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DBA: De Bellis Antiquitatis

Latin for "about the wars of antiquity," De Bellis Antiquitatis is an historical miniatures wargame. DBA is easy to learn, fast paced, affordable, and continually challenging. Two armies, each with 12 stands of miniature warriors, face off. The first to destroy four stands takes the field!

Choose an army

As its title suggests, DBA deals  with warfare before the widespread use of gunpowder. This is an enormously large span of history, 3000 BC to 1500 AD. The game thus offers players many different options when deciding on an army or historical era in which to play. The newest revision of the rules, DBA 2.0, contains lists for over 310 separate armies, not including historical variations within each list. Regardless of era, each army list also has variants from which to choose. Do you want to field an extra unit of knights, or should you replace it with your catapult for this battle?  My advice is simply to pick an historical era in which you're interested and you will have more than enough choices to make the decision a difficult one. 

Paint and Base your army

DBA is half game and half hobby. While it is possible to purchase pre-painted and assembled armies in some cases, the more typical method is to buy the miniatures and paint them yourself. The miniatures are metal and widely available in 15 or 25mm scale. DBA will accomodate either scale, but 15mm seems to be the most popular by far. These miniatures are , indeed, quite small, but they are not difficult to paint. Trust me, it just takes a little patience! And I actually find painting them relaxing. The metal, once primed will accept acrylic paint easily without obscuring the details on each figure. As a matter of historical interest, you can spend time researching actual color schemes or shield designs used by your army, or you can simply strike out on your own and paint them in a way that is pleasing to your eye. The point is, it's your army. You can make it look however you want! Once painted, each figure is then placed with its unit to create your army. The army lists in the rule book indicate what type and how many miniatures make up an individual stand of soldiers. The one steadfast rule is every army is comprised of 12 separate stands of soldiers, be they mounted or on foot.

Have at it!

Now that you have your beautiful army, it's time to get them a little bloody. All you need is an opponent. Again, the object of the game is to be the first to destroy four of your opponent's pieces. The game is played with a single six sided die. The first phase of the game is setting up the board. The low die roller at the onset of the game is the defender. It is assumed, then, that the battle is taking place somewhere on the defender's home turf. Therefore, the defender is responsible for setting up the game board. The board must measure two feet by two feet. It can be as fancy as the beautiful pre-made terrain boards built by my friend Rick (picture above), or it can be as simple as your kitchen table. Really. I've played many games of DBA on a table, using books as hills and salt shakers as trees. There are guidelines for how much and what types of terrain are legal for each game board. In some cases, an army whose troops fight well in rough terrain might break up the board with several swamps or forests. In others cases, the defender may choose to place only a winding river in hopes of riding his or her opponent down in the open field.

Once more into the breach!

During battle, the two generals alternate turns. A turn consists of three phases. Moving troops, resolving ranged combat, and resolving close combat. A roll of the die determines how many stands you will be able to move each turn. Put simply each turn (or bound as the British authors of DBA call it) breaks down like this: move, shoot, hack. After resolving each phase, your opponent will take his or her bound. 

Units in the game are broken into five basic classifications. There are mounted units and there are units on foot. Within each category, there are units who are skilled in close combat and units who are unskilled in close combat. So, that's four of the five categories. The fifth category are units with ranged attacks. So, for instance, a stand of knights would be a mounted unit that is skilled in close combat. Each specific type of unit has a movement factor (the number of inches it can move in a turn) and two combat modifiers (one for fighting versus mounted and one for fighting versus foot).

When your armies collide, combat occurs. Each player simply rolls a die and adds that troop types' modifier to the roll. Compare results. If your result is double your opponent's (after adding all relevant modifiers), then his piece is destroyed and removed from the game. If your result is higher, but not double, then that piece must recoil, moving back from the stand it was fighting.  

And that, believe it or not is 90% of the game. There are slightly more involved rules for terrain (certain troops benefit from it, while others are weakened) and supporting troops (multiple units attacking a single target give your opponent negative modifiers to his or her combat roll), but above all, DBA is a game that places strong emphasis on tactics.  Having played for over five years, I can honestly say each game I play is different and presents its own set of unique challenges.

New army = new game

Because each army  has its own unique mixture of troop types, what you learn mastering your Marian Roman army may not apply to playing the Knights of St. John on Rhodes. When I first started playing my Medieval Welsh army, I struggled mightily, losing over ten games in a row at one point. Having now mastered certain key tactics with my Welshies, I can now hold my own against all comers. Put me on the battlefield with a new army, though, and it can be like learning a whole new game. We often have fun switching armies after a pitched battle, just to see how different and challenging it is to fight in another general's shoes. There is no one DBA, really. Each army you learn to play gives you a new perspective on the game.

DBA Resource Page

The DBA Resource Page is, hands down, the best and most comprehensive site devoted to DBA on the web. For the rank amateur or the seasoned veteran, the site is a veritable font of knowledge. Much of what I know about DBA, I owe to Chris Brantley and his excellent work.


sconway@subverbis.com   Stephen Conway   1721 Marian Dr. Indianapolis, IN 46240   317-843-9744
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