A Letter from Malacca

Last night we deployed some armies for a fascinating game of BBDBA. With my regular opponent keen to use his Post Mongol Samurai (IV/59b) I opted to use my Sumatrans or Malay (IV/37a). My Sumatrans were built for DBR and comprise considerably more troops than BBDBA requires. However, given the period covered by the late medieval period and DBA I thought it more appropriate they were used to represent the Sultanate of Malacca than the Sumatrans.

Despite having the army I’ve not used it in DBA or BBDBA. Primarily due to the warband being based three figures per base, as required for DBR, rather than the DBA requirement of four per base. One of the appealing aspects is the combination of elephants and warband which is, in my view, rather fascinating. So with some differences between this army under the two rule sets it would likely be an experiment at best, a disaster at worse.

I opted for two commands each with 13 stands and one of 10 stands. The centre, which would be allocated the highest PIP die, would contain the majority of elephants and a significant number of warriors (4Wb). One wing would contain the remaining elephants, a number of warriors and light horse, visible below in a staged photo before the game.

The combination of two elephants, six stands of warriors, a couple stands of archers all supported by the light horse, which can also be seen below, was complex. The combination of figures required at very least the second highest PIP die.

Finally the remaining wing, which would have the lowest PIP die, would contain the remaining warriors and the bulk of the archers who could at least fire even when movement was restricted. The allocation of PIP dice before the battle, as well as the role each command will play, is an important dynamic to consider in BBDBA. All part of having a plan, even when it’s not particularly cunning!

Now, to the battle. The Japanese, as defender, had selected and placed terrain. They deployed cavalry on the wings with massed dismounted Samurai in the centre. Ashigaru and Sohei monks extending the centre to left and right. Clearly the Japanese commander intended to hold in the centre while attacking on the wings.

For this particular game the Malay massed their elephants and warriors in the centre and left with the warriors interspersed by elephants. The concept was the elephants would breakup the enemy lines which the warriors would then exploit. The extreme left was held by archers and light horse. The Malay right wing was somewhat separated from the centre by a couple of steep hills.

In due course the Japanese were unleashed. The first attack was against the Malay right.

Here the Japanese foot, including warrior monks (3Bd), was partially bogged down by a combination of steep hills and Malay skirmishers. However, the Japanese mounted pressed the extreme flank. The Japanese mounted (6Cv) suffered heavy casualties as the Malay archers took a heavy toll.

Meanwhile the Malay left and centre, shown above, advanced to attack Japanese opposite. However, a diversion of troops to support the battle on the right caused a temporary halt. Now, the Japanese, having reorganised their right, surged forward to attack the Malay left. Soon the fighting was general with only a portion of the centres of both armies engaged. Below, a view from the Japanese centre with a small village, a hamlet in DBA terms, separating the centre of both armies.

As casualties mounted the first to break was the Japanese left. A result of both casualties to the mounted and isolated warrior monks. Meanwhile, on the Malay left, the Japanese we’re gaining the advantage despite several attacks being thrown back with heavy casualties. Eventually the Malay left would became demoralised. Desperate to break the Japanese the Malay centre pressed forward in one final effort. Warriors and elephants smashed into the disrupted ranks with elephants leading the attacks and hardened warriors charging in support. While several parts of the Japanese line held others disintegrated in the onslaught. A hard fought but decisive victory had been secured for the Malay.

From an effectiveness perspective the elephants had proven difficult to manoeuvre using, as expected, many PIPs. The warriors (4Wb), while frustratingly slow, had proven generally resilient against Japanese ashigaru (3Pk) and in many cases deadly against Samurai (4Bd) and Sohei monks (3Bd). In many ways their effectiveness on the day was a result of the elephant and warband combination. The archers had proven invaluable on the Malay right, despite my less than optimal deployment. That said, a few different die rolls and the Malay right could have easily unraveled.

Interestingly the army played rather differently than it does in DBR, where enemy firearms often are seen. In this situation the elephants are held in reserve rather than risk being unnerved by the sound of these weapons. I now think it’s time I take the plunge and paint some additional warriors so I can field the army with the legal requirement of solid warband, rather than reminding myself throughout the game that the warriors were actually “solid”. It will be good to have a different army on the DBA and BBDBA battlefield.

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