The Viking Legal Team in Action

The Viking Legal Team in Action
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Thursday, November 6, 2014

DBA 3.0 - A Completely Unbiased Review!

OK, well, it's not completely unbiased...

I've been playing DBA on and off since 1.0 [which I still own].  At various times I've: been completely exasperated by the game, been beaten by children, won championships and plaques, played historical battles, taught it to non-gamers, taught it to gamers [not as fun as non-gamers], tried a campaign, quit playing, started again, been on a long hiatus. In short, it's been sort of a love-hate relationship [reminds me of a girl I used to know...]

Anyway, this is the dawn of a new DBA, even as Phil Barker's health seems to indicate the dusk of an era.  I think he's the only gamer whose name is commonly used as both a verb [to barker] and a language [Barkerese].  He has also contributed widely and deeply to gaming in the hobby with a common-sense approach to history, archaeology and literary works that provides a "more likely than not" situation for many gaming interpretations.  So first of all, "Hats off to you, Phil!"

DBA 3.0 is not a cheap folded paperback at $15.  It cost me about triple that to buy it from Amazon UK and ship it over the pond.  On Military Matters has it about the same price, the Black Hat seemed a tad less.  Anyway, here's the scoop in bullet points:

1) Price.  Triple the old game to get in the USA.  Much more offered than in the old booklets, so read on! 
*Grade = C [a cheap download would be nice].

2) Physical Presentation.  Very solid hardback, opens well and will stay open on the flat table.  APPEARS to be ready to last with tight stitching and quality paper.  It's a little shiny / glossy which makes it hard to read in direct light at times. The same puzzled Roman is on the cover trying to [we assume] figure out a much more complex set of rules [as in nearly all the other sets of rules...]. 
*Grade = A- [spiral would've been A+].

3) Organization.  a 500% improvement over past editions.  There is an alphabetical list of armies, an INDEX [yes, I'm serious, an INDEX] and...a GEOGRAPHICAL index for the 85 "header" armies, each of which has several sub-army lists.  This is for the few people who don't know where when the Ilkhanid, Cuman, Hsi-Hsia and Urartian armies fought.  Oh, wait, that's 95% of us...and did I mention there's not one but THREE indexes?  Grade = A+

4) Rules.  There seems to be considerable thought put into adding diversity and variety with a minimum of complexity and additional rules.  The rules still clock in at about 12 pages.  But for those people who HAVE to differentiate between Burgundian  Ordonnance bow/pike use and that of say French or even Achaean, it's in there.  

The greatest beneficiaries seem to me the irregular armies, which gain some character with the Fast / Solid characteristic, and changes to movement.  Aux Welsh spearmen now seem a lot more historical and dangerous to engage than before, and aren't as vulnerable to Cav in the open.  Overall, the Dark Ages will benefit from the rule changes and even well-worn favorites like Gauls and Marian Romans have new subtleties.    

Downside is that all this differentiation comes at a price in terms of energy spent learning the game and also computing all the new combat modifiers between Fast, Solid, etc. The rules are now a replacement for DBM and much more similar to DBR. So if you want simple, fast-play rules, these are now off the list. If medium to high complexity is OK with you, then you are still fine. I don't think I could handle playing the tournament scene with these rules, however.

Finally, the rules strongly resemble English in many ways, and are much more intelligible to anyone who didn't study symbology or hebrew.  A huge improvement!  
Grade = B- [mostly due to new complexity level]

5) Diagrams!!!  yes, I mean that there are actually pics to explain the rules in detail.  Most impressively, there are 16 pages of diagrams !!!!  Really!  A pic is worth 1,000 words, and never more so than now.  While there was 1 page with 3 diagrams in the past, now there's loads.  A big win for new players and nearly anyone who doesn't have an experienced player to show them the rules. Grade = A+

6) Army Lists.  
There are four sections to the lists: Chariot, Classical, Early Medieval, and High Medieval periods.  These now take up 102 pages, with 313 main army entries [about 60-80 in each section], each having several sub lists.  So the total is pushing 1000 army lists!  

So far, every single list I play or have read has additions, new variety, and further qualifications that make them more interesting, sometimes with additional sub-lists or troop types.  

Also helpful, they all have a paragraph description that is informative and often amusing.  Well known or contentious histories can be quite long, i.e. Sub-Roman British.  Even better, there are reference book lists including NOVELS which I think are very inspiring for the gamer as well is sometimes superbly researched - better than many history books.  

Overall, I see a more realism and flexibility with sensible decisions to level the army list playing field [haven't played yet] to accompany them. Grade = A+

Additional Ways to Play.  The Big Battle DBA rules have been returned, with the new "Giant DBA" added but the old campaign rules have been deleted with a lengthy paragraph that I don't think is as good.  It was short and simple but useful - especially new gamers - and it took up SOOO little space.  The present offering is quite incomplete.  Grade = B-
In short, I believe it is worth the added expense, and will provide a challenging and interesting battle at the medium complexity level quite well. 

Unfortunately, the original intent of a fast-play set of rules to teach newbies yet still challenge experienced gamers is gone. You would need help from a friendly guide or an experienced friend or the Fanaticus Forum. The only way I could see this playing quickly is if you used the same armies over and over again and became very familiar with the troop types, terrain, camp and BUA rules.

The old campaign rules will no doubt be available on line and also Sue Barker is working on an intro book.

So don't let the nay-sayers guide your actions!  DBA has progressed, and 1.0, 2.0 and 2.2 will soon be quite dead. As long as you are ready to commit some time and energy into plowing thru the rule book, there is a bright future with DBA 3.0! If you are looking for fast-play and intro rules, there are a number of excellent sets out there, and I'd recommend Neil Thomas' One-Hour Wargames as the best place to start.


  1. Thanks for the review, ill be ordering mine soon!


  2. Glad it helped. I'm planning a Roman Civil War game very soon, my first playtest. stay tuned!

  3. You can get the V3 for USD 20, free shipping from the UK at the book depository... as of the 11th of Feb, 2020.


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