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"Design Philosophy: DBx/HFG vs Neil Thomas" Topic

De Bellis Magistrorum Militum

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04 Jan 2017 6:58 p.m. PST
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Whirlwind12 Mar 2016 7:50 a.m. PST

In a recent thread TMP link there was a comment about the similarity / lack of it between the Phil Barker DBx/HFG family of rules and Neil Thomas' various rulesets. Personally I think there are some similarities but one crucial dominating difference: The DBx rules use a "shock" model, where the way to defeat the enemy (at the unit-to-unit level) is by inflicting decisive damage at a single moment (i.e. no attrition) whereas Neil Thomas' rules are stongly based on attrition i.e. requires you to wear down enemy units over a number of turns.

Assuming you agree with my distinction between the rulesets, which do you prefer? (Obviously, feel free to reject my distinction in the first place!)

Winston Smith12 Mar 2016 7:54 a.m. PST

That thread was nuked.

Whirlwind12 Mar 2016 7:55 a.m. PST

Will this link work? TMP link

Winston Smith12 Mar 2016 8:25 a.m. PST


warwell12 Mar 2016 9:11 a.m. PST

One of the reasons I stopped playing DBA was having units endlessly push each other back and forth across the battlefield. This seemed especially prevalent when the armies were composed similarly (e.g. 2 Roman armies engaged in a civil war).

Ivan DBA12 Mar 2016 9:54 a.m. PST

Good observation by the OP.

Warwell, in my 20 years of experience, it is very rare to go very many turns without some kills, even with the situation you described.

Also, it is realistic that evenly matched heavy infantry would melee for some time with only negligible casualties to either side, until something breaks the deadlock, such as a lucky break when leader is killed, or turning the other side's flank.

Most rules have socialized gamers to expect an attritional system, going all the way back to hitpoints in D&D, and figure removal in Grant's rules. But at an army-level game like DBA, it would be unrealistic to track low level attrition that occurs prior to a unit breaking. Troops being fatigued or disorganized is represented in other ways, particular the overlap advantage you get when the other side's line is disordered.

lkmjbc312 Mar 2016 11:12 a.m. PST

I don't mind attrition if it is kept to a minimum. On the other hand… the style used for DBA is probably more realistic as commanders had little knowledge of casualty levels till after the battle was over.

Both I think have their places.

BTW, DBA 3 fixes the endless back and forth in most heavy infantry engagements. A clash of Greek Hoplites can now be over quite quickly…though not always.

Blade vs Blade fights can last all day… but that is fairly historical…many Roman fights exhibiting this…

Joe Collins

platypus01au12 Mar 2016 11:03 p.m. PST

I actually think there is a big difference between DBA/HOTT and their bigger siblings DBMM/DBR. You will find BBDBA and BBHOTT also plays differently.

In DBMM you do have attrition, but it is PIP attrition. This is because in DBA you have one D6 for 12 elements, but often in DBMM you have 1 D6 for 20 or so. When your lines start to break up, you will find you must choose very carefully how to use them. People who have planned well can concentrate on defeating smaller parts of their opponents army, who they have broken up so they can't respond effectively.

It sounds counter-intuitive to people brought up on olde models off units with hit-points or damage quanta, but when you see it on the table the light-bulb comes on.


Weasel13 Mar 2016 2:42 a.m. PST

I like the idea of units being pushed around and only being destroyed on drastic results but if it goes on too long, players can get frustrated.

Father Grigori13 Mar 2016 4:16 a.m. PST

I haven't played the Neil Thomas rules, so I can't really comment on them. However, I've always enjoyed the games I've had under DBx, and for HFG, I like the kriegspiel type feeling of system for the large C18th and C19th battles. Attrition is a peculiar thing. Very few gamers would like to see a 600 man unit in rout after 40 or 50 casualties, yet there are many accounts to suggest that this kind of thing was normal. At Monmouth Courthouse, the longest and one of the largest battles of the AWI, total killed and injured from the two armies probably did not amount to 1,000 men, yet some 10,000 men were involved on each side. At the other extreme, you have units that fight to the last man.

To simulate attrition realistically is difficult, and really needs some vicious morale rules. With that in mind, I'm happy to stick with the DBx model.

Khusrau13 Mar 2016 6:11 a.m. PST

I must admit to preferring the DBx model rather than markers and record-keeping. So in DBx the recoils gradually decrease the effectiveness of the army, as you have to spend precious effort (command pips) shoring up the line, rather than using them to take the initiative.

Between tough troops (with a good combat factor, such as spearmen or legionaries)- you can keep pushing each other, but as long as your opponent can keep their line intact, you will not break through. This to me seems like a pretty good historical model.

Russ Lockwood13 Mar 2016 3:18 p.m. PST

Attrition is better at times.

We did a variation of DBA that we called Big Battle DBA where each push back garnered a casualty cap/ring/etc. When the casualties equaled the number of figures (2, 3, or 4, depending on unit), the unit was eliminated. We also did a variation of that in that we eliminated a unit when casualties equaled the larger of the foot or mounted strength.

In addition, each casualty generated a -1 DM. The usual quick-kills and 2x kills applied, so the -1 'helped' eliminate units.

That helped speed up the game and we could double or triple the size of the usual 12-element per player army. On a visual level, 25 stands or so look impressive until they start dropping like flies after a couple turns of pushbacks.

MajorB13 Mar 2016 3:38 p.m. PST

We did a variation of DBA that we called Big Battle DBA where each push back garnered a casualty cap/ring/etc.

In addition, each casualty generated a -1 DM. The usual quick-kills and 2x kills applied, so the -1 'helped' eliminate units.

I did something simlar in DBA version 2. However, I have found it is no longer necessary in DBA v3.0

CATenWolde14 Mar 2016 3:13 a.m. PST

I'm considering getting both sets (AMW and the "Intro to DBA 3" book) for my son and his friends as easy entry points. The tipping point vs. attrition combat models seem to be the major differences, as is the pips vs "not included" C&C system.

Both seem to offer a wide variety of army lists, and reasonable sized armies to start with.

Does the DBA "Intro" book include the "Big Battle" rules that were included in the first rules release?

Does AMW scale up well to larger battles?



Personal logo Bobgnar Supporting Member of TMP14 Mar 2016 9:10 p.m. PST

Sue's book has Big Battle, Giant Battle, and Historical Refight rules.

Thomas Thomas15 Mar 2016 1:34 p.m. PST

For the medieval period shock is the better model. Often armies fought hand to hand for some time but until a section of line broke little happened. This is why the battle line system and element simulates medieval combat so well. Instead of large units taking loses you instead have a small section of the line breaking but leading to general collapse.

Missile weapons might be an exception but at least in 3.0 kills from massed missile are now more likely and go simulate accumulated attrition reasonable well.


Father Grigori16 Mar 2016 2:31 p.m. PST

Not just for the Mediaeval perod. For the late C17th and C18th, Nosworthy suggests that the ability of units using Anglo-Dutch platoon firing enabled them to concentrate fire and create a greater 'fire shock' than the French system of firing by ranks, which inflicted casualties through a target unit, as opposed to the effects of platoon firing, where they would be all in one part of the unit. In a sense, attrition is a reaction to the perceived, not actual, level of casualties. Hit 40 men quickly in one part of a unit, and they will panic. Hit 40 men throughout the unit, one by one rather than at one go, and they will be much less badly affected.

With all that in mind, I'm happy with the shock model.

Queen Catherine24 May 2016 1:12 p.m. PST

I disagree with Phil Barker that generals couldn't / didn't know what was happening but just see the sudden flight of a bunch of legions. Experienced generals know what a mess sounds like on the radio today, and back then there would've been subtle indicators as to HOW they were being pushed back and how it was going.

Personally, I like a limited attritional model and I also have been using some rally rules [that take off hits] from the One-Hour Wargames rule sets.

That being said, I don't have a problem playing DBA especially as its large scale and the "understanding" that the general isn't watching from a hillside but is IN one of the elements. So I'd say that definitely if the general is fighting in the front rank, then his ability to gauge the battle should be limited.

So the real questions is "what should the player know, and who does the player represent and where is he on the field?"

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