First Impressions of DBR

I first wrote this about 10 years ago and it was published in Arquebusier- The Journal of the Pike and Shot Society.

This is a somewhat updated version then.

Having read with interest the various pieces in "Arquebusier" extolling the virtues of DBR,I approached with interest when given the chance to play an ECW game using these rules. In the past I have played (and loathed ) DBA, played DBM with little more enthusiasm but never , until now, DBR.

I have played several sets of ECW / Pike & Shot rules ,WRG (OK ish) 1644 (ho-hum),File Leader (interesting) and latterly Age of Discovery (pretty good but not perfect) Forlorn Hope Warhammer ECW and have - but have not so far played FOGR.

Before getting down to the detail of my impression of the rule set, I think my overall first impression would be as follows;

"The worst piece of drivel I have ever played. Totally lacking in period feel, charecter free and dull to the point of tedium, utterly bereft of historical background or identity. The worst case of "making history fit my rules" I have ever encountered."

Right that's that off my chest, now to a little more detail. The PIP system is a nice idea, but of course leads to gamesmanship of the worst kind- it appears that as long as a PIP and the appropriate move distance are available an element can do anything without reference to orders or period tactical doctrine for that given troop type, now bear in mind I have only played one game , but this seems a little odd to me. Now, granted up to a point, tactical doctrine is encapsulated in the silly shorthand jargon which the rules and army lists seem to find so essential but the "one size fits all" attitude makes no allowances for period nuance.

What's the difference?

We could have been playing anything at all, I found NO difference between these rules and DBM, as a game this may be advantageous, but to someone who expects different periods to have different parameters this was utter tosh. There was nothing in the game content to suggest that this was an ECW game. The only inkling of period I had was by looking at the figures and noticing lobster pots and floppy hats! In short the game was devoid of any period atmosphere whatsoever.

For the games players amongst us ,by this I mean those for whom the game is of more importance than the history, the tedium of the element vs. element "dice-offs “may be enjoyable, myself, I'd rather watch paint dry. This was a small game with about 100 figures a side or perhaps less. I apparently had 12 elements of horse, 8 of musketeers and 4 of pikes- my opponent similar. Yet the game was quite long enough to approach boredom overload.

The basic mechanisms are simple, even simplistic, and would satisfy those who have trouble counting without the removal of footwear. This, in itself, is no bad thing-complicated rule mechanisms are not at all necessary to achieving some kind of historical verisimilitude but does this have to be done in such a way as to reduce the whole operation to a mere dice rolling contest?. Tactics and "Generalship" are reduced to where the phasing player chooses to begin to roll his dice in any given combat.

The Element System

As you, O, perspicacious reader, may have noticed I was not over impressed with my first attempt at DBR, as a "historian-gamer" I simply can't see the point of such a souless, featurless exercise . For those gamers whose period knowledge (of any period) is 2 Ospreys and an army list these rules are probably a must ,me, I just can't see it .I freely admit to coming late to the DB systems, a couple of games of DBA when it first appeared put me off for a long time. DBM/R is simply more of the same. There is almost no recognizable historical content at all. Of course the element system is largely responsible for this. Abandoning historical unit structures in favour of an abstract to make the game flow may be absolutely the thing for competitions where the rules obviously MUST be in charge but to me this is anathema. In a period where the regiment was becoming a militarily significant organisation treating each element as a unit doesn't wash. What seems to happen in practice is that there is no command structure AT ALL between "wing" and "company" so ECW armies simply don't act remotely like their historical prototypes. Of course you can group your elements into "units" as I did, but since there appears to be no rules for disorder, precious few for formations and no morale to speak of its a bit pointless except insofar as it takes fewer PIPS to move a group of elements than several singles. Any way, in combat any group of elements instantly loses even the illusion of cohesion, if indeed there was any to start with. The big problem seems to be that an element has only two states of being ,100% effective or dead barring a little bit of running away ,thats your lot. There is no loss of control, cohesion, or effectiveness in a unit because there was none to start with.

Final Thoughts

What I completely fail to understand is why this piece of bland mediocrity is so popular amongst people who are not dyed in the wool competition gamers. I have long thought that competition gaming is a different animal from my kind of wargaming ,actually REQUIRING a non-historical approach for any kind of success. This is not a criticism, merely an observation, perhaps the problem lies with the current fashion which says that simple rules MUST be good. There are simple rulesets that happen to be good but the one does not automatically follow the other. In my view:-

DBR = simplistic = bland boring and tedious = awful

I hope there are Pike and Shot devotees out there who like DBR and can say why, in historical terms. If you think DBR gives you plenty of period atmosphere and period feel I'd like to know why.

As an afterthought ECW to DBR also looks pretty indifferent on the table, to the games player this is not so important but the reason I use toy soldiers in my games is simply because I like toy soldiers and expect so far as is possible, a game to look as good as it can. Pike blocks should look like pike blocks regiments of Horse like their originals etc etc... The lack of unit structure in DBR does not appear to allow this. This of course removes the need for Toy soldiers at all.

I rest my case m'laud.

Postscript – My favoured rules for the ECW are currently Forlorn Hope by Pete Berry. This has been so for several years. Nothing else on the market has caused me to change my mind. Though my views on how the ECW was actually fought have changed significantly. DBR still does not cut the mustard but in the interim does seem to have lost some of its popularity in favour of FOGR – at least on the competition circuit. Even after several years I still don’t get the point of the DB’s other than as “Wargaming Lite” for those who think dice rolling is an intellectual exercise and for those who find the actual models an impediment to their little games. Quite why such chaps are wargamers in beyond me perhaps Snakes and Ladders would work for them . It certainly has more laughs than DBR.

Andy Copestake - Old Glory UK