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Subject: DBR - Review rss

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john davidson
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De Bellis Renationis is a set of tabletop wargames rules for the Renaissance period (1494-1700). The rules are largely based on the popular miniatures rules for the ancient-medieval period (DBM) which were written by Phil Barker and co-author (Richard Bodley Scott) might have tempered the flaws in DBM, sadly all too many of them are retained in these rules and in some instances, amplified. The text remains obtuse with far too many long, multi-claused sentences. It matters little that they are probably grammatically correct if they are, for many players, practically impenetrable.
In addition to the base rules players must also have access to at least one of the three books of army lists. These detail valid troop numbers and combinations and are in truth quite an interesting read in themselves.

As in DBM, troops are classified into generic types combining aspects of organisational structure, armament and fighting style.
Some troops from the DBM medieval period remain (Blades, Bows , Pike and Warband), others have been modified somewhat (Lance replace Knights, Sipahis replace Cavalry, Skirmishers replace Psiloi) and new troops types emerge (Shot – Harquebusiers and Musketeers. Pistols –horsemen armed with sword and pistol, Dragoons).
Figures are organised into ‘stands’ with a fixed frontage (40mm in the 15mm figure scale) and with a base depth dependant on troop type.

Troop movements are, as in DBM, controlled via command points which are based on the roll of a d6 and then spent on moving units either individually or in groups. This aspect of the rules is largely successful and the high cost of manoeuvring individual units emphasises the need to examine the terrain before placing troops and to consider what ones opponent might do. In this way the player is forced into the aspect of generalship which was crucial before modern times – where a plan was set before the battle and where a bad deployment could prove fatal. In gaming terms this can however be more than a little frustrating as it can be clear moments after starting the game that things are not going to go your way – but with the prospect of several hours play ahead in which to prove that. Of course with luck and skill one can recover from a poor start so all is not necessarily lost.
The command system has been modified from DBM in an attempt enforce unit cohesion but as tactics and weaponry evolved throughout this period, the effect of this is somewhat restrictive without necessarily conforming to a universal, historical norm. Western armies are generally well served but the Oriental, Indian and Middle Eastern conflicts would probably work better if the original DBM rules were used.

Shooting and combat can be a complex affair with basic factors being modified by support from flanks or rear as well as relative troop types. The relative troop quality (Inferior, Ordinary, Fast or Superior) of the opponents also influence the result.
Each side also rolls a d6 and the resultant (modified) scores are compared. If once side has scored double the other, this normally results in a kill, otherwise the affected stand recoils a base depth.
There is however a much greater element of paper-scissors-stones about the combat and these rules are further complicated by factoring who’s turn it was. (For instance Sipahis – if beaten but not doubled are destroyed by Lance in an enemy bound, Flee from shooting and otherwise recoil.)

The rules cover a period of intense social and technological development, particularly in Western Europe and subsequently it is recommended that players only use armies against historical opponents. This is perhaps understandable, but in a set of genericised rules, it is a tacit admission that the army points cost mechanism is broken.
One of the main flaws with the points costs lies in the carry forward of troop costs from DBM regardless of their effectiveness within the rules. Blades (for example) cost 7 points against a cost of 6 points per Shot. However in game terms, Blade (Halberdiers, Dismounted Knights, Samurai etc) are almost obsolete and are automatically destroyed if beaten by Shot (at range or in hand to hand). The actual combat effectiveness isn’t the question here, rather that in game terms they shouldn’t be getting priced for an effectiveness they no longer possess.
At the other end of the spectrum, Skirmishers (Superior) are far too effective. A single stand (apparently armed with armalites and sniper-scopes) can hold up an entire command or pick off key units and are extremely difficult to chase off or destroy.

Despite these gripes, it is possible, with careful army selection and some local restrictions, to play a reasonable and enjoyable historical simulation, and there is the difference between DBR and the more ‘fun’ end of the table-top wargames rules market. DBR is intended to provide a player with the ability to recreate a historical match up – gaming is almost an after-thought.
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