DBM – October 16 at Frome

Yes, I’m playing in a DBM competition – get over it; I probably will eventually.

This has been a long-standing date in our Frome miniatures group calendar (Abbey Wood Irregulars), and it’s a chance to show off the re-furbished church hall to more people.  Nearly finished now, and it looks great with the new custom-made lights.  Congrats to Pete and Colin and the team.

Steve Etheridge and I are playing Polybian Romans.  Neither of us have played much DBM at all – Steve’s done a lot of DBA competitions, while I play mainly FoG nowadays.  So it’s been a bit of a mixed bag so far, as we attempt to get to grips with the rules.  And many thanks to our tolerant opponents for helping us out with occasional clarifications.

We’ve played v Later Carthaginians and Early Libyans so far.  We managed to squeak a 6-4 win v Hasdrubal, complements of some fine gladius work against the reluctant Spanish allies, who eventually collapsed.  We managed less well against the Libyans, in fact they gave us a right drubbing.  Knowing they had mainly Psiloi and Auxilia we figured that our blades and cavalry would give them problems.  We opted for a fairly forward initial deployment, despite 5 steep hills in the vicinity.  Unfortunately (mostly on my end of the table) this left us little room to deploy our blades into lines, and the legions prefer not to fight in deep blocks.  We also made a few technical errors, quickly exploited by our opponents – I let them get round the right flank of my front line a little too easily, and wasn’t able to cope very well with a couple of offset Psiloi half-in half-out of a steep hill.  So although we broke their main group (out of 4 commands) in the centre, we shortly thereafter lost two of our own, thus losing the battle.  Maybe we can turn it around tomorrow.

It reminded me of the reasons why I moved on from DBM in the first place, which is the reason for this post really.  DBM seems to be more about the game mechanics that enable a single system across 7,000 years of armies, rather than about any semblance of historical modelling of battle.  The curiosity for me is that there has obviously been considerable effort and cost to produce extensive army lists (which almost any research will show are pretty ropey history), suggesting a historical bent.  And yet it doesn’t permit use of historical tactics, or at least they don’t work in the game.  That combination of attempted historical authenticity in the construction of the armies, and yet the lack of historical authenticity in the use of them in the game is what I find striking.  It’s the essence of a historically themed game in contract with a simulation game.  FoG exhibits the same problem.

This type of game is much more about the game and its technique – for example where exactly do I put this element, so that it makes counter-moves illegal owing to the rules – than about how that army would have been used historically.  As others have pointed out, you can take a Roman army to the table, but you cannot make it use Roman tactics.

These are examples, therefore, of historically themed games, not historical simulation games, and that means they may tend to attract players who like complex competitive games per se, rather than those who favour games that reflect history.  I’m beginning to think that there isn’t a continuum of where games lie on the theme versus model line, but clear blue water between the types.

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