The DBA Resource Page

Fielding Your First DBA Army

One of the many advantages of the De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA) game system is that the relatively small army size (12 elements with 2-4 figures per element) reduces the cost and painting time associated with fielding an army and allows avid players to start gaming fairly quickly as well as collect a variety of armies in different periods. Everytime I see a movie or read a book on ancient or medieval history, I contemplate fielding a new army. I also constantly peruse the DBA army lists for ideas and am intrigued by armies that I have relatively little knowledge of such as Post Mongol Russians or Warring States Chinese.

As fun as it is to collect colorful armies, one of the most difficult decisions for many new DBA gamers is deciding what army to start with. The place to start is by browsing the DBA rules, which includes an "official" list of 180 armies in both the Ancient and Medieval periods. It can be hard to choose from this wealth of options. Your decision can become even tougher if you are only planning to collect one or two armies due to storage limitations, cost considerations, or conflicting gaming interests.

If you are facing the dilemma of what army to field for your first foray into DBA, this page offers some tips and suggestions on how you might make your decision.

Sources of Inspiration

There are any number of reasons to pick a particular DBA army for your own. Here are a few of the more common:

Personal Examples

That is where my DBA collection currently stands. I am still contemplating my next purchase. Early Greeks perhaps (I am intriqued by the possibility of a play-by-mail Greek City-State campaign with me as the umpire). A warband army (Gallic or Early German) to compliment my Imperial Romans is a good possibility. Perhaps Ancient Spanish and the challenge of mastering rough terrain troops, plus a Sertorian option. More recently, I'm drawn toward the "V"s and am contemplating Visigoths and Vandals.

Tips on Buying Armies and Figures

Having chosen your army, the next step is finding the appropriate figures and basing materials. I will not go into detail on figure manufacturers or basing options here, but invite you to read my Newbies Guide to Buying Wargames Miniatures.


Painting your new army is a subject which could take pages to address in appropriate detail. Instead of trying (and since painting is not one of my strengths), I will refer you to the Miniature Figures Painting Guide and FAQ for tips on painting figures. In addition to selecting the types of paint and painting techniques to use, you also need to know what colors to paint your particular army. Here, some research is in order. In addition to historical sources in your library or bookstore, you can turn to the excellent Men-At-Arms and Osprey Series, which provide color plates of typical soldiers for selected periods. Or you can let television be your inspiration. After all, we all know what a Roman Legionary is supposed to look like from Hollywood epics such as Spartacus and Ben Hur...who needs reality.

Basing Materials

Once your figures are painted and sealed with a matte or clear gloss finish, the last step is to put them on bases which represent the elements comprising your DBA army. As specified in the DBA rules, element bases are 40mm wide and 15mm deep for regular foot, 20mm deep for irregular foot, 30mm deep for horses, and 40mm deep for elephants, chariots, and war wagons. There are any number of basing materials which can be used. The two most common basing materials are probably balsa wood cut to size and pre-cut metal movement stands. Metal stands can be used in conjunction with magnetic sheets in the bottom of your carrying case or storage box to help prevent your figures from sliding around when moved and to minimize the potential for damage. Other basing options are available, including plastic, plastic coated metal, and thick card stock.

Figures can be attached to their element bases with almost any adhesive including simple white glue (Elmers), epoxy, goo, superglue or its equivalent, zap-a-gap, etc. If you are concerned about being able to rebase your figures to use with different rule systems in the future, then you should probably use a less permanent glue and/or basing material.

Gamers typically paint their bases an appropriate ground color such as brown or green and many take the additional step of "flocking" the base. This is done by coating the base with adhesive, sprinkling on the appropriate colored turf used by model railroaders until the base is fully covered, and then shaking off the excess. I find white glue works well as an flocking adhesive; I spread it on thinly with an old paint brush and use Woodland Scenics Blended Turf from the model railroad hobby store for flocking.


Once you've chosen your DBA army, purchased the appropriate figures, and painted and based them, then all you need to enjoy your new army is someone to play with, an area to play on, some terrain, your copy of the DBA rules and/or a quick reference sheet, a ruler and a six-side die.

For a gaming area, a piece of green felt or game cloth of the appropriate size thrown over a kitchen table or card table if all you need. Books placed under the cloth can be used to create elevations. Felt of varying colors and shapes can be pressed into service to represent most terrain features (blue for water, dark green for woods, brown for roads and built-up areas, etc.) with only a small investment in time and money. Gravel and large rocks from your yard make excellent "rough" or "impassable" terrain.

If you want a more realistic look, you can build or buy three dimensional terrain (e.g. trees, hills, rough areas, streams, bridges, buildings, etc.), a topic which I will cover in a seperate essay at a later date. You could spend even much more time preparing diaramic quality gaming area than preparing your army, but you don't need to do so in order to enjoy DBA. High quality terrain can be slowly prepared and integrated into your collection.

Finally, the last thing that remains is finding an opponent. Your local gaming club is an obvious source. You can post "opponent wanted" notices in the local gaming or hobby store. DBA is simple enough that non-wargamers can master the rules after a quick demonstration game, so don't rule out friends, spouses and even your children as potential opponents. In a pinch, you can even play a game solitaire. Personally, I have no gaming clubs or stores convenient to my area, so I've recruited friends and co-workers to the hobby.

All the above steps can take days, weeks, or even months to complete, so even DBA is not a viable option for gamers who require the almost immediate gratification that you can get from a board or computer wargame. However, you will find that DBA is one of the quickest and easiest miniature wargaming options available, yet is varied and challenging enough to give you countless hours of enjoyment.

If you have questions about choosing your first DBA army or have suggestions and insights based on your own experience that you'd like to share, drop me a note at

Last Updated: July 20, 1998

Comments, suggested additions, and/or critiques welcome. Direct them to Chris Brantley at