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Battle of Cannae (216 BC)

By Chris Jones

The date is August 2nd, 216 BC - the place Italy. A time and place of destiny for Rome and its people. Having crossed the Alps from Spain into Italy late in 218 BC, Hannibal had in the previous year inflicted a reverse on the Romans at the Ticinus river, won a decisive victory at the Trebia and destroyed a whole Roman army in one of the greatest ambushes of all time at Lake Trasimene. Subsequent to that, the Dictator Quintus Fabius "Cunctator" (The Delayer) had instituted a policy of avoiding major engagements, which was succeeding against the great Hannibal. This policy was adopted from July 217 BC until the middle of 216 BC. Ironically, it was the very success of this policy which had resulted in calls in the Senate to take up arms again and drive out the invader.

Rome for the very first time raised eight new legions for this purpose and sent out a massive army of in excess of 80,000 men under the new consuls, G. Terentius Varro and L. Aemilius Paulus to fight a decisive battle. Bearing in mind the fact that their two previous major defeats had been at least partly decided by ambush, the Romans sought an open field on which to fight with hopefully some terrain to restrict the superior Carthaginian cavalry arm. Also, the Romans cannot have failed to notice that at the Trebia the Roman infantry centre had cut its way successfully through the Gauls making up the enemy centre and would attempt to recreate this on a grander scale while holding on the wings. The stage was set for one of the classic battles of all time.


The battlefield of Cannae was delineated by a river on the Roman left flank and a series of low hills on the other flank which do not appear to have affected the action. The Roman deployment was clearly designed to limit the ability of the Carthaginian cavalry to outflank the centre before its powerful thrust had broken through and destroyed the opposing infantry. In order to make their centre irresistibly strong the Romans formed up in a very deep formation. This was to some extent forced upon them by the nature of the ground but the Romans clearly felt that it enhanced their chances of success.

The Historical Battle

The various stages of this battle are well known. Firstly, the Carthaginian cavalry broke and dispersed the Roman left wing cavalry while the Carthaginian light horse kept the Roman right wing cavalry occupied. In the mean time, the Roman centre advanced and pushed back the convex curve of Celts until it first straightened and then bent concave. The Carthaginian cavalry swept across the rear of the lines and fell on the Roman right wing cavalry, driving them from the field. The Roman infantry advancing into the opening curve were then hit by the as yet uninvolved African Spearmen from the flanks. The victorious cavalry then fell on the rear to complete the trap. The Roman army was almost annihilated for the loss of a few thousand Celts. Roman casualties included many senior officers including the consul Paulus - Varro escaped with a few horsemen.

Simulating Cannae in DBA

In order to allow the battle to follow close to its historic course the original deployment must be adhered to. The Roman ability to manoeuvre is reflected in the double basing described below. In addition for the first three turns the Romans should never have more than 3 Pips available whatever they dice. The battle will be a hard fought tussle with the Romans attempting to carve out the centre before their flanks can be driven off and assailed.

Orders of Battle

Roman - 15x Bd, 2xCv

Carthaginian - 2x Sp (+1) African veterans, 2x Bd (-1) Spanish, 4x Bd (-1) Celtic, 2x Cv (+1), 2x Lh, 1x Ps (+1)

Note: the Roman army does not include any Ps as the velites appear to have had little or no effect. The Punic Ps represents the Balearic slingers who disrupted the Roman cavalry wing and wounded the consul Paulus.


                                Roman army

                     ||       Bd Bd Bd Bd Bd   
                     ||       Bd Bd Bd Bd Bd 
                     ||    Cv Bd Bd Bd Bd Bd Cv
                     ||         Ps          Bd
                     ||   Cv Bd Bd Bd Bd Bd Lh Lh
                     ||   Cv
                     ||   Sp                   Sp

                              Carthaginian army

Key: || = the river - impassable on the battle site. The balance of the board is flat good-going.

Special Rules

In the battle, The Gauls and Spanish troops in Hannibalšs army gave slowly under the pressure of the Roman centre. This is best simulated by grading them as Bd (-1) rather than Wb and Ax as standard.

The Carthaginian cavalry defeated their opposite numbers despite the narrow frontage and so are given a +1 advantage.

All Bd can gain +1 from 1 rank of rear support - the Roman Bd are double based for the first two ranks to reflect their tactical inflexibility. They cannot turn to face a flank attack if engaged to the front.

The Punic Sp and Ps are veteran troops who performed well on the day - they are therefore graded at +1.

Victory conditions

Normal, except for the following modified break points:

Roman -- 6 Elements
Carthaginian -- 5 Elements

Patrick Laffey's Cannae Variant

I would like to share with you what I have tried in staging a historical rematch between Rome and Carthage in particular Cannae. First I'll describe the OB then the special rules, last will be my comments.

Orders of Battle

Romans -- 2xCav, 10xBd. This represents the fact that the triarii and velites didn't seem to have a role in this battle.

Carthage -- 3xCav, 2xLh, 5xAux, 2xSp, 1xPs.


As in DBA except for the following.

  1. All Recoils and follow-ups are 100 paces;
  2. Romans must follow-up all recoils or breakoffs.
  3. Romans Blades get a plus 1 for a supporting rank of Blades facing ... etc. However, if the front Blade is killed in combat the rear supporting Blades is not killed, it automatically advances to replace the killed Blade but it does not fight this bound.
  4. Treat the Carthaginian Aux as superior. That is if their total is less than their enemy then add one to their total.
  5. Hannibal is confined to one of the Cav (were he belongs).
  6. Any Carthaginian within 300 paces of Hannibal gets a plus one in combat.
  7. Balearic slinger (Ps) get to shoot. Range is 200 Paces combat factors are +3 vs mounted, +2 vs foot. Note if Roman total higher when shot at, the Roman advance 100paces toward Ps. (ie the Romans are ticked off).
  8. Romans roll 1D6 for movement.
  9. Carthaginian role 2D4 for movement or 1D4 if Hannibal is in combat in the previous bound.


  1. This seems to work when trying to draw the Romans toward the Carthaginian line, especially when the Lh or Ps breakoff.
  2. Romans are very serious about killing the Carthaginians therefore when recoils happen or breakoff the Romans follow-up.
  3. Here I am trying to encourage the Roman player to "bunchup" and to try to punch through the Carthaginian centre. Otherwise the Roman player would just spread the 10 Blades 'coast to coast'. Having a plus 6 before the die roll vs either a three for the Aux (or a four if Hannibal is close by) gives some incentive to double up.
  4. If the Aux are not treated as superior (borrowing a DBM term) then they die real fast.
  5. Hannibal was an officer who commanded rather than leading the charge, compared with the Roman Consuls.
  6. Hannibal used his presence to encourage his troops therefore he is useful for reinforcing the line especial the Aux, without actually taking part in handto hand combat. It also give the Carthaginian player some tough decisions to make as to where Hannibal will go.
  7. This hasn't made much difference to the game but gives a bit of flavour. The Romans usually march up and whack the Ps to the next kingdom.
  8. Command and control. There was nothing remarkable about the Romans maneuvering on the field so I just left this as is.
  9. Now this is the interesting part. Carthage relied on maneuver. The 2D4 gives an expected 1.5 pips per turn advantage over the Romans to the Carthaginians. I thought of using a 1D8 but the result was to inconsistent, whereas the 2D4 gives rolls that are clustered around 5. This is similar to the use of the average dice, which I also thought of using. The use of the 2D4 gives a nice feel for maneuvering. Also, having the Carthaginians drop to 1D4 if Hannibal is in combat force the Carthaginian player to only charge with Hannibal if it is really critical. Note that the Carthaginians have one more element than the Romans but there is a heavy penalty if they use it.

This seems to work well. If the Romans go for one line of 10 blades then the Carthaginian player can hold the infantry back and use the mounted to break the line up and piecemeal destroy the Romans. If the Romans double up on the blades and hold their Cav back then they stand a very good chance of smashing the Carthaginian infantry. I was trying to get both sides to play in a historical manner without confining them to a fix setup and a fixed way of playing.

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Last Update: Feb. 2, 2000

My thanks to Chris Jones for this scenario. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.