Getting started with DBMM


DBMM is a game that is used to refight historical battles from 3000BC to 1515AD using miniatures.

The game is usually played by 2 players, but can be played by teams, with each person controlling one command. A few people have also played it solo.

The game has three scales, depending by how many Army Points (AP) you want to use.  100AP games take an hour or less, require a table 60x60cm (2'x2') and have some similarities with DBA. DBMM 200 needs about 2 hours and a 90x60 (3'x2') table, while DBMM with armies of 350-500AP use 2-4 hours and the standard 180x120 (6'x4') table.

All these measurements are for 15mm scale miniatures. The game can also be played using 25/28 mm with larger tables or in 6mm using the same size table but more miniatures for a mass effect.

One of the outstanding features of this game is that needs no markers, bookeeping, or chits whatsoever. All the information needed to play are on the table and are provided by the miniatures and their position.

This is a big plus for me, since the game table is not cluttered, but just holds the game  tools, that is the figures, dice and measuring sticks.

The miniatures are based on rectangular pieces of card or wood called elements, representing the smallest unit of maneuver in the game. The base dimensions and the number and type of miniatures based on it provide all the information that players need.

Each element belongs to a troop type (or class) that is defined by its tactical behaviour. Each class has a movement and a combat factor. So the roman legionaries belong to the “Blade” class, troops fighting with one hand weapon, a shield, relying on individual fencing and often on the use of an heavy throwing weapon hurled just before impact. Greek hoplites will be represented as “Spear” elements, a type used to represent the shieldwall tactics of using long spears, cohesion and mass to fight enemies.

Each element has an AP cost. The players select the elements that want to use spending their AP and buying the troops and the commanders of their army. Once this is done, the troops are organized in corps, each one led by a general.

This is the army that players will use. In addition to the rules, Phil Barker has also written  four army list books, these are useful to organize historical armies. The books show the troops that were historically part of the army selected, their numbers, proportions and their organization. An army made using an army list book has a strong historical feel and has its troops classified appropriately with respect to its historical enemies and contemporaries.

As example, a Roman army of Caesar's time will have a mass of legionaries, and some mixed auxiliary troops fighting in their native style, such as Numidian light horsemen and light foot, Iberian scutarii, Gallic cavalry, Balearic slingers and so on. Each of these troops belong to a seperate class, that defines the way they fought and their relative effectiveness.

The very basic mechanics of the game are extremely simple. Each turn, each command rolls one six sided dice. The number rolled represents the PiPs or player initiative points available for the command this turn. These PIPs can be used to move the troops. Each PIP moves a single element or a group. This simple and elegant rule gives the advantage to the player who keeps his elements in groups and lines, while a fragmentation or dispersion of elements, such as later in a battle, will create control problems. The armies are encouraged to  move in coherent combat lines and columns, just like real armies did.

Combat happens when two enemy elements contact each other. The basic  mechanism for fighting is again straightforward. Each player rolls a die, adding his troop type's CF, or combat factor, a number between 1 and 5. If one player's result is double their opponent's, then the lower scoring element dies. If the score is more but not double, the losing element recoils, i.e. it moves backwards one base depth.

Many troops are particularly dangerous to some other troop types. In such a case, to kill the enemy it is only necessary to score higher, you do not need to double them. For example, light infantry in skirmish order, the troop type called Psiloi, are vulnerable when charged by medium or heavy enemy cavalry in open ground.

This is a very unfavourable tactical situation and any psiloi rolling lower than enemy cavalry will be trampled. They need to lurk in bad terrain versus mounted!

Given the scale, each element base represents the space occupied by historical soldier formations and also the striking distance of most of their weapons. For example, javelin armed troops fight when their element is in contact with enemy. In the game dynamics, it is assumed that javelinmen are hurling their weapons from the best distance, while the target, which may be a close combat troop type, tries to close with their enemies. The combat roll will show if the javelinmen successfully to disrupted and damaged the close order infantry, or if they were scattered by their opponent's charge.  Massed (but not skirmishing) archers and the artillery will of course shoot at a distance.

Once fighting is joined by two large groups of elements, e.g. representing opposed Roman legions, the result will be progressive attrition and disorder: some elements will die and some will recoil out of the line, providing a negative die roll modifier to friends near the gap so created. This is another simple and elegant system to show the attrition, disorder and fatigue in a combat. The longer the combat goes on, the more disorder there will be and less effective the combat formation will be.

The players will then use PIPs to bring up reserves or push back into line recoiled elements and hence restore some order, plug gaps or exploit a breakthrough.

There are always a lot of things to do and few PIPs. Sometimes the choice is dramatic. There are a lot of decisions for the player.

Once the losses reach a third of the elements in a command, it breaks and flees. All the command's elements now count as lost. When the army's lost elements reach  half of the original total number in the army, the army disintegrates in an headlong flight, giving victory to the other player.

These are the basics. There is much more in the game, such as weather, battle maneuvers, planning, troop quality, troop training, commanders...

A 400 AP game requires an army made up of 150-300 figures where a horsemen counts as 2, 200AP or 100AP games require proportionately fewer figures.. The game times quoted at the start of this article assumes that the players are not too much defensively oriented, after all if no-one moves, nothing happens.

The game scale is quite large. Each element represent roughly 250 men. This allows us to play a battle between armies of 10,000-20,000 troops per side using 400 AP. This is quite good, because most of the battles fought in our period were in this size range. I have also played some historical battles with much larger armies, played by two teams. Large battles can also be played by two players scaling down the element/soldier ratio.

In DBMM, the player takes the position of an ancient general leading a whole army fighting a large field battle, not just a skirmish. He will have the role of Hannibal, Caesar or less well known or lucky generals. He makes the commanding general's decisions, planning the battle and maneuvering his army. All this in a game with a playing time. The game  experience is well worth a try, DBMM is a real gem.