Veteran miniature wargamers will recognize De Bellis Antiquitatis as one of the premier pre-modern miniature rules systems available. Any sizeable convention will have at least one group of lead-and-Styrofoam warriors pushing figures and tossing dice over battles that range from the barely formed mobs of the Bronze Age to the armored and trained armies of the early Renaissance. What happens when players don't have twelve square feet of empty space to play, however, or when they can't round up the gang for several hours of refreshments and lousy die rolls? They get frustrated, that's what.
But wait! Don't chew on that lead soldier! When the real shove-and-twirl version of De Bellis Antiquitatis isn't available, DBA Online allows you to get your fix on a computer screen. You may miss the tactile feel of the pieces, but you don't have to worry about rebuilding the field after an errant dice barrage either. Using Battleware software, you can experience the tactical subtlety and some of the graphical experience of the tabletop game in two modes of head-to-head play. In fact, some devotees may find DBA Online to be a gratifying expansion of their gaming community instead a rainy day substitute.
You can download the game program and updated army sets for free from www.dbaol.com, or you can get everything on a CD for $15.95. Although the game lacks a computer opponent, you can play hot-seat style for free. Players have access to all 220 armies and twenty-six maps. The graphics are 2D and only about half of the units are painted, but what is lost in glitz is more than made up in variety. The system covers more than the usual Mediterranean and Western European armiesAztecs, Mayans, Indians, Chinese, Nubians, Magyars, Croats, and all flavors of Goths are represented with their unique weapon systems. Lack of nationalities and units is certainly not one of the game's shortcomings.
The interface for army composition, placement and game play is a clear and forgiving click-and drag proposition. Click on units and the menu changes, allowing group or single unit movement. A hand appears for lateral or vertical movement and a half-circle icon allows pivoting at the front corners. If movement requires precision, a diagram mode provides movement by example. Pop-up windows for movement, units, or display options have all the necessary information. This feature is very important, as Version 1.22 rulebooks are rare and Version 2 is not yet in print. Beginners can learn the essentials from the index on the website and the pop-up displays. Combat occurs after the movement phase is over and is largely automatic; players are only involved if a unit has a choice of targets. Maps have four levels of zoom and show zones of control, terrain type and range. Many of these aids can be toggled off and on.