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The Tactics of Deployment
(A DBA Virtual Seminar)

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of discussions on DBA tactics. In each "virtual seminar", I will pose a problem illustrating some aspect of game play and invite readers of the DBA Resource Page to provide suggested solutions and/or comment on the suggestions of others. The goal is to help illustrate the basic tactical/strategic considerations of DBA to new players, while at the same time to allow more experienced gamers to refine their thinking in light of the proposals of other experienced gamers.

The Problem

This case study is designed to explore the fundamental consideration in deployment--the initial match-up. It pits a Polybian Roman army (#46b) versus a Later Carthaginian army (#31b). Terrain features are deliberately ignored to simplify the problem. The Polybian Roman army deploys first, as follows:

     ---------------------------Roman Base Line-----------------------------



                                    [Ps]   [Ps]

     ------------------------Carthaginian Base Line--------------------------

Note, the element designated BdG is a Blades element with General attached.

The Carthaginian commander has the following elements available for deployment: 2 x Cv, 2 x Lh, 2 x Sp, 2 x Ax, 2 x Wb, 1 x El, 1 x Ps. (Note, I have selected the Carthaginian Elephant option over the Auxilia option since terrain is not a factor.)

The Questions

  1. How would you deploy your Carthaginian army in response to the Roman deployment above? (why?)

  2. Where would you place your camp in relationship to your battle line? (why?)

  3. Describe your overall plan of battle.

If possible, please submit your answer as a diagram in an ASCII or proportional font (e.g., courier) so that your elements are properly aligned with their Roman counterparts. Don't worry about the distance between the lines; the battle board is abstracted here to emphasize the importance of deployment relationships.

Send your responses to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.

Your Responses


Here is my proposed deployment:

     ---------------------------Roman Base Line-----------------------------



                                    [Ps]   [Ps]

                                                 [Wb]    [Sp]

     ------------------------Carthaginian Base Line-------------------------

The Romans have a lot of nasty infantry that I would want to avoid fighting; fortunately, infantry is slow. So I've divided my forces into an attacking wing and a refused wing. On the Carthaginian right, the shock troops (Wb, El) are lined up against their optimal enemies, while the Sp faces off against the enemy Cv and the end Carthaginian Cv provides an overlap.

Meanwhile, the Auxilia are meant to withstand the enemy troops long enough for the battle to be won on the right. The Lh will race forward and obliterate the enemy Psiloi for two kills. This will also protect the El from death-by-psiloi. Then the LH and Ps will hit the main enemy line and hold it up, since they can't be destroyed. By obstructing the Roman path with light troops, I would attempt to prevent the Romans from wheeling.

I chose to attack on the right in order to negate the Roman cavalry - if I attacked on the other flank, I would have to worry about the Roman Cv going for my camp or flanks.

My general is in reserve because I don't want to risk his dying at the head of the Wb or El; and if the enemy gets a Cv through, I'll have an advantage when I try to stop him before he gets to my camp.

My camp is where it is because I don't want either flank of the Roman army to get to it, but I fear the mounted troops more than the foot.

The lack of terrain makes this problem rather arbitrary and simplistic; but the use of the Carthaginans makes it more complex, since they have such a complicated army.

Comments on Anonymous's Deployment

Chris Brantley: This deployment matches Carthaginian strengths against a weakness in the Roman deployment, but assumes that the Romans will be content to allow the Carthaginians to execute their battle plan. It strikes me as a bit of a gamble, but could well pay off. If it doesn't, it puts the Carthaginians in a position of having three "groups" to maneuver, one of which (the strike force with elephant) requires 2 PIPs to move, whereas the solid Roman line should be able to wheel onto the Carthaginian flank with a minimum of PIPs. With my luck, I hate to gamble on getting an adequate PIP die roll when I need it.

David Kuijt: I like Anonymous's deployment -- very interesting. Especially since my thought was the reverse -- rather than smash the fast CV side of the enemy line, as in his deployment, I was going to screen them. Anonymous' deployment is very aggressive -- he's decided which four elements he wants to kill (the two Ps and the two Cv), and he's set up for that objective.

It seems a little risky, though, because none of his four kills are guaranteed. And if two or more of them escape, his deployment can't recover easily.

First, the Roman Psiloi -- given the 12" distance between the front elements of the two lines, it will take 2 turns for Anonymous' Lh to reach the Psiloi; three or four if he runs at the speed of his Ps elements. In that time the Roman line of Blades may move up to and around his Psiloi elements, which may be pulled back through the line.

Similarly, Anonymous' El/Double Spear/Cv formation with the Cv General in reserve is a great tool for killing the two Roman end Cv units, _if_ they stay there. But it is going to move at 2" (speed of the Spear), and the Roman Cv can easily just zip around behind the Roman Blade formation and make an end run. If that happens the whole Carthaginian formation will be in trouble -- the Romans will be able to sweep (slowly) around the three Carthaginian skirmishers, probably getting a Rout result on at least one of them in a few turns; positioning the Roman Psiloi behind the line of Blades to run out and turn into the flank of a Carthaginian skirmisher when that happens The Carthage main thrust will be against nothing, so they will have to wheel slowly into position, with the Ax put in the poor role of reinforcing the skirmishers. The battle is likely to be very mixed at that point; both sides reforming, and whoever gets more pips being better off. The Roman heavy foot strength is likely to come to play against Carthaginian foot; not good for Carthage.

Anonymous Responds: As to the comments on my deployment [by Kuijt and Brantley], I realized just after sending the message that the Psiloi will retreat through the Bd line, and I would thus not be able to kill them. I also realize that 2 LH might not be enough to slow up the enemy line; but in my experience, such a tactic generally works. Also, heavy foot trying to wheel is an amusing sight. Since they move only 2" per turn, the wheel is unbelievably slow, and (I posit) not much of a menace.

John Meunier: For what its worth, my thoughts on Carthaginian deployment were similar to Mr. Goode's. (Have to admit I hadn't even thought of making the elephant a general -- trapped by historical thinking. Clever idea.) My only variation was that I massed all the cavalry on the wing, made one of the Cav elements my general and planned on a sweeping cavalry action to win the day.

David Kuijt:

I was thinking of attacking on the other side with my main strength.

  -------------------------Roman Base Line---------------------------



                                    [Ps]   [Ps]


  ----------------------Carthaginian Base Line-----------------------

The logic is pretty simple.

First, make the El the General. Roman Psiloi at +2 versus +5 (El Gen) are going to be VERY unlikely to ever be a threat, and the El Gen is the only troop that the Roman Blades are going to be afraid of (+3 Blade vs. +5 El). Further, the El is fast enough to force the Roman heavy foot to fight (which isn't true if you try to hit the Roman Cav with the Elephant, an even better fight at +6 El to +3 Cv, but the Roman is never going to let that happen). The El is nearly invulnerable -- double-ranked Spear can't kill it (+5 to +5).

The main assault happens on the left flank. Warband versus Spear is nice -- +3 with Quick-Kill versus +4, and a flank or overlap. One overlap because of the Ax (fast enough to make sure the Spear don't try any fancy movement), and the other because the Elephant will push back the Blade facing it. If the Spears double up, so do the Warband, and the auxilia run forward to threaten their flank.

In the center the Carthaginian line of mounted troops is facing the Roman blades -- they are only +3 vs mounted, so the fight is mostly even. Except that they will have the Elephant quickly breaking their line up on the end with its huge factors, and they can't kill anything on the end of the line away from the Elephant. Further, they can't do much maneuver, because the Carthaginian line is much faster. Worse still, if they don't get the Psiloi behind the line very quickly, the line of Cv/Cv/Lh/Lh will sweep down on them at 4" and crush the Psiloi.

On the right the Cv are faced with a similar problem. If they stay in line, the Carthaginian spears move up slowly on spare pips (the main Carthage pip thrust is to get the Warband into contact). If they rush forward to threaten the slow-moving Spear, the spear just make a wall with the assistance of the Auxilia and Psiloi, and block them off.

The camp is put on the left flank. Given the matchups that the Roman Spear face, the Roman player's closer flank will be lucky to ever get within 15" of it. And the farther flank has a very, very long way to go, and if they move too far away from their Blades they will find themselves two elements against four, and get killed, even without the possibility of Carthage pulling a Light Horse or two out of its line as reinforcements against the Cavalry sweep.

All along the line the Romans are facing troops with a disadvantage -- Spear against Warband, Blades against mounted, and Cv against Spear. The Roman Psiloi might pull back behind their Blades to give them +1 against Mounted, but in that case the Carthage Lh/Cv can just wait while the Warband and Elephant crack the left side. The Romans are going to have to use several pips early on to pull their Psiloi back or have them run over; as a result their pips for any other reorganization are going to be very limited.

The battle plan for Carthage is simple: move forward on the left and center, hang back a bit with the right flank. If the Romans don't get the Psiloi under cover quickly, crush them. Spend pips on the left flank every turn. If you roll a "1", move the Ax/Wb/Wb (the faster center units can catch up on a subsequent turn and make line again). On 2 or more, move the whole line; move the Spear up for a little while to see what the Roman Cav is going to do, but don't move them up too close unless the Roman Cav is trying to redeploy on the other flank.

After the two lines hit, fight hard on the left flank or near the Elephant General; less hard elsewhere. Make the Roman use pips to re-engage if the Light Horse are recoiled; only use pips over there to bring Light Horse back into line if they are routed. The right flank is to block the Cv, not to fight Blades -- hanging back is better than coming right up with the main battle line.

The main thrust of the Carthage attack is to kill an element or two opposite the Elephant or the Warband, and to make the fight happen close to the Roman baseline. One element dead opposite a Warband or Elephant and the other guys in front of the other Warbands/Elephant will quickly fall. The Roman will be trying to reorganize and reform with slow foot units. The Spear will soon be slain; the Elephant will have a line on the Roman camp and mounted support. The last part of the battle should involve the Romans trying to reform a hanging flank; they will have to either expose their camp or leave the corner element in the lurch. Once the Roman flank is broken be conservative -- don't let your attacking units put themselves where their retreat is blocked by their own units.

Comments on David Kuijt's Deployment

Chris Brantley: My poor Romans. I don't know whether the Carthaginian deployment is that strong, or whether David's prose is so confident that I'm at risk of losing the psychological high-ground. (Important note to aspiring generals...if you think you are beaten before you begin, then you most likely will be.) I do know that I will have to do something to adjust the Roman deployment. The Roman psiloi are obviously in a bad place, my flanks are potentially overlapped, my cavalry is misaligned (it needs to be opposite his Light Horse or Psiloi or swung out wide against his flank), his weak Auxilia are not readily accessible to be killed, and his camp seems like it is unreachable. What effective match-ups can I try to create? Will I have time to adjust my formation on the fly? Only the PIP gods will be able to tell.

Anonymous: I see his plan; but I think he relies too much on the Warband being able to dispatch the Spear quickly. A danger is that if the Spear roll decently, they'll hold out as the Roman Cavalry cross diagonally to engage the Carthaginian Ps and/or LH, which Cav can beat pretty easily. The Cv could then punch through the Carthaginian line and disrupt things. If I were the Romans, the Ps would run backwards, then shuffle over to support the Sp and Bd on the end. Supported that way, the Roman flank is unlikely to lose quickly. I do think that the strength of David's deployment is that the Romans have no obvious place to get four kills, and so even if they fight off the Carthaginian attack, they have trouble counter-attacking.

John Meunier: Faced with David's deployment, as the Roman, I would pull the psiloi back and move them behind the right end (from my view) of my line, where I expect the weight of his attack -- to move up and hit break throughs and close gaps on an emergency basis. That might even allow you to double the spear and hold the end of the line with psiloi -- risky against Ax, but might keep the Sp around a bit longer.

I'd then try, vain as it might be, to get my Cv and a couple of blade elements forward on the left. One potential advantage I see is that elephant will slow down the advance some. With medium pips, he could be sorely pressed to respond to your cavalry on one flank and press home his attack on the other. Good pips on his part make this a worthless effort.

I think person who deploys first is poorly served to deploy out in a long line with no reserves. It gives the second player the ability -- as in both examples above -- to concentrate a killer force at a weak point in the line. And once the line is pierced, it is nearly impossible to close the breach.

David Kuijt Responds:

Interesting responses all. I note that both Anonymous and John advocate the Roman shuffling their psiloi through the line and running to support the Roman Sp. I agree; that certainly seems to be the sensible Roman move. Those psiloi are the only reserve the Romans have, and it will make it a slower prospect for the Wb/Wb/El to break the Roman line. If one of them gets there before the two lines hit they can stop or slow the flanking effort of the Auxilia, giving more chances that a lucky roll will kill one of the attacking Warband. The Carthaginians will still have the advantage on that flank, facing Ps/Sp/Sp/Bd with Aux/Wb/Wb/ElGeneral, but an early lucky roll or two could pull it out with the Psiloi support. The difference between Anonymous' and John's responses is what they want to try with their Cavalry.

Anonymous' other redeployment, a Roman diagonal move with their Cavalry into the Carthaginian Lh/Psiloi (between the closing lines of enemy forces) is aggressive, but seems dangerous. Time and again I've seen a player try to run a fast unit between two closing lines of infantry, and time and again I've seen it go wrong. The timing of that sort of move is crucial -- if it is done too early you will end up with the two cavalry out of the support range of their Blades, overlapped and flanked. Moreover, overlaps are guaranteed on both sides, and an overlapped Cv has the same factors as Lh. If it is done later, it is too easy for the Carthaginians to pin the Cv between the 40mm ZOC ("face") of their troops and the Roman Blade line.

Even in the best case, where the Roman Cv actually get to where they want to be, the Carthage spear can slide behind their Psiloi; on a recoil result for the Cv the Ps moves back through the Sp line and the Cv are facing Ps-backed Sp at +5. With one or two overlaps likely, that's going to be a dead Cv very quickly.

I'm not saying it can't work; just that my experience is that it is a risky evolution to attempt in practice. However, let me note that aggression is frequently rewarded in DBA, and Anonymous' plan for his Cavalry is nothing if not aggressive.

What John mentions with the Roman Cavalry is more conservative -- trying to get into contact with his Cavalry (reinforced by one or two blades) on the Carthage refused flank. As he points out, the Elephant will use up some much-needed Carthage pips, and might give him time to get into contact. My guess is that it'll take too long because of the stodgy marching of the Bd. Also, the appropriate Carthage response to aggressive Roman movement on that flank is to stop spending pips there, making the Roman Bd march much farther. But it would be interesting to see what happened in actual play.

The third possibility with the Roman Cavalry, not yet mentioned, is to run them behind the Roman lines over to the far flank. They'd love to face Auxilia or Warband. If that happens, I think Carthage must press hard forward on the left, hoping to get a couple of kills fast -- if the Elephant can break through the Blade line the Roman Cv are meat. Luckily Carthage has a much more flexible center group than Rome here -- if the Roman Cv redeploy to the far side, Carthage can try to respond by running all four of its Lh/Cv elements over there, leaving the Blade with nobody to fight and a long way to march.

Nils Kullinger: I am a beginner in DBA, so I might not know what I'm talking about, but I would strongly consider moving the Roman Psiloi left in front of the warbands. At least on of them. This could slow the Carthaginian left flank down a lot and the Psiloi would still end up behind the spears and blades to support them. I would also consider sending the right Ps to face the Carthaginian spears, which could give my Cv time to cross to oppose the Carthaginian LH/Cv.

John McWalters:

My two cents worth:

  ---------------------------Roman Base Line-----------------------------
                                  [Ps]     [Ps]
 ------------------------Carthaginian Base Line-------------------------

Basically, I am set up in three groups, each with its own objective. The first group includes the first three units on the left. Their objective is to target the two Sp elements on the end of the Roman line. The Wb will try to quick-kill the Sp. The LH will come around to threaten the camp, harrass the line of Bd or retreated Ps. It needs to close quickly, before the Roman Bd line can destroy the Carthaginian middle.

The second group is the next five elements. They should try not to get too far ahead of the other two groups. Their job is to try to destroy the advanced Ps, or cause them to flee behind the Roman line. This group should get the Roman to advance with his line. This will get the Roman to commit and close with the Carthaginian killer left and PIP starved right, or waste Roman PIPs trying to manuever the Ps out of harm's way.

When the Ps is no longer in front of the Bd line, the Cv should attempt to join with the Wb group. The others will have to fall back since they are not very effective against the Bd in front of them. Try to keep the left and middle together until the LH with Cv support is ready to pounce upon the Ps.

The third group, consisting of the El, Sp and Ps, has the job of containing the Roman Cv. If they force the Cv to move behind the Roman Line, then they are to protect the middle group from the advancing Bd. If the Cv try to get around the Carthaginian right flank, then the Sp should try to retreat to keep them at bay. If the Roman Cv try to attack the Carthaginian middle group, attempt to crush them by advancing. Leave the El behind if the PIPs are not favorable.

This is a very complex strategy which relies upon Carthaginian mobility and some good PIP rolls. Command radius may be a PIP problem. However, it offers some match-ups with favorable kill potential: Wb(+3) vs Sp(+4); Cv(+3) vs Bd(+3); LH(+2) vs Ps(+2); Ax(+3) vs Ps(+2). If dice rolls average out, the Carthaginians should have some kills where the Romans just get recoils.

Comments on John McWalters' Deployment

Chris Brantley: This deployment puts the Roman spear at risk, but it is not obvious where the Carthaginian hopes to get the next two kills needed to win. One possibility is the Light Horse, which could swing wide for an end run on the Roman camp and the coup de grace. At the same time, the deployment puts the Carthaginian Aux at risk versus the Roman Blades. As the Roman commander, I would try to delay with my right as long as possible and close with my left as quickly as possible, targeting the more vulnerable Carthaginian Aux and Spears in a infantry battle, where the Blades should have the advantage. Those danged Psiloi are still in a bad place, however, and will use up valuable PIPs in redeployment.

Anonymous: I'm a bit puzzled as to your use of the elephant. One of the problems with the Carthaginian army is that it lacks punch. The El and Wb elements are the only ones with much punch, so I would want to use all three of those units to strike with.

Your method of containing the Cv seems problematical as well. I've tried to use Sp to stop Cv, LH, and Kn from outflanking my army; and it hasn't worked. The Sp are just too slow - the mounted troops can just run around them. I think that countering the Cv with other mounted troops (or, if they were available, Bw) would work better.

David Kuijt: Hm. The setup John McWalters suggests looks good on paper, but I have some reservations. His plan as I understand it is to press the left where he has a good Wb/WbG matchup against the pair of Sp and a Lh for flanking duty, move forward in the center to support and threaten the Ps, and contain the Roman CV with the right flank. After the left flank makes contact, the center is to gradually pull back.

John's left flank certainly is a good tool -- with a Warband General, he's got something that can shatter a Spear formation or even a Roman Bd with a good roll. The mounted support to the right of the General also looks good -- it'll be hard for the Romans to achieve anything against the Carthaginian left six units.

However, I think the Carthage right has problems. Although it is a good combat-factor matchup, it is a poor speed matchup, made worse by the General's far left position and the presence of the Elephant.

The far right only succeeds (according to the plan) if Rome attacks with the Cv. The Carthage far right will use up lots of pips (because of the El) and not move far (because of the Spear). The best case for the far right is if Rome charges forward with its Cv -- the matchups are good, in that case. But what happens if Rome redeploys its Cv to the other flank, or to the center?

The center right (Lh and Ax) is at risk. It cannot stand if Rome attacks strongly in the center -- the Ax, in particular, will find themselves in desperate straits: +3 to +6 against the general; +3 to +5 on the other Bd. With overlaps created by knocking back adjacent Lh or Ax or Sp (all very likely -- +3 to +2 against Lh, +5 to +3 against Ax, and +5 to +4 against Sp) the Roman General can easily crush an Ax at +6 to +2 or +1. The Carthage Cv/Lh will likely succeed in disengaging as planned, but at least one Ax is likely to die, maybe both, and the Romans will split the Carthage forces in two pieces.

So my plan as the Romans in response to John McWalter's setup would be this. In the first three turns (before the lines collide), do the following:

  1. pull the Psiloi through the Roman line; run them to the left (the Roman right flank), to face the serious threat of the Warbands.

  2. press hard in the center with the Wall Of Blades. Move towards contact with the Carthage Lh/Ax/Ax.

  3. zoom the Cv in column behind the line of Blades, zipping them left to the Roman right flank where the Sp are in danger.

This puts Carthage in an awkward position. The Spear and Elephant will be very, very hard to maneuver so far away from their General. The Elephant is 11" from the General in the initial setup; within three or four turns it will likely be out of command range. Every "1" roll for pips will cause the El/Sp to be left further behind, possibly never to move again.

The Roman will need pips early (2 pips to get the Psiloi behind the line, 2 pips to make a column with the Cv, 1 pip a turn to move the heavy-foot line forward), but a single roll of 5 or 6 pips on either of the first two turns will mostly solve his problems, and even if he rolls 3 or higher on two consecutive turns he can mostly get his formation reformed.

In the adjusted Roman formation, Carthage has the following disadvantages:

Still, any hesitancy on the Roman part, combined with medium-OK pip rolls for Carthage, and John's plan still could work. If the Roman waits before running his Psiloi into their new position they will be endangered, and they won't get to the Spear in time to save them from the Warband. If the Roman doesn't get the pips to move his Cv, or waits too long before starting their run, they'll be out of position and may even block his Blades from recoil. And if the Roman player doesn't press hard in the center, where he has the CF advantage, Carthage will have time to crush his weak Spear flank and his whole line will collapse from that flank inward.

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Last Updated: Nov. 5, 1998

Comments and suggestions welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.