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

ArmyGamesSuccess %
  1Patrician Roman73253
  2Late Imperial Roman47447
  3Later Hungarian40455
  4Later Carthaginian37846
  5Medieval Spanish and Portuguese36854
  7Skythian and Early Hu29056
  8Chinese Northern and Southern Dynasties28852
10Norse Viking and Leidang28151
12New Kingdom Egyptian25648
16Medieval German23550
18Early Samurai22753
19Alexandrian Macedonian22256
20Warring States & Ch’in Chinese20346



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

ArmyGamesSuccess %
Tullian    430
Camillan   –  –
Polybian  3138
Marian  6040
All Republican armies  9539
Early Imperial  9835
Middle Imperial  3738
Late Imperial47447
All Imperial armies60944
Sub-Roman British  5247


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

ArmyGamesSuccess %
Alexandrian Macedonian22256
Alexandrian Imperial16152
Asiatic Early Successor  1642
Lysimachid  3333
Macedonian Early Successor  3843
Ptolemaic  2146
Pyrrhic  1955
Later Macedonian1654
Commagene  1039
All Hellenistic Pike armies93449
Akkadian  3954
Sumerian Successor States    843
Minoan and Early Mycenean  2849
Scots Common  2643
Low Countries  3455
Later Swiss  1243
All other Pike armies14750



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 Empire18148
Feudal Spanish16946
Medieval French14045
Feudal French  4242
Romanian Frank  2762
All Kn(S) armies55947
Anglo-Norman  23148
Carolingian Frankish  15845
Sicilian  12153
Early Crusader    9547
West Frankish or Norman    7445
Early Ostrogothic etc    6849
Bosporan    4447
Later Crusader    3937
Cilician Armenian    2637
Italian Ostrogothic    2545
Later Polish    2439
Georgian    2332
East Frankish    2256
Early Serbian or Croatian    1744
Early Lombard    1435
Feudal English    1442
African Vandal    1239
Siracae etc      938

All Kn(F/O) Armies



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


GamesSuccess %
Abyssinian etc12959
Gallic  5945
Early Frankish etc  5344
Ancient British  4950
Dacian and Carpi  3445
Gepid  2445
Tupi  4446
Indonesian and Malay  4453
Early German  2930
Siamese  2832
Early Northern Barbarian  2438
Middle Frankish  2236
Arab Conquest  1843
Galatian  1511
Later Visigothic  1247
All warband armies70049



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

ArmyGames Success %
Later Hungarian40455
Medieval Spanish and Portuguese36854
Medieval German23550
Italian Condotta10841
Teutonic Orders  9938
Burgundian Ordonnance  8340
Wars of the Roses English  7841
French Ordonnance  7256
Medieval Scandinavian  4240
Hussite  3949
Anglo-Irish  3265
Hundred Years War English  2838
Free Company and Armagnac  2346
Navarrese  2071
Order of St John  1827



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

ArmyGamesSuccess %
Ottoman Turk33953
Early Byzantine11845
Sassanid Persian11646
Central Asian City-States  9657
Abbasid Arab  9048
Timurid  7147
Later Achaemenid Persian  6855
Khazar  6261
Sui and Early T’ang Chinese  5145
Khurasanian  3558
Later Muslim Indian3250
Kassite and Later Babylonian  2540
Nikephorian Byzantine  2550
Avar  2349
Mamluk Egyptian  2058


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

ArmyGamesSuccess %
Chinese Northern and Southern Dynasties28852
Norse Viking and Leidang28151
Fanatic Berber20051
Early Carthaginian16348
Makkan, Saba etc16164
Later Hoplite Greek13555
Sea Peoples  4053
Tarascan or Toltec-Chichimec  3555
Kyrenean Greek  3459
Aztec  2627
Andalusian  2049



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

ArmyGamesSuccess %
Skythian and Early Hu29056
Dynastic Bedouin  8259
Parthian  8243
Alan  7646
Hsien-Pi etc  7244
Komnenan Byzantine  6844
Early Armenian  6150
Yuan Chinese  4855
Central Asian Turkish  4854
Hunnic  4342
Numidian  4241
Early Hungarian  3647
Magyar  3246
Pecheneg  3259
Mongol Conquest  3157
Seljuk Turk  2046
Syrian  2051



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

ArmyGamesSuccess %
Hellenistic Greek10162
Early Libyan  9256
Pictish  8149
Maccabean Jewish  3256
Thracian  2160


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

ArmyGamesSuccess %
Classical Indian14543
Tamil Indian and Sinhalese12353
Khmer and Cham  5744
Hindu Indian  5460
Burmese  2252


Table 12: Camel armies

ArmyGamesSuccess %
Christian Nubian14650
Later Pre-Islamic Arab13758


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

ArmyGamesSuccess %
Hsi-Hsia  5150
Tibetan  2849


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

ArmyGamesSuccess %
Early Samurai22753
Early Achaemenid Persian16049
West Sudanese  2053
Wallachian or Moldavian  2056


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

ArmyGamesSuccess %
Later Carthaginian37846
New Kingdom Egyptian25648
Warring States and Ch’in Chinese20346
Neo-Assyrian Later Sargonid18149
Middle Assyrian and Early Neo-Assyrian17951
Western Chou and Spring and Autumn Chinese  9051
Han Chinese  6448
Hittite Empire  6053
Later Hebrew  5436
Libyan Egyptian  3545


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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