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Rules Variants

Big Board DBA

By Bob McDonald and Members of the
South Bay Game Club (Cupertino, CA)

On Saturday, December 4, 1999, four of the SBGC's DBA fans played a couple of games using experimental rules for big tables. Both games were played on 6-foot by 6-foot tables (about 2m by 2m for you metric users out there); one game was played with double armies, but the other was just one army on each side. The maneuver was wide-open, as suits the horse-oriented armies that we were running. So it's not really "Big Battle" DBA, but rather "Big Board" DBA.

In order to cope with such large tables, we had to use march movement rules. We quickly determined that the standard DBA system of 100p extra per PIP was not enough (or more accurately, it was tuned to a 24 inch table). So instead we used the DBM march rule allowing an extra tactial move per PIP, as long as all such movement is at least 1200p from the enemy.

Another problem with large tables is that the armies start too far apart if they set up within six inches of the edge. To solve this problem, we tried two rules: a "camp setup" rule, and a "movement to contact" rule.

In the first game we played, we used the "camp setup" rule, in which the players put their camps pretty much anywhere, and then set up their troops based on the camp locations. If you have the "half rectangle" camps called for in the rules, you need to treat them as full-circuit camps. Camps should probably be no more than about 600p across.

The details of this rule are as follows:

  1. Dice to see who sets up terrain.
  2. Dice to see who sets up camp first.
  3. The first player sets up camp anywhere he wants (but of course, it must be in good going, as called for in the standard rules).
  4. The second player sets up camp at least 1000p and no more than 3000p from the enemy camp.
  5. Dice to see who deploys troops first.
  6. First player sets up troops within 2000p of his own camp, and closer to his own camp than to the enemy camp. (It helps to put a yardstick or something halfway between the camps and at right angles to a line drawn between the camps.)
  7. Second player sets up troops under the same restrictions.
  8. Dice to see who moves first.

This gave us a situation of extreme wide-open setup, with lots of flank space and lots of depth available. The battle could open with the camps 3000p apart and the two battle lines 2000p apart, or the camps could be just 1000p apart and the troops already in contact. The initial stance of the troops and the pace of the opening is up to the players.

We wound up setting up pretty close together and joined battle right away. In the end, my Byzantines squeaked out a hard-fought 4-3 over John Rickman's Normans.

In our second game, we were joined by Marty Schmidt and Ix [Ixanian Nichols]. We decided to play doubles (two full-size allied armies on each side), but instead of the "camp setup" rule, we improvised a "march to contact" rule. We were lucky to have all four players willing to work out how the ruleson the fly, since we didn't have it all figured out when we started.

We set up the 6-foot square table with a river running diagonally across it, and then put four roads leading in from the four edges to a bridge and town near the center. The four armies entered in road column, each with a 40mm square "baggage" element. For the first six turns we would move toward contact, then "stop for the night" and redeploy for the next day's main battle.

Marty and I each had an Arab Empire army, Ix had the Normans, and John had the Byzantines. We had mixed results in pushing forward scout-and-picket lines (evidence that we did not yet know what we were doing with this new rule!) Ix spread out on the near side of the river when he determined he would not have enough time before "nightfall" to make a bridgehead. John galloped across the bridge, only to redeploy on the near side after skirmishing with Marty's vanguard. Frustrated by low PIP dice, I concentrated on hustling up the road as fast as the dice would allow.

At the end of the sixth turn, we decided to declare a "perimeter" for each army, defined as a chain of friendly elements, with no two elements more than 1200p apart. By happy coincidence, there was no intermingling of hostile units, so these perimeters were pretty neatly laid out. Mine was far too narrow and deep, since I had emphasized speed on the road instead of fanning out LH and Ps; a lesson to remember.

Between the sixth and seventh turns, we marked the perimeters with coins and such, changed the "baggage" elements into camps where they were (the baggage/camp element was the only one not allowed to redeploy overnight), and removed all other elements from the table. Then we diced to see who would deploy first "in the morning".

John (who had raced his LH across the bridge) was first to redeploy, and he decided to abandon his bridgehead and set up on his own side of the river. This was the only deployment surprize, as the rest of us pretty much set up as far forward as our perimeters allowed.

I was far enough back from the river that I just spent my time spreading out from my too-narrow perimeter while waiting for the Normans to cross, hoping to catch them halfway across. In the meantime, Marty forced a river crossing with a deadly combination of CB shooting and advancing cav. John's Byzantines broke right about the time that Ix and I began to engage decisively.

At this point we decided to keep the broken armies in play, with a penalty of +1 PIP cost for all moves and -1 to all combat dicing. Ouch. This became even more painful for me when, overcommitting to an attack, my Arab army broke with my General killed; I now had +2 PIPs extra per move (one for no general and one for demoralization).

Eventually, Marty's Arabs and Ix's Normans met and Marty saved the day for the Faith. A hard-fought contest and a very productive workout for our improvised Big Board rules.


  • We really liked the big 6-foot tables, whether double or single armies.

  • Big tables need a DBM-style march rule;

  • The "camp setup" rule is good for a quick start and a short game;

  • The "march to contact" could be really fun for the opening maneuvering; and

  • we still need to work out some odd wrinkles with declaring perimeters and such.

Everyone made lots of good suggestions and observations about the rules, and the day was fun for all. Special thanks to John for providing all the troops, and to Marty for his rubber roads and his baggage elements (including herds of filthy, disgusting swine for the infidel armies).

I hope this provides some food for thought among the proponents of bigger tables in DBA. Please let us know if you come up with any good ideas.

Gamer Feedback

Marty Schmidt: One thing Bob didn't mention is that during the four player game we rolled two d6 for pips taking the higher of the die rolls for movement. When I broke John's army he still rolled 2 dice but had to pay the +1 pip per group move. It hurt but was not as bad as when Bob lost his General. He went down to one die along with the +2 pips for movement. True to DBA form the final die roll as my line of Fanatic Cavalry charged into the Norman Knights proved that Allah was with us! My 6 to Ix's 1!!!


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Last Updated: Dec. 10, 1999

Comments and suggestions welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley, c.brantley@ieee.org.