Mixing Oil and Water
Using Blades and Bows Together
are the premier general-purpose troops for killing enemy foot.
Nothing else is nearly as effective, or as immune to attack from enemy
infantry. Sure, they can't easily kill enemy psiloi, but they laugh at
the psiloi's feeble attempts to kill them, and can sweep them from the
field or ignore them. Blades can fight in rough terrain against the best
rough-terrain troops with confidence, and are the only troops that can
hope to hold against a frontal assault of massed pike in the open long
enough to get around their flanks and hit them in the sides. And while
blades have to be careful fighting warbands, with care they can expect to
come out with even chances in that matchup, and warbands haven't got the
multi-purpose usefulness of blades.
So blades rule over other foot. But mounted are another story. All
mounted are dangerous to blades. Blades can't catch lighter mounted unless
the mounted let it happen; and Knights or Scythed Chariots are quite deadly
Speed can be a significant weapon in DBA. Speed can
allow you to disengage from dangerous situations, and let you exploit
opportunities quickly. The idea of a force of blades zooming around a
catching an enemy line off-guard is laughable. But as any commander of
heavy foot knows, a force of blades is very vulnerable to exactly that
sort of attack from a mounted force.
Not only are blades much slower than mounted, but they have no
Cavalry in combat with blades fight even-up (+3 each), and
their greater speed means that they choose when and where the combat
will occur, and are more likely to turn a flank.
Knights can crush a group of blades with one good roll. Elephants have
the advantage in combat factor (+4) although they are unwieldy; even
light horse can devil a
group of blades -- the blades will never kill them, and can only drive them
away briefly, and are constantly in danger of a rapid flanking attack.
Blades can't win that fight, and can't even delay a force of light horse
from sweeping around towards the baggage unless they are propped on rough
Bow have the opposite problem. They are also slow, but
their ranged combat gives them a significant reach. They have excellent
combat factors against mounted. They are almost the only foot troops that
can actually kill enemy light horse. Used with care their ranged combat
ability makes them
difficult to outmaneuver or outflank. It
would be fair to say that bow are one of the most useful types of infantry
against mounted foemen.
But against foot it is another story. Bow can drive off psiloi, true.
Using the advantage of their ranged attack, bow can fight
without too much of a disadvantage against auxilia, pike, or warband, but
the advantage is definitely not on the bow's side. And spear or blades are
a disaster. These represent well-armoured heavy foot, often with large
shields; very effective against missile fire. And their performance in
DBA reflects this -- spear or blades will crush bow if they ever get into
Oil and Water
If you have an army with a bunch of both blades and bows, then, you have
an interesting tactical problem. How to integrate the two effectively? The
simplest answer is to separate them out -- have one blade wing and one bow
wing. If your opponent is foolish or unlucky enough to pit his knights and
light horse against your bows, and his bows and auxilia against your blades,
you will gain a crushing victory.
However, most DBA players are not so obliging, and the simple formation
above invites disaster. If your opponent manages to face your bows with
his blades or auxilia the game will be over long before your blades get into
action. So splitting the bows and blades apart is an answer of sorts, but
it is very easy for your opponent to counter.
Below are some thoughts on appropriate formations and issues for bow/blade
Mixed formations. Splitting the bow and blades entirely apart is
rarely effective. The opposite technique, mixing them together, also has its
problems. A simple alternation (bow/blade/bow/blade etc.) is a poor solution.
Against cavalry it will work well enough, but against infantry much less so.
The bows are too far apart to combine fire effectively on oncoming troops,
thus reducing their ranged-fire effectiveness. The bow are still terribly
vulnerable to enemy foot, and will quickly be recoiled off the combat line.
Since they cannot fire on any unit in combat or providing an overlap on
combat, they will be entirely useless, and you will be left with the
unpleasant choice of leaving your blades out with double overlaps, or
throwing your bow into melee. Either way, you lose.
Herse/Harrow formations. The Hundred-Year's War English
solved the problem by using a formation where a mass of men-at-arms (blades)
stood in the center, flanked by two groups of longbow set slightly at
an angle, in a cup of sorts. The bow protected the flanks of the blades,
and ideally the flank of the bow was protected by terrain. This is a
risky formation in DBA. For one thing, it is very static. It relies upon
your opponent agreeing to fight you in your prepared defensive position.
Sadly, our enemies are rarely as stupid as the
Hundred-Year's War French, who often ended up charging right up the center
rather than doing anything intelligent like moving around and crushing
an exposed flank.
Nonetheless, there are some useful possibilities in the general idea
of having bows flanking a center of blades. Even in a mobile battlefield,
single units of bow are very useful as
flank-protectors on a line of blades or other heavy foot. Their
ranged-fire allows them to interdict quite a bit
of terrain against mounted (the most common flanking troops), especially if
used in combination with bad going. Anchoring both flanks with a bow in bad
going can be very effective.
foot (auxilia and psiloi) they can hold their own well enough.
Modifications of the harrow formation can also be useful in the right
situation. You can stock small patches of impassable or awkward terrain with
troops. When facing Knights put the blades in the bad going; in other
situations put a line of bows in the bad going and keep the blades in the
open. This sort of formation is quite static, however, and often the enemy
will refuse to engage you when you have such a nice formation.
Terrain interdiction. Bow work great in rough going. A
line of two or three elements of bow in bad going is a tough nut to
crack. Against mounted you should set up as far forward as possible,
with just your toes in bad going. Against heavy foot it is much better
to stay farther back, forcing the enemy to enter the bad going to fight
you. This allows bow to fight pretty-much even up against any enemy
infantry, even heavy foot that would normally spell their doom.
Warband, pike or spear can be slaughtered if they are tempted to
venture into bad
going against bow; even blades are no great shakes
at fighting in the marsh against a storm of arrows.
No recoils Single elements of bow are interesting units, but
the ranged-fire ability of bows can mislead you. Forcing a recoil is often
useful in close combat -- it gets you combat advantage on the next unit over,
and if your enemy doesn't dress his line you can get a significant advantage
on your next move. But ranged-fire recoils are much less use, in general.
Recoils in ranged combat disorder the enemy's line, but not usually by
much. Unlike recoils in melee, where adjacent combat may be affected, a
missile-combat recoil gives no advantage on further combat that turn
(unless you have
been clever enough to force the enemy into positions where no recoil is
possible, of course). Worse still, recoils may push the enemy out of your
so on his subsequent turn he is safe. This can be quite frustrating.
So you don't want to push things back, you want to kill them. It is
almost always better to group your fire with bows. This means that your
bow elements should be positioned to allow this. Bows
start being nasty when you group them together in twos and threes.
The Changeling Maneuver
This is a neat maneuver that can only really be used effectively in
armies with a lot of bows and blades. It allows the use of a flexible
formation that combines many of the advantages of bows (ranged fire;
ability against cavalry) with those of blades (durability; combat ability
Bows are permitted to recoil through blades facing the same direction
(DBA 1.1 rulebook, p8).
Bows aren't permitted to recoil through any other element type.
This allows a very interesting formation for bow/blade armies, where
the initial line is all bows, backed by a line of blades.
This formation is very useful against any type of mixed or
combined-arms armies. Don't use it against a wall of blades (Vikings),
where you just don't want your bows to come in contact with the enemy
blades at all.
With the bows in front, they can shoot at any incoming mounted and
disorder formations of mixed foot through concentrated shooting. If they
are faced with mounted, the bow are where you want them, where they can
shoot, and they will do well.
Against infantry (anything but blades) they will have the advantage of
distant shooting for as long
as possible, disordering the enemy line and perhaps even killing an element
or two. Then, when the enemy auxilia, pike, spear, or warband hit they
have small chance of inflicting any worse result than a recoil. They won't
have any back-rank support (p8 : no back-rank support on the first round of
close combat with bow or arty), and only one round of combat to do any
damage. Because if they get a recoil on the bow, presto-chango, the
bow recoils through the blades, and they find themselves facing the toughest
anti-infantry troops available!
This is especially deadly against warbands, as their impetuous nature
forces them to throw themselves forward into the bow's abandoned position,
ending up opposing blades with a double overlap. Ouch.
Once recoiled through the blade line, the bows should attempt to fill any
holes in the formation. They can't do any more good in their current
position, and they aren't likely to get back into battle in the center.
Armies with Blades and Bows
I've focussed below on armies that have at least three blades and at
least three bows. With only one or two blade or bow elements, discussion of
formations and tactics for using them in concert is facile.
Max No. of Blades and Bows
Early Shang Chinese (#6) [4 Bd, 8 Bw], Leidang (#106b) [8 Bd, 4 Bw]
Later Shang Chinese (#16a) [3 Bd, 8 Bw], Hundred Year's War English (#168) [4 Bd, 7 Lb], Free Company (#172) [5 Bd, 4 Lb, 2 of either], War of the Roses English (#179) [6 Bd, 3 Lb, 2 of either]
Early Burgundian (#173) [6 Bd, 4 Cb/Lb], French Ordonnance (#178) [6 Bd, 4 Lb/Cb]
Early Medieval Scandinavian (#131a) [6 Bd, 3 Bw]
Gepid or Lombard (#85) [4 Bd, 4 Bw], Later Medieval Scandinavian (#131b) [4 Bd, 4 Bw]
Chou and Spring and Autumn Chinese (#16b) [4 Bd, 3 Cb], Early Imperialist (#136) [4 Bd, 3 Bw], Burgundian Ordonnance (#180) [3 Bd, 4 Lb]
Mexican (#105) [3 Bd, 3 Bw], Khitan Liao (#114) [3 Bd, 3 Cb], Early Samurai (#127a) [6 of any combination]
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