Sunday, October 6, 2013

DBA vs HotT

For my own future reference and knowing how hard it can be to find things in the Yahoo Group archives I have copied this excellent article (warts and all) by Robert Beattie.  The original can be found at:

history Re: [DBA] Some questions about DBA vs HotT.

Thu Oct 3, 2013 2:08 pm (PDT) . Posted by: "Robert Beattie" beattieumichedu

I guess you do not know the history of the games. Regarding points first. Just assume all troop types in DBA are 2 points, like their counterparts in HOTT.

In the beginning there was DBA. A wonderful new game for historical miniatures that needed only small numbers of figures to represent large armies. Played in a small area. Standardized armies. Rules were pretty simple, until you tried to play with players from different areas when you discovered that different people had different interpretations. And so began the 20 year process for mutual acceptance of standard interpretations. Nonetheless, people did manage to play with each other. I remember the first couple years after DBA came out, at Historicon, players were walking about with 24in battle fields and fishing tackle boxes of armies looking for opponents. They would sit at a table, with armies set out, asking if they could teach you DBA. They did not have signs, Will Play DBA for Fun, but they did so.

Tournaments began. Standard elimination and Swss chess and even fancier ones. What a thrill to play against Phil or Sue when they came over.
http://www-personal ~beattie/ dbatourn/ DBAtourn. html

Then came HOTT. Almost the exact same game rules as DBA. If you knew DBA you could easily play HOTT, just add a few new troop types. There were a couple different rules, for example you could only attack an enemy on the flank if you started on the other side of that flank (now in DBA 3). This was the dream time of the two games. They were in almost perfect sync.

Then DBA changed. Phil wanted to change the game for some reason. It was actually good as it was. One of the most played games in the history of historical miniatures games. There were modifications to other times and places in the glossy monthly magazines. I wrote an article on how to play big battle games.
http://www-personal ~beattie/ bbdba.html

My local group played DBA or HOTT twice a month.

Nevertheless, Phil wanted change so wrote DBA 2. It was still a good game and people picked it up easily. No one wanted to make a house rule version of 1.1 instead of switching to 2.0. However, now DBA was misaligned with HOTT. Richard Bodley Scott, a co-author, took it upon himself to being the two back into sync. In the process he deviated from the new DBA so they they were close but not actually the same, anymore. See the differences here
http://www-personal ~abeattie/ dbasum2005/ HOTTDBAdiff. htm

Even with the many differences, players were still able to move back and forth between the two games. There was still a call for a HOTT based DBA game as the former was so much better written and had diagrams.
http://www-personal ~abeattie/ dbasum2005/ HOTTancients. htm

While some players could work their way through DBA 2 and 2.2, many sought help to understanding the subtle and sometimes complex language. For a while I presented a Commentary on the game, on the net, and then others made a very useful guide to aid in understanding the game. This Guide enabled many to play the game who could not otherwise struggle through it. Note that there many players who were able to learn the game from the original text. It is very interesting in understanding the development of the two games, that HOTT did not need any Guide. Just a short FAQ page.

So, late in first decade of the 21st century there were two games, that started out almost the same in the middle 1990's, but now diverged markedly. Most, almost all, players of both games were happy with them as they were. The HOTT players wanted no changes, the DBA players only wanted some clarifications.

Then came DBA 3. A major change from 2.2. So now the two games have almost nothing in common except the basics of elements and PIPs. By the way, the combat procedures are pretty much the same. A person who knows either cannot easily just start right in playing the other. Thus what were two very similar games have diverged because of the need for the writers to add additional touches here and there without concern for the synchronization of the two.


On Oct 3, 2013, at 5:22 AM, <matthew_bailey@> wrote:

> First:
> Why is DBA limited to just 12 elements, and why could it not adopt a point-system similar to HotT?
> Since some armies have options that present some problematic armies with just 12 elements (I am talking those armies that typically have 12 identical elements, yet the DBMM Army lists show options for other types of elements - although many of the DBA lists do give those options in most cases).
> But why is it that this is an option (points for army element selection) for HotT and not DBA?
> Second:
> Why is it that DBA isn't considered for fantasy rules, and that people defer to HotT?
> I have a growing selection of Middle-earth armies that are nearing completion (beginning with Hithaeglir Goblins, Rohirrim, Gondor, and Haradrim), and HotT doesn't provide nearly the elements needed to support the armies in question (especially armies like the Easterlings, Haradrim, Gondor, and Orcs, where both psiloi and bows (crossbows, longbows, etc.) would be found as troop types (to say nothing of pikes among some armies).
> I know that HotT has options for Heroes, Monsters, magic, etc. But why have two rules systems for what is the same sort of combat?
> That said, DBA 3 looks really good. Pity that it can' the dressed up a little more with some illustrations and pictures.
> Matthew Bailey


  1. I should mention that HoTTs was being revised by a Yahoo group run by Alan Saunders ( and the late Jeff Bolton before someone showed RBS what was being done and he decided to get involved and make it official. The original intent was to develop an agreed upon (as much as possible) interpretation of the 1st edition rules' gray areas. See the defunct "hottrevision" group on yahoo groups (if you dare, it's pretty dire there in yahoo groups).

    1. Thanks for this. I hadn't seen the blogspot or the HotT group, but now will. I know what you mean about it being dire in Yahoo groups at the moment.

    2. This is the HotT blogspot which is also known as The Stroghold Rebuilt:

      And the Yahoo group can be found here:

      Again, thanks for bringing these to my attention, especially the group which I wasn't aware of.

  2. If there is a desire to 'synchronise' HotT and DBA, why not just have the one set of rules, with perhaps a small supplement concerning 'Historical Ancients (DBA)' vs 'Other ' armies? Perhaps the reason for the divergence is to create two different types of games, and, of course, to obviate duplication.

    As for the opaque language in which the rules are expressed (or perhaps I should say 'impressed' (in the sense of squeezed in) - methinks a certain false economy is at play here. How many of us have walked away from DB# on account of differences in interpreting what is written, over-frequent and ill-considered emendments, and changes in the authors' perception of history aggravating them both - the whole expressed in a language so compacted that no one can be certain of the meaning.

    'To keep down printing costs.' Never mind the cost to the buyer in years of frustration and annoyance. The end result is not what you would appealing, neither. A little expansion in expression - sacrificing concision for clarity - would indeed increase printing costs, but suppose it increased sales as well owing to the broadened appeal of an easily understood and absorbed rule set? You might even be able to absorb narrower margins as a result.

    It has been nigh 10 years since I played DBM; not much less since DBR (when I discovered after a gap of about 5 years no progress had been made on an underdeveloped rule set). I'm tempted by HotT only because of the imaginative armies (garden gnomes, spiders, dinosaurs, US Vietnam War, steam punk... excellent! I was considering Baron Richtofen's Flying Circus for a while...) but whether I will ever do anything about it is still moot.

    I probably still have better things to do.

    1. Well said, WRG Ancients 7th Edition were my major wargamming rules for a good number of years, included assisting running competitions, and the challenging writing style was maintained with DBA. I could never get into DBM and I am happy with FOG which to me seems to be a proper evolution from what I enjoyed about WRG 7th.

      However the appeal of fighting a 12 element battle in an how remains - and I have had some real fun DBA games in the past, both as competitions, campaign and friendly games.

      Getting to play HotT is at present merely an aspiration.