Carthago Delenda Est! – The Punic Wars with DBA 3.0

Joe Collins provides a second article for this blog which follows on from his very popular article Back to the Dark Ages and my own With Hoplon to Victory. This time Joe provides some thoughts on the Punic Wars using DBA 3. I’ll hand over to Joe at this point…

Few periods capture the average wargamer’s attention more than the Punic wars. Republican Rome in all its glory with a functional republic run by democratically elected leaders and a tough citizen soldier army is opposed by an exotic enemy comprised of hoplites, hired mercenaries, strange and fascinating elephants, and great hero commanders. There is much here to engage one’s interest and imagination.


I received a double dose of Punic history as a school boy from David Harris, my Roman history teacher (who could fling an eraser from the top of a map hook and hit a pen tossed into the air from across the room) and from my Latin teacher, Harry Anderson (a decorated WWII RAF pilot… he used to stand in front of the class teaching and click his heels together – we didn’t misbehave in his class, ever). Together they conspired to bring the period to life to the average high school kid. No doubt, most if not all wargamers had teachers like this. Everyone knows of Scipio Africanus and Hannibal! Everyone dreams of commanding in a great victory like Cannae or Zama.

In fact two of the first 15mm armies I built for DBA were Rome and Carthage as matched opponents. The earliest versions of DBA unfortunately didn’t simulate this period well. The Carthaginians were usually completely manhandled by the Romans in short order. Later updates to the rules and army lists helped the situation only marginally. While I built four other armies of the period for a six player campaign, they mostly went unused. Fortunately, DBA 3 has addressed many of the issues with fighting this period. The standard 12 element game is greatly improved in both balance and in generating a satisfactory historical narrative. The real change however, is with the Big Battle and Historical Battle Rules. Using these one can now refight the great battles of the Punic wars with great satisfaction. What has changed?

Army Lists:

The first change one might notice is with the Roman army lists. Now the Romans have the option of having their Italiot allies. This may not seem a large change, but it is important. According to Polybius and Livy, up to half of the Roman armies of the period could be composed of Italian allies. While some of the allied Italian cities adopted Roman fighting techniques, most were probably still using their native tactics and weapons. It would not be until later, probably the wars against Philip V of Macedon, that the Roman army would become homogeneous in armament and tactics. So, the Roman army of the Punic wars now should probably contain: 4x 4Bd (2x Hastati and 2x Princepi), 2x 4Aux (Italiot Allies), 2x Sp (Triarii and Italiot Hoplites), 2x Ps, and 2x Cv to represent the proper number of allies. Cutting the number of blades by two greatly adjusts the combat power versus Carthage.

The Carthaginian army has also changed. The list is now split in two. The first represents the Carthaginian armies that fought in Italy and Spain. It resembles the DBA 2.2 list with some important differences. First, the list now requires 2x Ps. Second, the Gallic mercenaries are now available optionally as 4Aux rather than Warband. This change allows for a better representation of the performance of the Gallic mercenaries in Hannibal’s army and can help produce combat outcomes that resemble events at Trebbia and Cannae. The rather odd three spear elements are still required as under DBA 2.2, and can still cause rather lopsided deployments. The option for two Elephants still exists, though the Carthaginian commander will find their performance much different under DBA 3.

The second list gives the Carthaginians mostly Sp elements, representing the calling out of the city and North African hoplite militia during the final invasions and battles for control of Carthage. While the list is dated for the end of the Punic wars, it can also be used as the basis for some of the earlier battles at the end of the 1st Punic war during the first Roman invasion of the Carthaginian homeland.

Troop Types:

Lets look at some of the changes to the various troop types.

Elephants under 2.2 with a mediocre combat factor and a high pip cost to keep in combat were fairly ineffective against foot. They were therefore used mainly on the flanks to scare opposing mounted. Now their foot and mounted combat factors have been flipped. More importantly, they are impetuous and pursue. Suddenly elephants are terrors against foot. Roman blades face them at + 3 to +5. The odds of a double during a combat with an elephant substantial.   Their capability of pursuit alleviates the issue of high pip cost. Though countered by Psiloi and Auxilia, elephants are now capable of taking their rightful place in the battle line. One caveat however, they now trample almost everything in their retreat path.


Spear has also been given new life in DBA 3. Side support now gives spear equal footing with blades on the initial contact. A solid wall of Greek Hoplites will initially fight their Roman Legionnaire opponents on equal terms. Lucky recoils can see isolated blades fighting victorious spears at +3 to +5. The spears however shouldn’t be too content. The chaos of battle coupled with the Roman blades now pursuing (all blades pursue most foot in DBA 3) will quickly nullify the advantages of side support. Careful sequencing of combats can quickly see the spear phalanx thrown into disorder and defeated. Still, a well controlled hoplite phalanx can hold its own versus a Roman Legion for some time.

DBA 3 also features some major changes to the Blade and Auxilia troop types. Blade is now impetuous. Roman Legionnaires now pursue most foot. This is a major change over DBA 2.2. Remember the plight of the Romans at Cannae where the center legions pursued the Carthaginians into a trap? This is now very possible with DBA 3. This pursuit however also features some distinct advantages. Once the legionnaires are engaged, no pip expenditure is necessary to keep them fighting. With a combat factor of +5 versus foot, one wants to keep them fighting. In essence this frees up a large amount of command pips to be spent elsewhere.


The poor, lowly Auxilia has also changed.  DBA 3 splits most foot troop types into “Solid” and “Fast. For Auxilia this produces two distinctly different flavored troop types. The Roman Italiot Allies and the Carthaginian Spanish and most of their Gallic mercenaries are rated 4Ax. These are still useful in bad and rough going, but they also have the benefit of recoiling mounted on ties. This coupled with their combat factor being increased to +3 versus mounted give the 4Ax considerable staying power in holding off and even defeating mounted. The 3Ax troop type is not present in these armies and functions much as it did under DBA 2.2.

The Standard Game:

What do these changes mean for the standard sized DBA game? The balance of the Carthaginian vs Roman match-up has significantly shifted. Under 2.2 the Carthaginians struggled for a win. The game somewhat mirrored the standard flow of battles like Bagradas, Trebbia, and Cannae with the Carthaginians desperately trying to hold their center while using their superior Cavalry and Light Horse to crush the Roman’s flank, but this rarely was successful for the Carthaginians. Only a superior player with a good deal of luck was able to pull a Punic victory.


Under DBA 3 the Romans still hold an advantage. The Roman Legionnaires still live up to their reputation as fearsome opponents. But with the change of two of those Blade elements to 4Ax the Romans have less combat power to project forward. In essence their center is narrower and the Carthaginians will be able concentrate their best troops to hold it. Their best troops now, the tough Liby-Phoenician hoplite spearmen can also hold the legionnaires for some time. All this allows for a good Carthaginian commander to win the flanks, and possibly the game.

While estimations of matchups are difficult to quantify, my opinion is that the Carthaginian Versus Roman match-up has moved from 20% to 80% under 2.2 to be 40% to 60% under DBA 3.

Historical Punic War Battles:

With the standard sized battle game being greatly improved by DBA 3 we now turn to fighting actual historical battles. The first problem that must be faced is the Roman triple battle line and the way it functioned. The standard battle game makes no attempt to replicate it. In fact, the truth of the matter is that we have no idea of how the system actually worked. While Polybius and Livy both confirm that such a fighting system existed, neither give us any real indication of its actual functioning. All the scholarship on it boils down to just supposition and guesswork.


What we do have documented however is the Roman command system. The citizen soldiers of the Republic were lead by citizen generals. The quality of this generalship varied widely with the whims of politics. The Romans seemed aware of the vagaries of democratically elected leadership and structured the Roman military system according. The early Roman battles all seemed to feature a rather fearsome army able to project tremendous combat power over a long period of time, but in an incredibly inflexible way. Xanthippus and Hannibal were able to take advantage of this inflexibility. Only with maturation and professionalization of the Roman generalship, first under Fabius Maximus and later under Scipio were the Romans flexible enough to stymie the Carthaginians and then to defeat them.

For refighting the Punic battles on foreign soil I suggest the following model. The average Roman legion should consist of a standard DBA 3 Polybian Roman army with an addition of six Italiot allies (1x Ps, 1xSp, 4x4Ax). Thus, the Roman army at a battle like Bagradas would have two commands of 18 elements each (roughly) representing two legions and a reduced contingent of allies (a complete consular army). For a Roman army in Italy, double the number of Italiot allies to 2x Ps, 2xSp, 6x 4Ax, 2x Cv. This gives the average Roman command 24 elements with a break point of 8.

They would be faced by a Carthaginian army with three commands of the standard 12 to 18 or so elements apiece. This produces a game where two large, tough but unwieldy Roman commands face three smaller, but more flexible Carthaginian commands. The Romans should be deployed in their triple line with the allied 4Ax on one flank. This structure and deployment will produce Bagradas. Scaling it up will produce Trebbia and Cannae.

Bagradas as mentioned works well as two consular armies with depleted allies fighting three Carthaginian commands (though at Bagradas, one of the Carthaginian command would have been all Greek Mercenaries). Trebbia scales up from this. Though the actual order of battle is lost to history, it seems that two consular armies were involved with full contingents of Italian Allies. Polybius mentions that only half the army was Roman. Here, four commands of 24 elements apiece should face perhaps six commands of Carthaginians with 16 elements apiece. While we have no idea of the breakdown of command between the consuls, it seems one on either flank commanding the cavalry and the allies while the remaining two each command two full legions (of all Romans) seems best. The Carthaginians should be more free to determine their command structure.

Cannae featured eight consular legions with allies, twice the size of Trebbia, and probably is best fought scaled down unless one has a huge number of figures. The Carthaginians should be scaled accordingly.

The larger Roman commands help to make sense of the Roman triple battle line. DBA’s command distance restrictions demand a deeper deployment of multiple lines to retain control of such large commands. This also nicely fits the view of the Romans being able to project combat power forward for very long periods of time. The second line of Principes can easily fill the gaps caused by causalities while the Triarii hold the flanks and prepare for a last effort.

The smaller and more numerous Carthaginian commands allow a would-be Hannibal to have more tactical options. A flanking contingent such as the one at Trebbia still allows Hannibal 5 commands to directly face a Roman army. Flanking cavalry can be under a single command unlike the Roman player who will be saddled with a command consisting of allied foot as well as the mounted troops.

Only after the rise of Scipio Africanus should one begin to give the Romans more commands. In the battles for Spain we begin to see Scipio segment his army and move away from the standard triple battle line structure. At Ilipa he, along with his sub general Silanus, commanded two consular armies and a large allied Spanish contingent.   Holding the Carthaginians in the center Scipio was able to march his second line of legionaries to the flank and crush the Punic flanks. Giving the Romans an extra command under Silanus drawn from the existing pool of troops enables them the articulation and command pips to carry out such a maneuver. The only outlier to this trend is Zama. Here both Scipio and Hannibal opted for less flexible deployments.

Though DBA 3 does a wonderful job recreating the battles of the Punic wars, there are a few optional rules that may help in scenario building.

  1. Roman Command Discipline. Though the early Roman generals seemed to be mostly inept and in some cases simply political hacks, there is no doubt they had a well structured command system. In the smaller battles (one consular army) allow the Roman player to award his pip dice at will. In the larger battles, roll for the all Roman command separately and award those dice at will. The allied commands get what they roll.
  2. Hannibal’s Auxilia. Though personal charisma Hannibal was able mold Gallic and Spanish tribesmen into troops able to stand against the Romans. Though not able to defeat them outright, Hannibal’s allies were able to hold the Romans for enough time for the rest of the Carthaginian army to defeat the Roman flanks. Allow the Punic Auxilia the option of recoiling either their base depth (as normal) or their base width (thus breaking contact with pursuing foot).
  3. Superior and inferior troops. DBA 3.0 handles solid (heavy) foot and fast (lighter) foot well. Some troops however in the Punic wars were certainly inferior. This includes many of the hastily raised Roman legions and some of the earlier Carthaginian Spearmen. For these troops use a 12 sided die (blank ones are available at most game stores) marked 1,1,2,2,2,3,3,4,4,5,6,6. For superior troops, perhaps the Roman Triarii and Hannibal’s veteran hoplites use a 12 sided die marked 1,1,2,3,3,4,4,5,5,5,6,6.
  4. Light troop frontage. DBA 3’s historical battle scale assumes 4-500 troops per foot stand (with some exceptions). This includes Psiloi. In larger battle games this can cause an issue with frontages occupied by the lights. To correct this use the scale of 200 to 250 for the Psiloi. Count then as ½ a stand for losses. Suspend the rule exempting them from corner overlap. Finally, amend the combat results versus elephants to: “If doubled and the Ps unmodified combat roll was a 1, flee, else recoil.”

Hopefully you found Joe’s article interesting, I certainly did. I use Punic Wars armies frequently, as such many of Joe’s thoughts resonate with me. Hopefully you will consider the trying the Punic Wars, a truely fascinating struggle, with DBA 3.0.

7 thoughts on “Carthago Delenda Est! – The Punic Wars with DBA 3.0

  1. Excellent article, very helpful. Any thoughts on Spanish and Numidian armies? Also, I know the DBA format is constraining, but is the army a bit cavalry light when the 6 allied units added are all infantry? -Bill

  2. I’m not a big fan of using the Numidians as a separate army. I see their main role as being mercenaries to either major side. I in fact don’t have them as an army (though thinking on it… I might be able to field one)… preferring my 6 player campaign to be inter-war… adding a Greek city state army to represent Saguntum instead.

    The Spanish are interesting in that they have 3Bd Celtiberians. I would use these liberally as allied contingents whether fighting Rome or Carthage. This adds a nice hard core of troops able to stand against the Punic Spear or the Roman legions outside of bad terrain.

    Concerning the Romans being light on Cavalry… yes. The Romans fighting outside of their home territory seemed to have a difficult time keeping their Italiot Allies on-board. You see this at Bagradas and some of the battles in Spain. In Spain the Romans seemed to have hired on Spanish. At Zama on the African coast they added the Numidians to boost their mounted.

    On the Italian mainland the Allies seemed more inclined to stay and fight. This of course includes the Italiot cavalry.

    Does this help?

    Joe Collins

  3. Excellent article and lots of inspiration for my own campaigns. It would be good if DBA would allow to model fresh recrutes up to veterans (maybe that would work in using Auxilia instead of Blades for battles were the Carthaginians faced mostly untrained new recrutes, as I think the Blades’ effectiveness against spear overestimates a Roman soldiers advantage.

    1. There was an article a few years ago in Slingshot where raw Carthaginian foot, at Zama, were represented as Horde. Phil Barker more recently has used Horde to represent the Great Fryd in the DBA 3.0 Anglo-Saxon list. I have wondered if that would model recently recruited Romans. Horde pursue, ensuring they get themselves in trouble, and generally don’t recoil, though they break if doubled.

      1. That might be a good idea, too, but automatically breaking when doubled doesn’t sound like Romans to me. It could well be that one would need another category, in the end I would put the raw recruites just below the Veteran spearmen at Cannae, but on the same level as the Iberians and Gauls. After all they held the line to the bitter end, but were not superior at that stage.

  4. In DBx most stands are eliminated if doubled, this includes legions rated as “Blade”. Many stands recoil if beaten but not doubled, this includes Bd. Horde (Hd) are different and generally ignore such results. Like Blade, Horde pursue if they win a combat. There are some similarity between the troop types and I think Horde would model very raw legions as was seen at Cannae, arguably deployed on the wings of the Roman army.

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