The English DBA Open
Organised by PAWS, the Society of Ancients, Magister Militum and sponsor the annual English DBA Open. Representing SoA, I went down to help Phil Barker present the prizes. I organised my weekend well enough to stay for the day and get some games in, too. Mind you, compared to the team visiting from Italy, mine was a fairly modest expedition. Ciao, guys .... For an Italian view of the event, you could try (here ....).As well as a juniors section and a 25mm section, there were 24 players contesting the 15mm senior trophy. We played off in 4 pools of six players - so generating a 'round robin' of 5 games each ... before the top player from each pool went into a semi-final and final knock out phase. The games were scored on a 5-2-1-0 basis, the 5 being for a proper decisive game win within the time limit (anything else gaining the player 2, 1 or 0) ... so no question - the emphasis was on getting to grips and beating the enemy. After a refresher course (and defeat) very gamely offered by Richard Pulley, my second game was against Mr DBA himself, Phil Barker.No time pressure needed here, it turned out. Phil's army of over-eager Huns (they were being keen enough to ravage their way to the Horn of Africa!) deployed in a tight box ready to burst and overwhelm my sturdy Axumites ... however the 'Pips god' (if indeed it was not he whom I was playing!...) enabled the African warriors to close the ground rapidly (the power of the Ark of the Covenant or some such mumbo-jumbo ...). With one or two 'favourable' combats (mounted v Ps, mounted v Bw, skirmisher v elephant) and precious few Pips to do otherwise, Phil (unwisely, it would turn out) chose to bring about a general and mostly frontal engagement. He failed to win the 'quick kill' combats, and got stuck far to tight with the supporting combats against the warband. The Axumite riposte cut them to pieces. It was the dices, of course (and the clock ... and an opponent who knew well enough that evasion was his strength, but who wanted to gamble for a decisive win ...) ... but it prompted a run of Axumite luck that saw me through the remaining three games undefeated. Thanks Phil.
I also got to play against Ghaznevid, Byzantine and Korean armies - so quite a variety ... if mostly mounted ...
Some thoughts ..
I had managed to call in on the event last year, so determined to participate this year. It was a lot of fun. I have been in or around DBA since before it existed in its current format (I co-organised the Society of Ancients Conference for which Phil conceived the original quick, 12 element, game DBSA ... ), but have become pretty jaded with the DB system, particularly in its 3.1 version of DBM. Indeed, I don't think that game really works any more. So it was good to get back to basics, and to the version of the game not weighed down with grading factors, Pip swapping generals, fiendishly complicated spontaneous moves and bogus press forwards. And, frankly, to a version of the game where it doesn't take 31/2 hours to end up with a draw! In this game, cavalry armies are popular but infantry armies still work; there is no artificial imbalance imposed by regular/irregular; warband and similar 'quick kills' make reasonable sense in the context of the game - and the Pips system does seem to add to, rather than frustrate, the games intention of simulating ancient battle. In hindsight, it seems disappointing that the 'big ancients game' ended up following the DBM rather than Big Battle DBA route.
Some Africans ...
My choice of Axumite Abyssinian served me well enough. It's half Warband - but the option of the Elephant general, plus a Psiloi, 2 Bow, a Blade and a LH gives it some flexibility and some punch against horsemen. I decided to use it in order to get out what is effectively a retired DBM army ... it became almost unusable with what 3.1 did to (F) troops, especially Warband ... and is currently not even on the schedule as far as FoG lists are concerned.
All that aside, the Axumites are a great example of what historical wargames can do. I was introduced to these African armies by the series of articles Richard Young wrote for Slingshot. Those, and an awareness of the mythology of the Ark of the Covenant ending up in Ethiopia ... Our shared leisure interest has a unique way of blending an enthusiasm for collecting new toys and playing games with a fascination with military history - especially those intriguing bits that usually get left out. And so I found out more about the powerful Christian Kingdom of the Horn of Africa, its impressive material culture, its alliances with Constantinople and wars across the Red Sea against the Arabs and Sassanids.
Some Mumbo-Jumbo ...
Of course, we all like to take some liberties ... aside from the story of the Ark of the Covenant, the Ethiopian kingdom may also have a biblical connection to the lands of Sheba. The Sabean culture most obviously associated with of Solomon's royal visitor existed on both sides of the Red Sea, and Egyptian records of the land of Punt indicate African realms with female leaders - was the real Queen of Sheba one such? Would she have been Arab, Yemeni, Axumite?
Well, in wargames terms, her army would most likely have been Saba* - and the Queen of Sheba certainly predates the given dates for the Axumites by over 500 years. Did that stop me constructing the army around an Ark of the Covenant in the camp and an Elephant General which just happened to be ridden by a female leader? Well, given the dates, it obviously would have been a queen of Sheba, not the queen of Sheba - and a nod to an engaging tradition. Any excuse. A scantily-clad Queen of Sheba riding an elephant? That's what I meant by Mumbo-Jumbo!
* ... anyway Saba have no Elephants ... in fact nothing interesting for a queen to ride at all - why, even Arab tradition shows her riding a camel!