Despite the significance of clashes between the city states of Greece to classical history, battles between armies of Greek hoplites are seldom seen on the wargames table. This is partly due to most rule systems requiring large numbers of figures and that these troops having a degree of similarity. This is amplified where players wish to fight games between historical opponents where twice as many figures are required. De Bellis Antiquitatis provides a solution to these issues in its simplest form the 12 element game. With games of this size it is achievable for players to build a pair of armies and experience hoplite warfare without breaking the bank or undertaking a massive painting project. The latest version of DBA, version 3.0, adds a number of changes to the rules that greatly improves the simulation of hoplite warfare.
As way of background the army lists included in the rules package provided provide two basic Greek Hoplite lists divided into an early period and a later period. The earlier period, covering the period from 669 BC – 449 BC has 10 sub-lists covering those city states in Greece as well as Italy or Sicily. The second later list covers the period from 448 BC to 225BC and covers a further 12 sub-lists. Armies in the later period tend to have an increasing number of light troops. Above, an Athenian army from the later period with additional light troops. Figures are from Tin Soldier’s 15mm range.
In addition several other lists are include troops armed and who fought in the hoplite style. Such lists include the Etruscans, Carthaginians and Syracusan, to name a few. Each list is designed to represent the troop proportions of the city state, state or expedition represented and as such each has a particular feel. As to the rules themselves there are a number of seemingly small but significant changes.
“As soon as they came to close quarters with the enemy, the Mantinean right broke their Sciritae and Brasideans, and bursting in with their allies and the thousand picked Argives into the unclosed breach in their line, cut up and surrounded the Lacedaemonians, and drove them in full rout to the wagons…” Thucydides
For the hoplite portion of the army we have two notable changes. Firstly, a flank support rule has been introduced. This provides a bonus to a stand of hoplites when they are supported by a similar stand in mutual side edge and front corner contact. This simple addition greatly encourages a solid line of hoplites to be deployed and maintained. When the line becomes disordered a hole can soon develop creating a weakened position and potentially the collapse of the line. The second change is the loss of rear support. In version 3.0 hoplites now do not obtain a rear rank support factor which results in a more linear deployment. The exception is the Thebans who, in the later period list, are provided one or two optional stands of double based hoplites (8Sp). These stands represent the very deep deployments of Epaminondas. These stands gain both an additional factor for being double based and flank support factors. If commanded by Epaminondas a further factor is gained for the general’s element. Combined these factors make the dense body of hoplites particularly powerful. However, the loss of a double based stand, especially when commanded by a general, is crippling and will potentially demoralise the Thebans in a single blow.
DBA 3.0 also sees the introduction of allies to the basic game. Now, hoplite armies can be represented by an amalgamation of troops from allied city states. These allied contingents may well consist of hoplites but can also include other troops. This is achieved by removing three elements from the army and replacing them with three elements, using a strict selection process, from a list which as identified as having provided allied troops. These allied contingents cannot move with other groups and require their own PIPs from the single die that is still thrown. I have found this simple mechanism useful in modelling the reluctance of allies in some hoplite battles to support the senior partner in the alliance.
Of course it is not all about hoplites. Other changes that improve the simulation of hoplite warfare are those changes to psiloi. In earlier versions of the rules light troops tended to be deployed only in areas of difficult terrain. While of course they can still be used to dominate such terrain they can also be used more effectively in front of the main line where they can more effectively harass and delay the enemy hoplites. This is achieved by psiloi stands not counting as overlapped unless contacted in the front and flank. This results in the psiloi fleeing slightly less often from advancing enemy hoplites rather, the psiloi will recoil and therefore delay the main enemy line a little longer.
If you have an interest in hoplite warfare I encourage you to try DBA 3.0. You may find it considerably more interesting than you thought. Of course once you have your hoplite army you are just a stones throw away from victory against the Persians…