Square DBA

January 23, 2011


I’ve seen several attempts to add rules for playing DBA on a square grid.  The idea behind the square grid is to get rid of the micromanagement aspect that DBx games are famous for.  Using a 60cm board and a grid, you can play a game of DBA with out the use of a ruler.


This is the heart of the grid game.  Each unit will observe the command rules for the standard game.  Movement rates for each unit are also the same as the standard game.  The rates are expressed in paces with the following changes:

  1. Each square is 100 paces across
  2. Each unit must face a square edge
  3. A forward move costs 100 paces of movement
  4. A diagonal move costs 150 paces of movement
  5. Groups must wheel in increments of 90 degrees at the rate of the slowest unit.  For each 100 paces a group can move, one unit in the group can wheel.  Thus, a group that can wheel 200 paces could wheel a maximum of 2 units.   Groups with a 300 pace move could wheel a maximum of 3 unit.  And so forth.
  6. Units may turn at the cost of 100 paces.  They may, however, move about in any direction without changing facing as per the rules.

Zone of Control and Engagement Range

Units have a zone of engagement in the square directly in front of them.  An enemy occupying that square counts as being engaged with the friendly unit and a combat must be fought.  A unit that is in front but 2 squares distant counts as being pinned (or “Barkered”).  That pinned unit can either move into contact with the unit to the front, stay put or back away from the enemy.  Backing away may be in a diagonal direction but the move cannot be into another square that is an engagement zone or pin zone.

Command Range

Commanders have a command range of 800 paces or 400 paces if the line of sight is blocked by intervening terrain.


Bow and artillery ranges are expressed in units of squares.  Bows can shoot 2 squares away with the usual 1 square to the left or right.  Artillery can shoot 5 squares away.  Note that shooting units cannot shoot into the square directly in front of them as this is the engagement zone.


There are few changes to the melee rules. Recoils are done by squares.  2 infantry may occupy a square.  Only 1 of any other unit type may occupy a square.  All of the rules for overlapping, flanking and supporting still apply.


DBA plays very well on a square grid.  There is no room for ambiguity on a grid.  You either make contact or you don’t.  No rulers.  No micro-measuring.  Nothing.  I wasn’t sure if I would like the 90 degree wheeling rules.  After a few plays, I have learned to like them just fine.  I honestly think I like DBA on a grid better than I do on a free form board.   If you are a DBA player, you should give it a try.  You will find yourself more working on tactics and less on wondering how you will make contact with that Psiloi when the front is covered by 1/4″ from the spear unit to its front.


DBA on a grid plays very similar to DBA on a standard board with some subtle differences.  The first thing someone will notice is that pieces will be able to get across the board faster than they would in a standard game.  This is because that 100p equals 1 square (about 1.5″) and not 1″.  We are still playing on the same sized board so, naturally, it will take less time to get across the board.  This is not a bad thing really as players will have less time to do drill team maneuvers to get their units in just the right order.  A turning penalty of 100 paces was added to slow down the unit as it changed directions compensating for the fact that you measure from the farthest point in the standard game.  Consider that a Blade unit trying to close the door simply wheels on its corner in the standard game using all movement.  In the grid game, you advance 1 square (100p) and then turn (100p).  Basically works out.

I was not going to include any zone of control rules or “Barkering” but in the end, it was necessary.  I found in my first game that it was too easy to gain a flank on an enemy.  Allowing for flank covering ZOCs gives the same feel as the standard game.  Since the board is smaller and the ZOC covers a greater distance, I allow the withdrawing unit to move at an angle to get away if it needs to.

Shooting ranges are a bit farther too.  I was going to express shooting in terms of paces but I figured I had better make it squares since all of the units will be moving faster.  I wanted to give shooters the extra boost in range to match the extra boost in speed for melee troops.

Command range was reduced.  A general in the center of the field can give commands to almost the entire width and length of the field but not in the corners in the standard game.  I made the range 800 paces so that the command radius would be of a similar span.

These rules were adopted from Andy Watkins DBM amendments for the Classical period.  The rules are quite nice.  I took the liberty to use many of the ideas  here and filled in the blanks where he did not add any detail.

Andy Watkins DBM Classical and Medieval House Rules

A Better Kind of “Polybian” Army for DBA

January 20, 2011

The army for Polybian Romans (II/33) in DBA represents the Republican Roman army from 275BC-105BC.  It should include, not only Roman infantry but other Italian infantry as well.  The list, as it stands, is not very representative of a Republican Roman Army whether it existed in the Pyrrhic Wars, the Punic Wars or the Macedonian Wars.  According to Polybius, the Romans formed their armies in 4 legions, 2 Roman and 2 Allied.  1 army was led by a Consul or Proconsul.  In theory, at any time, their could be 4 consular armies in the field for a total of about 80,000 men.  Each Legion composed of Velites, Hastati, Princepes and Triari.  The first three lines were each of 1200 men and the last of only 600 men.  This left a total of about 4200 infantry.  To this were added about 300 cavalry.  In looking at the list, we have the following units.

6XBd, 2XSp, 2XPs 2XCv (1 general).

Proportionately, this does not work out well.  Part of the problem is, the Romans are creatures of habit.  They deployed the same way every time they fought.  The other part of the problem is that the list does not account for various other allies.  In Africa, they would have Numidians.  In Greece, they would have the Aetolian League.  Even in Italy, they would have Celts and other allied infantry that were not accustomed to the Roman ways.

So to work out this issue, first lets look at how the Roman part of the army should look.

4XBd Hastati and Princepes 1XSp Triari 2XPs Velites 1XCv Roman/Italian Cavalry

That’s 8 units leaving us with 4 units to form allied contingents for the army.

  1. In Sicily during the first Punic War, Rome could have Syracusian Allies.  3XSp 1XPs
  2. In Africa we have Numidian allies 2XLH 1XPs 1X(Hd or Ax).  This would be Masinissa’s hastily raised army for Zama or his army during the 3rd Punic War.
  3. In Greece we have the Aetolian league for allies 2XPk 1X(Ps or El) 1XCv.
  4. In Italy, not only are their loyal Italian subjects but there are newly conquered city states whose loyalty is questionable.  There are also the Celts from the North.  This list could also be used for Rome in Spain. Here we could have 2X(Ax or Wb) 1X(Cv or Lh) 1X(Ps or Ax).
  5. Finally, I should also include an army for the middle east.  These would be Pergamenid with 2XAx 1XCv and 1XEl.

Using any of these options will not only bring the Polybian Roman list a little closer to its historical counterpart but it will also make the list a little more interesting.

DBA Points System

January 15, 2011

One of the complaints about DBA is that of balance.  It is true that some armies are weaker than others.  A way to figure on how strong an army might be is by a points system.

The first thing to do is to determine how valuable a unit is based on combat factor.  At first, one might think that assigning a linear progression to the combat factors would be fair.  However, higher combat factors are harder to double than lower ones in a non-linear fashion.  So, I examined the natural break points.  Combat factors of 1 or 2 behaved similarly where stronger units could double them.  Combat factors 3 and 4 were also similar.  A 2 could double a 3 but a 4 could only be doubled by another 4 or more.  Finally, the 5 is very tough.  It takes a combat factor of 6 or more to double it.  In looking at percentage chances to double, the combat factors were in three groups.  Summing the numbers up, the low group costs +1 to go up by 1 number starting at 0.  Group 2 costs 2 points to go up one number starting at 3 and group 3 costs 3 points to go up to 5.  The actual costs are 1 costs 1, 2 costs 2, 3 costs 4, 4 costs 6 and 5 costs 9.  Simply figure out the costs vs infantry and cavalry and average the two if different.  Othersie, just use the value for infantry.

Next was movement.  I simply averaged movement for good going and bad going and then took the cost at 1 point per 100p.  Range was done in a similar fashion.

Next, I looked at support factors.  This was somewhat subjective but I generally added 1 per +1 factor.  So pikes would add, for instance +3 to the total cost for instance.   There was also a deduction -2 for rough going where it applied.

Finally, I had to determine the amount of bonuses or penalties for quick kills and either for or against.  The number of quick kills divided by 3 a unit could inflict was the number for an addition to the point total.  The number of quick kills divided by 3 a unit was vulnerable to was the number for a deduction from the point total.

The final results were as follows:

  • Elephants 9 (Originally 10 I reduced it to 9 because of the extra pip to control it.  Might even be worth only 8!)
  • Blades 8
  • Knights 8 (Heavy Chariots)
  • Cavalry 6 (Light Chariots)
  • Light Horse 6
  • Pike 6 (Originally 7 but I felt after a few plays that it loses some value because you are almost compelled to put them in support.)
  • Spear 6
  • Auxilia 6
  • Warband 6
  • Bow 6
  • Scythed Chariots 5 (This might be worth only 4)
  • Psiloi 4
  • Hordes 3

So how does one use a points system in a game where armies are a static 12 elements?  Tally up the total army points based on the schedule above.  Compare the two.  If one side is 3 or more points better, then they must try to eliminate one of their elements to bring the totals to parity or near parity.  For instance, A Pyrrhic army totals 75 points.  A Polybian army totals 80 points.  To bring everything down to parity, the Roman player should remove at least 3 points of units.  The lowest cost unit in the Roman army is a Psiloi at 4 points.  So, removing 1 would bring the total down to 76 points.  He could also opt to remove a spear instead bringing the total down to 74 points.

Like all points systems, this one is subject to debate.  However, I do feel it is a good gauging tool to determine how good/bad a given army is.   The system does not take into account good generalship.  But what points system does?

Making the VASSAL Miniatures Game Part 1

January 6, 2011

The first thing that needed to be done is scale. I needed something that would be appealing visually, just like a miniatures game.  A suggestion on the VASSAL website was to make 1 pixel equal 1 millimeter.  The reasoning was that when you had to place somethng, it could be translated easily into pixels and all you would need to do is plug in the coordinates.  No translation required.  Simple enough.  However, I decided on 2 pixels equals 1 millimeter.  The reason i did this is because 1 pixel equals 1mm was simply too small to see the detail on the figures.  The graphic to the left illustrates what I mean.   The graphics are relatively small and have clear backgrounds.  We will get into that later. 

The first item on the agenda was maps.  Maps are easy.  Whatever map you want, you can make it easily by first, expressing the size of the map in millimeters and then creating a graphic that is twice that size in pixels.  For example, a 2 foot by 2 foot map would be 600mm on an edge.  This translates into 1200 pixels on an edge.   Once the graphic is created, you can use a fill of your favorite color for the ground.  I wanted my map to be an olive color.  The second thing you need to do is transform the map into an irregular array of different colors.  I used an HSB noise function to do this.  Finally, I blurred the image with a heavy blur.  This created a nice texture that is reminiscent of a game mat. 

For the miniatures themselves, I modified and reused miniatures from the Junior General site.  There are quite a few drawings for paper miniatures.  Each unit is a clear graphic with several miniatures on them.  The games I play all use a standard base size for a game called DBA.  Most stands will have either 2, 3 or 4 figures on them.  They all are 4cm wide and variable in-depth.  My first problem was that using real sized graphics, I could not fit the proper amount of figures on the stands.  So what I did was adjust the size of the stands to 4.8cm wide and then when I scaled them for the game, I simply used 80 pixels for the size and the stand were scaled correctly for the virtual environment.   Obviously, you will need some knowledge of how to use a paint program like Paint Shop Pro.   There is also a free program called Inkscape.  I have not learned how to use it but it seems to be quite nice.

The clear background is useful for keeping the size of the miniatures graphics down.  The units are by the graphic size but the color of the map will provide the background of the miniatures.  The miniatures simply float on top.

VASSAL Ancient Miniatures Game

January 4, 2011

Four days ago, I started on a project to make an element based miniatures game using the online game engine VASSAL.  I have not designed the module with any one game in mind though I made sure I could play DBA with it.  I included a ruler, order markers and elements to make most of the armies of the Classical Age in the Mediterranean. 

I’ve included 3 label variables per unit so that you can mark unit status and unit type.  These are simple text fields so you can add whatever information you want to the units.   

The game plays well once you get used to it.  The one downfall is that VASSAL was really designed for board games.  With this in mind, there is no function to make groups of units wheel about on a corner.  You can wheel individual elements easy enough but groups are more problematic.  This one downfall really is not a big problem.  We don’t actually pick up whole groups of miniatures and wheel them on the table top either!

I am putting the finishing touches on the game now and should have it released in a week or two, after I get some feedback from a friend.  Hopefully, this module will allow me to knock out game reviews much faster as I will be able to play out a turn or two and save the game when time runs short.