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John D Salt

I preface these remarks by saying that ancients isn’t my period; I really don’t claim to understand how warfare worked before the invention of the spitzer bullet.

Back in the old days I played a little WRG 4th edition — especially, I regret to say, using the fantasy supplement in the back, and loads of orcs borrowed from a friend. When I got to university, I pretty soon decided to deny all knowledge of WRG ancients rules, as there were plenty of games to be had in other periods, and it was the only way to avoid second-year law students coming up and saying “What do you think is my best 2,000 point army if I have to beat Sassanids?”, to which I found it difficult to frame a polite answer.

I still have copies of WRG fifth, sixth and seventh edition, which I read avidly, observing the evolution of ideas in them, but never played. Nobody had the figures, see. Very few of my board wargame collection covered ancients, but I very much enjoyed “Punic Wars”, the folio game that appeared in Strategy and Tactics no. 53, and it was simple enough to teach to non-wargamers. And if anyone remembers the WRG’s foray into board gaming, “Decline and Fall” was good fun, especially if you got the Huns.

I doubt that many people have come across it, but the magazine “Jeux et Strategie” was in its early editions when I spent a year teaching in France, and their game “Heraklios”, which appeared in no.6, kept me occupied for a while. In more recent times I have enjoyed World Wide Wargamers’ “Ancients”, and I have treated myself to a de luxe edition of Phil Sabin’s “Lost Battles”, but not found the time to give it a go yet.

The ancients rules I love above all others, though, are DBA. A copy of the first edition went to Saudi Arabia with me in the early 1990s, along with some coloured card cut-out terrain and two sets of counters I had made up to permit each side to choose any army from the lists provided. The whole lot, with dice and measuring sticks,  fitted into a Ferrero Rocher box and a flat A4 folder. There isn’t a lot to do in the way of entertainment in Saudi Arabia, and DBA did a lot over two years to maintain my sanity in numerous hotel and compound rooms. It also had the virtue of being easy enough to teach to non-wargaming friends, and I recall an Australian pal playing his first wargame being massively enthused by the way a line of Marian Roman blades could sweep all before them.

Apart from its sanity-preserving and easy-teaching qualities, the thing I liked about DBA was that, for the first time in my experience, the way the battles were decided actually seemed to bear some resemblance to all those little maps in Arthur Banks’ “A World Atlas of Military History, vol 1, to 1500”, rather than being a question of two sides lining up, advancing, and spending several hours calculating casualties and morale.

For the moment all my DBA is played using DBA Online, but I remain very, very fond indeed of DBA. It is a marvel of brilliantly elegant game design, and gives you access to over four thousand years of military history in a few pages of rules. Once I’ve moved house, I really must take a gander at the 3rd edition army lists and get to work on the Buffalo Box full of 1/72nd plastic ancients I have stashed somewhere.

All the best,



  • This reply was modified 6 years, 3 months ago by John D Salt.