Joe Collins recently provided a short article for this site covering Dark Age Warfare in DBA 3.0. I am sure that this will be well received and provide some interesting information on how the rules handles warfare in this period. The various photos are of Joe’s 25mm Dark Ages collection.
The development of the new version of DBA concentrated on several worthy goals. Phil Barker’s foremost was the elimination of geometric ploys and “gamey” tactics. Closely following this was a re-evaluation of fighting in various periods of history and how it is represented in DBA. Years of game play experience had revealed some shortcomings both in the historical feel of some periods as well as the actual game play. The most apparent of these was the Dark Ages.
Under DBA 2.2 most Dark Age battles were simply dull. The lack of troop differentiation, element definitions based on the classical period, and the very scale of the game conspired to produce lopsided and uninteresting games. The most glaring case was the match up of Vikings vs Anglo-Saxons. This rivalry usually featured the all “Blade” Vikings slaughtering the poor all “Spear” Saxons. The Pre-Feudal Scots didn’t fair much better. Their troops rated mainly as either “Warband” or 3Sp (Spear), essentially they fought in the game just like the Saxons. Further, there was no real difference between Viking raider armies and the later Viking armies built from Norse peoples that settled in Britain. The Normans faired little better. Their large number of knights provided a good striking element against the Vikings. Rear rank support from Ps (Psiloi) given to Sp (Spear) elements however made battles against Saxons very difficult and rather odd. The battles featured weird, deep formations that didn’t look or feel how most view Dark Age battles. Hastings, while arguably a very difficult victory for the Normans, was rendered almost impossible reproduce.
Fortunately DBA 3 offers remedies for these shortcomings.
First, Phil changed the ground and figure scale. While this seems an unimportant change in a 12 element game, many play larger scenario games based on historical battles. With 2.2’s scale of 1000 men per heavy foot element, all but the very largest Dark Ages battles were too small to recreate without drastic rescaling. Even Hastings could be barely be represented as a standard 12 element game. While this is not inherently bad, many battles besides Hasting are standard fare for Dark Age wargamers wanting historical refights.
Second, Phil changed the humble “Spear”. Instead of rear support, “Spear” is now given side support. Spears now receive a single +1 for having any side lined up with a “Blade” element or another “Spear”. This simple change, often referred to as the “shieldwall” rule, radically changes the feel of Dark Age battles. Gone are the odd deep pike phalanx formations to be replaced by more linear walls of shields. Now the Vikings are met with a wall of +5 to +5 combats and this match up is no longer a complete overmatch.
Third, Phil differentiated “Fast” troops from “Solid” formation troops. Now foot elements with 3 figures per base are rated as “Fast”. While moving faster than their solid brethren in close or distance combat vs “Solid” troops, they recoil on ties. This means that Saxons now are not only just +5 vs early Vikings, but the Saxons now recoil the Vikings on ties! Alfred the Great now has a chance to be truly great. The changes also affect the Scots. No longer is the Scot army just a standard “Spear” army. They are now rated as 3Pk (Pike). Fast and fighting in deep formation, they now better represent the savage fast moving army that Saxons feared. The Welsh are now 3Wb (Warband) and the master of quick ambush and sudden moves from rough and difficult terrain. Below, Scots 3Pk (Pike) move quickly forward.
Fourth, Phil updated the army lists and added allies. Now, later Viking armies can be better represented by a 4Bd (Blade) nucleus with a Saxon or Scot ally. Anglo-Saxons now have house guard 4Bd (Blade) elements matching the reading of Egil’s saga and further balancing this period. Normans can now have a large number of dismounted knights as 4Bd (Blade) to better match newer research into Hastings.
Finally, a host of smaller changes have added to the aforementioned. The faster tempo of infantry combat (e.g. Bd and Pk now pursue), the addition of new terrain types, the new game setup parameters, and the expansion of the army lists all work together to produce a more balanced and flavorful game.
I strongly recommend DBA 3 for those interested in Dark Ages combat. A few quick games will show everyone a world of difference. What was once dull and one-sided is now a period of interesting and more even fights.