DBA Tournaments

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Revision as of 13:53, 13 March 2014 by Ferrency (talk | contribs) (Attrition)
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The most common way DBA is played at conventions is in tournament events of various formats. Using the word "tournament" to describe these events can seem intimidating to newcomers, but there is no need to be afraid of participating in these events. Although people are trying to win, the main goal is always to have fun. It is common for beginning players to be taught how to play during a tournament event.

Some of the best players are also the best teachers, so take advantage of this opportunity to hone your skills!

The DBA rules do not contain any information or guidelines regarding how to run tournament events. This is good, because it allows event organizers more flexibility in designing their events. However, over time, several common practices have been adopted by many tournament organizers.

The most important thing regarding tournament rules is to pay attention to each event's description, and make sure you understand how things work before the start of the event. It's no fun showing up for an event, only to find out you have an inappropriate army.

Please also see some suggestions about Tournament Etiquette that may help you know what to expect during tournament play.

Tournament Pairing Methods and Formats

Pairing is the task of selecting which opponents will play against each other in each round of play. Some special formats have restrictions

Swiss Chess Format

In the Swiss Chess format, the first round of pairings is usually done chronologically by the army's selected year. Often event organizers fudge things to make sure that players at large events don't play against people from their local clubs, to match beginning players with good teachers, to promote historical matchups when possible, or to encourage or discourage civil wars (battles between the same army).

In subsequent rounds, players are matched up by their cumulative point total. Using the NASAMW DBA Scoring system, this always pits winners against other winners, and losers against other losers.

Usually, tournaments are 3 or 4 rounds long. 3 rounds of Swiss play are enough to identify a single clear winner among 8 players. 4 rounds handle up to 16 players.

Swiss Chess Format is the most common way that tournaments are run at HMGS-East conventions.

Round Robin Pairing

In Round Robin pairing, everybody plays every other player in their group once, and the cumulative scores determine who wins. Round Robin pairings are used when there are few players (about 4) or to divide an Open format tournament into several smaller historical groups of armies. If the players are broken into multiple groups, there is typically a semifinal and final round to determine the overall winner.

Round Robin format is usually used for the NICT and Big Battle Doubles events at HMGS-East conventions.

Elimination Formats

In the Single Elimination format, only the winners advance to the next round of play. In double elimination, players are removed from the tournament after they lose twice.

Elimination formats are typically very dissatisfying for players, because they limit the number of games many players may play. The main goal is to have fun, and not to win the tournament overall. Elimination tournaments eliminate the fun.

The only tournament run at HMGS-East conventions that uses an Elimination format is Midnite Madness. Since this event starts late at night, being eliminated early on is usually considered almost as good as winning, and coming in second place overall is the worst possible outcome.

Tournament Scoring

DBA games are usually scored using the NASAMW DBA Scoring system. BBDBA games are usually scored using the NASAMW BBDBA Scoring system. These systems always give winners a much higher score than losers, and unfinished games are scored identically to a losing game. This ensures pairings are done correctly, and encourages players to reach a result rather than delaying the game to gain advantage in the tournament.

Reporting your score

Games must always be played to completion: finish all shooting and combat rolls in the final turn, because they may affect the game's score. When reporting the results of a game, include the number of elements killed, whether any generals were killed, whether any enemy camps were occupied at the end of the game, and whether any scythed chariots were killed. Typically a score is reported listing the winner's score first and the loser's score second. Append "G" for a killed general, "C" for a sacked camp, and "SCh" for a scythed chariot (which counts for scoring even though it doesn't end the game).

For example: 3G-2C means the winner killed 3 elements including the general, and the loser killed 2 elements and sacked the winner's camp.

Army Selection and Composition

In most events, the army lists available to be selected from are all taken straight from the DBA 2.2 rule book, without any modifications. In many events, the organizer may limit the specific armies that are available to players in an event.

Your army and its exact composition must be selected before the start of the event, usually without knowledge of what other players are playing. The army's composition cannot change between rounds. Usually the event organizer will request that you fill out a card listing the army's name, number, and year. The year must be a valid year the army fought in, according to the army lists in use, and it is typically used to keep first round matchups as historical as possible.

Here are some ways that army selection may be limited by the tournament organizer.


An Open tournament is open to all legal armies, usually selecting from the DBA 2.2 rulebook. Players often select what they consider to be competitive armies; however, players from different geographic areas rarely agree on what the most competitive armies are. Good players can win with a wide variety of armies, but there are some armies that are very difficult to win with.

The benefit of running an Open tournament is that anyone with any valid army can participate. However, it is not a very satisfying format, because it results in many battles that could never have happened historically.

Element-based Themes

Some organizers limit army selection by certain types of elements that must be present in the army. Some examples:

  • At least 5 Auxilia
  • At least 8 mounted units
  • At least 5 bows
  • At least 1 horde

For players who feel it important to select a competitive army in these events, the selection often concentrates on finding the eligible army with the most elements that easily defeat the thematic element. This format usually does not produce historical matchups.

Historical Themes

Historical themes limit army selection to a limited set of eligible armies, but often don't limit how many players may use each army. The theme may be defined as a specific list of armies; as a single army and all of its historical enemies; or by a general time period and geographic area.

Historical themes tend to produce more historically plausible battles, but they are also open to army selection metagaming if the theme is too wide.

Specific Army Lists

To run a campaign event or a very tight theme, organizers may list a number of specific armies available and accept signups for each slot independently. This enforces a very tight historical theme and maximizes the possibility that historical enemies will fight, but the army restrictions may prevent some players from participating if they don't have a suitable army available.

Tournament Formats

Formats combine a pairing method and army selection rules to produce a unique tournament experience.

Matched Pairs Format

Matched Pairs provides a way to use less common armies in a tournament format while enforcing historical matchups and leaving army selection completely open.

In Matched Pairs, each player brings two armies. Players are separated into two groups, A and B, and players always play against opponents in the other group. In the first round, the game uses the armies provided by the player in the A group, but the player in the B group selects which of the two armies they will use. In the second round, group B's armies are used, and group A selects which they will play. This alternates through all of the rounds of play.

This means that it is in your best interest to bring an evenly matched pair of armies; or, at least to know how to win with the army most players think will lose. It's a good test of players' overall ability, because you will be playing with an army you may not have ever played before. Since each player brings both an army and its enemy, the format supports multiple scales easily. It improves the historical feel of the game by only allowing historically matched armies to battle, and also supports many armies that would usually never see the table except in a narrow historical theme.

The downside is that each player must bring 2 armies, and you are never sure exactly which army you'll be using. Matched Pairs requires an even number of rounds of play to be effective, so each side's army is used an equal number of times.

Double Matched Pairs

At Historicon 2012, Alan Ferrency ran a Matched Pairs Doubles event.

This format is a team-based variant of the traditional Matched Pairs format. Players form two-player teams, and each team should bring one historically matched pair of armies. One player from each team is in group A, and the other is in group B. Each player uses their team's armies for half of the rounds, and their opponents' armies for the other half. Points are counted by teams.

This was a fun variant to try, but it has some problems. Although you need fewer armies per player, and every army is used every turn, you need more players for it to work effectively. With 5 teams of 2, you can do round-robin pairings between groups A and B for 4 rounds. It's difficult to do swiss pairings when you have the restriction that teammates can't play against each other.

Pyramid Format

A Pyramid is similar to a single elimination tournament, but instead of eliminating the losing player, they combine forces with the winner to form a larger army for the next round.

Pyramids are typically 3 rounds long, with 8 slots available for initial signup. In the first round, there are 4 games of 1-on-1. In the second round, there are 2 games of 2-on-2, with the winner of the previous round being the Commander in Chief of their side. In the third round, there is one game of 4-on-4. The overall winner is the CinC of the winner of the final game. Sometimes points are scored, but often it doesn't matter unless prizes are available for places lower than 1st and 2nd place.

Pyramids have the most historical feel when they're designed like a small empire building campaign, with each specific army slot selected and committed to ahead of time. The matchups can be planned ahead of time so the armies are well matched. At the very least, a strong historical theme can help.

The 2-on-2 and 4-on-4 games are played using BBDBA rules for broken commands and victory conditions. Each command on one side uses their own PIP die. There are no high-low-mid pip dice or custom command splits even when two armies of the same book and number happen to be playing on the same side. An army's C-in-C does not receive their "once per game +1" benefit; instead, they command the army with the highest break point. Victory conditions are as in BBDBA: You win when you break the enemy's C-in-C or destroy half their elements, and they have lost more elements than you.

Deployment for the 2-on-2 game is:

  • Defender deploys 1 command
  • Attacker deploys 2 commands
  • Defender deploys 1 command

Deployment for the 4-on-4 game is:

  • Defender deploys 3 commands
  • Attacker deploys 4 commands
  • Defender deploys 1 command

The second and third rounds are played on BBDBA sized boards: 30" x 60" for 15mm scale.

Limited Attrition

Some organizers like to use attrition between the pyramid rounds: losses in each round carry over to the next. Unfortunately, unlimited attrition can cause problems such as colluding to kill off one player's general, or hesitant play because players don't want to lose many elements.

The Limited Attrition rules outlined here penalize the loser of each round by removing some of their elements, but don't penalize the winner. This gives everyone a motivation to win, and provides material benefit to the winner. Losers end up with fewer troops, but both sides are usually evenly matched. Fewer troops means the losers have more PIPs per element on average.

  • Each round, the losing side removes 2 elements from each army.
  • Generals are always returned; otherwise, first choice of lost elements must be elements actually lost in the battle.
  • In case of an unfinished game, both sides suffer the losing penalty (remove 2 elements from each army) and a C-in-C is chosen in a mutually agreeable fashion (randomly or upon agreement).

In the second round, each 2-player team will have a 12 element army and a 10 element army in play. In the third round, each side has 12-10-10-8 elements. This is a total of 40 elements per side, which will still fit on a standard BBDBA board (30"x60" for 15mm scale).

Here is a list of Pyramid Events.

Scramble Format

This event is another attempt at removing army selection from the equation.

In a Scramble event, each player brings a single army, and army selection is typically open (any valid army is legal). During play, each army and each player accumulates points separately, based on how it did in each round. After each round, the armies are reassigned to the players, so that in the following round, the players with the most points use the armies having the least points.

This means that if you bring a "killer army" and win in the first round, your perceived benefit from taking that army will only last for one round.

This format does address some metagame concerns effectively. However, it is no more likely to produce historical matchups than an open tournament. Some players don't like this event because it requires you to let multiple strangers use your army, even when you aren't playing against it (contrasted with Matched Pairs, where you always have an opportunity to keep an eye on your figures).