Pub Battles: Homebrew

A playtester’s guide to enjoying the Pub Battles System. I am not part of the company beyond playtesting, but I am here to answer any questions about the official rules as well. To order the games go to the Command Post Games website:

If your curious about the system here’s an overview.

If you are new, here’s my quick start rules

My current homebrew rules are here.

My rules discussions are here: Movement rates  How can a unit just sit there?   When to Alter Turn Order   More combat rules?    Chit Draw

My Variants are here: Night Rally   Optional Leadership  Baggage Trains  Solitaire with Written Orders    

Gettysburg posts: Stonewall at Gettysburg   

Waterloo posts: 3.0 has rendered my Waterloo post unnecessary and it has been removed.

Play the Map!

Complex Combat Solution

How to resolve complex combats is an issue in most game systems, including Pub Battles. I have come up with a simple and definitive solution. It comes from my training as a mathematician (I have nearly mastered basic algebra). What I do know is that when combining fractions, you must reduce to lowest terms. In Pub Battles, the lowest terms in complex combats are two opposing blocks. Therefore:

1. Every combat is first reduced to two combatants.

2. Each combat is resolved entirely before another combat begins.

A complex combat.

The rules for each Scenario define which side decides the order of combat. As you will appreciate, this becomes significant. The side which gets to decide the order of combats will be referred to as the Tactically Dominant side.

In the above combat, the French are Tactically Dominant, and will likely choose the Wathier/Stryk combat first, if Stryk is eliminated or retreats, then Lewis has the option of advancing to continue the same combat. In other words, the combat is not complete, and no other combat can begin, until the original combat is resolved.

If Wathier wins the combat, there is still the combat between Wathier and Jankovich which will have to be resolved before the end of the combat phase, although it does not need to be the very next resolved.

If the Russians had Tactical Dominance, then it is likely that the Wathier/Jankovich combat would get resolved first. If Wathier lost that combat (likely, since he’s flanked) then Caferelli would be on his own versus Stryk and Lewis.

The other advantage to choosing the order of combat is already part of the rules. The rules say when an army reaches 50% losses, it breaks. The rules don’t specify “at the end of the turn,” so it can be interpreted as immediately. In close games, like my last Marengo game where both sides were reduced below 50% in the same combat phase, choosing which combats go first can stack the deck in your favor. This seems completely plausible when pairing off a commander like Melas, with Napoleon!

Does this unbalance the scenarios? I would argue that it does not. First of all, complex combats are not common. Second of all, the players are aware of how the combats get resolved. A commander knows the limitations of certain troops, as well as what can be expected of certain troops. Pub Battles thrives on asymmetric battles. Few would call Brandywine a fair fight, but most would agree it is a fun fight. No one is ever guaranteed to win, but how much sweeter is victory to the underdog! A fair fight that usually ends in a stalemate is a pretty dull affair.

Alt Austerlitz (Schrödinger’s Napoleon)

I really like Pub Battles Austerlitz, especially with the variable French setup. Are the French as weak as Napoleon says? The Austrians must attack as though they were, if they wait too long to find out, then it might be too late.

For enthusiasts like myself, after numerous plays there becomes an optimal French option, just bring on the Guards and all you need to win is not to lose big.

To keep the game exciting, I use a certain variation on the suggested setup. I can not take sole credit for this, it is mostly a particular variation on the setup that could be chosen. It is also optimized for solo play.

The French player has two options, bluff, or all in. The French always have Soult, Lannes, and Davout (III, IV, and V, Corps),. Alternatively, they can bring on Napoleon, the Guard, Bernadotte, and Murat (everybody). There is no option to bring on just one other Corps.

On turn one, the French player adds Napoleon’s HQ to the cup. He must make a note if it is the real Napoleon, or just a decoy. He does not have to reveal anything until the HQ is seen by the enemy. So far this is exactly one of the suggested options. The difference is that IF the French player does not bring on everything, then all that is available are the first three Corps. Not even Napoleon is there!

It is assumed that if Napoleon isn’t there, then he has come up with a different plan, and needs the rest of his army to pull it off. Whatever he has planned won’t work if his other forces don’t last the day at Austerlitz. He doesn’t need them to win, he just needs them to tie down those Allied forces.

If you are playing solo, it is called “Schrödinger’s Napoleon.” Like Schrödinger’s cat, Napoleon is both there, and not there, until you examine the HQ. When the HQ comes within the Allied LOS, roll a die. On a 4+ Napoleon is there with the rest of his army. Otherwise, only the first three Corps are on the map. If you find it difficult to play as though you didn’t know, then this option solves that.

The biggest difference between this and the official rules, is that the official rules allow Napoleon to appear with one other Corps, and the Austrian must still win decisively, or lose the game. I feel it is tipped too much in Napoleon’s favor if he appears with the guard (besides, the Guard is always with Napoleon), and all he has to do is not lose decisively to win. At least, that’s how it is for me after many, many, plays.

As always, let me know how this works for you!

For an Even more Intense Ending

Victory conditions are always one of the toughest aspects of game design. How you define victory changes how the battle was fought. Historically, the things that were important at the beginning of the battle might not matter at the end. The reverse is also true. Many Waterloo games have Hougomont, that fought over chateaux, as a victory objective. Yet Napoleon was never interested in it, nor was Wellington. Other than it was a great defensive point if the French wanted to waste effort on it. Which they did, and it cost them the battle.

One of the first things you learn, as the French player, is ignore Hougomont. If Wellington wants to pack it with his best troops, then let him have another British island. Soon they will not be in combat command and they’ll be trapped.

Official Pub Battles rules have standard points for eliminated enemy blocks, with multiples possible depending on the condition of the enemy bags. This is necessary for tournaments and such, where a winner must be declared.

I only use points if no enemy bags have been destroyed. Twice in a row playing Marengo I have broke both armies (50% losses) in the same combat phase! So how do you resolve that?

Well, I like the idea of an army breaking at some unpredictable point. That moment when a group’s collective will is broken. Something that you know is close, but you can’t predict. That’s why I am going to say that the moment, the moment the die is rolled, is the moment the army breaks. Not at the end of the combat phase, but the moment that 50% point is reached. If that happens to be the same combat, well then it is a tie, both players lose.

Fire on the Brandywine!

This time, Cornwallis lights up the Brandywine himself, while Knyphausen slams the door. Check this out. Did Cornwallis miss a chance at an even easier victory?

I’m curious what your experiences have been with this Pub Battles scenario, when deviating from Howe’s plan.

The Brandywine flows red!

New Rules on the discussion board (in playtesting)

Marshall Barrington, the system’s designer, has been reviewing the original Kriegspiel rules for his new book on Kriegspiel for modern audiences.

Although Pub Battles emulates Kriegspiel, it does not mirror it. Pub Battles creates a way to play Kriegspiel without an umpire, and focuses even more on command. Most of the Kriegspiel rules are a GM’s guide to running a Kriegspiel battle. Playing Kriegspiel is fun and easy. Running Kriegspiel is daunting.

However, Marshall has garnered some nuggets of wisdom from the original designers of Kriegspiel, things about how combat really went down on a 19 century battlefield. They fought in the Napoleonic era, they didn’t have to rely on other’s accounts.

There are many things that Pub Battles glosses over because the blocks represent divisions. In a sense, it is most accurate to compare Pub Battles to a divisional hex and counter wargame. The blocks tend to make one think of regimental level units, but that is inaccurate! The labels on the blocks tend to make one assume that is the exact unit represented, that is also inaccurate. The labels add color and drama, but that is all. Each block represents between 1000+ to 7000+ men (half that for cavalry). That’s a lot of wiggle room! When designing a Pub Battles scenario, the critical issue is what feels right, not what exactly is there.

Cavalry has never felt quite right to me. Cavalry was to 19th century armies what armor was to WWII armies, but it didn’t feel that way in Pub Battles. With all that in mind, these rules are under consideration:

  1. Any block may retreat before the first round of combat from an infantry block without becoming spent.

2. Foot (infantry or artillery) that is required to retreat from Mounted is eliminated instead.

3. Artillery rule that was here has been discarded.

Note that dragoons can/will be handled differently. As with any cavalry rules, you always want to read scenario special rules.

As always, the focus is on keeping Pub Battles a fast playing, smooth, command focused, simulation.


Gettysburg comes alive! This is my latest attempt at providing the most interesting replay of a Pub Battles scenario. I am working on adding text to match my description, in order to make the whole video more approachable. I try a few different things on day 1 and by day 2 I settle into a more consistent style.

Do you like this way, or would you like something different?


1 Hit Wonders: Experimental Pub Battles

Marshall Barrington, the Pub Battle system’s designer, was studying the Kriegspiel rules, and came up with a variation for resolving Pub Battles Combat. Rather than becoming spent on the first hit, a block retreats. With a second hit it is reduced to spent. All this means is that the hit process is reversed; Retreat then spent, instead of spent then retreat. If a fresh unit retreats, it maintains its facing.

This is a relatively subtle change, and yet it can have profound effects. The Baggage Train rules make becoming spent more of an issue, because the unit doesn’t automatically rally, it now needs an unpacked Baggage Train.

After giving it some thought, I decided it would be more interesting to let players decide whether or not the unit would hold or retreat. So, when you receive a hit you decide whether to hold your ground and become spent, or to voluntarily retreat in good order.

A key concept at this point is the voluntary retreat, which I will call “Fall Back.” The difference is that if you retreat, you turn 180 degrees and face the other way. If you Fall Back, you retreat, but maintain your same facing.

One additional rule I want to add, is that if you have been contacted by the enemy prior to your chit being drawn, you must either remain in combat (you can turn to face), or Fall Back. You can no longer move any way you want. The reason being, if you are there to block the enemy’s movement, then you are affecting them, which means you must have been there when they moved. You are still preventing them from moving, and you are successfully Falling Back (fighting retreat) without them forcing a decisive combat.

In this case, moving after your opponent can be thought of as having the command initiative. You have anticipated your opponent’s intentions. The combat is occurring on your terms.

Experimental Rule: First Hit

Retreat: Involuntary movement from combat, if fresh, become spent, and turn around moving 1/3 away from enemy.
Fall Back: Voluntary movement from combat, maintain facing and move 1/3 from enemy.

If you are in contact with an enemy block when your chit is drawn, you must either remain in contact, or Fall Back.

A fresh block that receives only one hit in combat must flip to spent and remain in place, or Fall Back. If fresh, don’t become spent. If spent, You must Fall Back, but maintain facing.

A fresh block that receives receive two hits must Retreat and becomes spent. A spent block that receives two hits is eliminated.

Movement before combat:
Any fresh unit may Retreat before combat, except fresh Dragoons in contact with infantry, may Fall Back.

I am going to try these rules in my next game. One of my purposes in writing this blog is to put all my thoughts in writing. I intend to find out if it is too fiddley to be worth the effort, or if it makes for a better experience.

What do you think of this new rule?