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Army Popularity and Success with DBM 3.0

Army Popularity and Success with DBM 3.0

Originally published in Slingshot 243 in 2005

Like many other readers I greatly enjoyed Gavin Pearson’s articles on the popularity and success of DBM armies (Slingshot 194, 201, 214 and 219). Gavin took the story up to the early days of DBM 3.0 in 2001; as he’s been regrettably quiet for a while I decided to do some analysis and continue up to the end of that version of the rules.  My analysis is set out more or less on the same pattern as Gavin’s in his article in Slingshot 214.

I looked at the results of about 8,000 competition games played in the UK and Australia between early 2002 and mid-2005.  Unlike Gavin, who measured success by the competition placing, I took the percentage of available points scored on the standard 10-0 scoring system, rounded to the nearest whole number.  So in their 732 games Patrician Roman armies scored a total of 3,907 points, which equals 53.374% of the points available, rounded to 53%.  Armies drawn from 251 of the 310 possible lists were used.

Table 1 shows the 20 armies which were used in more than 200 games, in order of popularity. No surprises at the top: Patrician and Late Imperial Romans continued to be the most popular armies, and Ottomans, Later Hungarians, Later Carthaginians, Medieval Portuguese (very few armies from that list were Spanish rather than Portuguese), Chinese Northern and Southern Dynasties, Early Samurai and New Kingdom Egyptians all continued their popularity from previous editions of the rules.  The most prominent newcomers were Skythians and Early Hu, Lydians, Norse Vikings and Leidang (mostly Leidang), Ugaritic, Kushans and Beja – all of which performed better than average.  The Ugaritic and Beja, in fact, were so much above average that they may have benefited unduly from the DBM 3.0 rules.

Patrician Romans were less dominant than previously, but still above average; Alexandrian Macedonians made a welcome return to the “most popular” list and also performed effectively.

Gavin commented that under DBM 2.1 the 10 most popular armies were used by 28-30% of the players, and forecast that 3.0 would see more variation.  In his initial look at DBM 3.0 games, in Slingshot 219, he said that that figure was reduced to about 24%.  My figures bear out Gavin’s comments: the 10 most popular armies listed in Table 1 represent 24% of all uses in the 8,000 games.


Table 1: Most Popular Armies

Army Games Success %
  1 Patrician Roman 732 53
  2 Late Imperial Roman 474 47
  3 Later Hungarian 404 55
  4 Later Carthaginian 378 46
  5 Medieval Spanish and Portuguese 368 54
  6 Ottoman 339 53
  7 Skythian and Early Hu 290 56
  8 Chinese Northern and Southern Dynasties 288 52
  9 Lydian 286 54
10 Norse Viking and Leidang 281 51
11 Seleucid 267 47
12 New Kingdom Egyptian 256 48
13 Ugaritic 254 62
14 Kushan 249 53
15 Beja 236 62
16 Medieval German 235 50
17 Anglo-Norman 231 48
18 Early Samurai 227 53
19 Alexandrian Macedonian 222 56
20 Warring States & Ch’in Chinese 203 46



Now to look at various categories of armies. Table 2 shows all the Roman armies used, and a sorry sight it is for fans of legionaries.  Armies depending mainly on legionaries did very badly and were definitely less effective than average.  The army which conquered most of Italy and saw off Pyrrhus wasn’t used at all.  Only with the virtual abandonment of legionaries at the very end of the Empire do Roman armies reach average status.  The DBM 3.1 changes are intended to make legionaries more effective and we may see greater use of and success by the armies which built and maintained the empire.


Table 2: Roman Armies

Army Games Success %
Tullian     4 30
Camillan    –   –
Polybian   31 38
Marian   60 40
All Republican armies   95 39
Early Imperial   98 35
Middle Imperial   37 38
Late Imperial 474 47
All Imperial armies 609 44
Patrician 732 53
Sub-Roman British   52 47


The pike-based armies shown in Table 3 are a very mixed bag. Among the Hellenistic armies Alexander’s merry men did markedly better than his successors (Pyrrhus and Philip V had too few games for their statistics to be meaningful), suggesting that a balanced combined-arms force is better than either a colossal phalanx with too few supports (Ptolemaic) or a bewildering plethora of different troop-types (Seleucid, Graeco-Bactrian).  The non-Hellenistic pike armies tend to have a very high proportion of pikes and their overall performance was exactly average.  I was surprised on two counts: the Swiss were hardly ever used, despite the apparent attraction of an unstoppable mass of Pk(S), and the overall performance of pike armies was average despite the general perception among players that pikes were badly treated by DBM 3.0.  The 3.1 changes include several which should benefit pikes, so we may see a greater number of pike armies in future.


Table 3: Pike Armies

Army Games Success %
Alexandrian Macedonian 222 56
Alexandrian Imperial 161 52
Asiatic Early Successor   16 42
Lysimachid   33 33
Macedonian Early Successor   38 43
Seleucid 267 47
Ptolemaic   21 46
Pyrrhic   19 55
Later Macedonian 16 54
Graeco-Bactrian/Graeco-Indian 131 46
Commagene   10 39
All Hellenistic Pike armies 934 49
Akkadian   39 54
Sumerian Successor States     8 43
Minoan and Early Mycenean   28 49
Scots Common   26 43
Low Countries   34 55
Later Swiss   12 43
All other Pike armies 147 50



Ah, impetuous armies – I love ‘em! They fall naturally into three categories: Superior knights, other knights and warband.

Knight-based armies don’t appear to have done very well under DBM 3.0, with the Superior variety very little better than others.  The relatively successful Romanian Franks and East Franks had few games so it may well have been player quality accounting for this success.  Forecasts for 3.1 are that knights will be less effective and knightly armies less common – we shall see.


Table 4: Impetuous Armies – Knights



Success %

Serbian Empire 181 48
Feudal Spanish 169 46
Medieval French 140 45
Feudal French   42 42
Romanian Frank   27 62
All Kn(S) armies 559 47
Anglo-Norman   231 48
Carolingian Frankish   158 45
Sicilian   121 53
Early Crusader     95 47
West Frankish or Norman     74 45
Early Ostrogothic etc     68 49
Bosporan     44 47
Later Crusader     39 37
Cilician Armenian     26 37
Italian Ostrogothic     25 45
Later Polish     24 39
Georgian     23 32
East Frankish     22 56
Early Serbian or Croatian     17 44
Early Lombard     14 35
Feudal English     14 42
African Vandal     12 39
Siracae etc       9 38

All Kn(F/O) Armies

1,016 46


Warband armies varied widely in performance but overall their effectiveness was average. The Abyssinians/Axumites did well, possibly because of the addition of some archers, light troops and Regular Blades to the warband masses.  So did the Welsh, for a special reason – nearly all Welsh armies were South Welsh of 1405 and had French allies with Superior Knights.  DBM 3.1 is widely predicted to encourage armies relying on Wb(O), so we may see Early Visigoths, Burgundii, Early Vandals and different types of Gauls and Galatians becoming more common.


Table 5: Impetuous Armies – Warband


Games Success %
Abyssinian etc 129 59
Welsh 116 58
Gallic   59 45
Early Frankish etc   53 44
Ancient British   49 50
Dacian and Carpi   34 45
Gepid   24 45
Tupi   44 46
Indonesian and Malay   44 53
Early German   29 30
Siamese   28 32
Early Northern Barbarian   24 38
Middle Frankish   22 36
Arab Conquest   18 43
Galatian   15 11
Later Visigothic   12 47
All warband armies 700 49



Medieval European armies differ widely from one another and some could be slotted into other categories, such as English with the Bow armies and Hungarians with the Light Horse armies. However, Gavin grouped them together so I’ve followed suit.

The Hungarians and Portuguese stand out as effective armies here.  The Hungarians, all or nearly all 15th century, are the classic “pin and punch” army with high manoeuvrability, effective strike troops and plentiful skirmishers.  Very hard to deal with.  The Portuguese (mostly dated 1385 to take advantage of the three Regular generals and English allies) have dismounting knights, archers including some Bw(S) longbowmen, and enough skirmishers.

Other effective armies, though with fewer games played so the statistics are less reliable, were the Navarrese, Anglo-Irish and French Ordonnance.  All are bow and heavy infantry outfits including some Bw(S), and for some reason tended to do better than the wholly English armies.

Teutonic Orders fared badly, being much less effective than they had been under previous versions of the rules, and Hussites were average – perhaps they bored their opponents to death.


Table 6: Medieval European armies

Army Games Success %
Later Hungarian 404 55
Medieval Spanish and Portuguese 368 54
Medieval German 235 50
Italian Condotta 108 41
Teutonic Orders   99 38
Burgundian Ordonnance   83 40
Wars of the Roses English   78 41
French Ordonnance   72 56
Medieval Scandinavian   42 40
Hussite   39 49
Anglo-Irish   32 65
Hundred Years War English   28 38
Free Company and Armagnac   23 46
Navarrese   20 71
Order of St John   18 27



Cavalry-based armies were mostly average, with some startling exceptions among those which played over 100 games (and whose statistics are therefore more likely to be reliable). Ottomans were still above average, though less so than previously, and Khitan-Liao (with plenty of Light Horse and some Fast Knights as well as the Cavalry, plus cheap infantry filler) became popular and effective.  The stand-out, though, is Ugaritic.  Its mix of Superior Cavalry chariots, Ordinary Knight chariots, archers and ultra-cheap Inferior Auxilia filler made it highly popular and highly successful – much more so than better-known contemporaries such as Mitanni or Hyksos.  The lesser effectiveness of Ax(I) filler under DBM 3.1 may reduce both popularity and success.

Meanwhile, stalwarts such as Abbasid Arabs and Sassanid Persians slumped in popularity and effectiveness.


Table 7: Cavalry armies

Army Games Success %
Ottoman Turk 339 53
Ugaritic 254 62
Early Byzantine 118 45
Sassanid Persian 116 46
Khitan-Liao 111 57
Central Asian City-States   96 57
Abbasid Arab   90 48
Timurid   71 47
Later Achaemenid Persian   68 55
Khazar   62 61
Sui and Early T’ang Chinese   51 45
Khurasanian   35 58
Later Muslim Indian 32 50
Kassite and Later Babylonian   25 40
Nikephorian Byzantine   25 50
Avar   23 49
Mamluk Egyptian   20 58


Various other heavy infantry armies are grouped in Table 8. By far the most effective was Makkan/Saba, whose unique mix of low aggression, horrible terrain, cheap fighting troops (Blades or Warband) and plentiful Ax(I) filler was spotted by some top players and picked up by many others.  I hope that the 3.1 changes will consign this monstrosity back to the obscure corner in which it belongs.

Overall, though, heavy infantry armies didn’t do badly under DBM 3.0.  The Lydians benefited from the combination of numerous Fast Knights with the spear-wall, the Leidang had similar terrain advantages to the Saba etc, the Rus were as hard to beat as ever, and the Fanatic Berbers plodded stolidly forward with their masses of spearmen.  The most popular were the Chinese Northern and Southern Dynasties (4th-6th centuries AD), who offered a wide range of options to go with the wall of spearmen.  All these armies will be adversely affected by 3.1 changes so they may become less popular.


Table 8: Spear and other HI armies

Army Games Success %
Chinese Northern and Southern Dynasties 288 52
Lydian 286 54
Norse Viking and Leidang 281 51
Fanatic Berber 200 51
Early Carthaginian 163 48
Makkan, Saba etc 161 64
Later Hoplite Greek 135 55
Rus 124 53
Sea Peoples   40 53
Tarascan or Toltec-Chichimec   35 55
Kyrenean Greek   34 59
Aztec   26 27
Andalusian   20 49



Another common type of army is based on masses of light horse; the most frequently used are shown in Table 9. Most of these armies have heavier cavalry in support, often cataphracts or other knights.  The most successful included the Skythians, who can have some Kn(F) and quite a lot of foot archers, and the Lithuanians who can have various supports including war wagons and Polish knights.  There’s not much difference in success between armies based on LH(S) and those with LH(F) or LH(O).  Overall, light horse armies are of average effectiveness or a bit above.  They are unlikely to be affected much by the DBM 3.1 changes, though the restriction of their “throw 6 PIPs, cross half the table and line up facing the enemy’s flank” ability may slow them down a bit.


Table 9: Light Horse armies

Army Games Success %
Skythian and Early Hu 290 56
Kushan 249 53
Lithuanian 109 58
Hsiung-Nu 105 54
Dynastic Bedouin   82 59
Parthian   82 43
Alan   76 46
Hsien-Pi etc   72 44
Komnenan Byzantine   68 44
Early Armenian   61 50
Yuan Chinese   48 55
Central Asian Turkish   48 54
Hunnic   43 42
Numidian   42 41
Early Hungarian   36 47
Magyar   32 46
Pecheneg   32 59
Mongol Conquest   31 57
Seljuk Turk   20 46
Syrian   20 51



Light infantry armies, as shown in Table 10, are not much used but are surprisingly effective. They tend to rely on low aggression and compulsory terrain, enabling them to place lots of inhospitable terrain for more orthodox enemies to struggle in.  These factors were particularly marked in 25mm games, in which the Hellenistic Greeks saw much action.  The most dangerous such armies have heavy troops available as well, such as hoplites or warband. Very few Samnite, Ancient Spanish or Irish armies were used, and I can’t see this changing under DBM 3.1; I expect light infantry armies to remain a minority type.


Table 10: Light Infantry armies

Army Games Success %
Hellenistic Greek 101 62
Early Libyan   92 56
Pictish   81 49
Maccabean Jewish   32 56
Thracian   21 60


Tables 11 and 12 show the small numbers of armies which rely principally on elephants or camels. The Beja were the stand-out success story here, benefiting from Superior Camels combined with plenty of light horse, bowmen and some decent heavy infantry – a potent combination.  The Later Pre-Islamic Arabs share most of these factors except that their camels are Ordinary, and also have the advantages of low aggression and excellent terrain choices.  The Hindu Indians and Tamils/Sinhalese can also have many heavy infantry to support their elephants, and this may explain their greater success than the more familiar Classical Indians.  I prefer the highly romantic Christian Nubians, but they are of only average effectiveness.


Table 11: Elephant armies

Army Games Success %
Classical Indian 145 43
Tamil Indian and Sinhalese 123 53
Khmer and Cham   57 44
Hindu Indian   54 60
Burmese   22 52


Table 12: Camel armies

Army Games Success %
Beja 236 62
Christian Nubian 146 50
Later Pre-Islamic Arab 137 58


A few armies rely principally on Kn(X) cataphracts. As shown in Table 13, they’re mostly pretty average.  Palmyrans are much the most common but seem to be tricky to use effectively.  The 3.1 changes are unlikely to affect them much.


Table 13: Cataphract armies

Army Games Success %
Palmyran 139 42
Hsi-Hsia   51 50
Tibetan   28 49


Table 14 lists some armies whose main tactic is massed archery. The Samurai were the most popular, but were of only average effectiveness whereas under DBM 2.1 they were among the most successful armies.  The 3.1 changes will hurt them by reducing the effect of their Ax(I) followers as “filler”.


Table 14: Bow armies

Army Games Success %
Early Samurai 227 53
Early Achaemenid Persian 160 49
Arabo-Aramaean 103 52
Neo-Babylonian 101 48
West Sudanese   20 53
Wallachian or Moldavian   20 56


Finally, Table 15 shows some armies which have a balanced force of heavy infantry, light and heavy cavalry and missile troops. Many old favourites remained popular, such as Hannibal’s Carthaginians, Shalmaneser’s and Ashurbanipal’s Assyrians and Rameses’s Egyptians.  These were joined by the Warring States and Chin Chinese (5th-3rd centuries BC), who were much in vogue.  All were of about average effectiveness, except for the Later Hebrews who slumped in both popularity and success since DBM 2.1 – I don’t know why.  DBM 3.1 will probably slightly benefit these armies.


Table 15: Balanced armies

Army Games Success %
Later Carthaginian 378 46
New Kingdom Egyptian 256 48
Warring States and Ch’in Chinese 203 46
Neo-Assyrian Later Sargonid 181 49
Middle Assyrian and Early Neo-Assyrian 179 51
Mithridatic 104 52
Western Chou and Spring and Autumn Chinese   90 51
Han Chinese   64 48
Hittite Empire   60 53
Later Hebrew   54 36
Libyan Egyptian   35 45


Well, that’s finis to DBM 3.0.  I’m looking forward to many more exciting games with DBM 3.1, which looks to be a big improvement.  No doubt the competition savants are already hunting for the latest equivalents of Saba or Beja – who knows, they may already have found them!


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