What happens during a wargame?

Carl Holliday

This piece attempts to give some clue to the uninformed of what exactly happens during a wargame. It cannot be exhaustive and cannot cover all kinds of wargames, so it focusses on Ancient wargames on the Wargames Research Group's DBM model.


Wargames are played on a table.  Typically one side is called the invader and the other the defender.  Each side deploys its army along one long side of the table.  Troops may normally be deployed in the open and sometimes behind hills and trees or inside woods as ambushes.  Some troops may be sent on off-table flank marches, then the player to whom they belong must dice to see if they arrive on the table.

In competition games armies are usually the same size.  "Size" is determined by Army Points, "Army Points" (AP) are allocated to each troop type by the rule set played.  This means that an element of Reg Kn (F) 11AP and an element of Reg Ax (S) 5AP are worth different amounts of AP.  Currently DBM version 3.0 is played to 400AP, which means that most armies are between 45 and 120 elements big.  To see what elements look like, see the photo's in the Assegai Gallery.  Under DBM individual figures are not used.

Battlefield at deployment.  English on the far side.  Romans on the right. In the picture on the left an Early Imperial Roman army (right) is facing a 100 Years' War English army.  The English have placed their right wing on a hill, with the Roman right partially inside a marsh.  Note that the Romans have a marching camp for their baggage.  The Romans Legions, Reg Bd (O) 7AP, are deployed in a two-deep formation, as this gives them a benefit in combat against knights.  The English have deployed their knights, Reg Kn (O) 12AP, in a line in the centre, supported on the left by Longbowmen, Reg Bw (S) 7AP, and on the right by artillery, Reg Art (O) 8AP.

The Invader rolls dice, one for each general in the army, and then allocated the dice to each general's command before starting any movement.  Irregular troops are more difficult to control and an irregular general keeps the same dice throughout the game.  Regular generals are allowed more freedom and can swap around their dice, allowing more freedom of movement for armies with regular generals.  The game is broken up into "bounds" with the Invader going first and each time the Defender completes his bound, 15 minutes has passed.

Battlefield after a few bounds.  English have broken up their line and are advancing aggressively. The Roman player is moving forward slowly and is obviously using the difficult terrain on the right flank to protect the infantry form the knights.  The Legions are supported by cart mounted artillery, Reg Art (F) 10AP, which can shoot over the heads of the Blade, but not if it has also moved this bound.  On both wings the Roman flanks have expanded.
The English player is rushing forward with the Knights, knowing that the Knights have a very good chance against the Blade, while the Longbowmen have dropped behind.  An element of Light Horse, Reg LH (O) 5AP, have come out from behind the artillery to entice the Roman Cavalry into following it closer to the English artillery on the hill.
Battle!  The English have reached the Roman lines. The Roman Blade is fighting off the Knights in a very tight battle - the Blade have a combat factor of 3+1 (rear rank support), against the combat factor of 3 of the Knights.  However, the Knights need only end one factor higher after dicing to kill both ranks of Blade, while the Blade can only kill the Knights if they manage a score double that of the Knights.  Everytime an element is killed, it is removed from the table.
The English Longbowmen have now formed a line, two-deep, in order to shoot effectively at the Roman Auxilia, Reg Ax (S) 5AP.  The Roman Cavalry, Reg Cav (O) 8AP, have advanced and contacted the English Light Horse, which is now double overlapped.  Note the one element of English Knights which has been shot out of formation by the Roman artillery.

The game is now near its end in terms of movement, as the two main battle lines have met and the players have to fight it out.  Each element in full front edge contact with the front edge of an enemy element first calculates is own combat factor, then both players roll one combat die each, simply adding the result of their dice to their element's basic combat factor.  The combat outcome is then determined by a whole number of events.  For instance, Cavalry can never be killed by Pike or Spear, and Knights can usually be killed only if they have a combat result of half or less than half of their opponents.  Blade are the most vulnerable of the close foot types to mounted, but are excellent at killing other foot and can also kill cavalry.

There is no such thing as "The Best Army" - instead armies are composed of troops resembling their historical troop types and accordingly, each army has both strenghts and weaknesses.  The key is understanding the strenghts and weaknesses of your own army and using them to your advantage.  Also see David Davidson's article in the SA Wargamer section.

Victory! The Roman Cavalry are turning onto the English artillery on the hill and should not experience to many problems in destroying it.  The Roman right has been badly mauled.  The Auxilia simply cannot stand up to the massed Longbowmen in the open.
The English Knights have not been extremely succesful, their numbers thinned due to poor combat dicing!  The game will probably end with the game pivoting on the table as both armies right flanks collapse.  The fight between the Knights and the Blade can go on for a long while yet.  The Knights can kill the Blade easily enough, but need good combat dice rolls, while the double ranks of the Blade give them the extra staying power to put up a stubborn resistance to the Knights.

The game ends at the end of the first bound in which one side has become demoralized.  The armies do not fight to the death, and historically armies tended to give up after suffering 25%-30% casualties.  Depending on the scoring system used, a simple number value is usually allocated to a result, a 10-0 indicating a decisive win with no friendly losses, while a 5-5 means a draw.  Games often end with elements in contact in various places on the table, with cumulative casualties forcing the army to break.


Created on February 12, 2001