians are scattered across the painting table as I type.  Here are some pics of the elephant:

I've found that 15mm models take a different set of techniques to paint, and unfortunately, I haven't learned those techniques yet. Hopefully, I will get better as I work through my armies.

Anyway, I'm really enjoying DBA thus far, and I have found the following to be real strengths of the game:

1)  Fog of War Rules:  one of the core systems of the game is that each player rolls a die each round to see how many orders he can issue.  Each number on the die basically allows you to move one of your units.  If a unit is too far from your general or out of sight, the order costs two of your pips.  I really like that you can't count on your plan coming together.  This resource management system forces players to make tough decisions and adds a layer of uncertainty to the game.

2)  Tactical Movement:  movement seems to be a key factor in a successful game.  One thing that attracted me to Warhammer Fantasy over 40k was its focus on movement, and the games of DBA that we have played thus far have featured some fancy movement as the opposing armies have tried to position themselves for maximum advantage.

Of course, a few flaws exist within the system.  While the rules are simple, the author includes very sparse explanations and almost no graphics to help with unusual situations.  An unofficial guide to the rules exists; however, even with this text, my friend and I have had at least one rules question in each game.  It's also starting to seem that there might be a paper-rock-scissors aspect to the game as Bercilak's Roman blades have rolled over my Carthaginians both times we have played and my Parthian Knights have returned the favor by routing his Romans in both their games.  However, I'm not sure that we've given the game a good playtest yet.  We've made so many major tactical errors (allowing one of my own elephants to trample my general, allowing a landing party to be swept back into the sea) that we've joked that our generals are the little brothers of the actual generals.  I think as we pick up more of the rules and tactics that the armies will start to even out.

Overall, I'm really enjoying the change of pace that this game offers over Warhammer, and researching the historical details of the army to help with modeling and painting is a nice addition to my hobby.  However, there are four Warhammer Fantasy tournaments in my area over the next two eight weeks, so my high elves have returned to the painting table.  I have a tournament in Charlotte this weekend; I'll post some details early next week.



  2. Nice write-up. Loving our DBA games. Next game where I'm the defender, the Parthians are gonna have to cross the Alps.... or whatever mountains are in the east. Caucasus?

  3. Indeed I did, Cheef. It was a very ignoble way to lose a battle.

    The Parthians are always ready to battle the Romans. However, I do have three painted warbands to go along with my elephant, so the Carthaginians are ready to go as well.

  4. Reminds me of a game way back when (vs. you I think) where in an attempt to contest a table quarter to win, I (mistakenly) drove a rhino through my own mine field, blowing it up & taking any hopes of victory with it.