DBA Without Miniatures

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Although historical miniature wargamers may condemn the following as treasonous, there are several good reasons why you might try ancient and medieval wargaming using the DBA rules sans miniature figures:

  • You're not sure about the rules and want to give them a test before buying and basing figures to the DBx system.
  • You're a newbie trying to evaluate different armies before you commit yourself and your money to a specific period or historical army.
  • Your miniatures are in the mail order, but you just can't wait until they arrive and can be painted/based to start gaming.
  • You're an experienced player trying to hone your tactics for an upcoming tournament or game against an army you just don't happen to have in your miniature collection or a ready practice opponent at your local club or group.
  • You'd like to try your hands at a campaign game, but don't have enough elements or the right armies to provide all the required participants.
  • You're not interested in miniatures or painting miniatures, but love gaming in the ancient/medieval period nonetheless.
  • Money is an issue even with the smaller sized DBA armies.

I'm sure you can think of other good reasons.

If any of these apply to you, then there is an option. DBA works perfectly well as a quasi-boardgame substituting counters or simple labeled bases for actual miniature figures. Just make sure the counters are the same sizes called for in the DBA basing scheme (e.g.,15mm by 40mm for regular foot in 15mm scale, etc.).

The counters can be made up of the same material that you would use for basing your miniatures--cut metal, sheet magnet, bass or balsa wood cut to size, plastic, heavy card, etc. Obviously, if you're just experimenting, the cheaper the better, although if you plan to evolve to miniatures, you can reuse the bases to mount your figures.

When making the counter, identify the type of element with a marker and add some color, symbol or text that indicates which army it represents. To this basic information, you can add other details such as reminders of the element's close combat modifiers and/or it's movement rate. For example, counters might look like the following:

        -----------------    ------------------
        |               |    |     Hunnic     |
        |  Roman BLADES |    |    LT. HORSE   |
        |  +5/Ft +3/Mtd |    |    +2 Ft/Mtd   |
        |               |    |                |
        -----------------    ------------------

If you are a graphics wiz, you could cut and paste appropriate graphical icons onto the counter like shields or silhouettes of soldiers, chariots, elephants (top view, side view, fontal view), etc. And if you're a wiz with computers, you can set the whole thing up with a word processor so that you can print out new sheets of elements when needed and then just glue them down to heavier stock and cut.

Alexei Gartinski's essay on Universal DBA Elements provides a good example of what can be done.

The ability to create new counters inexpensively also allows you to incorporate variant rules such as fatigue and attrition easily by just marking fatique points on the counter itself.

Three dimensional terrain is not incompatible with flat counters, but can be incongruous nevertheless. Try using flat terrain such as sheets of colored construction paper or felt (green for trees, brown for roads, grey for hills, etc.). One DBA newcomer reports that he went so far as to fight an entire campaign game using armies cut out of card stock on a series of game boards made from cardboard scavenged from refrigerator boxes on which terrain was drawn with colored markers.

Dean Bedlington (Olympian Games): Regarding 3-D terrain, I find that a 3-4mm high element scales better with most terrain than 15-25mm elements do. The one proviso is that the terrain should not be made too large - so for woods use dyed lichen instead of 3" model trees, and for vineyards or orchards, use green mats with parallel corrugations cut to size - looks great. For hills, stack thin layers of felt or door mat or whatever to provide contours - the trick is to prevent the elements from leaning crazily or only touching the table in 2 places! Done well, elements without figures can evoke bodies of troops very well.

So if your enthusiasm for the Dark Ages has dimmed and you want to try your hands at being Pharoah, before making a major investment in lead chariots, you can give the New Kingdom Egyptians a go in battle using counters.

Rahul Sukthankar: I have been playing DBA's cousin Hordes of the Things (HOTT) with cardboard counters for quite some time, and I like the fact that the rulebook & game slips easily into my laptop case. Like Alexei's, my counters are double-sided (red lettering on one side, blue on the other). For terrain, I keep pads of Post-It notes of several colors that can quickly be stuck onto the table as needed. Similarly, the generals on each side are marked with a tiny sticky rectangle cut from a Post-It note. And, as Alexei says, once the game begins, the counters seem to vanish and the armies come to life.

Steve Webb: I have a set of cardboard bases, that I have covered with contact. Then by using overhead pens I can write on each one what type of element it is. I use these, to either try out armies that I am thinking of buying, or to play Hordes, since I don't have any suitable armies.


Paper Armies On-Line

Several gamers have done us the service of making available paper elements that can be printed out and glued to card stock or basing material to create specific DBA army lists:

  • Chris Brantley's paper armies include Middle Anglo-Saxons (DBA II/24b) and Norse Vikings (DBA III/40b)
  • Martin Hogg (a.k.a. Mog of Mogsworld) has added paper armies for Early Hoplites, Alexandrian Imperials, Early Imperial Romans (with different coloured borders to differentiate between sides for Roman Civil War battles.) and Ancient Britains.
  • Andreas Johansson's De Bellis Planorum features about a dozen Classical period DBA armies.
  • Will Johnson of Will's Games has put together some very nice paper DBA armies (Blemmye/Nobades, Moors, Numidians, Ptolemaic, Seleucid, Spanish and Thracian) and terrain (farm and monastery). Just click on the Graphics button and check out the pull down menus.
  • Kent Reuber has created a set of counters for Chipco's "Days of Knights," which uses 40mm square elements for all units.

Commercial Products

  • The Paper General offers various ancient/medieval figures designed for 3d basing and suitable for DBA.
  • Dean Bedlington at Olympian Games originally offered a range of DBA element counters by the brand name "Superior Elements", but these no longer seem to be available.

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Last Updated:  23 September 2013

Questions, comments, suggestions welcome.
Send them to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.