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Hoplite Spear

Slowly, but Surely...
The Spear in DBA 2.0

By Robert Runnels

The spear element in DBA is not spectacular or flashy. It benefits from no quick kills. Nevertheless, the spear element is a steady performer (+4 against both foot and mounted when the spear is single ranked) and is very difficult to kill. Probably the most celebrated spear units in ancient history hailed from Greece. The spear-wielding hoplites achieved wonders against their classical nemesis, bowmen and cavalry from Achaemenid Persia. Spears can also be double-ranked in DBA. This gives them a +1 bonus when fighting other spears or knights (as long as they are in good going). Furthermore, up to three single-ranked spear elements can be supported by a single psiloi and will receive a +1 modifier in combat with any mounted troops.

However, the spear has some disadvantages in DBA. Being heavy foot, spear elements plod along at a 200p movement rate in good going. This will make the flanks of a spear heavy army (such as the Early Hoplite Greek armies, I/52) vulnerable when they are faced by armies blessed with large numbers of swift-moving cavalry and light horse. Additionally, they must be careful in rough terrain, where auxilia and psiloi are superior.

How Well Does Spear Match Up in Close Combat

(assumes good terrain, no modifiers for the general and no overlaps)

Spear vs. Destroyed by
Recoiled by
Push Recoil
Artillery 0% 42% 17% 0% 42% 0%
Auxilia 0% 28% 14% 47% 11% 0%
Warband 28% 0% 14% 47% 11% 0%
Blades 6% 53% 14% 28% 0% 0%
Bow 0% 17% 11% 47% 25% 0%
Psiloi 0% 17% 11% 0% 0% 72%
Cavalry 0% 28% 14% 47% 0% 11%
Camelry 0% 17% 11% 47% 25% 0%
Light Horse 17% 0% 11% 47% 0% 25%
Spear 3% 39% 17% 39% 3% 0%
Spear vs. Destroyed by
Recoiled by
Push Recoil
2-Rank Spear 6% 53% 14% 28% 0% 0%
War Wagon 3% 39% 17% 0% 3% 0%
Pike 0% 28% 14% 47% 11% 0%
2-Rank Pike 11% 61% 11% 17% 0% 0%
Elephants 42% 0% 17% 39% 3% 0%
Knights 28% 0% 14% 47% 11% 0%
Scythed Chariot 42% 0% 0% 0% 58% 0%
Horde 0% 28% 61% 0% 11% 0%
Camp Followers
(in camp)
0% 28% 14% 0% 58% 0%
BUA Denizens
(n BUA, of course!)
6% 53% 14% 0% 28% 0%

Spear vs. Artillery: This is a favorable match-up for the spear element. 42% of the time, the spear will destroy the artillery and it cannot be killed by artillery fire (Unless more than one ranged weapon shoots at the spear at the same time!). The only problem comes with the artillery's 5-inch range in shooting combat. The artillery can cause spear to recoil 42% of the time and that can disrupt the cohesion of a line of spears. Nevertheless, this is a desirable match-up for your spears. Just make sure to watch for threats on your flanks and hope for nice high die rolls!

Spear vs. Auxilia: This is a great match-up for spear, but not in rough terrain! In good going, auxilia can't kill the spear and auxilia will be destroyed 11% of the time. Things don't go so well in rough terrain. There, spear fights with a ­2 modifier against it and this means the spear will die 17% of the time with only a 3% chance of killing the auxilia. It becomes even worse if the auxilia is fighting from uphill! Just say no to this kind of a match-up! Look for kills elsewhere!

Spear vs. Warband: This is another bad match-up for the spear element. Warband gets a quick kill on spear and that means the spear will die 28% of the time and the warband will only be killed 11% of the time! It gets worse if the warband is double-ranked. In that case the spear dies 39% of the time and the warband only gets killed 3% of the time. Avoid this match-up at all costs. You might consider taking a chance on this match if you can fight uphill on a gentle slope, but only if the enemy doesn't double rank his warbands.

Spear vs Blades: Another horrible match-up for the spear element. Blades don't get a quick kill against spear, but they will kill spear 6% of the time. Furthermore, the spear will recoil 53% of the time. Blades can't be killed by spear. Once again, fighting uphill on a gentle slope can help spear enough to consider taking on blades. The problem here is that it turns into a big shoving match where no one is killed. It results in a recoil 83% of the time and a push 17% of the time. At least you can buy time for the other elements in your army this way.

Spear vs Bow: A good match-up for spear. The bow will be killed 25% of the time and recoil 47% of the time. The spear can't be killed. The only thing you have to be wary of is massed bows. With two bows firing, there is a 3% chance of killing spear. With three bows firing, this goes up to 11%. Bow has a short range, so the spear should be able to close into combat without suffering too much from distant shooting. Beware an opponent who puts bows in front of his blades. When the bows recoil, they will interpenetrate the blade line and leave you facing a wall of blades that you just can't beat in close combat!

Spear vs Psiloi: This match-up seems to favor the spear (spears can't be killed by psiloi), but psiloi can't be killed by spear. Instead, psiloi will flee 72% of the time. Watch out for this kind of a match-up. Your opponent is probably trying to lure you into a worse match-up, because psiloi can flee behind any friends. This might leave you facing a wall of blades, pikes or spears. Also, your enemy might use psiloi to delay the advance of your spears by putting your spears in their ZOC. This is not a productive match-up for your spears. It becomes much worse in rough terrain where spear faces the ­2 die modifier. In rough terrain, spear will die 11% of the time and psiloi can't be killed! Spears should not get caught up in a struggle with psiloi. Hopefully, your army will have cavalry and knights to run these light troops off the field.

Spear vs Cavalry: Another poor match-up for the spear. Cavalry can't be killed and will only recoil (47% of the time) or flee (11% of the time). The spear will recoil 28% of the time. This match-up should be avoided, unless your spears have psiloi support. One psiloi lined up behind a spear unit can provide support against mounted troops for three spear units in line. This makes the match-up better, but still not productive. The cavalry now would flee 17% of the time or recoil 56% of the time, but it can't be killed by spear.

Spear vs Camelry: This is a good match-up for spear. The camels will die 25% of the time and they can't kill the spear. The spear match-up is even better with psiloi support. The only catch here is to avoid dunes or oasis terrain. In that terrain camels don't suffer the penalty for rough going, but spears do. Spears will die 11% of the time and the camels also will die 11% of the time. Don't take on camels in oasis or dune unless you have psiloi support. With psiloi support in this terrain, the spear will kill camels 17% of the time and the camels only have a 3% chance of killing the spear (and its supporting psiloi!).

Spear vs Light Horse: This is another poor match-up for the spear. The light horse can't be killed and it has a quick kill capability against spear. This results in the spear dying 17% of the time. If the spear has support from psiloi, then it still can't kill the light horse, but the supported spear only dies 8% of the time. Avoid this match-up at all costs. It isn't productive. Even if the light horse flees, its superior movement rate allows it to turn right around and get back in your face again!

Spear vs Spear: Not much to say about this match-up. A big shoving match ensues with each combatant taking a 3% chance of dying. Double rank spears are a good way to beat this deadlock!

Spear vs 2-rank Spear: The 2-rank spear has a slight edge here, killing its opponent 6% of the time and it can't be killed. This would be my second vote for a classic DBA match-up because it allows you to emulate the tactics used by Epaminondas' Thebans to defeat the Spartans at Leuctra!

Spear vs War Wagon: This is a miserable match-up for the spear. The war wagon can only be killed 3% of the time and is never forced to recoil. Furthermore, the war wagon can kill spear 3% of the time with distant shooting at its 2-inch range. It is even worse for the spear if multiple war wagons can combine their shooting on a single spear element. Try to maneuver around the war wagons and hit other targets. War wagons are just as slow as spears, but they require 2 PIP's for movement.

Spear vs Pike: This is a favorable match-up for the spear, providing the pike element is in a single rank! In that case, the pikes will die 11% of the time and can't kill the spear. The spear will only recoil 28% of the time. A good match-up!

Spear vs 2-Rank Pike: Avoid this match-up at all costs! The pike can't be killed and the spears die 11% of the time. Spears also recoil 61% of the time against 2-rank pike. OUCH! You might try to take advantage of the 2-rank pike's flanks, since they have to contract their frontage to get the 2-rank formation. This will give you overlaps. However, even with two overlaps, the 2-rank pike is only killed 3% of the time. The match-up now becomes the same as spear vs spear. You have to wheel a unit onto the 2-rank pike's flank so that recoils also result in death to the pike.

Spear vs Elephants: This is yet another horrible match-up for the spear element. The beasts get a quick kill over the densely packed spearmen and will trample (read this as "kill") the spear 42% of the time. Spear will only kill the elephant 3% of the time. This is definitely a match-up to avoid! Rear support from psiloi would help, but you would still be destroyed 28% of the time and only kill the elephant 6% of the time.

Spear vs Scythed Chariots: Ouch! This is another horrible match-up! The scythed chariots always are destroyed in close combat, but they quick kill spears. That means your spear element will be mowed down 42% of the time by the scythed chariots. A psiloi screen would work well to destroy the scythed chariots before they reach your massed spears!

Spear vs Horde: This is a favorable, but time-consuming match-up for the spear element. The spear can't be killed and will kill the horde 11% of the time. The problem is that the horde doesn't ever recoil and this will mean that 89% of the time you will be locked in combat or recoil yourself! This might give your opponent time to flank you. Be watchful for that sort of chicanery!

Spear vs Camp Followers: This is a fine match for the spears. The camp followers will abandon their camp to you 58% of the time and the spear can't be killed! Recommended! Problem is the camp is deep in the enemy's rear and spear are slow and the game table is fraught with dangerŠ

Spear vs BUA Denizens: This is a good match-up. You will kill the denizens 28% of the time, but you do face a slight 6% chance of death yourself. The problem is, your opponent is not likely to leave the BUA without a garrison and any other infantry types in the BUA would be much harder (read "impossible") to defeat because they get an extra +4 modifier! My kingdom for some artillery!

Spear vs Knights: An interesting and dicey match-up for spear. Knights get a quick kill against spear, resulting in the spear dying 28% of the time! However, this is a risky prospect for the knights, because they will die 11% of the time. Furthermore, knights must follow up when the spear is destroyed or recoils and that leads to overlaps. Spear can improve their odds against knights with psiloi support in their rear or by double ranking the spears. These both add +1 to the combat and that translates into the knights dying 17% of the time and the spear's odds improve with them dying only 11% of the time. This is my choice for a classic DBA match-up for spear.


So, what can we conclude about the uses of the spear element in DBA? I think the best use of the spear in DBA is as a holding element. The spear element enjoys no quick kills in DBA. Your wall of spears can hold their own against enemy spears, blades, bow, artillery, auxilia and psiloi. In fact, spears will handily destroy bows, artillery and auxilia in the open. I think a spear element's best position would be on the upslope of a gentle hill, with psiloi support or in double ranks (depending on the threat presented by the enemyŠ.more cavalry, means use psiloi supportŠmore infantry, use spears in double ranks). Try to use your spear elements to hold off your opponent while you use other elements to hit his flanks! Make the spear elements your anchor!

The spear element needs to avoid rough terrain. It can't match the enemy's light troops in bad terrain. Psiloi support is often important, because spear really can't deal with cavalry or light horse without it. Even with psiloi support, cavalry can't be killed and light horse can still quick kill a spear unit. Spear elements need to avoid elephants, scythed chariots, warbands and double-ranked pike blocks. Use light troops, like psiloi, to screen you from elephants, warbands and scythed chariots. If possible, use gentle hills to get the +1 modifier for being upslope when you must face warbands and double-ranked pikes. Try to get overlaps, especially on the double-ranked pikes! A spear army can afford to be spread thinner than other non-spear armies since the spear is a pretty tough (+4 against all comers!) and steady element in DBA.

The classic DBA match-ups for spear are against knights and against double-ranked spears. Double-ranked spears get a +1 against knights and other spears. The knights enjoy a quick-kill 28% of the time, but will be killed by the spears 11% of the time. A risky proposition for the knights! Double-ranked spears or spears with psiloi support will kill knights 17% of the time and they themselves will only succumb 11% of the time! Furthermore, knights must advance if they are victorious and are likely to face overlaps and/or flank attacks in the next round of combat. Spear versus spear is a low fatality shoving match, but when one side has double-ranked spears the odds change significantly. The double-ranked spears can't be killed and they will force their opponent to recoil more often. This might lead to the roll-up of the enemy's spear wall as it loses cohesion and has flanks exposed. I would recommend that the double-ranked spear hit on the extreme right or left of the enemy line so it doesn't expose its flanks as it advances.

I am not going to list all of the armies in DBA that have lots of spears, but the obvious choices are early or late Greek hoplite armies. The Spartans are a tempting choice in light of ancient history, but I would choose the later Spartan list to get the necessary troop types to give you flexibility against your opponents. If you really like spears though, the early Spartans are a great choice because you can field 12 spear elements!!

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Last Updated: August 21, 2002

Thanks to Robert Runnels for lending this guide to Fanaticus. Comments, suggested additions, and/or critiques are welcome. Direct them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Tony Edwards' Hoplite Greeks